- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

I was fortunate to attend the 100th anniversary in Washington of the American Jewish Committee, which had been a mixed experience for me. On the one hand I admired a community firmly bonded around a culture of humanistic values, culturally sensitive and influential. But I also had a manifest anxiety toward the Arab/Muslim world devastated by wars, whose very existence is threatened by backward-looking thoughts, mainly radical Islamism.

A historic tragedy is at play before our own eyes: Another Munich, when some European democracies thought they could avoid the war by appeasing Nazism. Winston Churchill said: “You accepted shame to avoid war, now you will have both.” History’s verdict was simply merciless.

Today, Arab but also Western diplomats are making the same mistake toward the “green fascism.” Thus, their “smart” strategy will consist in involving these groups in a democratic process; Islamists would then, they believe, change their behavior.

But this is a blatant failure to recognize Islam, history and democracy. Islamism is born out of a reaction to attempts to modernize Arab/Muslim society. Its credo, “There’s No Power than that of God,” pretends to be democracy’s antithesis, which means the People’s Power. Forgetting Islamism’s origin is tantamount to illusion.

Extremism is a form of political activity that rejects the principles of parliamentary democracy. Extremist ideology and practices are based on intolerance, exclusion, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and ultranationalism.

Extremism is a danger for any democratic state because its fanatic character may be used to justify violence. Even if it doesn’t directly advocate violence, extremism creates a climate conducive to violence.

It is a direct threat in weakening the constitutional democratic order and civic liberties and an indirect threat by causing political mistakes. Classical political parties may be tempted to adopt crowd-pleasing themes and positions that are the prerogatives of extremist parties in an effort to stymie their electoral progression.

This extremism one finds in radical Islamism was born at the end of the 1970s against the backdrop of the rout of the nationalist and Pan-Arab ideologies. It is not a matter of “modernizing Islam” but of “Islamizing modernity.”

In the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the “Green Peril” is seen as a major threat. No wonder then that in 1991 in Algeria, while Islamists of the FIS triumphed over free elections, the West saw the democratic process interrupted, with a resultant Algerian civil war that was to last 10 years and produce 200,000 casualties.

We need to see what lies beyond the veneer. There is not one radical current that has the slightest program on housing, health, education, etc. They all feed on slogans chanting the return to pure islam, that of caliphs, and wonderfully play on the rise of a disquieting nationalist upsurge in the face of a supposed aggression of modernity in Iraq and Palestine. This position is at odds with the democratic transition, but supporters are being recruited by this regressive position.

In Morocco, many who preach this doctrine are mouthpieces to demonstrate their currents are not cause for concern to the rest of the world. Some have fallen for this: They oppose any free speech, the festivals, women, philosophy and pluralism. The West is their enemy and for them Jews are “lineal descendants of monkeys and swine.” Likewise, feminism — according to them — is a call for prostitution.

Thinking they will be coaxed with power and government positions is synonymous with ignorance of history. Thinking themselves victorious, their troops would like to see their ideas triumph over all, so they sweep out the alternatives.

Their forces will impose fascism on society and already do so where they feel they are in the majority, be it universities or secondary schools under their “control.” The case of Iran’s Bani Sadr is quite telling: Although he was democratically elected, his government did not stand more than nine months.

Islamism moves almost by inertia: The democrats lack the courage of their convictions and so accept the upsurge of political Islamism as unstoppable, as the Islamists themselves claim it to be.

It is about time for the democrats to awaken and not for a Munich collusion that would be conducive to disaster.

In Morocco the battle is also economic and social. It is therefore important to pursue the reforms initiated by King Mohammed VI to secure development, reduce poverty and improve the conditions of millions of Moroccans in a vulnerable status that makes them easy prey for fundamentalist agitation.

Ahmed Charai is president of the Moroccan weekly la Verite in Casablanca and director of the electronic journal www.lobservateur.ma.

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