On Islam, Democracy, Modernity, and Compatibility

Reply Wed 6 Oct, 2004 06:18 pm
Is Islam incompatible with Democracy and Modernity?
I originally had targeted the autumnal equinox of Sept 22nd for this post but attacking this subject was like chewing a tough stringy piece of meat: the longer you chew on it the larger it seems to get.

At the out set I would like to warn the reader this post might be a bit lengthy (12 pages). Because of this I have chosen to place references or web sites immediately after quotes or related thoughts. Although this affects readability somewhat, I feel this will afford the reader better access to these than placing them at the end of the entire text.

In thinking about current events in the Middle East (ME), especially those of late in Afghanistan and Iraq, I became curious as to why this area of the globe seems so troubled and backward. The latter is especially vexing when considering that the very area of Baghdad is historically the ?Cradle? of civilization. Additionally, while Europe floundered during the Dark Ages, the ME was a vast depository of the world?s scientific, mathematic, and philosophical knowledge. Caesar?s burning of the great library in Alexandria in 47 B.C. surely cannot explain such a communal loss that would lead to what is now countenanced throughout the area. (Actually, Julius just wanted to burn the Egyptian fleet but the fire, as events do, took on a life of its own.)

Present --But Not Really Accounted For

After more than 5 decades of attempts at modernization Muslim states show little sign of progress in the area of liberal democracy or the development of a capitalist market system, the benchmarks of modern democracies. The object of this post is to examine what might be rational reasons for this perceived failure and to examine whether Muslim communities are capable of obtaining the marriage of modernity and democracy enjoyed by leading nations of the ?West?. This sense of failure implies that some form of national political structure encompassing capitalism, democracy, and modernization is desired in these states before they too reach Fukuyama?s ?End of History? (Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man: Harpercollins, February 1993). That is, some type of political structure considered liberal in its views towards capitalism, founded on rational thought, and both legitimized and informed by universal adult suffrage in some form, hence modernity. This ?Western Modernism? takes many forms today and, since it is the result of an evolutionary process, side by side comparisons of European and American political/economic systems are best left as educational exercises and not considered as the process of choosing the ?better? of the two systems. Similarly, the comparison of Muslim democracy/capitalism systems with that of the ?West? should warrant corresponding cautions.

But basic comparisons of living conditions of major Muslim and Western states reveal a considerable gap. The combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Muslim countries in 2002 with a total population of 1.17 billion was $1.38 trillion (World Bank, ?Data by Country?, at www.worldbank.org./data ). This compares with the EU?s population of 370 million and GDP of $10.11 trillion (European Commission, A Community of Fifteen: Key Figures, 2000 ed.,[Brussels: European Commission,1999] www.europa.eu.int/comm/publications/booklets/eu_glance/14/index_en.htm ). The Muslim world?s share of international trade is a lowly 6.86 % (WTO, ?Trade statistics, Historical Series, Merchandise Trade, and Commercial Services Trade? at www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/statis_e.htm#worldtrade ). Subtract oil from this and the meager figure further decreases. Industrialization also lags behind. Muslim states' principle sources of foreign exchange are oil, minerals, and agriculture products. Malaysia and Turkey are the exceptional few that do well in the export of industrial goods and, along with Egypt and Tunisia, tourism, but most Muslim states sorely need the foreign aid so provided. Urbanization has increased in the Muslim countries but this represents merely a geographic shift of the rural poor and not the result of any major trend in modernization. The low level of literacy, high levels of unemployment, low internet access, and the paucity of newspapers and telephone lines further demonstrate the modernity gap between Muslim states and those in the West.

As usual, my curiosity drove me to do a little reading. I visited the biggies: Bernard Lewis, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntington, and others. Professor Lewis points out that those of Islamic background have settled into a never ending process of blame deflection thereby refusing to take responsibility for their own destiny. Professor Fukuyama thinks the problem lies within the tenants and teaching of Islam itself. He muses: ?But there does seem to be something about Islam, or at least the fundamentalist versions of Islam that have been dominant in recent years, that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity. Of all contemporary cultural systems, the Islamic world has the fewest democracies (Turkey alone qualifies), and contains no countries that have made the transition to developed nation status in the manner of South Korea or Singapore.
( http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361,567333,00.html ?The West Has Won?: Francis Fukuyama)
It is interesting that Fukuyama mentions Turkey, but more on this later.
Huntington sees the world in a rather classic atomistic sense in that the globe is divided into large cultural units or civilizations that may clash at the meeting points of their frontiers, a kind of Stalinesque virtual ?Spheres of Influence?. (?The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order? Samuel P. Huntington: Simon & Schuster).

But, why should we in the West care? Isn?t this a zero sum game? Doesn?t less for them mean more for us? Well, no. This thinking is in opposition to current political and economic realities. In regards to the developing nations Alexander Gerschenkron commented over 40 years ago: ?the paramount lesson of the twentieth century is that the problems of backward nations are not exclusively their own. They are just as much the problems of the advanced countries?? (Alexander Gerschenkron: ?Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective?, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962, p. 30). This ?spill over? effect of unrest in the Middle East is even more apparent today. The human condition in this area is of concern to many and this is noble, but the strategic importance of the ME is over arching. The driving concern is economic-- remedy this and most problems become self resolving. The concern is, of course, the world?s growing need for relatively affordable oil. Should greedy ugly Americans conserve oil? Certainly, but big SUVs are not the only problem. We are about to see the emergence of a dragon that will develop an increasing appetite for the very same oil. China is on the verge of becoming a significant consumer of the very same finite quantity of oil that every other developed and developing nation vies for?this is the very definition of a zero sum situation. However, given the terrorism problem, whether these states can or cannot sell us oil is no longer sufficient for deciding whether or not we must deal with their political/economic insufficiencies. Along with Iran and Iraq comes Afghanistan and Chechnya. Energetic people need an outlet for their talents. Hopefully their industry can be channeled towards both individual and societal improvement rather then self destructing efforts of terrorism or poppy cultivation.

Roots and Causes

The Thinking Man Holds Forth: Intuitionism Rises to the Challenge

The last half century has produced many commentaries on the Muslim/Western gap concerning modernity. Notable western scholars in this subject area, in addition to the former three, include Max Weber (First published back in the early 1930?s). However, this subject has been brought into sharp focus by the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11). Not since the War of 1812 has the United States seen such a successful tactical attempt to curb American confidence in its security. This event has even led to much hand wringing from those whose concern is: ?Why do they hate us so?. But both this self blame and its complementary schadenfreude, seen in other quarters, are unhelpful if we seek a favorable resolution to this problem.

Cultural Essentialism

The above essayists' main thesis endeavors to explain the modernization/democracy gap between the West and Muslim countries through some inherent flaw in Islamic culture and, perhaps in Islam itself. Some take the religion card a step further and strongly suggest that one religion over all others seems to promote capitalism and therefore modernity itself. Some are so bold as to say Islam is incompatible with democracy altogether. But even President George W. Bush has made numerous statements to the contrary.

This Cultural Thesis is multi-pronged. Accordingly this view states Islam?s aversion to rational thinking, its preference of faith over reason, community over the individual and the indivisibility of both the private/public and temporal/spiritual spheres of society. Ernest Gellner has said ?Muslim societies in the modern world present a picture which is virtually a mirror image of Marxist ones. They are suffused with faith, indeed they suffer from a plethora of it?? (Ernest Gellner, ?Civil Society in Historical Context? International Social Science Journal 43, no. 3 (1991): 133)

But these efforts fall into the trap that I warned of earlier. They make a comparison of all of Islam with that equally general on the Western side. Western democracy and Modernity not only exhibit many varieties from state to state but, taken individually, differ both in chronological order and mode of development as well. Indeed, examining only one particular state?s development, such as the U.S., we find that American economic/political reality looks totally unlike that which held sway during the early part of the twentieth century. Additionally, Culturalists ignore the extent that elements of tradition, especially religion, have survived to this day. Indeed we have witnessed a revival of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. over the last 30 years (However, the U.S has been spared the virulent strain of radicalism we see in the ME and elsewhere).

Also overlooked are Europe?s myriad lines of democracy/capitalist development. The European modernity evolution took different courses and modes of development. This, in turn, resulted in various forms of democracy and modernity (David Held, ?Models of Democracy?: Polity Press, 1987). Great Britain was the only nation that saw indigenous modernization and democracy but this took over two hundred years to accomplish. Compared to France the UK?s transformation was rather peaceful. France?s pioneer efforts in rationalistic intellectualism broke more than a few eggs. Germany?s transformation in the fifty years between 1850 and 1900 witnessed not so much an evolution but modernization by fiat. Modernity in Germany preceded democracy which only briefly poked its head up out the morass after WWI not to reappear until after the demise of the Nazi regime.

But if Islam is bad for the development of democracy/modernity, does this imply that all religion is bad? This turns out to be an interesting question which I will discuss in more detail shortly.

Max Weber has written:
? A glance at the occupational statistics of any country of mixed religious composition brings to light with remarkable frequency a situation which has several times provoked discussion in the Catholic press and literature, and in Catholic Congress in Germany, namely, the fact that business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labor and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant?

(Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcott Parsons: Scribner, 1958, pg 35).

Thus Weber, and others, has contrasted Catholicism?s other-worldly tendencies with Calvinism?s rationalist and utilitarian approach and the latter?s consequent tendency towards capitalistic systems. Indeed, this Calvinist struggle towards success was considered a religious duty. Accordingly Weber informs us that ?only ascetic Protestantism completely eliminated magic and the supernatural quest for salvation?it alone created the religious motivation for seeking salvation primarily through immersion in one?s worldly vocation? (Weber, The Sociology of Religion, 5th ed. Beacon Press, 1969, pp.269, 270). Weber also attributed other characteristics to Islam that are close to what we see voiced in today?s Cultural Thesis. Weber also had little hope for Asian religions but 10 to 15 years later the emergence of the various Asian ?Tigers? would seem to speak against Weber?s reasoning in this area. As for Weber?s high regard for Calvinism, R.H. Tawnwy notes in his forward to Weber?s 1958 work: ?Recent studies of the development of economic thought suggests that the change of opinion on economic ethics ascribed to Calvinism was by no means confined to it, but was part of a general intellectual movement, which was reflected in the outlook of Catholics as well as of Protestant writers?

The Empiricist Strikes Back: "Just the Facts M'am"

Is there validity in using the one variable of religion to explain the paucity of modernity and its sibling, democracy, in Muslim states? Or, more likely, is there more going on here?

First let us examine whether Islam is problematic regarding democracy. Lewis, Fukuyama, Huntington and other Cultural Theorists tend to look at the big picture then point to simplistic reasons for the plight of those in the ME. These reasons look good when explained via subjective methods but this just brands them as opinion. In a court of law there are two types of opinions that have weight: Eyewitness and Expert. Eyewitness testimony traditionally carried much weight and was viewed almost as gospel. It is now subject to review by experts and, indeed, many modern scientific studies have called into question otherwise honest first hand recounting of events related to the prosecution of defendants. Even eyewitness accounts only hours after a specific event are subject to an individual brain?s interpretation of relevant events. These interpretations are influenced by various individual biases, and the end morphing of the ?Truth?, although not intentional, may contain significant errors. Expert testimonials, based in science and mathematics, are considered the most objective. Even in such areas as psychiatry and Psychology the subjective evaluations of many practitioners are compiled and subjected to mathematical analysis to give them more objective value.

Granted, our subject matter falls in the realm of political science which at first seems to invite the term: oxymoron. But there are mathematical techniques that afford a more objective picture and I was fortunate to find the results of just such an effort by Fares Al-Braizat of the Univ. of Kent @ Canterbury, UK. ( ?An Empirical Critique of Pedantic Culturalist Methodology? http://www.ethno.unizh.ch/csfconference/files/manus/Braizat_Manus_1.pdf )

This section will discuss the results of this analysis. But this method of statistical analysis is complex, so, to avoid turning this part of the text into a somnolent literary device, I invite the reader to consult the actual text, graphs and charts of Al-Braizat?s work to satisfy any personal technical lust. The attempt here, liberally seasoned with relative specific facts, seeks only to digest the empirical data in broad terms relating to our original question of whether Islam is problematic to the development of both democracy and modernity.

Our goal is to see how religiosity interacts with support for democracy/authoritarianism. The data for the indicators used have been taken from the third and fourth wave of the WVS (World Values Survey 1995-97 and 1999-01 respectively). These include the data from 62 countries where citizens were assessed as to whether there was a high degree of preference for democracy as a political system, democracy is better than any other form of government, or demonstration of a preference for a strong head of government who need not bother with parliament or elections (authoritarian), along with interpersonal trust (IPT), and religiosity.
In the WVS these tendencies were determined by asking representative samples of those nations the corresponding questions. All results are expressed as percentages of the sample total.

Interpersonal Trust, Support for Democracy or Authoritarianism

Interpersonal Trust

Fukuyama has linked interpersonal trust (IPT) with modernity and democracy. So, in viewing levels of IPT in various religious context we can clarify whether Islam is the problem in the pursuit of democracy. If so, we would expect that those countries with low levels of IPT would be considered non-democratic. Alternately, those with high IPT would be strongly democratic and modern. This is not what we find. Democratic Turkey scores a low 19%, Iran 55%. Denmark and Norway are the only countries (out of 83) scoring higher than Iran. However Turkey and Pakistan IPT score is higher than Catholic Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Poland, Colombia, Venezuela, Georgia, and Romania. In Addition the Islamic state of Jordan scores almost as high as the protestant UK?s 30%. What is more, Jordan?s IPT score is higher than Roman Catholic France, Poland, Hungary, Chile, Romania, and Orthodox Russia. So, IPT is formed by individual societies and is a poor variable to employ to predict democratic development.

Support for Democracy

Support for democracy in Islamic Bangladesh 98%, Jordan 89%, Turkey 88% is compared to the UK?s 78%, USA 87%, and Canada 87%. Protestant W. Germany, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and Confucian Japan also score high. So Do many other Islamic and Catholic, Orthodox, and ex-communist states. Islamic countries are unexceptional with regard to their support of democracy when compared to other nations.

Support for Authoritarian Leadership
(Strong leader sans parliament and elections)

Cultural Theorists would imply that a high support of Authoritarian Leadership would imply inversely low support of democracy (e.g. low IPT equates to low Support for democracy). But the data does not bear this out. Among other examples, democratic Turkey?s support for authoritarian Leadership is 72% while authoritarian Egypt?s is 7%

Religiosity and Democracy

Religiosity was determined by responses to the question:

Independently of whether you go to religious services or not, would you say you are
1. A religious person
2. Not a religious person
3. A convinced atheist

Religiosity and support for democracy was measured using 2 different questions and their answers of ?DPS (Democracy Political Systems) is a very good form of government? and ?Democracy is better than any other form of government?.

It was generally found that the relation between religiosity and support for democracy was negative but insignificant. In other words religion tends to work against the establishment of democracy but is neither a tipping point variable nor the basis for any solid conclusions when searching out success or failure of democratic development. In fact highly religious Muslim societies favor democracy more than highly religious Christian societies (Egypt scores higher on democracy than catholic Poland). Additionally, the study informs: ?None of the Islamic societies fall beneath 40% (Support for Democracy) (while the majority of societies under 40% are Christian Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox but not Protestant. Furthermore, the highest score is (Islamic) Morocco 84%. Some Islamic countries score as high as USA, France, and the Netherlands.?

Religiosity and Authoritarianism

This was measured by asking those who declared themselves religious whether they thought a political system that provided a strong leader that need not bother with elections or parliament was a good or very good system for governing their country. Although insignificant, a positive correlation was evidenced. That is, religiosity may be one of many factors contributing to the development of authoritarianism (One suspects the size and number of lethal weapons employed by a political ?party? may be more influential in this regard). As previously mentioned, the examples of Turkey and Egypt are notable. Turkey seems to want another Ataturk Kemal who?s strong central government had not only success in modernizing that country but also in establishing a guardian of the secularism deemed necessary to carry on those successes into modern day Turkey. Whether that guardian (the military) is still needed is an interesting modern question. In contrast, Egypt?s 7% support for a strong leader would suggest the populaces? longings do not include more of the Naser /Sadat / Mubarak political treatment.

On the whole authoritarianism was the only variable that correlated positively with religiosity, albeit weakly. However, if one seeks to single out one particular religion as having a greater propensity for authoritarianism he is met with failure. Protestantism does seem to help democracy but this is also only a weak correlation and not a major determining factor.

Conclusions Inherent in the Empirical Examination

Using the results of Al-Braizat?s complicated analytical techniques we can conclude that religion on the whole or any in particular cannot be offered as a serious obstacle to democracy or, alternatively, an impetus to the development of authoritarianism.
What this study did find is that Human Development in a society, measured by HDI (Human Development Index), correlates significantly and negatively with support for authoritarianism. Increased standards of living and educational levels work against such dictatorial types of government. In addition, further analysis with more variables by Al-Braizat does not show that Muslim societies favor the ?Strong Leader? political model and in fact actually tend to favor democracy.

So what are the causes?

So neither Islam nor any other religion has any significant effect in the development of democracy or modernity in the long term. Even the Catholic Church?s infamous persecution of scientists of the Middle Age and Renaissance periods was unable to halt the advancement of rational thinking. But the resulting dialectic did result in a synthesis of thought and casuistry that eventually took hold in the west. Its result is the truce that has resulted in the concept of ?Separation of Church and State? that we witness in modern western societies. So let?s use a historical approach to examine what might be contributing factors.


By the late 19th century the major powers of Europe expanded their empires into Muslim areas. This exposed the area?s backwardness in relation to western modernity. Thoughtful Muslims determined that their lands? best defense was to become more modern and should try to develop economies and cultural institutions that would more closely resemble that enjoyed by those nations posing the ?external challenge? (Britain, Russia, and France). This defensive character that drove Muslim modernization shaped the debate about its virtues and vices. (E.C. Black, ?The Dynamics of Modernization?, Harper & Row, 1966, p.96)

Muslim intellectuals developed their own Culturalist explanations which involved blaming Islam and the religious establishment for their backwardness. The remedy seemed to lay in the unmitigated adoption of the European model, especially secularization. Sounded like a plan, but inherent in this were the seeds of self determination. The colonizers saw results from this effort that ran counter to their interests. After all, of what value is a colony that becomes independent? Remember that group of New World trouble makers of 1776? So, native interest had to be thwarted to a large degree if the interests of the European powers were to be served and, indeed, this is what happened. This produced a strain between those seeking modernization and the imperial rulers. The colonizers created a desire for modernization while the very concept of an imperial colony proscribed both the political and economic realities such a fully modernized society demanded. The colonial model saw that the natives were not the political elite. Additionally, goods manufactured in the imperial center were forced upon the colonies. Such economic impositions were a disincentive for local development of capitalistic entrepreneurship. Both of these factors resulted in the stifling of a unique local culture centered on mercantile endeavors.

Cold War Developmentalism and Laissez-faire Globalism

Great big words to describe some simple concepts, what? The end of WWII saw the appearance of another choice for Muslim states. The 1950?s and 60?s saw Communism as another potential savior of Islamic states from their failed modernization experiments. No longer would Islamic leaders need to pursue painful bottom up grass roots procedures towards modernization via frustrating market driven methods. The governments of these underdeveloped countries knew where they wanted to go, so, why not just follow the Soviet Model and set up a 5 Year Plan of their own? Progress by fiat, that?s the ticket! But both the West and Soviets had increasing interests in the ME and were more than happy to play the zero sum game to increase their own, or decrease the other?s, political influence in such strategic states. But even those countries that aligned themselves with the West felt the strong gravitational pull of large expensive military institutions and huge civil projects as roads, power plants and dams. This modernization was so important that factors that could obstruct its realization such as culture or religious proclivities had to be discounted or even ignored by developmentalist. Those so engaged felt that these could be ignored at least until physical modernization like industrialization, urbanization, and the establishment of bureaucratic state institutions was effected. This involved W.W. Rostow?s ?Stage Theory? of modernization. (Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1960) However, none of these stages involved democracy at any point. It was assumed that ?the search for equality? would follow all these stages. The elemental benchmark was GDP, that figure that measured the gross ?income? of the individual state involved. The applicable social justice and how that income was spread around the state?s populace were not considered directly. Those specifics were abdicated to a nebulous ?Trickle Down? effect.

By the early 1970?s hope for this method of modernization disappeared and criticism now recommended more attention be paid to ?special conditions and cultural backgrounds of the undeveloped nations? ( Ronald H. Chilcote, Theories of Comparative Politics: The Search for a Paradigm Reconsidered, Westview Press, 1994, pp. 226-30).
Instead, there was a call for the reformation of the international economic system including better terms of trade and access to capital and technology for the undeveloped nations, the so called North-South Dialogue (The New International Economic Order: The North-South Debate, MIT Press, 1977).

However, the 1980?s saw increased forces favoring a more global laissez-faire attitude and a greater emphasis on market forces to solve economic problems. Developmentalism was discounted. The rise of Japan and other ?Eastern Tigers? and, later, China further strengthened approval for market driven efforts. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 removed any strategic value that developmental efforts afforded the West and discredited the communist model.

Islamic Fundamentalism

So what was a Muslim to believe was happening? Neither Western economics, Communism, nor free foreign aid seemed to help. But yet, looking around the world they saw the successes of many Asian cultures and these with disparate cultures and religions all of which were considered non-occidental. Muslim society moved towards rejecting modernization and, especially, secularism as evil. Further, Islamic traditionalists then claimed the cause of Muslim society backwardness was due to its straying too far from fundamental Islamic beliefs. God was punishing Muslims for the abandonment of their faith. This backlash then became the basis for the radical militant Islamic fundamentalism witnessed today.

But there are inherent problems with any type of fundamentalism. By definition, fundamental truths are unassailable and it is this basic belief that gives fundamentalism its underlying intolerance and its aversion to pluralistic institutions. Shar?ah or Islamic Law is viewed by those so involved as divine. This is not so. The argument is involved but will not be made here because it is a whole subject in itself. (Ziauddin Sardar, Rethinking Islam http://www.islamfortoday.com/sardar01.htm ) However, a review of the subject shows that the ?Divine? character of Islamic Law (Shar?ah) eschews casuistry or a rational justification of moral positions. This is an important consideration because times and cultures change concurrently with morals. Mixed marriages were first immoral then illegal. In our society, today, it would be immoral not to let a couple marry just because of a difference in ethnic backgrounds. The rigidity of Islamic law gives it a ?medieval feel? (Ibid.) and removes moral agency from the individual. The preceding may seem to argue towards Islam?s incompatibility with modernity and democracy but the same could be said for other major religions and we know from Fares Al-Braizat?s work that this is not true. As usual, the rigidity and intolerance emanates not from the religion or ideology but from its interpretation. Shar'ah disallows even this contemporary interpretation.

Conclusions--at Long Last


Islam and Modernity

Modernity is that which has allowed a rationalist way of thinking and its methodology. This indicates a paradigm shift from the reliance upon religion as the basis for political legitimacy to that of a non-religious nature. There are those who argue, because of the history of Islam and its integration into those societies in question, against a resolution working towards a separation between state and church in such cultures. But these same areas of the world were renowned, both before and many years after the establishment of the Prophet?s teachings, for their scholarship. Indeed, many experts, including Lewis, point out that Muslim regimes were more pluralistic than their Christian counterparts. In addition, Turkey?s example of democracy in a state whose major religion is Muslim speaks towards compatibility. As regarding capitalism, what better example then that of a Middle Eastern Bazaar? The overwhelming evidence supports the fact that most people seek the better life offered by modernity and reject radicalism whether coming from those in Turban?s or from those that shave their heads.

Islam and Democracy

I find no inherent conflict with any religion and democracy. But, regarding Islam, the above is a very general statement which requires the consideration of a major question: What form of democracy is compared to what form of Islam? As has been mentioned, there are different types of democracy. Also, radical Islamists see no compatibility whatsoever. Secularism is viewed by such elements as abandonment of faith for various reasons. Iraq seems to have been fairly secular and ripe for modernity and resultant democracy and probably still is. Presently it is the lack of security, due to sectarian and outside forces who want total political control, that prevents a legitimate dialog among Iraqis and not Islam.

Iran is the one state to look to for proof that a theocratic state run by the elite clergy might work. It is a democracy but more Putin-like and certainly not liberal. Only those who demonstrate they are for the status quo get to participate in elections.

Some feel that the development of Democracy and modernization go hand in hand and, in that, there may be some truth. However, a liberal democracy that allows universal adult suffrage can only be sustained by modernism supported by capitalistic economies that are able to make bargains with their government. The government must answer to the people and not the other way around.

After Word

The predominance of the military and its partnership with security services drains valuable resources and civil liberties from Muslim societies. Because of this drain large scale poverty and illiteracy are the norm in these societies. These and the resultant high unemployment, especially of the youth, provide succor for extremists.
Additionally, we in the west have contributed to the problem thru the strategic rent we have afforded to such regimes as Egypt?s Hosni Mubarak, a residual from Cold War strategies. When westerners try to convince these authoritarian leaders to loosen up their grip to allow more personal freedom and perhaps even elections the response is predictable. Newsweek?s International News Editor Fareed Zakaria paints the picture:
?It is always the same splendid setting ? and the same sad story. A senior American diplomat enters one of the grand presidential palaces?from which Hosni Mubarak rules over Egypt?Then the American gently raises the issue of human rights and suggests that Egypt?s government might ease up on political dissent, allow more freedoms and stop jailing intellectuals. Mubarak tenses up and snaps ?If I were to do what you ask, the fundamentalists will take over Egypt. Is that what you want?? The diplomat demurs and the conversation moves back to the last twist in the peace process?

Mubarak is not alone. This tactic is used by many from Saudi Arabia?s Prince Bandar bin Sultan to the PLO?s Yasir Arafat.

This leads to some nasty questions that Americans must honestly confront, especially since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Will we put our money where our mouths are? Will we support the off shore pursuit of that happy mixture of Jeffersonian Democracy and Hamiltonian Markets with more than lip service? Will we really allow self-determination in these states? Can we afford too? Are we willing to invest money and men to provide the security climate necessary? If so this will call for sacrifices.

What do you think?

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Reply Wed 6 Oct, 2004 11:08 pm
I'm going to "bookmark" this thread now. There's a passage from a French historian that would be appropriate to post, but the book is at home in Arizona, and I'm at work overseas. I'll be home in eight weeks, and will post it then.
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Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 09:25 am
An excellent post, thanks, James.

What is this World Values Survey? Is it accessible online?

How was it measured?
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Reply Sat 9 Oct, 2004 05:46 pm

Thanks for your reply, I will go back through my papers and dig it out for us. Please give me a couple of days. Because of my long work days I won't have time until probably tuesday 10/12/04.

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Reply Sat 9 Oct, 2004 05:49 pm
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Reply Sat 9 Oct, 2004 08:33 pm
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Reply Tue 12 Oct, 2004 05:30 pm
Galilite, Here is the World Values Survey site address


Let me know how you make out.


Thanks for your thoughtful response.
I remember my first time in my professional career that I was left on my own with what seemed awesome responsibilities staring at me. I felt I was under the gun and seriously wondered if I was up to the challenge. Other instances that made indelible memories were the experiences involved in more pleasurable but solitary pursuits such as surfing and alpine skiing that also demanded personal responsibility and presented unknown challenges. Anxiety reigned.

So imagine how scary democracy must be for those who have had no such democratic experiences, who live in societies where most of the important decisions of their lives have always been made by a select few. Recent polls in Russia show that the majority so questioned long for the "good old" communist days. The apparent feeling is that democracy is like living without a net to protect them from the realities of everyday life. Democracy is messy, unsure, and unpredictable but to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: even though it's a horrible system of governing it is better than all the rest.

Democracy forces individuals to think for their self, to engage in rational forethought, and finally to come to a decision that they, and only they, will be responsible for. On top of this, those persons are then required to consider other's decisions and engage in compromise. Lastly all this must be done in an environment where a communal rule of law is synthesized and ultimately enforced by and for everyone in the society.

The good news for those that pursue this form of government is the other side of the coin. I have always tried to instill in my children that freedom is one side of this coin, the other being responsibility. There is no free lunch. But, this personal responsibility and toil, regarding democratic and capitalistic systems, rewards success with large amounts of freedom and financial rewards.

Success that first day on the job gave me more confidence for the next. This feeling was cumulative. The confidence gained allowed me to pursue other challenges, some not even related to my job. Horizons were expanded. The world was still a scary place but I became more convinced of my ability to make fairly good decisions and, in turn, more likely to accept final outcomes. The tolerance of these outcomes stemmed not from a feeling of responsibility but from the fact that I had choices. The ability and confidence to use rational thought informed my decisions. Successful outcomes were their own rewards that reinforced the will to be personally responsible. The flops, well they were "learning experiences" and even stronger incentives to think ahead. The surfing and skiing challenges involved the same risk/reward assessment. The exhilaration was the reward and we all know the penalties to be paid for bad decisions. But both the fresh air and exercise were mere garnish on the ever widening world of freedom that had been discovered. Hell, you could even ski through the trees if you so wished to challenge yourself! This, before the fashionable off-piste movement we see presently (Glade, Helicopter skiing, etc.). Of course you risked losing your lift ticket, but, this was not the source of the exhilaration experienced.

There is much truth in your observation that those in the ME and elsewhere long for the same freedoms and pleasures we see in our western cultures. But, they too must learn the lesson of the responsibility/freedom coin analogy. They would do well to eschew the demagoguery of the Saddams and Osamas of the area. I used to work for a tough-ass Dutchman who, when we encountered a particular difficult piece of work, told us "to get mad at it". This meant to focus more on the job at hand and direct the energy needed to a particular place and time. Both fear and anger focus our minds. It is time those in the ME "get mad at it". However, that energy focus should be directed towards efforts to advance their situation and not wasted in trying to make life nasty for others that seem to have it better. "It" is making their lives better not making ours worse. Islam, like all theocratic based ideology, was originally concerned with making life better here on earth, the heaven thing came later. I personally feel the legitimating force provided by GOD was an attempt by well meaning philosophers such as Jesus and the Prophet Mohamed to add value to their message, which originated from an effort to establish laws for a society to live by.

Regarding elections, David Brooks published a commentary in the NYT that made a good argument for a point brought up by Sec. of Defense D. Rumsfeld: Elections, especially in developing nations, need not be perfect to be effective. Despite shelling and mortar fire directed at polling places elections were held and the results used to help establish democracy in places such as El Salvador. Afghanistan was not perfect and neither will elections in Iraq be. But if the populace feels they had a say in their future the election has been successful.

The important thing to be remembered is that the people not only have the right to their opinion they have the responsibility to express it. How many times have we listened sorrowfully to friend's sad opinions about our leaders only to find later that they had not even bothered to vote? This negates any empathy towards their complaints. Those in the ME must start at a more simple level. The "It" they should get mad at are those terrorists that deny their own people not only the vote but to walk safely down the street without some unemployed seeker of "Paradise" blowing them up. They should be Mad as Hell and willing to take no more.

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Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 03:38 am
I am probably the minority, but I think that the muslims and wetsern society can never mix. In my opinion, there should be no western interests in the midle east and muslim countries, and no muslims whatsoever in western countries. Alas, it is too late to change it.
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Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 05:51 pm
australia, Welcome to A2K!

"I am probably the minority, but I think that the muslims and wetsern society can never mix. In my opinion, there should be no western interests in the midle east and muslim countries, and no muslims whatsoever in western countries. Alas, it is too late to change it. "

The "mix" has already taken place in the U.S.,U.K., France, Belgium, Germany...etc. Some would have us believe that Islam's influence promotes intolerance, others point to the inferiority of Middle Eastern peoples "Genes". Well maybe, but that does not explain Islamic leaders tolerance of Christianity way before the crusades. Granted those same leaders did conquer christian societies, but they were much more tolerant of christianity than were invading christians of muslims and their culture in the same areas.

It is not the religion or culture that is problematic. These are mere excuses used to deflect certain individual's particular political agendas.

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Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 07:43 pm
I've not read the entire post, I will. Consider this my book mark.

Last year the CBC did an indepth look at Islam. I cannot seem to find the link, I will continue to search.
One guest, a professor (of islamic studies) I believe...made a very interesting point, which relates to the above essays. He said Islam has never had, but needed to have a refromation much like the christian religion underwent in the middle ages. He compared the islamic religion and it's people present condition to 'our' middle ages, and in many respects I believe he was right. It's not that the muslims have the wrong message or books, per se, but that there is no controlling factor or one defining viewpoint in how the koran et al. are or should be interpreted.
I hope my convoluted ramblings make sense, the prof was much more elequent and consice in his opinions.

I'll keep looking for the link, the program was very illuminating.
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Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 08:28 pm
Since I did not read all of the postings, I may touch on a point already shared. As we refer to the Middle Eastern countries in continuing conflict, I'm not sure that the words Muslim or Islamic, by themselves, truly name the groups involved. I believe that during the latter half of the 20th century some individuals ,initially from Saudi Arabia, made available money to built schools/worship centers throughout the world. I believe most of these groups became Wannabes.

As the years passed, the schools went from what appeared to be standard Muslim teachings to strict memorization of the Koran, the demonization of non-Islamic peoples and actual instruction in the use of weapons, etc. In American political terms, we might say they were the far right.

Is this correct?
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Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 11:49 pm
It is a complex issue. I have no answer
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Reply Mon 6 Dec, 2004 01:25 pm

You are correct

Whahhabism (pertaining to the Wahhabi sect of Islam) has been tolerated since the creation of the nation of Saudi Arabia. This was because it was politically expedient and necessary for the Family of Saud to obtain power over the rest of the Tribes in the area. As time went by the Saudi Government had little problem with supporting this radical orthodox sect (especially their schools you mention--the madrassas schools). The Saudi government made this Faustian bargain simply because the energies (terrorism and such) of this sect were turned away from the ruling Family and directed towards western societies. This all changed when during the first Gulf War the Saudis allowed U.S. troops to be based in their country. The Wahhabis perceived the deal broken and promptly turned on the ruling family that had allowed the infidels to infiltrate the Holy Land. This is also Osama bin Laden's original beef with the ruling family.

The Saudis are now feeling the sting of the original deal. They now say they want to enact liberal reforms but when pressed by westerners they, at some point, always bring up the possibility that, given too much freedom, the radicals would take over. Perhaps, but what the Family of Saud is really concerned about is their ultimate loss of power, not who eventually gets that power. If they wished, they could set up government institutions and a constitution that would prevent factional mischief by the Wahhabis or any other group but implicit in more liberal changes is the fading of the ruling family's power in that nation. In this case it really is about the oil production and who gets the revenue so generated. The general population gets a small part of this money but the family retains a major portion. However, due to population growth individuals will be getting a smaller and smaller "real" portion of this income. Government Treasury transparency will not help the family's attempt to hang on to power but the general populace, at some point, will demand a more equal distribution of Saudi resources. At some point the chickens will come home to roost. Then, the question will be how will this change to Saudi Arabia be effected, peacefully or thru violent revolutionary methods? When one considers that Western society and economics requires stability in this area we can appreciate the need for a complex foreign policy dynamic involving the region.


I too remember something of this concept. I will try to find it in my papers, although the concept may be shared by many and my source may differ. But off the top of my head I remember it being related that the "Medieval Feel" of Islam stems from certain high powered "clerics" conveniently injecting their own concepts into the religion at specific chronologic points. If you will allow, I have included a quote from my original post that attempts explanation.
" But there are inherent problems with any type of fundamentalism. By definition, fundamental truths are unassailable and it is this basic belief that gives fundamentalism its underlying intolerance and its aversion to pluralistic institutions. Shar'ah or Islamic Law is viewed by those so involved as divine. This is not so. The argument is involved but will not be made here because it is a whole subject in itself. (Ziauddin Sardar, Rethinking Islam http://www.islamfortoday.com/sardar01.htm ) However, a review of the subject shows that the "Divine" character of Islamic Law (Shar'ah) eschews casuistry or a rational justification of moral positions. This is an important consideration because times and cultures change concurrently with morals. Mixed marriages were first immoral then illegal. In our society, today, it would be immoral not to let a couple marry just because of a difference in ethnic backgrounds. The rigidity of Islamic law gives it a "medieval feel" (Ibid.) and removes moral agency from the individual. The preceding may seem to argue towards Islam's incompatibility with modernity and democracy but the same could be said for other major religions and we know from Fares Al-Braizat's work that this is not true. As usual, the rigidity and intolerance emanates not from the religion or ideology but from its interpretation. Shar'ah disallows even this contemporary interpretation."

That said, again, you might be correct in citing the "reformation thing". As we know Martin Luther effected a paradigm change regarding the concept of worship. The God remained the same but the personal worship practices changed. Luther said, essentially, that no intermediary was needed when an individual worshiped his God. Both God and the individual could handle the exchange, middlemen need not apply. This exposed the clergy to a world of hurt, especially since the concept of unemployment benefits was far in the future.

Islam does not seem to exhibit this Great Schism at any point in its history and so the influence of specific important powerful individuals becomes permanent and cumulative. Contrarily, We see many Islamic sects with their own beliefs just like the Christian religions of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism to name a few but it is the casuistry dating back, at least, to Judaic tradition that is perhaps absent in Islam. That is the problem with Divine Laws. After all, how does one argue with God? Martin Luther just figured we could just as well do that on a case by case (individual) basis.

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Reply Mon 6 Dec, 2004 10:01 pm
James, I appreciated your reponse. I fear Americans perceive the Wahhabi sect as an example of what all Muslims are like. Recently, a relative in rural Georgia asked me why we couldn't just kill all of the people in the Middle East. He was serious.

I am aware that there is an element in the White House that believes we should use our superior military to assert our will on the countries of the World. I am wondering if that thinking has made it's way to the masses?
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Reply Tue 7 Dec, 2004 12:23 am
I have a theory that there is good and bad in every race and religion. Probably the same percentage of good exists between christinaity and islam. But the bad percentage of islam is so extreme and ruthless and violent that it scares a lot of people in western society. This may be a symptom of the problem
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Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2004 09:16 am
I read most of this going through the news this AM. I have to prepare the fatted calf for my son's long-awaited visit today, so I thought I'd put the article here.

I hope it goes OK here. Has issues of modernity, compatibility...of Islam, and how (or if) they can assimilate.

It's long, but was quite interesting and timely, to me.

A closer look at the Islamification of Europe (not a hatchet job). Just a look at how it's changing Europe, and how it will possibly change the US.

Interested in viewpoints.

How Islam is Changing Europe.
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Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2004 10:18 am
Besides the debate, to which I can eventually made a contibution, Evan Osnos Tribune foreign correspondent made a mistake saying :"Thirteen hundred years after the Frankish King Charles Martel repelled Muslim armies from the central city of Tours"

Actually, Charles Martell was not, at the time, a Frankish King, but chancellor, mayor of Austrasia and Neustria. His son, Pépin le Bref, was a King.

The battle of Tours take place near Poitiers and not in "the central city of Tours" as said.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2004 11:11 am
To be more precise: Charles Martell, a Merowingian, was the mayor of the palace of Austrasia.

Germany estimates that there are 31,000 Islamists in the country, based on membership lists of conservative federations.

Out of those (these were figures from the 2000 survey by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, btw) more than 27,000 were members of 'Milli Görüs', the German part of the Turkish Fazilet-Partisi (follower-up of the Refah Partisi [The Welfare Party], both illegal in Turkey as well now).

31,000 Islamists out of 3,1 million Muslims - I'm sure, we have more extreme Christians here among the 55 million of them.
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Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2004 11:10 pm
It is a really good article lash. The islam push will go through unopposed. The world now is too politically correct. If any politician or public figure questions muslim immigration, they are branded as racists blah blah. Free speech is something of the past.

I can't be bothered arguing anymore with it. I give in. If you can't beat them, join them. From now on, i will embrace the muslim faith and learn the art of suicide bombing.
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Reply Tue 21 Dec, 2004 02:03 am
australia wrote:
I can't be bothered arguing anymore with it. I give in. If you can't beat them, join them. From now on, i will embrace the muslim faith and learn the art of suicide bombing.

You needn't bother arguing on the net about anything, but that doesn't mean you need give in and 'join them.'

The right to use religious law in family disputes
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