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Holes in arguments

Reader comment on item: Combating the Ideology of Radical Islam

Submitted by John Vander Voort (United States), Apr 13, 2003 at 06:27

For Mr. Fuller, the error in his agrument is his assumption that after a free and fair election won by Islamists, there would follow another free and fair election which might not be won by Islamists. The problem here is that radical Islamists, once in power, would have no more respect for the concept of free and fair elections than have the Taliban, the Iranian theocracy, Saddam Hussein, the Assads of Syria, Joseph Stalin, the Chinese Communist Party, or Adolf Hitler. Once in power, regardless of whatever system or constitution radical idealogues profess to follow, they will be removable only by violent revolution, by outside intervention, or perhaps following a total economic collapse.

I suspect Mr. Pipes understands this, but it needs to be stated clearly. I agree that there is a great difference between violent Islamists and most other Moslems, but whether followers of Islam seek to spread their faith by conquest or conversion, their goal is the same - an Islamic state governed by Islamic law. It would not be surprising to see such a system imposed nonviolently, due to demographics alone, in parts of Western Europe, notably France and Germany, by those declining nations' last free and fair elections - and sooner rather than later. The problem is that the concept of separation of church and state is completely alien to Islam, as the religion has had no transforming evolution parallel to the Reformation in the west.

The only workable solution to date has been in Turkey, where a secular army is empowered constitutionally to abrogate free and fair elections; here the dangers are civil war or the imposition of a secular military fascism. Only the admirable restraint of this army has made the system workable.

A sudden leap to western style democracy is probably impossible in many Islamic nations, as this requires an educated population and a free press, rather than a madrassa-educated public swayed by a state propaganda machine. Curiously, the states which claim to be democratic are the least ready for democratic evolution; their populations do not know what democracy looks like, believe they already have it, and don't especially like it; in addition, their only contact with our society is through its most decadent representatives in the entertainment industry, offensive to persons of faith and morality whether they are Moslems, Christians, or Jews. The only hope for these countries is through education of their elites in Western universities, especially in the United States, but this will only work if Americans reach out to them in friendship while they are here and demonstrate to them that Hollywood does not present a true picture of Western civilization. Yet we need to encourage these visitors to go back and work to change their societies rather than stay here; otherwise we will merely be draining away the forces for change.

The monarchical states, though many are repressive, have a built-in opportunity to evolve into more modern societies through evolution into constitutional monarchies on something like the European (or Thai) model. This will work only if the reforming monarchs are led to realize the necessities of secular education and a free press for the development of a modern society. Our emphasis in encouraging such evolutions should be on the economic benefits of a free society, including (hinted with sublety) the great value of mobilizing the female half of societies into the economy.

I believe Iraq to be a special case, with Syria very similar. Whether the invasion of Iraq was justifiable is and will remain debatable; the current facts do seem to present an opportunity. Iraq is more pluralistic in ethnicity and in religion than most Middle Eastern nations, and has had at least some experience with a largely secular form of government - although a very bad one. It also has better infrastructure, a more educated population, and a lot more oil than most. Our emphasis in rebuilding should be less on the forms and trappings of the new government, than on economic freedom (law and contract), freedom of the press, equality of women, freedom of religion, and educational reform. It is not overrun with Wahhabi madrassas, and we should keep it that way by pointing out that indoctrination in radical Islamism is, in principle, no different than indoctrination in radical Saddamism. Above all, we should provide very strong incentives for Iraqis (and Afghans) living in the United States to return to their homeland; this is asking a lot, and we should encourage them in any way we can.

Federalism may well work in Iraq, but I would oppose the idea of three political entities dedicated to the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. Instead, the political subdivisions should be based on the large cities, expanding the influence of their more heterogenous and educated populations. Such a subdivision would avoid administrative zones named for and institutionally dominated by any minority, yet retain areas under de facto domination of each of the three groups based on demographics alone. Since I am not familiar with the current administrative subdivisions of Iraq, I do not know how much realignment this would demand.

There are dangers involved, but we need to abondon our mindless commitment, both in the Middle East and in Africa, to the maintenance of current borders between states which make no ethnic or economic sense today, and which were imposed entirely for the benefit of colonial powers. This includes not only borders between nations, but the internal administrative subdivisions within nations. Reform of the latter may in many cases make reform of the former unnecessary, by providing minorities a hope of day-to-day freedom without creating a plethora of economically non-viable ethnic ministates.
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