10/25/2011—I read reports today that the “moderate” Islamist Party won the election in Tunisia. At the same time, a government spokesperson clarified remarks by the Interim Government in Lybia about basing future legislation in that country on the Qur’an. Western governments are said to be nervous about all this. There are continuing concerns about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
We should all be clear about what is and is not at stake in these issues. Islamic oriented parties are popular in the Arab world because these societies are pious and conservative. Islamic parties are genuinely popular and that is why they do well in elections. Insofar as these governments—or that of Turkey, which is in a similar boat—threaten an ally of the United States—Israel—or threaten violence against Americans or other westerners, America is entitled to have an opinion about these matters. But beyond that, it is really none of our concern.
What people are actually worried about is the fallout of genuine democracy. Insofar as elected governments pursue policies Americans don’t like, that is the business of the people of that country. Certainly we think, I think, that women should be treated equally and gays should not be discriminated against. But that is not going to be the case in these new democracies.
These discriminations are real and I am not minimizing them. I am only pointing out that they will come from democratic impulses in these societies. We have to have confidence that democracy itself will correct any abuses. I think history bears out this hope. Iran would have a very different government today if its people had real democracy.
The actual threat is that these Islamic parties do not have a long-tern commitment to democracy, that they intend one election only. But thus far, there is no evidence of that. Short of that threat, we should be happy that people are getting the policies they prefer. Democracy is the only long-term hope for peace.