Beware of What You Wish For

Despite recent unexpected and uncomfortable outcomes in elections in the Muslim Middle East, President George W. Bush strongly reiterated his commitment to spreading democracy there in his State of the Union address (http://www.whitehouse.gov/ stateoftheunion/2006/index.html): "Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer--so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."

As I recently argued in Foreign Affairs ("Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?", September/October 2005), however, Bush's logic is flawed. There is no evidence that states ruled by dictators produce more terrorists or more terrorism than democracies. Moreover, al Qaeda and its affiliates and imitators see democracy as a Western innovation leading Muslims away from government based on Islamic law. They would certainly not give up their jihad even if all Muslim countries became democratic, particularly if the democracies proved to be the kind that the United States would like to see: tolerant, pluralist, pro-American, and at peace with Israel.

In my original article, I also predicted that the administration's emphasis on elections as the measure of success for its democratization policy was likely to produce victories for Islamist political groups, the best organized and most popular political movements in most countries in the region. Election results since then have followed just such a pattern:

* Nearly two-thirds of candidates elected to the new Iraqi parliament in December 2005 won on platforms that explicitly called for a greater role for Islam in politics. Among the 215 Arab parliamentarians elected (the others being Kurds and smaller minority group representatives), 81 percent campaigned on lists that were sectarian and Islamist, while only 9 percent came from former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's explicitly secular, non-sectarian, and multiethnic Iraqi National List.

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