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Is Democracy The Wrong Direction?

Is Democracy The Wrong Direction?In a recent op-ed in The Boston Globe, Fletcher School student Lorenzo Vidino warned that democracy may not be the best approach to dealing with radical Islam.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.02.06] Five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has refined its “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” which was originally published in 2003. The new report states that the United States “is at war with a transnational terrorist movement fueled by a radical ideology of hatred, oppression and murder.” While Fletcher School master’s student Lorenzo Vidino agrees with that notion, he wrote in a recent Boston Globe op-ed that democracy—the United States’ proposed solution to the problem—is “far from the magic bullet against fundamentalism.

“The obvious cure to the problem is tackling radical Islam, the ideology that motivates terrorists,” Vidino, who is expected to graduate from The Fletcher School in 2007 with Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy, wrote in the Globe. “But the administration believes firmly—almost blindly—that democracy is the right medicine.”

According to Vidino, the Bush administration believes that people who have the freedom to express their beliefs and elect their political leaders are less likely to be swept into fundamentalist groups. But he points out that “democracy does not always have these healing powers.

“The truth is that today democratic societies are spawning terrorists no less than dictatorships are,” he wrote, noting that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers who were raised “under autocratic Middle Eastern regimes” became involved with radical Islam while studying in democratic Germany. He added that a southern California native was the source of recent Al Qaeda threats made against the United States.

Vidino, author of Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad , stressed that democracy may not be the right solution to problems in the Muslim world involving radical Islam.

“Aside from not guaranteeing results, spreading democracy in the Muslim world is a monumental effort that requires changing cultures and overcoming entrenched skepticisms,” he wrote. Rather than attempting to achieve this “extremely difficult task,” Vidino suggested that the United States “[confront] the enemy on its own ideological ground.”

While Vidino admitted that the task will not be easy, he said that the United States can challenge the ideology of radical Islam, which has its own weaknesses.

“The main one is the intellectual poverty of its offer,” Vidino wrote. “Al Qaeda and other such groups are crystal clear about what they oppose, but they have made no argument to prove they could offer a better tomorrow to ordinary Muslims.”

A better tomorrow, according to Vidino, includes ensuring economic stability and the taking responsibility for “basic duties of governance.” This is where groups like Al Qaeda fall short, he said. Focusing on these shortcomings is how countries battling terrorism can make their case.

“Promotion of democracy is an ambitious goal whose prospects for success are unclear,” Vidino wrote. “What can produce immediate gains is a head-on challenge of the enemy's ideological shortcomings.”

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