Thursday, January 17, 2008

Are Islam and Democracy compatible?

Normblog links to two sources that say, yes, but you need to look in the right direction:

Simon Jenkins says,

Muslim democracy is a moot concept, but it has made a sort of imprint on Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and even Iraq and Pakistan. Yet it was not these leaders that Bush graced with a visit this past week.

He doesn´t say what he regards as moot about Muslim democracy but it’s alive and well in predominantly Muslim states such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey. It’s not that they are perfect democracies - there are none - nor, in the case of Turkey and Indonesia, that they have never been governed other than democratically but their example voids his opening phrase quite comprehensively. And that’s not even counting the active political participation of Muslims in the countries where they constitute an important minority like France and India.

Jenkins goes on to say that Bush didn’t meet certain leaders. In the case of Palestine, this is false. Bush went to Ramallah and met the President of the Palestinian Authority. I’m not going to link to a news story about this because it’s not a claim that needs to be demonstrated, everyone who takes the slightest interest in international affairs knows it to be true. So why did Jenkins write what he wrote?

I suspect that even he, a cynic, is being dragged along by the tide of dinner-party jihadi opinion that recognises as valid political actors only those Palestinians who remain committed to the outright destruction of Israel. Those disposed to negotiation and agreement are no longer regarded as really Palestinians at all, as being little better than sell-outs and this regardless of whatever popular mandate they might hold.

But arguments in favour of Islam's compatibility with democracy are in perpetual danger of being drowned out by a mixture of depressing news from Muslim lands and zealous ideologues on both sides of a looming civilisational divide.

Whether or not they condone violence, many of the most strident advocates of “political Islam” still take their cue from Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian thinker, executed in 1966, who regarded secular democracy (and all other secular forms of government, including socialism) as blasphemy pure and simple. In places ranging from British campuses to the jails and torture chambers of Uzbekistan, there are zealous ideologues who follow the Qutbist line that all human agencies of power are a violation of the sovereignty of God. Neatly converging with the anti-democratic zeal of these malcontents is an increasingly respectable argument, among sceptical Western observers of Islam, which holds that the Muslim faith, by its very nature, cannot be other than theocratic. If that is true, then encouraging moderate—in the sense of apolitical—versions of Islam can only be a waste of time.

In the United States, in particular, an“essentialist” mistrust of Islam in all its forms has been gaining ground. One recent sign of this mood: when Keith Ellison from Minnesota became the first Muslim congressman, he was challenged, during his first television interview, to prove that he was not “working for our enemies”.

But in America's free-ranging debates, where the spectrum of views on Islam is probably wider than in any Muslim land or even in Europe, there are also many voices on the other side. Mr Fadl makes his case for the compatibility of democracy and Islam from the University of California at Los Angeles, probably a more secure setting than his native Cairo.

Read it all here:

And in the meantime, there is this news about honour killing in the US. Depressing.


At 7:35 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, recently there have been two depressing sets of dishonor killings in the U.S.--one in suburban Chicago that took out a family of three and their fetus and one that took out two sisters in suburban Dallas.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"


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