It is time to banish wishful thinking about Islamism – FT.com
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch-Somalian, now in exile in the USA after the fatwas issued against her, knows the truth about Islamism
February 8, 2012 6:20 pm
It is time to banish wishful thinking about Islamism
A year ago many western commentators were celebrating an Arab spring. The internet generation personified by Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing executive, would take over power from military dictators and absolute monarchs in democratic elections. Those of us who warned that political Islam would be the principal beneficiary of elections in north Africa and the Middle East were dismissed as scaremongers.
Ever since 9/11, opinions in the west have been sharply divided on the popularity and legitimacy of political Islam. A minority – and I am one of them – argued that Islamism as a political doctrine was held by the mainstream in most of the House of Islam and particularly among Arabs; that violence was inherent in Islamist theory; and that if Islamists won state power they would not deliver prosperity.
Go through the literature of the past decade on this and you will find that initially most thinkers agreed with the second and third observations but dismissed the first as an unfair stereotyping of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular. The majority of western policymakers clung to the hope that Islamism as a political doctrine was accepted only by a fringe.
The fringe thesis inspired a series of policies aimed at capturing and/or killing the ultraradical violent leaders and marginalising the remainder. In the United States, conservatives and liberals accepted the basic assumptions of the fringe thesis but differed only in their methods. What has become clear after the uprisings of the past year is that Islamism is in fact mainstream, not fringe. The elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt confirm that it is secular individuals and groups who are on the fringes of Arab politics.
To compare Islamists of today with the Christian democrats of postwar Europe is absurd. To take them at their word that they will govern like the Islamists of Turkey is not much better. Europe’s Christian democrats may claim to be inspired by the Bible but they would not dream of proposing legislation straight from the book of Leviticus. By contrast, the Islamists of north Africa and the Middle East have for decades promoted the agenda that legislation should come from the suras of the Koran and other Islamic scripture.
The leaders of the political parties of the Brotherhood movement in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have insisted they are no different from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They say they will adopt the same economic policies as the AKP. Surveys by Pew and others show that, all over north Africa, the government in Ankara is seen as a role model.
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