What is democracy about?

Last night I posted a roundup of recent articles on the meaning of "democracy" and its place in the free world. Returning to that same theme this morning, The Counterterrorism Blog analyzes the State of the Union address and finds
In this address, Bush provided -- as he has many times before -- the theoretical basis for the linkage between democracy and peace: "Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbos, and join the fight against terror." The problem with the administration's approach to democratization to date is that it has placed great emphasis on voting and much less emphasis on the liberal institutions necessary for citizens to have true options at the ballot box: institutions like freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

In the wake of the Egyptian parliamentary elections that helped bring a large number of Muslim Brotherhood members to power, the State of the Union address calls for Egypt to "open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." But this highlights a weakness of our strategy to date: these paths of peaceful opposition should have been opened before the elections, rather than after the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing. Hopefully Bush's rhetoric is a sign that we will place greater emphasis on promoting liberal institutions as we move forward.

"Democracy" - in the narrowest sense of handing out ballot slips and not holding a gun to people's head when they vote - does not by itself bring a free society. It is necessary but not sufficient. Also needed, and perhaps more urgently, are guarantees of basic individual rights and liberties; freedom of speech and a free press; civil society and non-governmental organizations; and, perhaps most intangibly, a culture of tolerance and respect.

Americans are faced with the task of helping the peoples of the Islamic world to dismantle the structures of oppression and replace them with the foundations of a liberal democracy. In a country where the very words "liberal" and "democratic" have been usurped by factions working against these things, this will be no easy task; but it will give us an opportunity to reflect on what we have, and on how precious it is.