Islamists advocate implementing Shariah (Islamic) law "as the basis of all statutory issues." Americans may find Islamist policies arbitrary and restrictive, but Islamists do not use violence. Moreover, the Islamists represent cultural and moral values respected in predominantly Muslim societies. Islamists can accommodate themselves to democracy -- a Militant Islamist is a totalitarian and despises democracy.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution began as a popular rebellion against the authoritarian Shah. Opposition to the Shah united liberal modernizers, workers, nationalists and Muslim militants led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Khomeinists eventually imposed their own dictatorship because they were willing to kill other Iranians. One dictatorial clique replaced another.
In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's first president after the revolution (and living in exile since 1981, when Khomeini toppled him), wrote that if Tunisians are to protect their revolution from the fate that befell Iran's, "despite their many differences from secular to Islamist, political organizations should develop a common commitment to democratic values and the rights of individuals."
Most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party, and were pushed aside." It's an old story. Revolutionary Russia's moderate Mensheviks were tossed aside by the violent Bolsheviks.
Bani-Sadr's article echoed Aboul-Enein's contention that faithful Muslims play a central role in defeating Militant Islamism: "Militant Islamist ideology can be opposed among the Muslim masses only by Islamic counter-argumentation. We cannot contain Militant Islamist ideology but only work to marginalize, de-popularize, and erode its influence and mass appeal by identifying it as different from Islam or even from Islamist political groups."
At some point, the Militant Islamists will resort to terror and assassination in their bid to secure unrivaled power. It will take a resilient alliance of Egyptian secularists, moderate Islamists and the military to defeat them. Encouraging this alliance should be America's foremost diplomatic goal.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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