Friday, June 24, 2005

AEI Scholar Wrong to Champion Islamism

Daniel Pipes takes on the increasingly fashionable policy recommendations of former CIA agent Reuel Gerecht, now at the American Enterprise Institute, who calls for the election of Islamist fundamentalist leaders as part of President Bush's "democracy" strategy :

Reuel Gerecht is someone whose work I admire - he is an insightful and prolific writer on matters Middle Eastern, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard. In 1997, I called his book, Know Thine Enemy (written under the pseudonym, Edward Shirley) a 'quite brilliant spy's report.'

But Gerecht has lately become the most prominent voice of the responsible right to advocate welcoming radical Islam's coming to power. Toward this end, he offers aphorisms such as 'Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists' and 'Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s.'

In a short book, The Islamic Paradox: Shiite Clerics, Sunni Fundamentalists and the Coming of Arab Democracy, Mr. Gerecht lays out his views. Unlike the appeasers and the woolly-minded, he neither pre-empts nor deludes himself. His analysis is hardheaded, even clever. But his conclusion is fundamentally flawed.

Contra Gerecht, Pipes argues Islamist nations are a direct threat to the United States, citing the example of Iran's export of terrorism and nuclear blackmail. Pipes concludes:

In accepting the horrors of Islamist rule, Gerecht is unnecessarily defeatist. Rather than passively reconcile itself to decades of totalitarian rule, Washington should actively help Muslim countries navigate from autocracy to democracy without passing through an Islamist phase.

This is indeed achievable. As I wrote a decade ago in response to the Algerian crisis, instead of focusing on quick elections, which almost always benefit the Islamists, the American government should shift its efforts to slower and deeper goals: "political participation, the rule of law (including an independent judiciary), freedom of speech and religion, property rights, minority rights, and the right to form voluntary organizations (especially political parties)." Elections should only follow on the achievement of these steps. Realistically, they could well take decades to achieve.

Elections should culminate the democratic process, not start it. They ought to celebrate civil society successfully achieved. Once such a civil society exists (as it does in Iran but not in Algeria), voters are unlikely to vote Islamists into power.

Unfortunately, Reuel Gerecht seems to have more followers than Daniel Pipes in Washington policy-making circles these days, IMHO.