chapter  17
18 Pages

Fundamentalism and the State: Need for Mutual Explanation

The agenda set up after 11 September focused on two connected issues: the war on terrorism and the democratisation of the Arab world. The idea was that the authoritarian and stable status quo provides fertile ground for terrorism. The former objective is half success, while the latter is a failure. The Middle East reacted positively to the first task and participated actively in deterring terrorist sanctuaries, but it exhibited mistrust in US politics and criticised the idea of the “Broader Middle East”, arguing that democracy cannot come from outside and by constraint, by rapid and brutal reforms that put the regime’s foundations at risk. Therefore, the challenge is the following: gradual change or absence of change. However, nobody has a clear opinion on how to initiate and implement reform, whether through gradual reforms initiated by the existing regimes, or by radical remedies, including war. Gradualists think that democracy and political freedom are a by-product, an output of a modernising process that makes genuine progress in economic, cultural and social fields such as education, urbanisation and secularisation. Radicals think that reforms are so urgent that the Middle East has to be put in a sort of a Cornelian choice: reform or transplant a new liberal leadership. Gradualists are pessimistic, while radicals are optimistic. The Iraqi civil war is giving right to gradualists. Nevertheless, one should not be so pessimistic: the need for change is effective and appeals for human rights, voice and accountability as well as demands for democratic reforms are coming from many constituencies – liberals, secularists, women and even moderate Islamists – once again a key variable to understanding the future of Islam. Who are they? How to deal with them? Should we integrate them or ban and exclude them from any kind of political participation and on what basis? These are the main issues of the current debate.