Vaclav Havel, former Czech President, architect of the "Velvet Revolution" and dissident playwright has sadly died today aged 75.
On becoming President in 1990, he spoke of the fallen communist regime as “a monstrous, ramshackle machine” which had bequeathed not merely economic failure but also “a spoiled moral environment”.
“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he explained. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. Love, friendship, mercy, humility and forgiveness lost their depth and dimension.”
“Some say I’m a naive dreamer trying to combine the incompatible: politics and morality,” he wrote in Summer Meditations (1992). “I am convinced that we will never build a democratic state based on law if we do not at the same time build a state that is ... humane, moral, intellectual and spiritual, and cultural.”
Some might say that Havel's political and moral philosophy is a million miles away from Arab and Islamic doctrines. Since the dawn of history, human communities have tried to govern themselves in ways that ensured their own survival, stability and economic wellbeing, often at the expense of other communities. Religions and man-made laws serve such ends but also breed conflicts and wars if they are uncompromising and devoid of basic moral and humane values.
Today, there are no real or uniform political, philosophical and moral doctrines in the Arab world. There are only ruling classes who seek power, wealth and glory for themselves first, their tribes second and their nations third (if at all).
Arab kings, princes and presidents (and many Western leaders) strongly believe that the Arabs are not ready for democracy and cannot sustain such values. If a human being can be "humane, moral, intellectual, spiritual, and cultural" so can the society to which he belongs. Inspired leadership, enlightened education and compassionate moral codes are what make a good society great.
Democracy, with all its faults, allows societies to compromise, regenerate themselves and flourish whereas autocracy and theocracy allow the ruling classes to thrive while their nations wither and die.
The Arab Spring may initially swap dictators for Islamic fundamentalists to bring back some moral code into politics. No uncompromising fundamentalist regime is, however, likely to survive for long when the vast majority of Arab youth are craving freedom, opportunity and inspired leadership.