Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Democracy and Islamism

Jonathan Power has an interesting article in IHT on the West's attitudes towards Islamism. The concern is the same one that led Algeria to call off elections in the early 1990's: once you hold democratic elections in an oppressed state where Islamism provides a real alternative, you risk an Islamic, even fundamentalist state. One thing I've been saying for a while is that this isn't about democracy -- even the neocon "idealism" about the spread of democracy is a smokescreen. It's not about democracy; it's about a particular brand of clientist liberalism. Put together the pieces: 1. what type of democracy do they have in mind?; 2. what kind of practical possibility is there for whatever brand it is they have in mind? 3. is clientism democratic? 4. does this help to spread democracy?
The platform of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calls for parliamentary rule, separation of powers and the protection of minorities. In Lebanon the militant Hezbollah has adopted progressive stands on social and religious issues, and - like Hamas in Palestine - is participating vigorously in electoral politics. In Morocco, Islamists are firmly behind the government's efforts to expand women's rights.
As Reza Aslan wrote in a recent issue of Prospect magazine, "It is pluralism that defines democracy, not secularism. And Islam has had a long and historic commitment to religious pluralism." No other monotheistic religion can match the reverence with which the Koran speaks of other religious traditions.
Of course, there is no doubting that all over the Islamic world some born-again Muslims have been seduced by the call of violence. But the predominant trends in Islamic societies remain nonviolent, even more so following the havoc wrecked by Al Qaeda and despite rising anti-Americanism brought on principally by the invasion of Iraq.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't like the term "Islamism" (think how absurd "Christianism" would sound). Generally Islamic fundamentalism or (better) Islamic totalism, express more clearly what it's about.

The critical thing is to make sure that these movements don't gain prestige or glamor as opposition to the US rises.