The myth of Islamist democracy.

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July 16 2004 4:43 PM

The Myth of Islamist Democracy

America needn't apologize for its missionary zeal.

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Chirac is not defending Arabs, only his position as a dear friend and frontman of those Arab rulers who have no wish to reform their governments. Maybe democracy can't be imposed, but democratic and liberal reforms certainly can.

As Slate contributor Michael Young wrote in Lebanon's Daily Star, the Greater Middle East Initiative "saw Arab reform as a Western national security requirement." As Sept. 11 showed, failed societies affect the lives of ordinary Americans. The idea behind the GMEI was that if Arab states functioned better and gave citizens a voice in their own political processes and a chance to advance their economic interests, fewer Arab young men will want to fly planes into U.S. buildings. The idea is no less rational now, and there's no reason to apologize for our missionary zeal, especially when, as Qaradawi complains, Washington-sponsored educational reforms "want to omit all teachings about jihad." That is precisely the point.

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Reform-minded Arabs are counting on the United States to drive this agenda. We've heard from so many sources how the Arab world likes Americans, just not U.S. policies, that perhaps we should be wondering what it is Arabs really like about us. Our pop music and action movies? Our willingness to spend lots of money on vacation? The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?

The policies of the American government are largely derived from the ideas of the American people. And, frankly, there's nothing very special about Americans except for our ideas. If they should happen to clash with the political adventurism of Jacques Chirac or the bloody opinions of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, all the better.

Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

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