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From Democracy to Sharia
The ‘Arab Spring’ shows that democratic process is useless without democratic culture.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

A few weeks ago, amid the “Arab Spring” giddiness, a Shiite mosque opened in Cairo. This was big news. Among Egypt’s 80 million people, there are only a few thousand Shiites. It’s a 90 percent Sunni country, with even Christians vastly outnumbering the Shia. So, in their euphoria over the mosque’s inauguration, Shiite clerics heralded this Husseiniya (as Shiite mosques are known) as a symbol of rapprochement. The mosque would bridge the sectarian divide: a Shia center in this bustling Sunni city, yet a house of worship, thus emphasizing what unites rather than divides Muslims in one of Islam’s most important nations.

Such stories were once the hallmark of the Arab Spring narrative. “Democracy” was in the air. The corrupt, cancerous, pro-American dictator was gone. With their yearning hearts now sated by freedom, Egyptians would pull together, the light of liberty guiding them to prosperity.

The stories are different now. The Husseiniya was shut down last week. Yesterday’s euphoria is melting into today’s harsh reality. In Cairo, home to the Muslim Brotherhood and the sharia jurists of ancient Al-Azhar University, “democracy” has meant the rise of Sunni supremacists. Turns out they don’t do bridge-building. Their tightening grip has translated into brutalizing dhimmitude for Christians and increasing intolerance of Shiism — which the Sunni leaders perceive less as Islam than as apostasy, an offense that sharia counts as more grievous than treason.

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News of the mosque’s demise arrived shortly after a report entitled “Neocons vs. Islamophobes” by the leftist e-magazine Salon. Foreign-policy correspondent Jordan Michael Smith was good enough to appoint me leader of “what might be called the ‘to-hell-with-democracy’ strain of thought” in “the American conservative movement.” And if anything needs an Arab Spring, it must be the American conservative movement. We Islamophobes haven’t even had an election yet, much less gotten one of those mellifluous sharia-constitutions the State Department likes to write for its emerging “democracies,” and yet here I am the leader! And a “relentless” leader, too — scalding the Muslim Brotherhood on behalf of a cadre that allegedly includes such luminaries as John Bolton, Michele Bachmann, and Frank Gaffney.

In our struggle “to define the Republican response to the increased power of political Islam,” we are said to be “vying” with “another faction among the right-wing that is equally powerful . . . the neoconservatives.” Counting among their number such heavyweights as GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they are portrayed as “rather admirably insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood be given a chance.” After the tumultuous Bush years, my friends Norman Podhoretz, Paul Wolfowitz, and Bill Kristol must be having a good laugh: It may have taken a motley crew of despicable Islamophobes, but the Left has suddenly decided that neocons may not be the root of all evil after all.

For all its pretensions to sober analysis, the Salon hit piece usefully demonstrates how nonsensical policy debates about the Arab Spring have become. There is no common understanding of basic terms. “Islamophobia” was coined by the Muslim Brotherhood and seamlessly adopted by its Western confederates. Taken literally, the word would mean “irrational fear of Islam” — and thus it would rarely need to be spoken, Islamic supremacists having given us much to fear quite rationally. But in common parlance, to sneer “Islamophobe” is like what sneering “neocon” has hitherto been: lefty demagoguery — in this case, the belittling of anyone who is critical of Islam and its sharia framework, regardless of how colorable the critique.

Most people know an insult when they hear one. When it is rank character assassination posing as argument, people of good will tune it out. More consequential, though, is the degrading of the term “democracy.”

As applied to the “Islamophobes,” Mr. Smith’s invocation of “democracy” — as in, to hell with it — is an outright perversion. Like the giants of neoconservatism, critics of Islamic supremacism (what Salon gently calls “political Islam”) are lovers of democracy. We believe the world would be a better place if every country adopted it. We agree the United States ought to be its promotional beacon. But that is mainly because when we speak of “democracy,” we mean American democracy. That is a culture of liberty so deeply rooted in the United States that it predated by a couple of centuries the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution, and the first federal elections.



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