Dialogue With The Islamists

Dialogue With The Islamists
Dawood Al Shirian    

Before 9/11, the prevailing belief in the European capitals, not to mention Washington, was that democracy leads the “extremist Islamists” to power. With the growth of violent movements concealed in religion in the Middle East, this belief became a deep-rooted conviction. The architects of Western policy were confident that pressuring the region’s governments by adopting policies that open the way to popular participation would be like supporting movements and groups that violently oppose the West; and just as democracy brought the Communists into Latin America during the Cold War, it would bring the Islamists to power in the Arab world.        

This conviction gained strength after the New York events. The international scene experienced cooperation between the states to fight Islamic extremism. However, confusion created a rival popular reaction to this campaign, sympathetic to the Islamic current in the Arab and Islamic countries; especially when the U.S. agenda added nonviolent parties (the Muslim Brotherhood), others that carry out legitimate resistance to occupation (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah) on the terrorist list. Not to mention that this campaign’s declarations, plans, and positions were launched in synchronization with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and “coincidentally” concurred with Israel’s interest in liquidating parties that have no involvement with the terrorism that hit the U.S.

This collective accusation of terrorism to anything that is Islamic is just a card shuffle. It weakened the American stance and revealed the goals behind it. It created some hesitation in the position of many states; not to mention that some countries suffer from terrorism and fight it going from national motives to protect the security of their societies and political unities, are embarrassed by explaining their positions as simple submission to the American agenda. This was further complicated when Washington set its plan of democratizing the Middle East in motion. This project was starkly contrasting; forbidding the Islamists to participate just because they are Islamists, which increased their hatred to the U.S. policies. It targeted the stability of states that are waging fierce battles against terrorism, and put political pressures on them which confused their way of dealing with violence. It left a political mood that perplexes terrorism and political struggle. It created movements that want change at any cost, even if the price is occupation. As such, the so-called American project became, with its two branches (“fighting terror” and “spreading democracy”), a “political tumult” and no one is confident what Washington wants anymore; does it really want to eradicate terror in the region, or is it seeking to nourish it and invest it through intervening in the states’ affairs and antagonizing their societies in the name of democracy?

Amidst this political ambiguity, or chaos, Washington became conscious of its previous rejection of Islamists and started talking of the necessity of starting a dialogue with the Islamic parties and movements considering them effective forces on the Arab political scene and cannot be ignored. This idea was transmitted to the European Union countries, whose Foreign Ministers discussed a document that urges member states to talk about the idea of dialogue with the Islamist movements in the Middle East, and to cooperate in achieving democracy on the secular level in civil society in the Arab countries, rather than Islamist groups that are more representative of, and more popular in, the Arab street.

Who are these democratic Islamist movements according to Washington and its Western allies? How could this new naming and the interesting change in light of the collective accusation be accepted? Moreover, is it possible for the U.S. and European policies have common ground to dialogue with the Islamist parties in light of the sharp essential contrast between the two sides with respect to man issues, the simplest of which is women’s rights in society and their political rights? Furthermore, how did the Islamist activists suddenly became moderate in the eyes of the Western politicians and could be negotiated with? Is it possible for the Islamist movements in the Arab states accept the state’s secularism as a starting point of this dialogue? Supposing they do, could they still be more representative and popular on the political scene? Or could they still be described as “Islamists”? Finally, is the goal of this dialogue achieving a Turkish model, i.e. Islam without an Islamic state? Or is it to reach the Iraqi composition: a state that is built on sectarian sharing and a fabricated secular constitution? Making a democracy without the machineries to implement it… democracy without democrats… a faulty democracy?