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Friday, March 22, 2002
Islam vs. Dictator
Nicholas Kristoff takes time out from paranoid anti-gun ranting to raise an interesting point: Is democracy our friend or enemy in the Muslim world? The response of much of the Muslim world to American pressure after 9/11 has been to crack down on radical Islam, which has had the side effect of eliminating what shreds of freedom and democracy exist. Kristoff questions whether America should be in the business of promoting authoritarianism, even in the name of suppressing anti-American, pro-terrorist extremists.

Kristoff cites Yemen's experience -- where fundamentalist Islam gained power through democratic means, and then lost public support because of its extremism. And he argues
Egypt has been torturing Islamic fundamentalists for decades. Same with Algeria. Yet the only place where fundamentalists seem to be clearly losing popularity is Iran, where they alienated ordinary people by ruling them.
It's a good point. But Muslim zealots still control Iran, so they're not exactly a powerful data point in favor of democracy. And Kristoff neglects to mention Turkey, a (basically) democratic regime that forcibly suppresses Islamic fundamentalism and which probably not coincidentally is our only true ally in the Muslim world.

It's a tough question, and for a change I don't have a flip, easy answer.

[Update: That doesn't mean other people don't; Stephen Green at Vodkapundit trashes the column. I don't disagree with Green's premises that (1) Kristoff is naive, and (2) Islamo-fascism is extremely dangerous, and that democracy shouldn't be exalted over more fundamental principles like human decency, the rule of law, freedom, etc. If democracy is simply a means for anti-democrats to gain power, it's worse than useless. I'm just not convinced that in the long term, propping up dictators on the lesser-of-two-evils theory that at least they're not Islamic religious fanatics will work. After all, that's the strategy that created the current Iranian regime.]

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