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As has been explored in previous chapters, many Muslims believe that the United States acts to inhibit their nations from becoming what their citizens want them to be. Through explicit or implicit use of coercive threats, America is seen as preventing Muslim nations from acting independently and from finding a social order that is compatible with their Islamic values as well as their interests. U.S. support for governments that suppress Islamist groups has contributed to this perception. As discussed, this perception plays a very important role in feeding anger at America because the internal conflict—between traditional Islamist and liberalizing forces within Muslim society and within many Muslim individuals— becomes externalized in the relationship between the Muslim world and the United States. This dynamic gives al Qaeda more room to maneuver. Rather than representing an extreme end of the spectrum in an internal debate within Muslim society, al Qaeda may be seen as protecting Muslim society from outside forces that seek to undermine the Islamic basis of Muslim society. The perception of the United States as an oppressor also feeds the narrative that the United States promotes the liberal idea of democracy, but then betrays the Muslim people by denying it to them. Others in the world are not seen as betrayed in this way, thus enhancing the perception that the United States has abandoned the principle of religious tolerance when it comes to Islam. 146 What Do Muslims Want? 8 08-0559-8 CH 8:0305-1 3/3/11 2:15 PM Page 146 The perception that the United States resists giving the Muslim people full democratic control over their fate is not entirely without foundation. Many American policymakers have expressed concerns about giving the Muslim people full democratic control for fear that they might elect radical Islamist leaders who would phase out democratic institutions and establish a theocratic state. In a Congressional Research Service report, Jeremy Sharp writes of “a long vexing dilemma for U.S. policymakers. . . . Should the United States exert pressure on Arab governments to open their political systems and respect human rights with the knowledge that Islamists, the most popular opposition force in Arab politics, stand to benefit from regional democratization?” He goes on to explain, “Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the U.S. government has increasingly believed that, should Islamist groups come to power, they would pursue a more confrontational approach in their foreign policy toward the United States and that key strategic interests would suffer, including access to oil reserves, military cooperation, and the security of Israel, among others.1 As mentioned previously, such concerns prompted the United States to quietly acquiesce when the Algerian military in 1991 ignored the results of the election in which an Islamist party appeared to be poised to take control of the government. And more recently, such concerns prompted the Bush administration, in response to electoral successes of Hamas and Egyptian candidates associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, to back away from a renewed commitment to democracy in the region. Some American analysts have argued that once in power, Islamists would eliminate all liberal concepts of human rights, isolate themselves from and take a hostile stance toward the non-Muslim world, and establish an expansionist revolutionary goal to first restore the ummah (a unified world Muslim community) and then to spread Islam around the world. All of these goals have indeed been articulated by radical Islamist leaders. And to the extent that Muslims show some sympathy for such radical Islamist ideas and leaders, it is natural to worry that, over time, they could cede more and more power to a theocratic elite that claims to be the true arbiter of what is truly Islamic. Others, though, have argued that liberal ideas are so well established in Muslim society that it is not feasible for Islamic fundamentalists to impose such an extreme order on the population. This chapter addresses these issues, answering the broad question of what kind of social order Muslims want by exploring the following specific questions: What Do Muslims Want? 147 08-0559-8 CH 8:0305-1 3/3/11 2:15 PM Page 147 —What do Muslims think should be the basis for laws—democracy or Islamic law? —How do they feel about ostensibly moderate Islamist organizations and parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who claim to be democratic as well as Islamist, and how do they perceive the agendas of these organizations? —Do Muslims support a liberal approach to human rights...


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