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Reblogged:"Pothole Theory," RIP

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During a recent podcast about the war in Israel, I heard mention of a misconception that guided Middle Eastern foreign policy during the Bush Administration.

That idea was derisively (and rightly so) called the "pothole theory" of democracy. It was used to justify permitting the Palestinians electing Hamas into power at a time when we or Israel should have begun the process of civilizing the Palestinians much as the United States did in Japan after World War II.

Curious about this patently ridiculous idea, I turned up a 2006 piece in Slate whose subtitle pretty well sums up that theory: "How to Civilize Hamas: Will Wednesday's Winners Be Too Busy Fixing Potholes to Wage Jihad?"

One need quote only a couple of paragraphs from the article to see how outlandish the idea is:
Hamas not only doesn't really give a damn about potholes, it has provoked Israel to defend itself. Hamas and its supporters alone are responsible for damage like the above, and anything and everything else Israel does in order to defend itself. (Image by Al Araby, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
f you allow radical Islamists into the political fold and get them competing for votes -- and dealing with mundane civic issues like fixing potholes and collecting garbage -- they will, by necessity, turn moderate and palatable. At the very least, so the theory goes, such inclusion will force a split between the "hard men" and those willing to pursue Islamist goals through peaceful means.


The more immediate issue is how Hamas will adapt to the reality of the existence of Israel, whose citizens now play the role of lab rats in Bush's grand experiment with potholes and democracy. Never a strictly nationalist movement, Hamas' ultimate goal is the establishment of a theocratic state; the elimination of the Jewish state is a means to that end. Olivier Roy writes of a shift in Islamist movements away from fights over territory toward the Islamicization of individuals (a "de-territorialized ummah," as he calls the new body of globalized Muslims). Would Hamas compromise on its claim to every inch of ancient Palestine if it felt that doing so would further its fundamentalist agenda? Perhaps, but given the supposed sanctity of the territory in question, it's difficult to imagine Hamas backing down from its stated goal: an Islamic state "from the river to the sea." [link omitted]
Not long after, the piece discusses some of the "evidence" this idea's backers marshaled in its support, noting that "Critics dismiss Islamists' talk of democracy as mere window dressing that would be discarded if they ever came to power."

It would seem that the "critics" were right: When a genocidal terrorist organization seemingly adopts the norms of civilized political behavior, it is doing so to further its goals, which are anything but the semicivilized ones (like fixing potholes) the likes of Bush hoped they were. Democratic norms -- not religiously-motivated genocide -- were the window dressing to these people.

We will not begin to turn the tide in this civilizational war -- in which the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel are only a battle -- until we admit that we are fighting barbarians and begin to act accordingly.

-- CAV

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