The Rise of Islamists in the Middle East

Washington’s policy of bringing elections to the Middle East, we were assured, would lead the region’s people to embrace America. But in fact many have flocked to support Islamic totalitarians–members of the ideological movement behind 9/11.
In Lebanon’s U.S.-backed election, Hezbollah won positions in the cabinet, and its current drive to topple the regime and take over has massive popular support. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas won in a landslide; it remains both wildly popular and adamantly committed to destroying Israel. In Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the group that scored stupendous gains was the Muslim Brotherhood, whose offshoots include Hamas and parts of al Qaeda.
This show of support for Islamic totalitarianism is commonly attributed to Washington’s supposedly overly aggressive military action, which allegedly antagonized and “radicalized” otherwise-friendly people in the region. But in fact the opposite is true. It is Washington’s failure to unleash sufficient force to defeat the Islamists that explains their growing popularity.
Contrary to Bush’s evasions, vast numbers of Muslims in the region have not been pining to embrace our political values. They have long been intellectually sympathetic to the Islamists. These Muslims believe that submission to Allah’s laws is morally good, and that their religion was meant to apply universally. While many will not themselves attack the West, they regard the cause of Islamic world domination as a noble ideal. This is why so many condone and actively support Islamist warriors and their sponsoring regimes. Consider the (little reported) street demonstrations after 9/11 across the Islamic world celebrating Osama bin Laden as a hero; consider the everyday popular glorification of “martyrs” on posters and in videos.
The region’s widespread support for Islamic totalitarianism is led by the states that are that movement’s chief financiers and inspirations: Iran and Saudi Arabia. These regimes are waging a proxy war against the West; they are proselytizing and recruiting untold numbers to join the fight to subjugate mankind to Islamic rule.
Since the Islamist cause has state-sponsorship and widespread moral endorsement, Washington’s military response to 9/11 should have been to crush the hostile Islamist regimes and demoralize the movement’s many abettors. By unapologetically devastating these regimes, America would have disheartened the Islamists and their supporters. Only demoralized people will reject the ideals and leaders that inspired their belligerence and promised victory; only humiliating defeat will drive them to renounce the fight as hopeless.
But instead of defending America by bringing defeat to our enemies, Bush chose to bring them elections–elections that have strengthened the Islamist cause.
Were Bush and his supporters merely ignorant about the ideas popular in the region? No, anyone who reads the newspaper can tell that Islamists command mass support. Bush and his supporters pushed for elections, not because of some honest mistake about the probable results, but because they evaded–and continue to evade–the nature of the threat we face from the Middle East. Why? Because our leaders lack the moral courage to do what is necessary to destroy it.
If our leaders admitted the nature of the threat, they would have to fight an assertive military campaign against a hugely popular movement–potentially killing many people. But such a response is morally inconceivable to them. They believe that America has no moral right to wage a self-interested war to protect our lives. For Washington, only a self-effacing response is legitimate. Thus, our leaders pretend that the threat is limited to a handful of “radicals,” and that the region is dense with oppressed, peace-loving admirers of the West. Our leaders selflessly empowered Mideast mobs with elections and vowed to endorse whatever they chose.
Encouraged to vote their conscience, the mobs demanded Islamist rule and “Death to America, Death to Israel.”
The U.S.-engineered political success of Islamists vindicates one of the movement’s central claims: committed jihadists bearing inferior weapons but armed with moral certainty can triumph over the powerful but cowardly America. Even after 9/11, the United States cravenly refused to defeat Islamists, and instead bent over backwards to hand them political power. What could do more to galvanize Muslim support for the cause of Islamic totalitarianism?
And what could do more to demoralize and disarm the better people in the region, however few, who genuinely renounce terrorism and aspire for freedom?
By bringing elections, rather than defeat, to our enemies, the United States has made them stronger. To protect American lives, we must recognize the ideological nature of the threat and proudly exercise our moral right to self-defense.
Elan Journo is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute ( in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand–author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” Contact the writer at [email protected].