Can There Be Democracy Under Islam?

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by PoliticalChic, Jan 3, 2010.

  1. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    The following is from a speech by Bernard Lewis
    Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University.

    It is an eye-opener, if not an epiphany.



    1.” What is the possibility of freedom in the Islamic world, in the Western sense of the word? There are two views common in the United States and Europe:

    a. One of them holds that Islamic peoples are incapable of decent, civilized government. Whatever the West does, Muslims will be ruled by corrupt tyrants. Therefore the aim of our foreign policy should be to insure that they are our tyrants rather than someone else's—friendly rather than hostile tyrants. This point of view is very much favored in departments of state and foreign offices and is generally known, rather surprisingly, as the “pro-Arab” view. It shows ignorance of the Arab past.

    b. The second common view is that Arab ways are different from our ways. They must be allowed to develop in accordance with their cultural principles, but it is possible for them—as for anyone else, anywhere in the world, with discreet help from outside and most specifically from the United States—to develop democratic institutions of a kind. This view is known as the “imperialist” view and has been vigorously denounced and condemned as such.

    But the idea that how that society is now is how it has always been is totally false. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or the Assad family in Syria or the more friendly dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt—all of these have no roots whatsoever in the Arab or in the Islamic past.

    2. To view traditional Islamic leadership, consider this letter by Mssr. Count de Choiseul-Gouffier, the French ambassador in Istanbul, written in 1786, in which he is trying to explain why he is making rather slow progress with the tasks entrusted to him by his government in dealing with the Ottoman government. “Here,” he says, “things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases.” “Here,” he says, “the sultan has to consult.” He has to consult with the former holders of high offices, with the leaders of various groups and so on. And this is a slow process. This scenario is something radically different than the common image of Middle Eastern government today. And it is a description that ceased to be true because of a number of changes that occurred.

    a. Modernization: This was undertaken not by imperialists, for the most part, but by Middle Eastern rulers who had become painfully aware that their societies were undeveloped compared with the advanced Western world. These rulers decided that what they had to do was to modernize or Westernize. Their intentions were good, but the consequences were often disastrous. What they did was to increase the power of the state and the ruler enormously by placing at his disposal the whole modern apparatus of control, repression and indoctrination. In the traditional society there were established orders-the bazaar merchants, the scribes, the guilds, the country gentry, the military establishment, the religious establishment, and so on. These were powerful groups in society, whose heads were not appointed by the ruler but arose from within the groups. And no sultan, however powerful, could do much without maintaining some relationship with these different orders in society. This is not democracy as we currently use that word, but it is certainly limited, responsible government. And the system worked. Modernization ended that.

    b. In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which meant that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: To stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon—a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East—was now wide open to the Nazis. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party. A few after the war, the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments.

    3. Two other factors added to the mix produce the picture we see today.

    a. The first of these—founded by a theologian called Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in a remote area of Najd in desert Arabia—is known as Wahhabi. Its argument is that the root of Arab-Islamic troubles lies in following the ways of the infidel.

    b. The other important thing that happened—also in the mid-20s—was the discovery of oil. With that, this extremist sect found itself not only in possession of Mecca and Medina, but also of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. As a result, what would otherwise have been a lunatic fringe in a marginal country became a major force in the world of Islam. Now, its influence spreads far beyond the region.

    5. There are, as I've tried to point out, elements in Islamic society which could well be conducive to democracy. And there are encouraging signs at the present moment—what happened in Iraq, for example, with millions of Iraqis willing to stand in line to vote, knowing that they were risking their lives, is a quite extraordinary achievement. It's interesting that pro-American feeling is strongest in countries with anti-American governments. I've been told repeatedly by Iranians that there is no country in the world where pro-American feeling is stronger, deeper and more widespread than Iran. I've heard this from so many different Iranians—including some still living in Iran—that I believe it. When the American planes were flying over Afghanistan, the story was that many Iranians put signs on their roofs in English reading, “This way, please.”

    I think that the cause of developing free institutions—along their lines, not ours—is possible. One can see signs of its beginning in some countries. At the same time, the forces working against it are very powerful and well entrenched. And one of the greatest dangers is that on their side, they are firm and convinced and resolute. Whereas on our side, we are weak and undecided and irresolute. And in such a combat, it is not difficult to see which side will prevail.
    I think that the effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made. Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.”
    https://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2006&month=09
     
  2. Kalam
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    Kalam Senior Member

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    While Bernard Lewis' musings occasionally flirt with truth, it's important to keep in mind that the man is attempting to examine Islam critically and from a Western, non-Muslim perspective; his work is a modern manifestation of 19th and early 20th-century orientalism. The parts regarding Iranians and "bringing us freedom" are laughable. Islamic governments must be developed according to the revelations of Allah (SWT).

    So whatever you are given is but a provision of this world’s life, and that which Allah has is better and more lasting for those who believe and rely on their Lord; And those who shun the great sins and indecencies, and whenever they are angry they forgive; And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer, and whose affairs are (decided) by counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them; And those who, when great wrong afflicts them, defend themselves. - 42:36-39

    And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited. And remember Allah’s favor to you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favor you became brethren. And you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes clear to you His messages that you may be guided. And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. And these are they who are successful. - 3:103-104
    Whether or not non-Muslims deem these governments "free" by their standards is of no real concern to us.
     
  3. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    "...is of no real concern to us..." Interesting that you think that you represent the view of all Muslims, while it is diaphanously clear that you represent the view that have resulted in this fact:

    "the total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma’moun [a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars] to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year” World Press.
    A Note on Arabic Literacy and Translation

    While I fully expected the "Ouch, your stepping on our (religious) toes" screetching, I am hoping that the speech will engender a more intellectual breed of poster.

    Thanks for dropping by, though.
     
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  4. Samson
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    Samson Póg Mo Thóin Supporting Member

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    Why is it such a preposterous idea for Islamic counties to remain Theocracies?

    The Ottoman Empire was successful much longer than any western "democracy" has been in existance. It is a little presumptious for US to dictate anything to Islamic Nations.
     
  5. eots
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    eots no fly list

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    Can There Be Democracy Under Obama?
     
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  6. geauxtohell
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    geauxtohell Choose your weapon.

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    If Islamic Nations can't become democracies, than that little side jaunt into Iraq to "spread democracy" just became even more stupid.

    Or at least the people that bought into it.
     
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  7. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    Because, generally, democracies don't make war on each other.


    But the premise of the Lewis speech is that the countries that we view as dictatorial theocracies were, historically, in some measure collaborative and involved input from many sources, and could fit an expanded definition of a democracy.


    "... presumptious for US to dictate ..." Huh?

    The speech is an historical exposition, not an imposition

    I think you will find it interesting as it differs from current beliefs.
     
  8. The Rabbi
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    The Rabbi Diamond Member

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    Bernard Lewis is one of the greatest scholars of Arabs and Islam on the planet. Your criticisms are indicative merely that he doesn't toe the party line.
     
  9. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    "If Islamic Nations can't become democracies..."

    You would find it oh-so-useful to have read the speech before you post about what is, actually, the antithesis of the Lewis speech.

    So, if you have the time, read it first, and have another go.


    "just became even more stupid.

    Or at least the people that bought into it."

    It appears that you play only one note on this piano, and watch for any opportunity to attack the Bush administration. This speech really does not offer that opportunity, and exposes you in a not-so-positive light: sometimes the term "stupid" bounces right back at you.

    Not all posts are partisan.
     
  10. Samson
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    Samson Póg Mo Thóin Supporting Member

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    Based on? What?

    Don't get me wrong: this might be true....if democracies ever last long enough to prove the point, but within the spectrum of western civilization, I'm not certain how anyone could conclude that war can only proceed (generally?) between nations in which one is not a democracy.

    Interestingly, an Islamic Nation, the Ottoman Turk Empire was at peace with their neighbors for very long streches of time.
     

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