Give people a taste of freedom and they will never tolerate tyranny again. On this belief rests the fate of democracy in the Middle East. A taste of freedom was not enough to woo Iraq's once powerful Sunni Muslims into wider participation in the recent national elections. But Kurds and Shiite Muslims jumped at the chance to shape their nation's future.

The world cannot afford to let this historic opportunity to grow robust democracy in the Middle East slip away. If freedom fails, the people of this troubled region will remain enslaved by fear, shut out of a globalized economy, tempted to violence, and resistant to the gospel.

From Fear to Freedom

Critics, mostly isolationists on both the Right and Left, doubt that democracy can thrive in the Muslim-majority Middle East. The crucial conditions that encourage self-government include an educated populace, a strong middle class, and a robust civic ethic. But the Middle East lacks all these necessary conditions. Even more troubling is the lack of tolerance for dissent. In declaring an all-out war against democracy, terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi clarified the stakes for his followers: "Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion," he said, and that is "against the rule of God."

Natan Sharansky, in his The Case for Democracy, argues that societies are based on either fear or freedom. A free society allows for public protest without fear of punishment. Fear societies do not. As a result, fear societies subdivide three ways: there is a small minority of true believers in the totalitarian regime, another small minority of dissidents, and a vast middle of "doublethinkers." Doublethinkers publicly toe the repressive party line but inwardly yearn for freedom.

Sharansky ...

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