Bush's antiterrorism formula

The Bush formula for drying up terrorism is pretty basic: Democracy equals freedom equals a satisfied populace. Transform the Middle East, and the incentive for terrorists to wage war against their governments or those that support them evaporates.

But developments in Iraq and elsewhere in the region show the formula to be far more complex, starting with the very first component: democracy.

Americans and Europeans wouldn't recognize their democracies in Iraq's draft constitution, for instance. While Article Two states that "no law may contradict democratic standards," it also proclaims "no law may contradict Islamic standards" and "Islam is a main source for legislation."

The role of Islam in government goes to the heart of the democracy challenge in the region. As evidenced in Iraq, freedom of self- determination has unshackled conservative Islamists who argue that democracy means they can now have their say.

How much say is the question. Too much, and out pops the model of Iran, a theocracy as antithetical to democracy as communism and fascism. On the other hand, a Muslim country such as Turkey shows it's possible for an Islamist party to rule according to its values, but within a legal secular framework.

The irony, and frankly, concern, about Bush's formula is that while it has helped pave the way for more democratic elections from Afghanistan to Lebanon, it has opened the road to Islamist groups which pose a danger to democratic values.

The militant Islamist organization Hamas, for instance, is gaining in popularity against the ruling secular Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas still advocates attacks on Israeli citizens and still wants to eliminate Israel.

What would happen if it captured significant power in January's parliamentary elections? Will it be tempered by political experience? Will Palestinian voters, sick of violence, restrain Hamas? These are open questions, but the Palestinians' fledgling democracy allowed them to be raised - for better or worse.

There's another multifaceted situation that doesn't easily fit the Bush formula: Egypt.

By far the largest opposition group in that country, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, won't be allowed to participate in Egypt's first multicandidate presidential election Sept. 7. Banned since 1954, when its leaders tried to assassinate Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Brotherhood now forswears violence, calls itself moderate, and says all the right things about democracy.

As pressure builds for a more fair political process in Egypt, so will calls mount for the legalization of this group. But should that be allowed? Despite its political rhetoric, it aims to establish Islamic law in Egypt. The worry is that if the Brotherhood is legalized and wins an election, that would be it: one man, one vote, one time.

The caveats to the Bush formula are as vast as the Arabian Desert. And they penetrate to the core issue of separation of church and state, mosque and mandate. His equation could usher in a democratic era that respects Islamic values in the region but limits religion in government; or it could open the door to more Irans. Americans must become more conscious of the complexities involved.

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