Today, together with the elections in Palestine and Afganistan, may mark a turning point in the history of Islam and Islamic culture. The people of Iraq turned out in their millions to vote in a free election for the first time in over half a century, despite terrorist attacks that killed 35 of them, and the nine suicide-bombers who turned out for al-Zarqawi's War on Democracy.
The only places in Iraq with low turnout were exclusively Sunni enclaves, where prospective voters were successfully intimidated by the Sunni terrorists who take cover among them. Perhaps they may be realizing that the terrorists to whom they give "social cover" have cheated them out of their chance to make their voice heard in the emerging Iraqi government.
But back to Islam. Islamic culture has been in decline for over 600 years. Islamic Fundamentalists blame this on a failure to return to the purity of the time of the Rightly Guided Ones — the Prophet and his Companions. Now, there is unity of opinion in Islam that these people were indeed Rightly Guided by God. But after that time, the unity of opinion breaks down, particularly over the issue of who should succeed as Caliph (Commander of the Faithful), which led to the schism between Sunni and Shi'i Islam. The last Caliph was deposed in Turkey at the close of World War I. The Caliph, however he was guided, made the mistake of siding with Germany, which lost the war.
Thus, Islam has been experiencing a crisis in Right Guidance, apparently since its early days, which intensified as a rising Western Civilization pushed Islam out of Spain and back from the gates of Vienna. Those to whom the guidance of Islam were trusted decided that the infidels of Western Civilization had no knowledge of value to them. The development of democracy, the creation of the social capital that is the real force behind the engine of Western creativity (and thus its power and wealth) passed them by. But especially, an important development in Western theology passed them by.
Martin Luther (by no means a perfect man) asserted that, in effect, any person could and should read Scripture for themselves, and understand its meaning through Faith in God alone. This opened a new path for Right Guidance. Instead of coming exclusively from the top down (from God to the Pope, from the Pope to the Cardinals and Bishops, from the Cardinals and Bishops to the Priests, and from the Priests to the People), Right Guidance could come from the bottom up — from God to the People, who could enter into a dialog with their clergy. (This dialog in the West has occasionally resulted in the use of force, we Westerners being who we are, but those days, thank God, seem to be behind us.)
Now Islamic Fundamentalists may think that democracy is un-Islamic, because in democracy, the people make their own laws (through their elected representatives), instead of submitting to the Sharia (God's Law for Muslims, as given in the Qur'an and elaborated through a tradition of Islamic Jurisprudence).
On the other hand, it is untenable to go back to the times of the Prophet and his Companions. It is apparently not the Will of the One who made Time move forward. Thus, new laws and decisions need to be made to deal with the circumstances of new times. Rather than view democracy as willfulness and apostasy, democracy in predominately Muslim countries could come to be viewed as a new "bottom up" channel for Right Guidance.
Islamic Fundamentalists may try to prevent this realization by asserting that, without dictatorship by the Fundamentalists, God would let his entire ummah go astray indefinitely. My hope is that such assertions will be discredited, and that the Islamic World will embrace democracy as an additional "bottom up" channel for Right Guidance, paving the way for a new resurgence of Islam as a dynamic culture of life and liveliness. This is in stark contrast to the future offered by al-Zarqawi, Bin Laden, and their kind — an Islam forever looking backward, bound to a culture of death.
But how could the election in Iraq happen at all? The country was not ready. The country is in a state of ongoing disaster. Everyone over there hates Americans and Westerners, and resents the Occupation and all it stands for. As proof, note that 964 Americans were killed in Iraq from the capture of Saddam Hussein to the end of 2004, according to AntiWar.com. On the other hand, according to USA Today, 445 Americans were murdered in Chicago, and 565 Americans were murdered in New York, during approximately the same period. That comes to 1010 Americans killed in just two American cities.
I'm not asserting that the Western Press can't add. But they do seem to be unable to think meaningfully about numbers or to present them in reasonable context. If the Press is the Intelligence Service for the Common Person, then this is an Intelligence Failure, a defeat for the Press.