Byline: Helle Dale, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Is Islam culturally and religiously incompatible with democracy? Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq surely ought to put an end to that debate at least as far as the desire of ordinary Muslims to vote and be heard are concerned. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved and inspired by the sight of Iraqis flocking to the polls on Sunday, defying suicide bombers and threats to their lives as well as those of their children. Even the hardened skeptics in the American media found themselves carried away by the courage of the Iraqi people.
Big losers in Sunday's elections for an interim Iraqi government were the terrorists, particularly murderous thugs like Osama bin Laden and his "mini-me," Abu Musab Zarqawi. Beyond that, the losers are the critics, the naysayers in our part of the world who did not believe elections could take place, or thought they should have been postponed indefinitely,and those who advocate immediate American disengagement also lost. The big winners were the Iraqi people and the Bush administration, which has staked huge political capital on successful elections.
Once people lose their fear, anything can happen. Eyewitnesses in Iraq have compared the mood in many cities to the mood in Eastern Europe when communism collapsed. In the end, more than 60 percent of Iraqis voted, which is about equal to the last American election. In the recent Palestinian election, which was hailed as a triumph the world over, 55 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
Fear of violence dominated the first hours of polling in Iraq, but then people started pouring out to vote. When a young suicide bomber blew himself and seven other people to pieces outside a polling station at girls' school in Baghdad, voters were not deterred. Walking around the remains of the bombing, they just kept coming.
One reluctant voter in Baghdad, auto mechanic Wamidh al-Zubaidy, told The Washington Times that he decided to vote in spite of threats from masked men to burn down his house. "Then I remembered my brother who Saddam executed," he said. "I felt a power inside myself, and there was a voice telling me, 'this should not happen to my son or to any Iraqi' ... I voted with my wife, and we put it in God's hands."
Now, this is not even the beginning of the end for U.S. engagement in Iraq, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning, to borrow Winston Churchill's phrase. …