From Gerecht’s lips to God’s ears…
Correctly understood, anti-Americanism when it accompanies the loosening of political controls in the Middle East is a sign that the status quo that gave us bin Ladenism and 9/11–the perverse marriage of autocracy and Islamic extremism–is coming apart. Under dictatorship, Muslims cannot evolve politically. They will not be able to confront the “baggage” that all Middle Eastern Muslims have with the West, especially the United States, and come to a livable consensus on how they are going to absorb Western ideas, influence, and money. Even in Iran, where the bankruptcy of a virulently anti-American clerical dictatorship has done wonders for the democratic ethic and the prestige of the United States, a functioning democracy is probably the only way the Iranian people will find a sustainable, peaceful modus vivendi with their complicated love-hate for America. It is democracy, not dictatorship, that can best take Muslims through the difficult religious reformation that is well under way among both Shiites and Sunnis. (Correctly understood, bin Laden is an ugly expression of protest against the region’s rot.)
This is all about internal Muslim evolution, about coming to terms with the centuries-long absorption of both good and bad Western ideas. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace process can somehow soon resume. When al Qaeda’s princes–bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi–rail against the intrusion of Western democracy into the Muslim world, they know what they are talking about. If it succeeds, democracy will eventually kill them off. It will pull fundamentalist believers–the pool that bin Ladenism must draw from to survive–into the great ethical and spiritual debates that can best happen when free people fight it out in elections. Only Muslims–only fundamentalist Muslims–have the power to kill off bin Ladenism. Historically, there is no reason to believe this will happen under the dictatorships that gave birth to Islamic extremism in the first place.
Like Christendom before it, the Muslim Middle East will have to work out its relation to modernity. The faster democracy arrives, the sooner the debates about God and man can begin in earnest. It will probably be for both Muslims and Westerners a nerve-racking experience. But we have no choice, since continuing autocracy will only make the militants’ message stronger and judgment day, as in Iran, a possibly bloody revolutionary event. The electoral victory of Hamas should not give us pause. It should give us hope and encourage us to push for real elections where our national interest stands to gain the most–in Egypt and Iran. We should also not neglect to defend vigorously Christian, Muslim, or Jewish satirists, be they clever, banal, or ugly, wherever they may be found. Both elections and satire are basic to the evolution of the Muslim world.
Get it all here
Selling Out Moderate Islam