Islam and Democracy – Much Hard Work Needed

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[Editor’s note: the following article was originally published at the National Post.]

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 Sarsarlooked 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.

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.

Put differently: of course, Islam is undemocratic in spirit, but so was every other premodern religion and society.

Just as Christianity became part of the democratic process, so can Islam. This transformation will surely be wrenching and require time. 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?

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  • BUTSeriously

    Its not about democrasy but lawlessness clung to by the Islamic regimes. They do this to protect their thrones – and they are supported by the west, primarilly Europe who installed these ficticious regimes 120 years ago, then went home boasting democrsy. Europe and the Regimes have been perpetrating Heil Hitler salutes at the UN the past 60 years:

    The Balfour was corrupted, a 3-state is presented as a 2-state and the name Palestineans transfered to those busting for another Holocaust.

    Pakistan is also a result of Britsh corruption to please the Regimes she installed. There is none to judge Europe – this is the problem humanity faces.

  • fxgeorges

    Wow and I thought it was because American women don't wear Burkas.

    But maybe they just hate Clinton's version of 'Democracy'. Seems like when Bush, the elder, left office he handed on an Islam coalition. Obviously Democracy was not hated then. Maybe what Clinton did in his eight years might have something to do with the way Islam feels.

    • Amused

      you're confused , but what's worse is your foolish allegation , which only accentuates your true, utter , ignorance of the situation regarding islam .

  • Amused

    No surprise here , EXCEPT that PIPES IS BUYING INTO " it's not the religion ….but something else " .
    And Pipes of all people bending over for PC ….even an apologist for muslim behavior !! Iraq was :"democratic " for a few moments before it's people reverted to what they TRULY are ….islamists, religionists with a superiority complex built into their…."sacred scripts " ? Really !!! And throw in a comparison to early christianity ? Sorry , but mr.pipes is just another sell out for political ideology , in denial of the truth . And the " ECHO CHAMBER " chimes in , not even knowing why ….pathetic , man , PATHETIC !

    • StephenD

      Amused, I hate to say it but it seems you're right. Daniel Pipes sees this WRONG. BTW, since when is the Catholic Church a democracy? Never was, never will be. They happen to be able (like the balance of Christianity) to function in a democracy because it isn't an all consuming system that seeks to control every aspect of your existence…including your faith.

  • USMCSniper

    Islam the religion of "submission" and a free society based on individual rights are not compatible. Secularizing Islam will allow only some minor semblance of a civilized society,

  • QSuzy

    PipeDreams……there is not one nation of 78 majority muslim nations that is democratic. Islam & democracy are certainly incompatible because the basic principle of democracy is that all citizens are treated with equality. In Islam, only male muslims are treated somewhat equally, leaving out non-muslim males, women and children which male muslims exploit frequently.

    What 'democratic majority-muslim nation' is PipeDreams talking about? And for him to conclude the Vatican is democratic……not individual Catholics, is quite a stretch.