Andy and Mario: I think you’re right to a degree that Gerecht is pitching a version of the Foggy Bottom happy talk on democracy in the Middle East, but I think he makes a few valid points. I don’t think there’s any gainsaying that:
What ought to be obvious now is that Muslims cannot be dragged dictatorially to an embrace of secularism and all the liberal values that spring from it. They have to arrive voluntarily, organically, at this understanding.
What I think he’s wrong about is that he seems to think that democracy won’t necessarily lead to theocracy, which is maybe what you had in mind: “It is certainly possible that Arab Islamists will try to abort democracy once they gain power, fearful of how free men and women might act. But there will be enormous resistance from the faithful.”
I, on the other hand, agree with you guys (if I’m interpreting you correctly) that democracy in the Middle East will revert to the one-man-one-vote-one-time pattern, but this time the Islamists will be in charge. But that’s a good thing. Because, as Gerecht observes, “Democracy is thus a means to keep Muslims more religious whereas theocracy actually secularizes society.” He takes this to mean that Muslims will avoid theocracy for this reason, but I don’t think they can help themselves.
Thus secularization of Middle Eastern politics requires theocracy as the first step, so that the theocrats will bring about an even more intense version of the centuries of “savagery” and “internecine strife” that Gerecht points to as the reason the West moved in a liberal direction. He writes that “Westerners now instinctively compartmentalize their faith and temper its expression because their Christian forefathers killed each other zealously over religious differences” — and only by getting out of the way and allowing Muslims to “kill each other zealously over religious differences” will they ever move — voluntarily, organically — beyond the medieval brutishness at the core of mainstream Islam.
Islam has to find its own road to modernity, and propping up military dictators is a short-term fix that only delays progress down that road. Unfortunately that road passes through rivers of blood, and the key for the rest of us is to make sure we contribute as little as possible to that river.