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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

04 February 2006

Welcome the Islamists

The Washington Post writes today: “Democratization in the Middle East will inevitably mean that Islamists and others with anti-Western agendas will have the chance to compete for power -- and occasionally to govern.” Listening to the discussions on Hamas’ victory, my mind goes to Europe: the most ardent socialists in the continent today are those who lived on the Western side of Iron Curtain and were spared of the ills of communism, while the most faithful capitalists are those who revolted against communism in the late 1980s.

This analogy reminds us that big ideas have to be confronted rather than bypassed. A society will move on after it has tried something and has chosen against it—ideas are defeated through experience not theory. Even Europe’s own history with religiosity, and the attempts of the Catholic Church to control life on the continent, ended when struggles and wars reduced the power of the church. Only then did the enlightenment theorize to legitimize the new order.

In the case of Islam and the Middle East, this rite of passage from Islamism may be even more necessary than, say, the experience of communism was in Europe. The reason is that whatever formulae these countries adopt to confront the world, Islam will have to be part of them. To expect any society to move to secularism, and to do so overnight, is ludicrous. Even America and France are still wrestling with the question of how much religion and politics should mix. The answer is not found in textbooks but through experience—much like the answer of how much order is too much is answered by the Chinese through the interaction between civil society and the Chinese Communist Party.

In other words, Islamist rule is not an unfortunate byproduct of George W. Bush’s “democracy agenda,” but a necessary step in the historical cycle that can lead one day to a more liberal order in the region. The suppression of Islamism only serves to insulate a tiny part of the Muslim mind to think that if Islamists were in power, things would be so much better. There is no surgery to remove it—it has to be tossed out by the beholder. And disillusion with the practice, rather than the theory, of Islamism is a big part of that process.

References:
“Democracy’s Consequences,” Washington Post, 4 Feb 06 (link)

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