What’s that? I thought only greasy Islamophobes thought that the likely outcome in the Middle East would be Islamic states, not pluralistic Western-style democracies! “Obama administration prepares for possibility of new post-revolt Islamist regimes,” by Scott Wilson in the Washington Post, March 4 (thanks to Jamal):
The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region’s politics.
The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal policy deliberations. “It’s the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam.”
Islamist governments span a range of ideologies and ambitions, from the primitive brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, a movement with Islamist roots that heads a largely secular political system.
…and is working to destroy the secular character of that system.
None of the revolutions over the past several weeks has been overtly Islamist, but there are signs that the uprisings could give way to more religious forces. An influential Yemeni cleric called this week for the U.S.-backed administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be replaced with Islamist rule, and in Egypt, an Islamist theoretician has a leading role in drafting constitutional changes after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power last month.
A number of other Islamist parties are deciding now how big a role to play in protests or post-revolution reforms.
Since taking office, President Obama has argued for a “new beginning” with Islam, suggesting that Islamic belief and democratic politics are not incompatible. But in doing so, he has alarmed some foreign-policy pragmatists and allies such as Israel, who fear that governments based on religious law will inevitably undercut democratic reforms and other Western values.
Obama’s suggestion here has never been borne out historically: there has never been and is not now an Islamic state that was democratic in the Western sense. Kemalist Turkey established a Western-style republic only by directly and openly restricting the political aspects of Islam. Maybe it will happen now that functioning democracies that guarantee equality of rights for non-Muslims and women, protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, and yet establish Islam as well, will emerge in the Middle East — history is full of surprises.
But for that to happen, some aspects of Islamic law will not be implemented, and that will mean there will be pressure in those states from Islamic clerics who will find the new government, whatever its Islamic character, to be just as un-Islamic and hence unacceptable as the authoritarian regime it replaced. And that pressure will lead to continued unrest.
Some within the U.S. intelligence community, foreign diplomatic circles and the Republican Party say Obama’s readiness to accept Islamist movements, even ones that meet certain conditions, fails to take into consideration the methodical approach many such parties adopt toward gradually transforming secular nations into Islamic states at odds with U.S. policy goals.
Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories have prospered in democratic elections and exert huge influence. Neither party, each with an armed wing, supports Israel’s right to exist, nor have they renounced violence as a political tool.
And while many in the region point to Turkey as a model mixture of Islam and democracy, the ruling Islamist party is restrained by the country’s highly secular army and court system, a pair of strong institutional checks that countries such as Egypt and Tunisia lack….
The White House’s internal assessment, dated Feb. 16, looked at the Muslim Brotherhood’s and al-Qaeda’s views on global jihad, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States, Islam in politics, democracy and nationalism, among others.
The report draws sharp distinctions between the ambitions of the two groups, suggesting that the Brotherhood’s mix of Islam and nationalism make it a far different organization than al-Qaeda, which sees national boundaries as obstacles to restoring the Islamic caliphate.
This is just whistling in the dark. The Muslim Brotherhood differs only in means, not in goal, from al-Qaeda. Its core beliefs center just as much around the establishment of a global caliphate. It works within existing Muslim nations so as to establish Islamic states, but ultimately hopes that those new Islamic states will unite into one large Islamic caliphate.
The study also concludes that the Brotherhood criticizes the United States largely for what it perceives as America’s hypocritical stance toward democracy – promoting it rhetorically but supporting leaders such as Mubarak.
“If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change,” the senior administration official said. “We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear.”
Great. I wish they wouldn’t allow themselves to be driven by fantasy and wishful thinking.
After Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the United States and Israel led an international boycott of the government. But Obama administration officials, reviewing that history with an eye toward the current revolutions, say the reason for the U.S. boycott was not Hamas’s Islamic character but its refusal to agree to conditions such as recognizing Israel.
In a speech Monday in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to draw on that lesson, implicitly inviting Islamist parties to participate in the region’s future elections with conditions. “Political participation,” Clinton said, “must be open to all people across the spectrum who reject violence, uphold equality and agree to play by the rules of democracy.”
And in return she will get lip service to these principles from groups that will flout the assurances they gave her once they are in power.