From the March 11, 2008 Insight
March 12, 2008
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
Many of Putin's supposedly liberal apologists in Russia argue that the country is not ready for truly free and democratic elections. Any such election could, they continue in exculpation of his authoritarian regime, bring communist or nationalist extremists to power.
Much the same view is widespread in the West regarding the Islamic world. Indeed, the first democratic election in the history of Algeria in the early 1990s brought victory for Islamist radicals and plunged the country into an appalling civil war. In the Palestinian elections of 2006, on which the U.S. administration had so insisted, it the Hamas terrorists triumphed.
One might then have expected the triumphal electoral progress of Islamic fundamentalism to be crowned by a resounding victory in the elections in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan since, after all, what traditions of secular democracy had they to speak of? For the greater part of its history the country had lived under military dictatorships. In Pakistan, hundreds of madrassas, financed by Saudi Arabia, send forth into the world tens of thousands of zombified fanatics. In the provinces bordering Afghanistan the Taliban rule, and retain many supporters in the all-powerful Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, as does al Qaeda. In the Northwest Frontier Province the Islamists have been in power since 2002 after winning elections. Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the secular Pakistan People's Party, was murdered by terrorists when she returned to that country.
In the general staffs of the nuclear powers operational plans were being examined, to neutralize the Pakistani nuclear arsenal if radical Islamists came to power. In Pakistan's 18 February elections, however, the Islamists were crushingly defeated. In the National Assembly they retained only 2 of their previous 54 seats. In the Northwest Frontier Province they lost the local elections to the secular Pushtun National Party, obtaining only 9 seats of the 99 seats in the regional assembly. Bhutto's party, winning 87 of the 272 seats in the national parliament, formed a ruling coalition with the moderate Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (67 seats) and the Pushtun National Party (18 seats).
After the revolt of the Sunni tribes in Iraq against al Qaeda, the losses in the Pakistan elections are a second successive major political and psychological defeat for Islamic fundamentalism. It has again been rejected by Muslims, and in the very place where it might have seemed most likely to succeed.
It would be difficult to imagine more favorable launchpads for the ideals of Islamic revolution than an Iraq occupied by infidels or a Pakistan rent by social and ethnic conflicts.
In both cases, however, the experience of a brief period of rule by Islamists brought about rejection by a majority of Muslims, who had initially been prepared to support them. Normal people are sickened by the Islamists' mindless savagery, their imposition of the medieval norms of Sharia law, and their enslavement of women.
This is a strategic turning point in the war of civilizations against Islamist terror; a war in which, as many have rightly emphasized, victory can be won only in the hearts and minds of the majority of the Muslim world. As Winston Churchill might have said, this is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Iran is in effect in the post-revolutionary phase, having had its fill of the program of the Islamist revolution. The young people who comprise a majority of that country's population reject those medieval ideals, and that is why the mullahs cannot bring themselves to risk free elections there. It is the reason too why that little thug in Teheran, Ahmadinejad, so defiantly provokes the U.S. and Israel, hoping that a preventive strike on Iran's nuclear installations will allow the fanatics to retain the power which is slipping away from them.
It looks as if the Islamists' influence in the Muslim world has passed its peak, and further evidence of this is to be found in surveys conducted in Muslim countries which indicate that al Qaeda's popularity has plummeted in the past year.
Jihadist websites reveal that the ideologists and instigators of Islamic terror know this. They are aware that they are suffering a strategic defeat in the Muslim world and that they will have to abandon their ambitious plans of establishing new bridgeheads in the Middle East and Central Asia. This does not mean that peace and joy for evermore are about to break out in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Quite apart from the threat from global jihad, all these countries have plenty of internal conflicts of their own.
Al Qaeda and its home-grown followers in Western countries may carry out major terrorist acts in Europe and the U.S., but a psychological watershed in the war against Islamic terror has been passed. In the Fourth World War, the year 2007 marked the same crucial turning point as did the year 1942 in the Second World War.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.
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