Why are some people urging the US to work with Islamists?
An important op-ed by Amir Taheri in the Jerusalem Post.
The anti-Bush chorus, however, insists that no elections in the Middle East could be regarded as democratic unless not only contested but won by Islamists. Some have gone further, suggesting that the US ally itself with Islamist groups and help them achieve power.
The latest such recommendation comes in the form of a special report from a commission headed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (a Democrat) and former Congressman Vin Weber (a Republican) for the Council on Foreign Relations.
THE IDEA of an alliance between the US and Islamist groups is not new. It was first launched in 1977 by president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who dreamed of a "green Islamic cordon sanitaire" around the Soviet Union.
Based on the Machiavellian dictum of "my enemy's enemy is my friend," the strategy may have made some sense in the context of the Cold War. But the Cold War ended 15 years ago and there is no reason why the United States, or any other democracy, should ally itself with the enemies of democracy anywhere in the world.
The Albright-Weber analysis is based on two assumptions. The first is that the Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizbullah, are comparable to Christian Democrat parties in Western Europe.
But things are not that simple. In Christianity matters pertaining to religion are handled by the church. Thus a political party that uses the term "Christian" as part of its identity is not pretending to represent the Christian faith. All it does is to claim a certain Christian attitude to political issues.
Such a demarcation, however, is impossible in Islam if only because it has no church-like structures. Hizbullah, as its name implies, claims to be the Party of God Himself, thus anathemizing those who do not march under its flag. The Muslim Brotherhood claims the Koran as its constitution, thus branding all other political organizations as "impious."
It is important that no political group be allowed to claim a monopoly on Islam. If the Muslim Brotherhood wants to field candidates all it has to do is register as a political party under a non-religious name, just as its Turkish and Algerian counterparts have done, winning a share of power through elections.
Albright and Weber are right that both Hamas and Hizbullah "are already participants in the democratic activities of their society." But these cannot be recognized as democratic parties unless and until they dissolve their private armies.
This is what the British government is demanding from the Sinn Fein-IRA in Northern Ireland. There is no reason why the same should not apply in the Middle East. The fact of winning some seats in an election, even lots of seats, is not sufficient ground for the US, or other democracies, to ally themselves with non-democratic parties.