Who Is a Good Muslim?

It turns out that American democracy, which is packaged so well for export, is available in a number of sizes, tailored to fit the client.

It is definitely confusing. Up until three months ago, it was clear to everyone that the Sunnis were the enemies of the United States and the new Iraqi government. Up until a month ago, everyone knew that the U.S. proscribed Hezbollah and that Hamas was an enemy of the Palestinian nation in Washington's eyes. And another small matter: We knew that the collapse of the Soviet Union gave birth to a number of new states and that the greatest success had actually been achieved in the "Muslim republics." Freedom and democracy in Muslim states were always a dream that gave America goose bumps.

Suddenly, everything is the opposite. Condoleezza Rice "recommended" to the government of Iraq last week that it bring the Sunnis into the government, because "you defeat them [the Iraqi insurgents] not just through military efforts. You defeat them by having a political alternative that is strong." Thus, the Iraqi government should act in an "inclusive" way - that is, bring in the Sunnis, and be responsive to any signs of reconciliation on the part of the insurgents. Bring terrorists into the new Iraqi democracy? Now that America is dying to disengage from Iraq, terrorist organizations, "Sunni triangles" or "rebellious tribal groups" from the recent past have become acceptable.

Washington also has become silent in regard to Hezbollah. The initial stage of the elections in Lebanon is slated to begin next Sunday and the opposition stands a good chance. Cooperation with Hezbollah is vital for shoring up the election results. Hezbollah is capable of undermining the activity of any future government by virtue of its ability to heat up Lebanon's southern front and rally supporters in Lebanon's city squares. Washington has no choice but to recognize what has already been evident for some time: Hezbollah is part of Lebanese politics. Thus, the Sunnis were rehabilitated in Iraq and the Shi'ite organization in Lebanon is at least being ignored.

So who is the "bad Muslim?" Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood? Indeed, the elections in Lebanon will take place several days after a survey in Egypt on a constitutional amendment that would allow additional presidential candidates to run, albeit under restrictions. Egypt's democratization campaign, even if it is slow, will require the cooperation of the Muslim Brotherhood. And suddenly the Americans are also beginning to talk with them. If there is to be democracy, then let there be democracy, right? But while Washington is talking with the Muslim Brotherhood about democracy, hundreds of members of this organization are being arrested in Egypt for participating in demonstrations. Washington did not register a protest in the meantime, because Egypt is heading toward democracy, right?

But it seems that the largest dose of confusion is reserved for another Islam. It turns out that American democracy, which is packaged so well for export and which has adopted the recipe from Natan Sharansky's book, is available in a number of sizes, tailored to fit the client. For more than 15 years, Islam Karimov, the president of Muslim Uzbekistan, has been the darling of Washington. He was especially favored in 2001, when he granted Washington approval for constructing an airfield and using his country as a base for attacks against the Taliban. This service, of course, did not come free of charge. More than $500 million passed into the hands of the amiable leader, while his intelligence interrogators cooked Uzbek dissidents in boiling water in the torture dungeons. Washington knew about this, but Karimov is a friend, a symbol of liberation from the Soviet Union, a paragon of "freedom."

Washington also is well aware of how many people were killed last week in Uzbekistan. But the killing of several hundred people, who in any case are categorized as "Islamic terrorists" by Karimov, is apparently not a sufficient reason to break off ties with the Uzbek leader, who holds the key for continued American operations in Uzbekistan.

Perhaps, now that Sunnis are no longer bad guys and Shi'ites have stopped committing suicide, the time has come for redefining the notion of democracy, and this would clear up the confusion.