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Islamic Voices of Reason

Amidst the bad news, there is some reason to hope for a brighter future in the Islamic world.

12:00 AM, Jul 16, 2002 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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TWO MORE ITEMS for the Voices of Reason from the Islamic World file:

-Speaking in Washington recently, Muborak Tashpulatova drove home the sense of danger felt across Central Asia while the Islamists of al Qaeda and the Taliban were working their mischief unchecked, back before September 11. The occasion was a ceremony honoring Tashpulatova's work in civic education in Uzbekistan, a country of 25 million now in its twelfth year of post-Soviet independence. She said in part:

"Throughout the centuries, Islam coexisted in Uzbekistan with other religions and traditions. You can still go today to a Christian church in Samarkand, see statues of Buddha near the border of Afghanistan, or visit famous Jewish communities in Buchara.

"When the fanatical fundamentalists kill people and claim that he who is not with them is against them, they do not sound like God-loving Muslims, but like Bolsheviks, who already once destroyed our lives, our culture, our tradition, our families.

"Please remember that in democratic countries the fanatics, the fundamentalists, the terrorists are not such a threat as in dictatorships, and that is why we want to build a democracy in Uzbekistan. Only educated citizens can oppose fanatics."

For Tashpulatova's full remarks and those of three other Muslim women honored by the National Endowment for Democracy this month, click here. If the mechanisms and principles of democracy offer some protection from violent extremism, they also provide a way to reach accommodations in societies torn about modernity. Thus:

-The recently released Arab Human Development Report 2002, in which "a distinguished group of Arab intellectuals" survey conditions in the 22 countries of the Arab League has, received a fair amount of publicity, but perhaps not enough attention for its stress on the "freedom deficit." "Obsolete norms of legitimacy prevail" in Arab politics, notes the report's overview. This is especially dangerous in nations whose young populations are facing high unemployment, cultural confusion, and repressive governments. Says the report:

"The values of democracy also have a part to play in this process of resolving differences between cultural traditionalism and global modernity. Different people will have different preferences, some welcoming global influences, others resenting their pervasive impact. In a democratic framework, citizens can decide how to appraise and influence cultural changes, taking account of a diversity of views and striking a balance between individual liberty and popular preferences in the difficult choices involved."

It is not American cultural imperialism to believe that the principles of popular sovereignty are part of the solution in the Islamic world, or to act on that belief. Says Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, who has thought about these issues as much as anyone alive, "Our job is to provide as much help to all of these good people as we are capable of giving, and to provide it in a spirit of humility and solidarity, recognizing that ultimately they will be the agents of their own liberation."

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.