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Support for Despots Has Fed Radical Islam

February 12, 2003

In his Feb. 9 Opinion piece, "Iraq War Not About Democracy," Alan Isenberg states, "Few systems of government are less natural or appropriate for [the Arab world] than Western democracy." This betrays a racist attitude that I resent as an American of Iraqi (and Muslim) heritage.

Does Isenberg think that despotism and authoritarian rule or, worse still, Salafi regimes like that of the Taliban are the only "natural or appropriate" form of government for Arabs and Muslims around the world?

Sadly, Isenberg's attitude is not that of a minority of "thinkers." It may in fact be the reason why it has been U.S. policy to support despots and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East over the past half-century. Has Isenberg tested the hypothesis that U.S. support for the oppressors of the Middle East (Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the House of Saud and Saddam Hussein in the '80s, to name but a few) is the reason why the only place left for oppositionists to turn to is the mosque?

In the 1980s and '90s there was a rise in "Islamic thought," not because it is "natural and appropriate" but, rather, because the mosque was the only place where these oppressive regimes would not pursue the opposition. Continued support for despots is a recipe for a religious war, as increasingly the Muslim world sees the United States as being in support of the despotic leaders who oppress their people.

Contrary to Isenberg's advice, changing U.S. policy to support democracy is not only necessary but prudent. Anything less will, in fact, endanger our security, as the Arabs and Muslims would correctly identify the U.S. as interested in nothing more than oil and not caring about the human rights of the Arabs and Muslims governed by our "stable allies."

Azzam Alwash

Long Beach

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Isenberg could have stated correctly that there is no example of one country successfully imposing a full-fledged democracy on another, but blaming Islam for undemocratic regimes is shameful.

Although imperfect, democracies have developed quite adequately in several countries with Islamic majorities, notably Bangladesh, Malaysia and Turkey. Although too soon to tell definitively, Albania, Bosnia, Indonesia, Iran and the Maldives are slowly democratizing. Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan may not be democratizing very noticeably but do not fit Isenberg's stereotypes either.

Michael Haas

Los Angeles

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