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The Kidnapping of Democracy

That's the title of Tom Friedman's excellent column this morning. Friedman writes:

What we are seeing in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is an effort by Islamist parties to use elections to pursue their long-term aim of Islamizing the Arab-Muslim world. This is not a conflict about Palestinian or Lebanese prisoners in Israel. This is a power struggle within Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq over who will call the shots in their newly elected "democratic'' governments and whether they will be real democracies.

The tiny militant wing of Hamas today is pulling all the strings of Palestinian politics, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Shiite Islamic party is doing the same in Lebanon, even though it is a small minority in the cabinet, and so, too, are the Iranian-backed Shiite parties and militias in Iraq. They are not only showing who is boss inside each new democracy, but they are also competing with one another for regional influence.

As a result, the post-9/11 democracy experiment in the Arab-Muslim world is being hijacked. Yes, basically free and fair elections were held in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. Yes, millions turned out to vote because the people of the Arab-Muslim world really do want to shape their own futures.

But the roots of democracy are so shallow in these places and the moderate majorities so weak and intimidated that we are getting the worst of all worlds. We are getting Islamist parties who are elected to power, but who insist on maintaining their own private militias and refuse to assume all the responsibilities of a sovereign government. They refuse to let their governments have control over all weapons. They refuse to be accountable to international law (the Lebanese-Israeli border was ratified by the U.N.), and they refuse to submit to the principle that one party in the cabinet cannot drag a whole country into war.