Islam and Power
Is President Bush's plan to spread democracy turning into a fiasco? It doesn't have to. But it does need to change.
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek
Feb. 13, 2006 issue - George W. Bush is not a man for second thoughts, but even he might have had some recently. Ever since 9/11, Bush has made the promotion of democracy in the Middle East the center-piece of his foreign policy, and doggedly pushed the issue. Over the last few months, however, this approach has borne strange fruit, culminating in Hamas's victory in Gaza and the West Bank. Before that, we have watched it strengthen Hizbullah in Lebanon, which (like Hamas) is often described in the West as a terrorist organization. In Iraq, the policy has brought into office conservative religious parties with their own private militias. In Egypt, it has bolstered the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest fundamentalist organizations in the Arab world, from which Al Qaeda descends. "Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror," Bush said last week in his State of the Union address. But is this true of the people coming to power in the Arab world today?
This is an issue that deserves serious thought, well beyond pointing to the awkwardness of Bush's position. Bush's prescription is, after all, one accepted by many governments: it is also European policy to push for democratic reform in the Middle East. And in fact, little has happened over the last few months that makes the case for continued support of Muslim dictatorships. But recent events do powerfully suggest that if we don't better understand the history, culture and politics of the countries that we are "reforming," we will be in for an extremely rocky ride.
There is a tension in the Islamic world between the desire for democracy and a respect for liberty. (It is a tension that once raged in the West and still exists in pockets today.) This is most apparent in the ongoing fury over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a small Danish newspaper. ...
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