Sunday's elections in Iraq have become the litmus test of President Bush's foreign policy. If they come off with minimal violence and if a respectable number of Sunnis participate, even staunch Bush critics will have to hold their fire. You can almost hear some naysayers hoping for the worst, if only to prove themselves right. But are we applying the wrong standard? What if there is widespread bloodshed and many Sunnis stay home, either out of fear or loyalty to the old regime? Doesn't this say more about the evil we are fighting than it does about whether we were right to take up the fight in the first place?
This week, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi told his followers, via the Internet, that Islam is not compatible with democracy. He called for ''an all-out war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,'' promising death to any "apostates" who participate in the democratic process.
In Zarqawi's brand of Islam, individuals are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Individuals exercise no free will. Liberty becomes synonymous with decadence. Every facet of life, private and public, must adhere to the dictates of those mullahs who interpret the will of Allah according to precepts laid out by an 18th-century cleric named Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab, who rejected any reforms in Islam that occurred after the middle of the 10th century. The message is clear: bend to the will of the powerful or be crushed. Death will come literally, by the sword or the improvised explosive device, or more symbolically, by being hidden behind a burqa and denied the right to learn to read or write.
There is no accommodating those who hold such views. They can't be reasoned with. No amount of compromise will appease them. No power-sharing scheme can buy them off. They must be defeated. But their defeat will come in two ways. We can kill and apprehend large numbers of these enemies of freedom, but we can never kill or jail all of them. More importantly, we cannot "kill" the ideology that motivates them. Ultimately, the only way to defeat this ideology is to promote a countervailing idea that is more compelling. And that is where Sunday's elections play such an important role.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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