Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, American confusion over moderate Islamist groups has caused U.S. policymakers to accuse them of bearing at least some responsibility for the existence of extremist movements in the Middle East. Moreover, because official American discourse conflates moderates and radicals, and sees even moderates as serious threats to U.S. strategic interests in the region, the United States has accepted or ignored Arab regimes’ repression of Islamist movements. The danger is that the exclusion of moderate groups from the political arena may cause them, and their constituents, to radicalize. As Francois Burgat has written, “State violence creates the violence of the Islamists.
The current situation in the Arab world presents the following dilemmas: Can Arab regimes, with the backing of the United States, successfully exclude moderate Islamists from the political scene? What are the risks of doing so? What are the effects of exclusion on the interests and image of the United States in the region? Given these questions, how then should the United States deal with moderate Islamists? This paper analyzes the dangers posed by excluding all moderate Islamists from the political arena, and recommends measures by which the United States can engage moderate Islamist parties in order to advance both its democratic principles and national security interests.