In Chapter 4 of The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria, draws out some interesting facts about Islam:
- In a 2002 survey, Freedom House find that 75 percent of the world’s countries are free or partly free; Only 28 percent of the Middle Eastern countries fall into that category.
- Of the 22 members of the Arab League, not one is a democracy.
- Until the 1940s, minorities, particularly Jews, were persecuted less in Arab lands than anywhere else in the world.
- Of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, only 260 million live in Arabia.
- Islamic fundamentalism is entirely a product of Arabs.
- Most of the Muslims in the world live in democracies or semi-democracies.
In other words, the radicals only make up a minority of Islam worldwide and there is little reason believe that Islam is not compatible with liberal democracy (Zakaria draws a distinction between liberal democracy, which is governed by the rule of law and guarantees basic freedoms, and illiberal democracies, which are more like thugocracies — Russia being Exhibit A.
Zakaria makes a strong case that Arab countries can be liberalized, but it will take some effort by the United States. It will take diplomatic pressure on Saudia Arabia and Egypt to modernize their economies and expand secular freedoms; also, the Palestinian issue must be solved; and a successful Iraq will help show the way for other countries in the region.
The consummate politician, former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, once said that all politics is local. So is the politics of rage. The frustrations of ordinary Arabs are not about the clash of civilizations or the rise of McDonald’s or the imperial foreign policy of the United States. They are responses to repressive political regimes with no political voice. And they blame America for supporting these regimes.
Iraq is a real test for us. If we can show that we’re serious about freedom, and if we apply serious diplomatic pressure to Saudi Arabia and Egypt to reform from within, we will go a long way toward ending the seemingly endless terrorist threat from extremist Muslims. This is a good thing, I think.