National Review / Digital
Threat Assessment
Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, by Andrew C. McCarthy (Encounter, 184 pp., $21.50, Kindle edition $9.89)


Andrew C. McCarthy was once best known as the federal prosecutor who spearheaded the convictions of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, who were the unapologetic architects of the first World Trade Center bombing and the precursors of the mass murderers of 9/11. But since his retirement as a prosecutor, McCarthy has written two widely read books on the dangers of radical Islam. His long-held opposition to all forms of Islamist extremism in the West is also the dominant leitmotif of his hard-hitting journalism, which has likewise gained a wide audience.

A number of themes have characterized McCarthy’s work: He is deeply suspicious of Islamist clerics in the West who claim that their notions of sharia law are compatible with liberal North American and European constitutional government. He writes that “sharia in an Islamist society serves precisely the function that law serves in totalitarian democracy: It suppresses free expression, free will, and volition.” McCarthy is even more skeptical of nation-building in the Western Middle East, at least on the premise that American blood and treasure should be invested in overthrowing authoritarian governments to usher in democracies — on the suppositions, for example, that a one-time-elected, theocratic Muslim Brotherhood is much better than an authoritarian, secular Hosni Mubarak, or that the tribal chaos in Libya is preferable to the thuggish Muammar Qaddafi’s police state.

More controversially, McCarthy asserts that contemporary radical imams and theocrats are not so much apostates from mainstream Islamic orthodoxy as logical and honest representatives of fundamentalist Koranic doctrine — which provides plenty of both textual support for and historical examples of jihadism, religious intolerance, and narrow-minded prejudice against non-believers, women, and homosexuals. McCarthy quotes Samuel Huntington’s controversial, but prescient, observation that “the underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture.”

Note that the subtitle of McCarthy’s latest book refers not to the illusion of “Middle East” or “Arab” democracy, but rather to that of “Islamic” democracy. That expansive category might suggest that McCarthy reviews Islamic claims of democratic government across the Muslim world, from Pakistan to Indonesia. In fact, his book concentrates mostly on two regimes — the decade-long rule of Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey (“the principal focus of Spring Fever”) and the post-revolutionary Egypt that has seen the Arab Spring of 2011 lead to the election of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi in 2012. In the latter case, following the election, we have witnessed systematic oppression of the Coptic minority, the hounding of independent journalists and critics, and loud chest-thumping about whittling away past security agreements with Israel — all in just the first few months of the Morsi government.

For McCarthy, these two supposedly democratic nations best symbolize the  fraud behind the entire notion that radical Muslims can operate peacefully and liberally within the framework of democracy — at least as we in the West commonly define rule by the people. To advance his pessimistic argument, McCarthy makes three additional key  points.

First, contemporary Turkey and Egypt are more dangerous than other Muslim countries because they are big and powerful nations with historic grievances against a West just across the Mediterranean. Both have romanced the clueless Obama administration into naïvely investing in their experiments with “democracy,” and the two loudly claim to be the missionaries for things to come across the Middle East. Under the cloak of NATO membership and much-publicized wishes to join the European Union, Erdogan over the past decade has systematically dismantled the old secular Ataturk state. Indeed, his insidious efforts are more illiberal than past secular authoritarianism because, beneath his loud talk of democracy, he has Islamized not just the Turkish government, but the daily lives of individual Turkish citizens, far more successfully than any crackpot anti-Western imam has. When Erdogan boasts on the Charlie Rose PBS program, “Let me give you a very clear message. I don’t see Hamas as a terrorist organization,” we can see how his overweening confidence arises from the smug awareness that he is currently being courted by the Obama administration.

December 17, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 23

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