January 28, 2006
The Hamas Electoral Victory: Democracy's Bitter Fruit
Hamas has apparently won the Palestinian elections, the West is
with its own petard.
On the one
hand, Hamas is a terrorist group that unabashedly targets Israeli
civilians and calls
for the elimination of the Jewish state. On the other hand,
it just won what observers deem to have been a reasonably fair
election, and so enjoys the legitimacy that comes from the ballot
box. Every foreign ministry now confronts a dilemma: Nudge it
to moderation or give up on it as irredeemably extremist? Meet
with Hamas members or avoid them? Continue to donate to the Palestinian
Authority or starve it of funds?
This double bind is
of our own making because, with Washington in the lead, virtually
every Western government adopted a two-prong approach to solving
the problems of the Middle East.
The negative prong
consists of fighting terrorism. A "war on terror" is
underway, involving military forces in the field, toughened financial
laws, and an array of espionage tools.
The positive prong
involves promoting democracy. The historical record shows that
democratic countries almost never make war on each other, and
tend to be prosperous. Therefore, elections appear to be what
the doctor ordered for the maladies of the Middle East.
But that combination
has failed this troubled region. The first functional election
in the Palestinian Authority has thrown up Hamas. In December,
2005, the Egyptian electorate came out strongly for the Muslim
Brotherhood, a radical Islamic party, and not for liberal elements.
In Iraq, the post-Saddam electorate voted in a pro-Iranian Islamist
as prime minister. In Lebanon, the voters celebrated the withdrawal
of Syrian troops by voting Hezbollah into the government. Likewise,
radical Islamic elements have prospered in elections in Saudi
Arabia and Afghanistan.
In brief, elections
are bringing to power the most deadly enemies of the West. What
went wrong? Why has a democratic prescription that's proven successful
in Germany, Japan and other formerly bellicose nations not worked
in the Middle East?
Islam or some cultural factor that accounts for this difference;
rather, it is the fact that ideological enemies in the Middle
East have not yet been defeated. Democratization took place in
Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union after their populations
had endured the totalitarian crucible. By 1945 and 1991, they
recognized what disasters fascism and communism had brought them,
and were primed to try a different path.
That's not the case
in the Middle East, where a totalitarian temptation remains powerfully
in place. Muslims across the region – with the singular
and important exception of Iran – are drawn to the Islamist
program with its slogan that "Islam is the solution."
That was the case from Iran in 1979 to Algeria in 1992 to Turkey
in 2002 to the Palestinian Authority this week.
This pattern has several
implications for Western governments:
down: Take heed that an impatience to move the Middle East
to democracy is consistently backfiring by bringing our most deadly
enemies to power.
* Settle in for the long run: However worthy the democratic
goal, it will take decades to accomplish.
* Defeat radical Islam: Only when Muslims see that this
is a route doomed to failure will they be open to alternatives.
* Appreciate stability: Stability must not be an end
in itself, but its absence likely leads to anarchy and radicalization.
Returning to the dilemma
posed by the Hamas victory, Western capitals need to show Palestinians
that – like Germans electing Hitler in 1933 – they
have made a decision gravely unacceptable to civilized opinion.
The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must be isolated and rejected
at every turn, thereby encouraging Palestinians to see the error
of their ways.
is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures