Islam and Democracy

Date: 08 Feb 2011


Islam and Democracy - Much Hard Work Needed\\\\\\\\ by Daniel Pipes\\\\\\\\\\\\\ National Post\\\\\\\\\\\\ February 7, 2011\ \\\\\\\\\\\\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\ NP title: "Muslims can embrace democracy, but I'm not optimistic" \\\\\\\\\\\ With anti-regime demonstrations raging in Egypt, and the possibility of a new government led by or involving the Muslim Brotherhood, many are asking whether Islam is compatible with democracy? The answer is yes, it potentially is, but it will take much hard work to make this happen. \\\\\\\\\\ Present realities are far from encouraging, for tyranny disproportionately afflicts Muslim-majority countries. Swarthmore College's Frederic L. Pryor concluded in a 2007 analysis in the Middle East Quarterly that, with some exceptions, "Islam is associated with fewer political rights." Saliba Sarsar looked at democratization in 17 Arabic-speaking countries and, writing in the same journal, found that "between 1999 and 2005 … not only is progress lacking in most countries, but across the Middle East, reform has backslid." \\\\\\\\\\\ How easy to jump from this dismal pattern and conclude that the religion of Islam itself must be the cause of the problem. The ancient fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("after something, therefore because of it") underlies this simplistic jump. In fact, the current predicament of dictatorship, corruption, cruelty, and torture results from specific historical developments rather than the Koran and other sacred scriptures. [ Nonsense : Disagree strongly for many compelling reasons, among them the substance of the Koran which, to my chagrin, Pipes simply cannot bring himself to acknowledge is as grossly unlike the Bible that we are discussing Mein Kampf and Copernicus. Pipes' conclusion also supports a viewpoint based on concessions to Islam for the sake of dhimmi-like security for Israel, that is, acceptance of a "place" in the political order which Muslims feel is within their values system --rather than within an international order based on the sovereignty of more-or-less equal states In a way this is understandable, it answers the question, "how does a greatly outnumbered Jewish state survive amidst a sea of Muslim states who are antagonistic to Israel on principle?" It also reflects Pipes realistic assessment of US policy under Obama, with the US as unreliable supporter. But how smart is this kind of view in any kind of long term ? Not smart at all. BR comment ] \\\\\\\\\\\\ A half millennium ago, democracy reigned nowhere; that it emerged in Western Europe resulted from many factors, including the area's Greco-Roman heritage, rendering-unto-Caesar-and-God tensions specific to Christianity, geography, climate, and key breakthroughs in technology and political philosophy. There was nothing fated about Great Britain and then the United States leading the way to democracy. [ Except willingness of both the learn from history, especially the ancient Greek city states and philosophies of republicanism which have compatibility with, for example, the book of Judges and NT books like Acts. This is a price to pay for ignorance by choice of the text of the Bible, in Pipes' case perhaps more accurately, only having some familiarity with the OT and very little of the NT. --BR comment ] \\\\\\\\\\\\ Put differently: of course, Islam is undemocratic in spirit, but so was every other pre-modern religion and society. [ Which is why a form of democracy didn't emerge in Hellas ??? This is absurd, since the Greeks did, in fact, have a religion which helped foster democracy even if the Bible criticizes parts of that religion, and also historically false since books have been written about "primitive democracy" which existed for at least 1000 years in ancient Mesopotamia. Which is another price to pay for ignorance of relevant non-Muslim and non-Western history and acceptance of "popular wisdom" which misconstrues the historical record for the sake of current era political considerations. BR comment ] \\\\\\\\\\\\ Just as Christianity became part of the democratic process, so can Islam. This transformation will surely be wrenching and require time. [ But Christianity has the Bible and Islam has the equivalent of Mein Kampf ] The evolution of the Catholic Church from a reactionary force in the medieval period into a democratic one today, an evolution not entirely over, has been taking place for 700 years. When an institution based in Rome took so long, why should a religion from Mecca, replete with its uniquely problematic scriptures, move faster or with less contention? \\\\\\\\\\\ For Islam to encourage political participation implies a giant shift in approach, especially toward the Sharia, its law code. Elaborated about a millennium ago in quasi-tribal circumstances and operating within a vastly different ethos from today's, the code contains a range of features deeply unacceptable to a modern sensibility, including the anti-democratic ideas of the will of God prevailing over that of the people, military jihad as a legitimate means to expand rule by Muslims, the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims, and of males over females. \\\\\\\\\\\ In short, the Sharia as classically understood cannot be reconciled with modern life in general, democracy in particular. For Muslims to achieve political participation means either rejecting the law's public aspects in total – as Atatürk did in Turkey – or reinterpreting them. The Sudanese thinker Mahmud Muhammad Taha offered one example of the latter when he reread the Islamic scriptures and wholesale eliminated noxious Islamic laws. [ Sure, can be done either under a colonial administration backed up with the British army, or, someone like Ataturk, a military strongman disgusted with a corrupt system and, as he saw it, a Koran that was basically irrelevant to the modern world --BR comment ] \\\\\\\\\\ Islam keeps changing, so it is an error to insist that the religion must be what it has been. As Hassan Hanafi of Cairo University puts it, the Koran "is a supermarket, where one takes what one wants and leaves what one doesn't want." [ True only in the sense that a Nazi in the 1930s was free to pick and choose what he wanted from Mein Kampf. Could more-or-less be done by a Nazi in Argentina or Canada, but hardly an option in Germany. Similarly with the Koran, hence in the US some Muslims who act as if whole surahs do not exist, a position utterly impossible in nearly all of Dar Al-Islam BR viewpoint ] \\\\\\\\\\\\\ Atatürk and Taha aside, Muslims have barely begun the long, arduous path to making Islam modern. In addition to the inherent difficulties of overhauling a seventh-century order to fit the ethos of a Western-dominated twenty-first century, the Islamist movement which today dominates Muslim intellectual life pulls in precisely the opposite direction from democracy. Instead, it fights to revive the whole of the Sharia and to apply it with exceptional severity, regardless of what the majority wants.\\\\\\\\ Some Islamists denounce democracy as heretical and a betrayal of Islamic values but the more clever of them, noting their own widespread popularity, have adopted democracy as a mechanism to seize power. Their success in a country like Turkey does not transform Islamists into democrats (i.e., show a willingness to relinquish power) [ nor acknowledge the rights of minorities to equal treatment under the Law since law derived from the Koran allows no such thing ] but demonstrates their willingness to adopt whatever tactics will bring them power. \\\\\\\\\\ Yes, with enough effort and time, Muslims can be as democratic as Westerners. But at this time, they are the least democratic of peoples and the Islamist movement presents a huge obstacle to political participation. In Egypt as elsewhere, my theoretical optimism, in other words, is tempered by a pessimism based on present and future realities. \\\\\\\\\\\\\ Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He has lived for three years in Egypt. -- 000000000