Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pakistani Lawyers Risk Lives for Rule of Law

In Pakistan, thousands of lawyers dressed in black suits and ties took to the street to protest the dissolution of the supreme court and the suspension of the constitution. It is estimated that 500-700 were arrested. "Bush criticizes Musharraf," Austin American Statesman, November 6, 2007, p. A1. Meanwhile, in the United States, 37,000 dissidents gathered (in cyberspace) around a slogan implicitly advocating overthrow of the government ... and set a one-day fundraising record for Republicans. "YouTube video, Guy Fawkes motto help Paul collect $4.2 million in 1 day," Austin American Statesman, November 6, 2007, p. A6.

What do these two stories have in common? The connection is arguably tenuous, but the common link seems to be fear or the lack thereof.

In Pakistan, the president feared the power of an independent judicial branch and the rule of law which it represented. When the Supreme Court questioned his right to seek another term, Gen. Musharraf chose to impose emergency rule. Curiously, the General dissolved the supreme court but left parliament in place. This seems to suggest that a cowed legislative branch is less of a threat to absolute power than an independent judiciary. In a system where the rule of law is subordinate to the rule of power, lawyers are reduced from independent actors to government functionaries. Thus, the lawyers correctly perceived that they were under attack and took to the streets.

The story about Ron Paul's fundraising is not grim. Indeed, it is humorous in its cheekiness. Ron Paul is the Texas Congressman running a longshot campaign for the Republican nomination for president. The Paul campaign organized a one-day internet fundraiser around the slogan "Remember, remember the 5th of November." This is the first line from a poem recalling the attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up parliament and assasinate King James I. It also featured prominently in the recent movie "V for Vendetta" in which a masked vigilante leads a mob of citizens to overthrow an oppressive British government. Ron Paul and his band of followers fancy themselves as modern day revolutionaries. They oppose most everything government does from social security to the war in Iraq. However, when they openly use the language of revolution to advance their cause, it evokes at best a chuckle or a yawn, but not fear.

While the story about Ron Paul is somewhat silly (and in no way compares to the bravery of the Pakistani lawyers), perhaps it makes a point about what we take for granted. Here, we can talk about overthrowing the government because we allow for the potential of overthrowing the government every four years. We know that on January 20, 2009, President Bush will voluntarily leave the White House. There is a good possibility that he will hand over power to the opposing party. On the other hand, the Pakistani lawyers and judges have no assurance that their constitution will prevail and that Gen. Musharraf will cede power to anyone other than a hand-picked successor.