Walid Salem addresses the issue of whether Islam as a religion is compatible with the establishment of democracy. Salem believes that it is, and points out that there are hundreds of moderate Islamic groups open to the ideas of peace, democracy, and modernization operating within the Middle East. The West must find a way to incorporate these groups into an alliance against terrorism and so help to instill the values of democracy in the Middle East.
Walid Salem is a political analyst and the director of Panorama, the Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem office.
ALL THE TIME THE QUESTION IS RAISED AS TO WHETHER OR NOT ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY can work together in harmony. While it has become clear in recent decades that Islam itself is no impediment to democratic change, radical Islamic groups most certainly are. But the distinction must be made.
This new perception that Islam is in itself not the problem to free, democratic change in the Middle East has allowed modern day scholars to differentiate between Islamic organizations that commit acts of terrorism and preach antidemocratic doctrines, and those Islamic organizations who are able to conjoin the principles of Islam with modernization, democracy and peace.
MODERATE ISLAMIC GROUPS
Extremist groups like Al Qaeda are commonly known, and yet no one seems to give any attention to the more moderate, democratic organizations such as the Islamic Sufi groups and the thirteen small Islamic parties within Palestine that support democracy.
Yet, of course, many organizations are still resistant to change. The Islamic Front in Jordan has stated itself supportive of Al Qaeda, and of the late Abu Musab Zarqawi terrorist acts in Iraq. Also Hamas leadership in Damascus has expressed itself unwilling to compromise, applauding the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier.
But while some groups still remain closed off to the possibility for peace, other groups are opening their minds to negotiation and establishing the ideals of free and progressive democracies.
The Muslim Brotherhood group in Iraq, known as the Islamic Iraqi Party, has opened constructive dialogue with Americans.
In Syria, the Brotherhood express their desire to negotiate with Israel.
In Algeria, the Peace and Society Movement has joined the regime against the Islamic Salvation Front.
HAMAS IN PALESTINE
Hamas in Palestine is a Muslim Brotherhood group as well, and although often considered a terrorist organization, many factions of Hamas are making large steps in fighting for democracy and negotiation.
Hamas participated in free elections in January of 2006 winning control over the government. And various factions throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip have expressed firm positions of political moderation through their approval of the National Conciliation Document last June, which recognizes Israel indirectly.
Many members of Hamas also called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier in Gaza.
THREE STRATEGIES FOR PEACE
I envision three possible strategies for democratic transformation in the Middle East.
ONE The first would rely upon bringing the elite of the liberal democracies in the Middle East together with those moderate Islamic organizations who adopt the ideals of democracy, peace, modernization, and nonviolence. The two could then work together to create positive change within their countries.
TWO The second strategy would be for the moderate Islamic organizations to communicate openly with the people and slowly begin to spread their ideals throughout the society.
THREE And the third would be a joint effort of the West and Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and therefore influence Hamas towards adopting a more moderate political stance.
ALLYING WITH THE MODERATES
But at the same time, the fight against extremist groups cannot stop. The world must work towards ending Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks.
But the fight against Al Qaeda is only a short-term solution to the problem.
What really must be resolved is how to bring the Islamic Moderates into an alliance against terrorism, in order to sow the seeds for free, safe democracy in the Middle East.