Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Islamists in the Democratization Process?

In the July/August 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs is a “Review Essay” by Eva Bellin, entitled “Democratization and its Discontents,” and subtitled, “Should America Push Political Reform in the Middle East?” reviewing and discussing the ideas from

Freedom’s Unsteady March: America’s Role in Building Arab Democracy by Tamara Cofman Wittes,

and Beyond the Fa├žade: Political Reform in the Arab World edited by Marina Orraway and Julia Choucair-Vizoso.

Much of the article is fairly interesting, mostly stuff I’ve encountered elsewhere, but my eyes blinked wider when I read “. . . Islamists must be included in the political process. Outsiders must recognize that the Islamists constitute the main (and sometimes the only) mass movement in many of these countries. They are here to stay, and no project aimed at mass empowerment can legitimately exclude them. Political inclusion (albeit on certain terms) is necessary to create incentives for compromise and dialogue with more secular forces in Arab society.”

I reread the section. Sometimes people will paraphrase without using quotation marks, I do that myself – maybe too much – but some place there should be evidence that this doesn’t represent the writer’s opinion . . . and I couldn’t find it. Quite the contrary I found words that were without doubt not a paraphrase. Bellin wrote, “Surprisingly, for all her differences in tone, Wittes makes many of the same recommendations. She, too, argues for . . . Islamist inclusion . . . .” Bellin seems at least to be entertaining the idea as reasonable.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I have to put stuff into a logical framework. I am conscious of building an argument when I write and expect others to do the same thing. Now I’ll grant that Bellin isn’t here arguing for Islamist inclusion, but neither is she distancing herself from what she describes as the advocacy of Islamist inclusion in two of the writers she is reviewing.

Perhaps the recent experiences in Palestine have emboldened some to think Islamist groups like Hamas can be legitimized. Perhaps Hezbollah in Lebanon is another example. And haven’t the Muslim Brothers been hanging round Egypt forever, sometimes legitimate and sometimes illegitimate?

But I have a serious objection to that idea, the idea of including Islamists in any government we are encouraging or helping to build. I don’t care whether they are going away or not. What I do care about is that they have declared themselves to be our enemy. They are devoted to an ideology bent upon our destruction. You do NOT, if you are sane and not a Leftist who wants our destruction, support an enemy who is out to kill you. Not in any logical framework I am familiar with. Not with any constellation of presuppositions I would be willing to accept.

Having said that, I am aware of a belief – “hope” is probably a better term – which argues that Islamists cannot engage in the political process and terrorism at the same time. Good luck with that one if that’s what you think.

I’ll give Eva Bellin a pass here, sort of – barely – since her main argument involves a criticism of rapid democratization. I’ve read other articles on this subject recently – some in favor of it and some against. Everyone wants democratization. I don’t have a problem with that. . . until you invite the Islamists to join you.

Lawrence Helm

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