Let's check the score:
Yesterday in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as that country's first democratically elected president.
In Ukraine, the Kremlin-backed ruling party's attempt to steal the election for Viktor Yanukovych appears completely stymied by the peaceful Orange Revolution. At minimum, it seems likely that there will be a re-vote on December 26.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 1.3 million Palestinians are registered to vote in the January 9 election of one of ten presidential candidates seeking to replace the marvelously dead Yasser Arafat. In Iraq, nearly 14 million Iraqis are registered to vote for one of 156 parties running in the January 30th election. As Bill Kristol has pointed out, commentators in the Arab world are starting to wonder aloud why the Arabs with the most significant voting rights are those under American or Israeli occupation.
Would it be pollyannaish, at this point, to be tremendously optimistic about the march of democracy and freedom?
There's more to each of these situations, of course, than just the good news. Afghanistan is still plagued by a terrorist presence, albeit a much weaker one than in the past, and Karzai's government still relies heavily on international military aid to maintain order. The Ukrainian ruling party seems stuck on the idea of constitutional changes that would weaken the presidency, thus diminishing the scale of Orangeist Viktor Yushchenko's likely victory. And there remains the possibility that the revote could be stolen, too, absent procedural concessions that Yanukovych and his partisan ally, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, remain reluctant to give. The new Palestinian president -- likely to be current PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, currently leading in the polls -- may prove little better than Arafat (though it would be almost metaphysically impossible for him to be worse). Iraq still has its problems, as we all know (though things do seem to be getting incrementally better). And it takes more than one fair election to make a true democracy, of the sort that doesn't descend into rampant illiberalism.
But the fact remains: The trends here are awfully encouraging.
Two thousand, one hundred seventy-one years ago, a group of traditionalist Jews called the Maccabees resisted the policies of Greek tyrant Antiochus IV, who had outlawed Jewish customs in an effort to Hellenize the Jews. They won an unlikely victory in the name of their religious freedom, retaking, rebuilding, and cleansing the sacred Temple of Judea, which had fallen into disrepair. According to tradition, one day's worth of oil miraculously kept the Temple's eternal light burning for eight days. This is the miracle that we Jews celebrate during Hanukkah, which began last night at sundown.
How appropriate that this year, miracles of freedom seem imminent in so many corners of the globe.
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