08 September 2007

Embrace the Islamists

According to preliminary results in Morocco's parliamentary elections, PJD supporters [AFP]the conservative Istiqlal (Independence) party appears to have unexpectedly beaten the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). Many had feared that the PJD would win and will no doubt be relieved by this result. Yet, as an article in Time noted just a week ago, "The PJD is among the most transparent political parties in the country."

We might do well not to assume that all political parties coming out of Islamism are as extreme as Hamas in the Palestinian territories, who have refused to renounce violence. For scholars maintain that just about every other mainstream Islamist party that has participated in democratic elections, including Turkey's AK Party, Jordan's Islamic Action Front and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has demonstrated a strong commitment to democracy and civil rights. We should heed the lesson of the Algerian debacle when, in 1991, the secular military stepped in after the Islamic Salvation Front won 47% of the vote in the country's first free legislative elections, resulting in a brutal civil war that raged for more than a decade.

In the Middle East and across North Africa, the questions of democracy and of political Islam are inseparable. Video by Al-Qaeda's media wing As-Sahab showing Osama bin LadenTherefore, if we wish to see democracy spread, we are going to have to engage with political Islam. Recalling how Abraham Lincoln once said, "The best way to overcome an enemy is to make him your friend," maybe Osama Bin Laden is halfway right when he invites us to "embrace Islam." However, we do not need to convert to his radicalism. Rather, perhaps we need to embrace the Islamist moderates in a democratic hug.