Passover Thoughts

Dreams Into Lightning will be on posting break this weekend in observance of the Passover holiday. As just about everybody knows, Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

And speaking of Egypt, Tuesday's post at BigPharaoh warns of the danger of mob rule under the guise of "democracy" - which is a a good way for me to emphasize the importance of certain fundamental values in building any society. GM is worried that an Egyptian government that pursues "democracy" for its own sake - without safeguarding the rights of citizens - will end up like Malaysia, which appears perilously close to sliding into a Taliban-style theocracy.
If Malaysia, a country that is more democratic and economically better than Egypt, can have a moral police then imagine what can happen in Egypt if full democracy and freedom were unleashed in my country. If many Malays were becoming more religious and do not oppose the existence of the government-sanctioned moral police, imagine what would happen if the majority of Egyptians got a free hand in determining their future and how “religious” they want Egypt to become. Again I repeat, I do not expect the majority of Egyptians to transform Egypt into another Iran, but I cannot rule out the fact that radicals would definitely be empowered as a result of the “Arab spring” that everyone wants Egypt to bask into. Just look what happened last month, the world was talking about the demonstrations in Cairo and how awesome they were, and me and my liberal friends were talking about how suddenly the Muslim Brotherhood found their voice and how threatened we are feeling right now.

The beginning of Passover also marks a less well-known observance, called the Counting of the Omer (Sefirat ha-Omer in Hebrew). This is the seven-week countdown to the holiday of Shavu'oth (known to Christians by its Greek name, Pentecost). Shavu'oth is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. And while it's pretty hard to find Hallmark cards for Shavu'oth, the holiday is no less important than Passover itself: for while Passover marks the Jewish people's birth as a free nation, Shavu'oth celebrates our covenant with G-d - that is, our system of law, morality, and deepest values. It is who we are. Or put it like this: If Passover is the Jewish people's "Independence Day", Shavu'oth is the celebration of our "Constitution". Without our values and our moral code, our freedom would be meaningless.

This is why responsible freedom activists do not merely stress "democracy"; the "rule of the majority" is not an end in itself. Today's Jews know all too well what happened under a popularly elected government in Germany. Democracy is necessary, but it is not sufficient; there must also be a formal, written code that spells out the rights and the responsibilities of the individual.

In Malaysia, the so-called "moral" or "religious police" showed themselves to be nothing but a gang of armed thugs interested only in beating innocent people and humiliating women. A moral code truly worthy of the name ensures that people are free to live their lives without intimidation or harrassment. Many Mideasterners are figuratively "wandering in the desert" now; it is important that we help them find their way to just such a code - not a "tyranny of the majority".

Otherwise, Big Pharaoh will make an exodus of his own.

Happy Passover ... chag kasher ve'sameach!