Large Roadblocks on the Islamist Path to Democracy

By: Robert R. Reilly

Wall Street Journal LETTERS 4/30/12

In “The Islamist Road to Democracy” (WSJ op-ed, April 23), Reuel Marc Gerecht advises against “nostalgia and depression” in regard to what may seem unfavorable changes in the Middle East, but then falls prey to wishful thinking himself. His misplaced optimism concerning the development of Islamist democracy seems to be based on misconceptions about the history of the West.

Mr. Gerecht thinks that we got so tired of killing each other that we secularized ourselves and became democratic. However, the West did not fall into the arms of democracy because it was exhausted from religious wars. As the outcome of religious strife in other civilizations has shown, other options were and are available. Secularism did not, as he suggests, bring forth liberal values-rather liberal values produced secularism. The idea of freedom of conscience preceded secularism and was based on the very Christianity that he holds accountable for the killing.

Mr. Gerecht says that the Islamists are critical “to the moral and political rejuvenation of their countries” and that “they are the key to more democratic, liberal politics in the region.” Yet he fails to note that the notion of freedom of conscience is entirely absent from their thinking, as it is, indeed, from Islam itself. Also missing is the idea that all people are created equal, the cornerstone principle of democratic, constitutional government. Only by neglecting the importance of ideas could Mr. Gerecht make such astonishing statements.

He also says that Islam became a haven because of the tyranny produced by imported Western ideologies like communism and socialism. There is certainly merit in this statement. However, before the importation of totalitarianism, the British Empire had created model constitutional monarchies in places like Iraq and Egypt, which enjoyed real parliaments, limited government, the rule of law, independent judiciaries and relatively free press. So the real question becomes: Why didn’t democracy lead to more democracy in the Middle East, rather than its overthrow? It does no good to say the West did this to the people of the Middle East; they did it themselves.

And now, most likely, they are going to do it again. Perhaps the Islamists will lead to democracy, but not in the way that Mr. Gerecht thinks. A Muslim intellectual reformer from the Middle East recently sent me this bitter message: “As I see, this new Islamic wave is necessary. It is similar to the necessity of Nazi Party control of Germany. The Nazis caused many historical disasters, but these disasters were quite strong and hard lessons for Germans and the world. Middle Eastern societies are in need of learning such a hard lesson from these retarded parties.” If this is the “Islamist road to democracy,” Mr. Gerecht can keep it.

Robert R. Reilly

American Foreign Policy Council