- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

More than half of the nations governed by authoritarian rulers have Muslim majorities, according to a new report by the human rights group Freedom House.
"There are 47 states that are rated as Not Free and in which a broad range of freedoms are systematically denied. Of these, 27 have majority-Islamic populations," says the report, "Freedom in the World 2002," which was released today.
Six out of nine nations labeled the "worst-rated countries" Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Turkmenistan have majority-Islamic populations, according to the report.
Despite the findings, which suggest a relationship between the religion and government, Freedom House President Adrian Karatnycky cautioned against linking tyranny with Islam.
"The majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims live in India, Turkey, Bangladesh, Europe and the United States, and they live under democratic governments and participate in democracy. There is nothing inherently anti-democratic in Islam," said Mr. Karatnycky. "At one time, Marxist-Leninist governments were primarily in Catholic countries, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the same argument used to be made that there was something inherently authoritarian about Catholicism."
Mr. Karatnycky said that for the 30 years his organization has been tracking freedom, the trend in Islamic nations has been toward more authoritarian rule.
But he said that there were gains in freedom in parts of the Islamic world this year.
In Iran, there were demonstrations to lessen autocratic rule. Turkey made progress in loosening restrictions on the Kurds and advancing human rights, and Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar all are "moving in a positive direction," he said.
Mr. Karatnycky said in the same way Catholic nations were corrupted by Marxist-Leninist ideologies, Islam has been hijacked by extreme ideologies Pan Arabic Ba'athism, which holds sway in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and revolutionary or jihadist Islam, which is the primary source of Islamic terrorism.
Both ideologies were founded by men who grew up in the 1930s and adopted fascist or Marxist-Leninist models in pursuit of their goals.
"It is not Islam. It's a corruption of Islam. These two ideologies have screwed up a lot of the Islamic world," he said.
Mr. Karatnycky said that President Bush understands this, and in his West Point commencement speech this summer, Mr. Bush set out a plan for reaching out to moderate and democratic elements in the Islamic world.
According to Mr. Karatnycky, the Bush administration needs to press Islamic governments to liberalize, to give "space" to those with differing ideas. It also needs to identify moderate and democratic Islamic voices and support them. And finally it should continue to prosecute the war on terrorism.
"You need debate, open and honest discourse. The Saudis are a major part of the problem. We should be pressing the Saudis to open up. When debate is cut off, you help the radicals," he said. "We have to fight the war on terrorism because the democratic voices are being assassinated. The moderates are the victims. They are being attacked. They are under the gun."

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