Monday, January 30, 2006

When Terrorists Gain Power

Today Hamas, the Islamic militant terrorist group that is expected to form the next Palestinian government, appealed to foreign donors to lift threats to cut vital aid but rejected their calls to renounce violence against Israel. Talk about a situation of wanting their cake and eating it too. The Palestinian and all Arab people need to know that they cannot elect militant Islamist governments and expect the world to pretend that nothing has changed. Hamas must formally renounce violence and recognize Israel before normal diplomatic and international relations should resume. In my opinion, aid is both an appropriate carrot and stick that should be used at this time to pressure Hamas to make a verifiable break with its terrorist past.

The election of Hamas, however, should also serve as a wake-up call to the West. The Western democracies (and the Bush administration in particular) need to learn that free democratic elections in Islamic countries may not necessarily lead to greater security, a reduction in terrorism or lead to greater civil and human rights in the countries themselves. This is naivety at its worst. Indeed, in the October/November edition of Foreign Affairs, F. Gregory Gause III argues convincingly in his article "Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?" that there is no evidence that democracy actually reduces terrorism at all. Indeed, he suggests, a democratic Middle East may likely result in Islamist governments that are even more antagonistic to the West than the totalitarian regimes they replace. The recent election of Hamas in Palestine and the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would seem to bear this concern out. We may wish to believe that democracy will change things for the better, but wishing does not make it so. The issues that have led to the rise of militant Islam in the world are far deeper than just political repression.

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