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Opinion: US Foreign Policy A Barrier to Democracy

US Foreign Policy in the Middle East: A Barrier to Democracy
Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.

The catastrophic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have raised several questions about Islam and militant Muslims. The chief among them are, why are some Muslims so angry at the US that they would perpetrate such an inhuman act?

There are several theories being advanced by various commentators explaining why militant Muslims hate the United States. The silliest of them is the one that the Bush administration and the conservative elements in America entertain. They insist that Muslim militants hate America because they hate American values of freedom and democracy. Nothing can be further from the truth. Indeed most Muslims are great admirers of self-determination, pluralism and freedom and insist that these values are not only consistent with Islam but were the bedrock of the glorious Islamic civilization. They point to the diversity, tolerance and harmony at the peak of Islamic civilization to substantiate their claims.

As Islamic awareness increases in postcolonial Muslim societies and Islamic activists try to rebuild their civilization they find that an economically motivated alliance between secular authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world and the West, in particular the US, is the biggest barrier to freedom, democracy and self determination. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait are just a few examples of states were non-democratic regimes thrive and repress popular movements with US support. The US government finds it more convenient to dominate the region by negotiating terms with a handful of elite rather than coming to terms with the region’s public opinion, if democracy were to take root in the Middle East.

In 1953 a CIA coup replaced the democratic government of Mossadeq Hussain in Iran with a monarchy so that Iran could become a client serving US interests in the Middle East. In Algeria the west financed and legitimized a military coup that prevented Islamists from coming to power after winning an election. The US remains a close ally and even defender of nearly all the monarchies in the region. The Kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan are crucial to US interests in the region.

Since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan the American establishment has railed about its human rights record and treatment of women, but nothing is said about Saudi Arabia, which is not very different from Afghanistan on those two issues. Even now all that American establishment can think of, as an alternate to the Taliban in Afghanistan is the reinstatement of a senile monarch, not the establishment of democracy.

There is also a false notion circulating that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Today nearly 650 million Muslims live in democratic societies (Turkey, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Europe, North America, Malaysia, Australia). As of now there are two Muslim nations that have women heads of state – Indonesia and Bangladesh. Pakistan and Turkey have had women leaders in the past. The US has not had one in over 220 years! (Interestingly even the present global chief of Amnesty International is a Muslim woman).

It is not a hatred of democracy and freedom but the desire for one that has made many Muslims hate the US whom they blame for the perpetuation of undemocratic polities in their world. Surely there are some Muslims who argue that democracy like everything Western is UnIslamic and evil. Fortunately such misguided people are few and have very little influence in the Muslim World.

The utter lack of peaceful channels for protest and dissent in the entire Arab world has slowly radicalized most moderate Islamic oppositions. The use of brutal force by secular regimes has further incited reactionary violence from Islamic militias. Many Muslims from this part of the world believe that the US is hypocritical about its claim that it values democracy. They also think that it is inherently opposed to democracy in the Muslim world and must share the blame for the repression and authoritarianism perpetrated by its allies.

The mounting frustration at their inability to bring change in their own world has led many Muslims to take the militant route and now they are zeroing in on the US, who in their opinion is the biggest barrier to political freedom.

Does this mean that angry Muslims are allowed to perpetrate collateral damages that include over 5000 innocent Americans? Certainly not. The purpose of this article is not to condone what happened on September 11th. What happened was horrible, inhuman and unIslamic.

But reflection over Muslim grievances can help us understand how even devout people can be driven to commit themselves to terror. Systematic repression dispossesses people of their humanity, inciting them to commit inhuman acts.

Americans must take these grievances seriously and address them in good faith and that, in my opinion, is the best way to fight resentment, anger and the resulting violence.

- Dr. Muqtedar Khan is the Director of International Studies at Adrian College.

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