Islam and democracy (WASHINGTON TIMES OP-ED) By Helle Dale 02/02/05)
WASHINGTON TIMES Articles-Index-Top
Is Islam culturally and religiously incompatible with democracy?
Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq surely ought to put an end to that
debate at least as far as the desire of ordinary Muslims to vote and
be heard are concerned. You would have to have a heart of stone not
to be moved and inspired by the sight of Iraqis flocking to the polls
on Sunday, defying suicide bombers and threats to their lives as well
as those of their children. Even the hardened skeptics in the
American media found themselves carried away by the courage of the
Big losers in Sunday´s election for an interim Iraqi government were
the terrorists, particularly murderous thugs like Osama bin Laden and
his "mini-me," Abu Musab Zarqawi. Beyond that, the losers are the
critics and the naysayers in our part of the world who did not
believe elections could take place, or thought they should have been
postponed into the indefinite future. Those who advocate immediate
American disengagement also lost. The big winners were the Iraqi
people and the Bush administration, which has staked huge political
capital on a successful election.
Once people lose their fear, anything can happen. Eyewitnesses in
Iraq have compared the mood in many cities to the mood in Eastern
Europe when communism collapsed. In the end, over 60 percent of
Iraqis voted, which is about equal to the last American election. In
the recent Palestinian election, which was hailed as a triumph the
world over, 55 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
Fear of violence dominated the first hours of polling in Iraq, but
then people started pouring out to vote. When a young suicide bomber
blew himself and seven other people to pieces outside a polling
station at girls´ school in Baghdad, voters were not deterred.
Walking around the remains of the bombing, they just kept coming.
One reluctant voter in Baghdad, auto mechanic Wamidh al-Zubaidy, told
The Washington Times that he decided to vote in spite of threats from
masked men to burn down his house. "Then I remembered my brother who
Saddam executed," he said. "I felt a power inside myself, and there
was a voice telling me, ´this should not happen to my son or to any
Iraqi´... I voted with my wife, and we put it in God´s hands."
Now, this is not even the beginning of the end for U.S. engagement in
Iraq, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning, to borrow Winston
Churchill´s phrase. Voting in the Sunni Triangle in the center of the
country was sparse. To the Sunnis, the dominant tribe under Saddam
Hussein, Sunday must have been more like a day of mourning, as
Shi´ite and Kurdish communities celebrated freedom from oppression.
The great question now is whether Iraq´s emerging politicians can
become democrats and work together, probably in a coalition, to
create Iraq´s first post-Ba´athist constitution. Secular Interim
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the United Iraqi Alliance, which
represents Shi´ite parties, will have to work together. They will
also have to find ways of including the Sunnis. This is going to be a
difficult and complicated business.
And beyond that, there is always the threat of the fanatics and the
remnants of Saddam´s forces that will be waging war from the
sidelines. They remain deadly, though recent reports have downplayed
their level of organization.
The question of whether Islam and democracy are compatible already
has an affirmative answer in countries like Turkey and Indonesia.
Whether it is compatible with Islam as practiced in the Arab world
has been a matter of intense debate since September 11. Since then,
we have been exposed to the ugly, fanatical face of radical Islam,
through the indiscriminate killing of Westerners, assorted "infidels"
and fellow Muslims.
Before Sunday´s election, bizarre anti-democratic proclamations were
issued by terrorist operative Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose sole claim to
fame has been masterminded, appalling acts of terrorism and cruelty
against Iraqi civilians and children, allies forces in Iraq and
westerners kidnapped by his followers. They were somewhat reminiscent
of Osama bin Laden´s attempts at influencing the American election
through long-distance threats.
Zarqawi railed against candidates and voters alike, denouncing
democracy as an "evil principle" because it is base on "freedom of
religion," "freedom of speech," and "separation of religion and
politics." Clearly Zarqawi and Muslim clerics of a like mind
understand that democracy loosens the grip of religious leaders on
their followers and empowers individuals to practice their politics
and their religion as they see fit. No wonder they are afraid of its
power. (Copyright 2005 News World Communications, Inc. 02/02/05)
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