[Parvez Ahmed is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at:]

I recently accepted an invitation to speak at the Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade in Qatar.

At the opening ceremony, speaking to delegates from 80 different countries, the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, gave an introspective speech about the urgent need for democratization in the Middle East and his personal disappointment at the slow progress being made towards this goal. The other major speaker, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, concentrated his remarks on his personal observations about the Korean experiment with democracy and argued that economic development is a necessary precursor to political development.

Usually the openings of such gatherings are staid events. But surprisingly, there was a small amount of verbal fireworks. Current leader of the British House of Commons Jack Straw reiterated President Bush’s view of democracies not waging wars against each other as one of the rationales for democratization. This provoked an impassioned response from Arab league General Secretary Amr Moussa as he pointed out what he said was the false link between democracy and peace, with several Arab lands from Palestine to Iraq facing the brunt of occupations and wars at the hands of nations such as the U.S., Britain and Israel.

Therein is a dilemma.

On one hand, Muslims and Arabs admire and aspire to the freedoms and free enterprise afforded to citizens in democracies. On the other, they cannot help but be skeptical of motives when outsiders preach democracy and yet do not practice it in their dealings with them.


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