I thought I would include this piece by William Dalrymple in The Guardian because, despite its general muddle-headedness, it nonetheless indicates some kind of improvement in the media’s grasp of the nature of the Islamic danger.
Six years after 9/11, throughout the Muslim world political Islam is on the march; the surprise is that its rise is happening democratically – not through the bomb, but the ballot box. Democracy is not the antidote to the Islamists the neocons once fondly believed it would be. Since the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been a consistent response from voters wherever Muslims have had the right to vote. In Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Algeria they have voted en masse for religious parties in a way they have never done before.
Now that is a very trenchant point. We’ve said it here before, of course, but the idea that “democracy” — i.e., giving people what they want via the ballot box — is somehow going to solve our problems in the Muslim world is utter fantasy. While it sounds unseemly, we should be grateful for the dictatorships of Egypt and Jordan — and the Turkish army — that keep the hard-core Muslims out of power. Of course, there are good dictatorships and bad dictatorships: Iran and Saudia Arabia are examples of the latter. But we have got to get over the progressivist nonsense that all dictatorships are created equal and that “democracy” can do no wrong. Throughout Islamic history there have been only two types of government: Islamic dictatorships and secular dictatorships: I know which I prefer.
Of course, that “not through the bomb, but the ballot box” quip is hardly accurate. The jihadists are plainly happy enough to use bombs.
Egypt is typical: at the last election in 2005 members of the nominally banned Muslim Brotherhood, standing as independents, saw their representation rise from 17 seats to 88 in the 444-seat people’s assembly – a five-fold increase, despite reports of vote-rigging by President Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Alliance. The Brothers, who have long abjured violence, are now the main opposition.
The figures in Pakistan are strikingly similar. Traditionally, the religious parties there have won only a fraction of the vote. That began to change after the US invasion of Afghanistan. In October 2002 a rightwing alliance of religious parties – the Muttahida Majlis Amal or MMA – won 11.6% of the vote, more than doubling its share, and sweeping the polls in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan – Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province – where it formed ultra-conservative and pro-Islamist provincial governments. If the last election turned the MMA into a serious electoral force, there are now fears that it could yet be the principle beneficiary of the current standoff in Pakistan.
The Bush administration proclaimed in 2004 that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East would be a major foreign policy theme in its second term. It has been widely perceived, not least in Washington, that this policy has failed. Yet in many ways US foreign policy has succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against the corrupt monarchies and decaying nationalist parties who have ruled the region for 50 years. The irony is that rather than turning to liberal secular parties, as the neocons assumed, Muslims have lined up behind parties most clearly seen to stand up against aggressive US intervention.
Religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely unconnected to religion.
Now we are starting to drift, but there still is some good stuff there. It is certainly possible that the US war in Iraq has helped galvanize Muslims against us. But it is not correct to infer that, “Religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely unconnected to religion.” Religious (i.e., Islamic) parties have come to power — for example, in Iraq — because of the push for democracy that has opened up the Islamic option hitherto repressed by more secular dictators.
The usual US response has been to retreat from its push for democracy when the “wrong” parties win. This was the case not just with the electoral victory of Hamas, but also in Egypt: since the Brothers’ strong showing in the elections, the US has stopped pressing Mubarak to make democratic reforms, and many of the Brothers’ leading activists and business backers, as well as Mubarak’s opponent in the presidential election, are in prison, all without a word of censure from Washington.
Yet on a recent visit to Egypt I found everywhere a strong feeling that political Islam was there to stay, and that this was something everyone was going to have to learn to live with; the US response had become almost irrelevant. Even the Copts were making overtures to the Brothers. As Youssef Sidhom, who edits the leading Coptic newspaper, put it: “They are not going away. We need to enter into dialogue, to clarify their policies, and end mutual mistrust.”
The reality is that, like the Copts, we are going to have to find some modus vivendi with political Islam.
That’s easy: pay the jizya and feel yourselves subdued (Quran 9:29).