We just witnessed history: Britain voted to exit the European Union. Far be it from me to intervene in internal British or European affairs, but from the outside, what Britain just went through appears of a piece with a process taking place the world over in different forms.
While the aftershocks of Britain’s decision are yet to be seen, the broad changes to the European landscape have been manifest for some time. The influx of refugees, terrorism and the fear it engenders, have been translated in a multiplicity of complex ways into broad feelings of isolationism, atomization, and ultra-nationalism. The response of liberals the world over must be clear: liberals of the world, unite!
Tragic moments like the recent terror attacks in Istanbul, Paris and Brussels that have taken the lives of so many innocent civilians have taught us all that the challenges and the threats to modern, liberal societies are at their core ideological. The stated purpose of these terror organizations is to fight the free world and everything it stands for; this is why the war against radical Islamic terror is a war of values. Its immediate consequences are known: the toll on daily life, the horror and grief, the fear. But terror and the fear it disseminates has another, less obvious consequence: xenophobia. It is through this fear of the other that our enemies are now succeeding in shifting our values and corroding us from the inside. I need not mention the names of some of the more powerful far-right, ultra-nationalist (even neo-Nazi) parties to make my point. The free world – the global majority of moderate liberals of all faiths – is now paying a global price not only in blood and treasure, but with the very liberal values that have for so long made us who we are.
So what must we do?
Just as we must count on an international coalition to fight terror with boots on the ground, we must gather the voices of liberty and freedom to form an international coalition to fight it ideologically. Separate, isolated attempts to deal with this crisis will not only fail, they will weaken liberal moderates and give those extreme elements a better foothold of public support. Individual leaders who make moral choices pay too high a price. It sometimes appears from the outside that the weakening of liberal moderate political parties and leaders is merely the result an internal game of political seesaw. It is not. It is a part of a phenomenon we need to address together.
Second, it is our task as supporters of democracy to defend the true meaning of the word. Democracy not the mere technical act of casting a ballot. Parties who seek to participate in democratic elections should adhere to a set of universal democratic values: human rights, liberty, pluralism, freedom of religion, the rule of the law, the separation of powers, and, of course, the rejection of terrorism. Without this step – without agreeing to this system of values alongside the mechanics of democracy – we will see more and more terrorist organizations taking advantage of the voting “process”. Terrorist organizations which are also political parties – like Hamas and Hizbollah – demonstrate how democracy can be abused to inflate their legitimacy and magnify their power without moderating. But we can make their choice clear: bullet or ballot. It is time for a universal code of elections that includes these values.
Finally, we have failed to inspire the next generation. This demands redress. Our children are those that obligate us to politics, and it is they we must ignite with hope for a future of progress. The fact that our liberal principles and politicians have been enfeebled and the fact that young people are joining radical, racist or even terrorist groups part of a single phenomenon. We have failed to give the next generation a liberal legacy and a democratic agenda they will want to fight for. It is incumbent upon us to rewrite the narrative of liberal values.
Now is the time for all of members of the free world to stand steadfast against the tide of radical forces and pronounce our own, liberal values loudly and in unison.
It is not too late. The time is now.
Tzipi Livni, is a member of the Knesset, Head of Hatnua political party of the Zionist camp, and former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs.