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Joshua Muravchik -- On the Streets of Iran, Radical Islam is Dying

Finally, Lebanon held a tense election earlier this month that many expected would result in the triumph of Hezbollah and its allies over the pro-Western March 14 coalition. Instead, the latter carried the popular vote and nailed down a commanding majority in parliament.

Of course, each election featured its own dynamics, reflecting local alignments and issues, but they all point in the same direction for radical Islam -- a direction reinforced by recent opinion polls in the Muslim world. Last year, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that from 2002 to 2008, the proportion of respondents saying that suicide bombing was sometimes or often justified dropped from 74 percent to 32 percent in Lebanon, from 33 percent to 5 percent in Pakistan, from 43 percent to 25 percent in Jordan and from 26 percent to 11 percent in Indonesia. As a food stand operator in Jakarta put it: "People are less supportive of terrorist attacks because we know what terrorism does, we're afraid of attacks."

Military and social developments in Iraq and Pakistan also seem to be bending to the same wind. Whatever the contribution of the U.S. military "surge" of 2007, the tide of battle shifted in Iraq when broad swaths of the Sunni community that had supported or participated in the resistance to U.S. occupation turned their guns against the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. And this year, the moderate government in Pakistan finally seems to have turned decisively against the Taliban. Although many critics believed that the central government lacked the will and the ability to subdue the radicals, it has suppressed them in the Swat region and is now carrying the battle into their Waziristan heartland.

What explains this broad reversal for the forces of Islamic extremism?

Clearly, citizens in Pakistan and Iraq were repelled by the brutality of the radicals, as have been many in such other Muslim countries as Jordan, Egypt and Indonesia, which have suffered domestic terrorism attacks. Nor has the Islamists' performance in power in Afghanistan, Sudan and Gaza won any admiration. The Internet and other communications technology is entangling the younger generation of Muslims more thoroughly with their Western counterparts than their elders, making appeals to turn away from the West ring hollow.

Others point to U.S. influence as well. As developments in Iran have unfolded over the past weeks, a minor Washington debate has emerged -- along partisan lines -- over whether President George W. Bush's tough policies blunted the force of the radicals, or whether President Obama's open hand has assuaged anti-American anger and inspired anti-regime forces. Both might be true. Or neither.

Regardless of the underlying causes, a defeated or merely discredited Islamic Republic of Iran could mark the beginning of the end of radical Islam. Until now, Iran has offered the only relatively successful example of Islamist rule, but the bloody events there are strengthening the momentum against radicalism and theocracy in the Muslim world. If the regime hangs on, it will depend increasingly on the militia and other security forces and less on its religious stature.

Of course, the fading of radicalism would not necessarily mean the disappearance of Islamic politics. The Egyptian intellectual Saad Edin Ibrahim noted in the Wall Street Journal last week that Islamist parties are being "cut down to size," and he hopes that they "evolve into Muslim democratic parties akin to the Christian Democrats in Europe."

That would be a result the West could live with.

jmuravc1@jhu.edu

Joshua Muravchik is a Foreign Policy Institute fellow in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of "The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East."


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