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After Saddam: Islam Confronts Democracy

Reader comment on item: After Saddam? Remaking the Mideast

Submitted by Dave Davis (United States), Feb 11, 2003 at 21:30

I have read several articles written by apparently knowledgeable Islamic scholars who have attempted to explain how the Islamic way of being can be compatible with democratic values. And I must say that even the most successful arguments come off as strained at best. In other words, try as they might they cannot achieve a credible nexus between their religious beliefs and democratic values as we in the West understand them to be.
So, once we have finished off Saddam and have begun this reconstruction or nation-building phase in Iraq we will discover that both Ajami and Bacevich are right. The Iraqis will be faced with a stark choice: do they recast their fundamental religious beliefs into a form that will be more compatible with democracy and join the world; or do they hold true to Islam, reject Western democracy out of hand, and start their long march back to the sixth century?
They will split. How many take one path or the other is anyone's guess, but at the end of the day one side will be in the majority and the other will be in the minority. It is an ironic truth that if the majority takes the path to modernity they likely will make room for those Muslims who want to adhere to traditional Islam. But, it is the nature of traditional Islam that if things go the other way there will be no room at all for those choosing modernity.
Removing Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction is a necessary objective. But if we need to go in there anyway, why not have other objectives too? Why not plant the seeds of democracy and freedom in Iraq first? After Iraq, Iran may fall on it's own. The Saudis are already making noises about allowing certain democratic reforms in their country. Is it possible to imagine a nascent democratic movement gathering steam in the land of Muhammad?
There are no guarantees. These are difficult and dangerous times. But we must try. If things go our way we just might be able to recalibrate the dynamics of the Middle East and head the region toward peace, harmony and prosperity. They certainly are headed in the opposite direction today. If we fail, then perhaps we should take the pragmatic view that it is better to deal with an inflamed Middle East today than it is to do nothing and have to confront a Middle East later where half the countries have nukes, delivery mechanisms, and the will to use them on us.

Dave Davis
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