Islam and Democracy


by Sid (Faisal)
27th January, 2008 at 6:17 pm    

Take three non-Arab countries from the Muslim world and you will find them all in the throes of the long, messy and painful process towards full democratic governance.

For all her faults, Benazir Bhutto as arch symbol of South Asian liberal aristocracy represented the single most popular non-military democratic power base in Pakistan. Her assassination and the subsequent turmoil the country has been thrown into has shown the world that an unpopular military government, even when backed by the mighty Bush, is failing to hold the country together.

Twelve months ago Bangladesh’s army intervened to halt the elections, temporarily they claimed, and turned the lights out on democracy overnight. For the previous fifteen years, power alternated between two venal, incompetent, but nonetheless elected, political dynasties. But the last 12 months have been a difficult and often humiliating crash course in civilian administration for the military Care Taker Government. Thanks to the implacability of the secular constitution and a drastically weakened judiciary to enforce it, the generals, unpopular and clearly out of their depth, would be glad for a way to hand back the power they grabbed.

When Turkey elected the Islamist AK (Justice and Development) Party to power last year, many observers saw it as a rebuke by voters to the army for intervening in politics. The Turkish army regards itself as the “bulwark of secularism” and threatened to interfere in the elections. The AK, led by Recep Tayyib Erdogan, trounced his weaker, largely secular competitors in the elections on the back of sensible, well articulated policies. Erdogan knows full well that his continuing political success and the underlying legitimacy of his party depends on listening to the desires of the voters, and this in turn means to moderate the sharia component of his party’s manifesto and abide by the rules of democracy. Erdogan has shown that even an Islamist party is capable of gaining the trust of the electorate.

From the Economist:

First, most people in most places still want democracy. This near-universal appetite is evident not only in what people say (even in conservative Muslim countries, where God-given sharia can be more popular than any law made by man, people tell opinion pollsters they want to elect their own governments). It is also reflected in what people do. Kenya’s voters turned out in droves and queued for hours under a scorching sun. So in recent years, and at huge risk to life and limb, have voters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Growing strong pluralist democracies in Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot be achieved by talking democracy up while giving tacit support to military backed autocrats. If you were to start a wish list you would ask for the building of institutional competencies framed by a rock-solid secular constitution. The role of the military in politics would have to be checked and it would have to be conditionally bound not to enter politics. Finally, Islamist parties would need to accept the role of sharia to cover only certain aspects of law, ethics and morality that are congruent with civil law. Divine law would be divested of its paramount position in regard to legislature. The last point is already in place; it is the pervasive role of the military that has been the greatest impediment to deal with. Made trickier since they get so much support from other powerful democracies in the west.

Democracies are inclusive by definition. In muslim-majority countries, this means it is not correct to deny the validity of Islamist parties which should be welcomed to operate as long as they demonstrate their willingness to play by the rules of the democratic process. Many of the mainstream Islamist parties already do: the AK in Turkey and Jamaati Islam in Bangladesh are adept political manouverers, playing the game as well the next secular party.

A friend of mine has a useful cricket metaphor when discussing democracy in muslim-majority countries: “People should be allowed to make messy and conflicting choices, noting that the process of building a liberal society is a long drawn out affair like building a test innings, not the wham-bam stuff of 20/20″. Quite.


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  1. Global Voices Online » South Asia: Islam and Democracy

    [...] Pickled Politics takes a closer look at Islam and Democracy, particularly in South Asia. Share This [...]




  1. Steve — on 27th January, 2008 at 6:57 pm  

    Incompatible.

  2. sonia — on 27th January, 2008 at 8:06 pm  

    Brilliantly written Sid, thanks for putting this all in context.

  3. Refresh — on 27th January, 2008 at 9:31 pm  

    Finally an article which understands what is possible. Self determination is fundamental to democracy. Stick to that and it would be difficult to go wrong.

    Confusing seculariam with democracy makes for permanent confusion, a murky existence, and open to external exploitation. The popular Will in the US is not the same in the UK, is not the same in Pakistan, Jordan, India nor Bangladseh.

    Lets hope we have got back to the environment where colonialism, cultural, politcial or otherwise is once again kicked into touch.

  4. Cover Drive — on 27th January, 2008 at 9:47 pm  

    Nice little piece Sid. I’m glad not all guest posters on PP believe that Musharraf is the best solution for Pakistan.

    For all her faults, Benazir Bhutto as arch symbol of South Asian liberal aristocracy represented the single most popular non-military democratic power base in Pakistan.

    Agree. Despite all her massive failings as a politician and Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto symbolised the opportunity for the individual to have the freedom of political participation, which has been denied to the people of Pakistan for many years. The capability of political participation should be a basic right in any country.

    Democracy does take time to evolve but more importantly it must be given the chance to evolve. In Pakistan the main obstacle the country faces in order to become a successful democracy is the military, however much stability it may provide the country in the short-term. If vested interests are intent on denying people their basic rights for political participation then democracy will is bound to fail, but this will not stop the people from trying. In the past, there have been great struggles for democracy in Pinochet’s Chile and pre-democratic South Korea. When Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in India, she was thrown out of office in the general election that followed because people rejected her suppression of basic political and civil rights.

    I don’t think democracy is any panacea for all a country’s problems but it does provide greater opportunities for the people. It is just as vital, therefore, that the democratic system actually works for all the people.

  5. douglas clark — on 27th January, 2008 at 10:34 pm  

    Sid,

    I’d have thought that what you said here was obvious:

    Growing strong pluralist democracies in Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot be done by talking up democracy while giving tacit support to military backed autocrats. If you were to start a wish list you would ask for the building of institutional competencies framed by a rock-solid secular constitution. The role of the military in politics would have to be checked and it would have to be conditionally bound not to enter politics.

    What is not so obvious to me, is the sentences that follow it:

    Finally, Islamist parties would need to accept the role of sharia to cover aspects of law, ethics and morality only.

    Have we not been here before? You cannot have, in my opinion, a rock solid secular constitution, in any state that defines itself by it’s religion. I hope you’d see this as a legitimate question. Should Muslims in Pakistan consider apostasy as worthy of any penalty whatsoever? My point being that no decent secular society would.

  6. Fiqi — on 27th January, 2008 at 10:51 pm  

    This is your problem: Muslims who participate in the democratic system are acting un-Islamically. So, even if an Islamist party stands in an election and then wins it, the party itself is not acting ‘Islamically’.

    Islam – no matter how much sugar you coat it with sid – believes in the Camelot fantasy of a universal Caliphate and rejects democracy outright.

    Once you get your nut around that, you can move on and decide whether Islam belongs in the 21st century or not.

  7. douglas clark — on 27th January, 2008 at 11:21 pm  

    Fiqi,

    Was that addressed at me? Oh no, it wasn’t. Perhaps some moderation of fundamentalist Muslim attitudes, that took account of the way that most other Muslims seem to see life, would be quite a good thing.

    The schisms of the Scottish Churches could tell you quite a lot about rules and regulations for passing into heaven, or not. You’d probably get quite a good laugh.

  8. fugstar — on 28th January, 2008 at 12:20 am  

    The west powers must simply opt out of foreign policy altogether, stop poisoning weakminded pseudoelites with nice sounding ideas, beg forgiveness and prepare for the mother all reparations trials.

    This is the middle position between the ideological ransoming of immigrant spawn and the shorttermist intrigues of dysfunctional governments in the east.

    There is no integrity in browns telling the west to do anything but nothing whatsoever.

  9. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 12:21 am  

    douglas, yes you’re write. The sentence is confusing, so I’ve edited to:
    “Finally, Islamist parties would need to accept the role of sharia to cover only certian aspects of law, ethics and morality that are congruent with civil law.”

    Should Muslims in Pakistan consider apostasy as worthy of any penalty whatsoever? My point being that no decent secular society would.

    If civil law is based on a secular code, then no, it would preclude the possibility of the prosecution of apostasy legally. It would also be illegal to discrminate on the grounds of gender, sexuality or religion.

    All references to a state religion would be excised. For example, when the Constitution of Bangladsh was originally drafted in 1972, ‘Secularity’ was one its core premises. But it was later amended to include “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah.”. This was implemented during one of its periods of military dictatorships, by the way. So much for the military being a force for secularism. harrrrumph.

  10. digitalcntrl — on 28th January, 2008 at 12:28 am  
  11. Desi Italiana — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:53 am  

    “The Turkish army regards itself as the “bulwark of secularism” and threatened to interfere in the elections.”

    That reminds me of Algeria and the elections which led to the government and military nullifying the victory of the democratically elected Islamist party.

    “In muslim-majority countries, this means it is not correct to deny the validity of Islamist parties which should be welcomed to operate as long as they demonstrate their willingness to play by the rules of the democratic process.”

    I agree with this; however, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m quite uncomfortable with the idea of an “Islamic democracy” (which is separate from “Islam AND democracy”.

    But perhaps it’s not so unfeasible…

    “Take three non-Arab countries from the Muslim world and you will find them all in the throes of the long, messy and painful process towards full democratic governance.”

    Indonesia?

  12. Desi Italiana — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:56 am  

    I actually think that this hang-up about having an “Islamic democracy” is probably a preoccupation dominant for the middle classes, oddly enough. I don’t really have any back-up for this, just anecdotes and impressions that I have gathered from various sources. More than once I’ve heard middle class and upper middle class folks tell me that it’s necessary to couch change in the language of “Islam” because that’s what the “masses want” in Pakistan, for example. I’ve asked what support they have for an assertion like this, but they were unable to offer any.

  13. Desi Italiana — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:59 am  

    Douglas:

    “You cannot have, in my opinion, a rock solid secular constitution, in any state that defines itself by it’s religion.”

    Well, Pakistan actually had a pretty secular constitution. Before Zia introduced the Shariah blah blah blah.

    But yes, kind of hard to adhere to secular ideals when a country is founded on a specific religion. This doesn’t mean, however, that even if a country was NOT founded on religion, it is immune to moves that challenge secular notions.

  14. Roger — on 28th January, 2008 at 7:08 am  

    There is a difference between a democracy and an open society. I don’t think a strongly islamic- or a strongly christian- country could be an open society; however, it could be a democracy- a persecutory, intolerant democracy, but still a democracy because most of the population support such policies.

  15. Cover Drive — on 28th January, 2008 at 9:13 am  

    I don’t believe religion and democracy are incompatible with each other if both function well in their defined spheres. Religion is a spiritual force and democracy is a political one, but serious problems arise when religion passes its limits to interfere with politics and democracy passes its limits to use religion for political ends.

    A good democracy should ensure equal rights to all people irrespective of religion, race or creed. Of course, there are few democracies that are perfect.

  16. The Common Humanist — on 28th January, 2008 at 9:49 am  

    I think the problem in Algeria was ‘one man, one vote, once’ from the Islamists – hence the Armies actions and the subsequent horrendous violence, particularly from the Islamist side – whihc rather indicates what sort of state they would have run if given the chance.

    surely though, the fundamentalist Islamist approach is incompatible with democracy and, indeed, civil society.

    Turkey I feel is a slight abberation in that the Turkish Islamists are so essentially moderate and have been brought up to respect the Turkish State and its secular ideals and they seem able to meld those with moderate religious Governemnt. Thats great but I don’t see that many other muslim majority countries with that sort of heritage.

    Indonesia – I used to work with an Indonesian graduate. A great guy who deeply resented the attempted ‘arabisation’ or ‘Wahaabisation’ that Saudi money was trying to cause of Indonesias 4000 year old culture. A culture which had quite successfully produced quite a laid back version of islam – until fairly recently. He said where Saudis and Saudi money goes violence follows and used as an example Bali and the fairly common attacks on school girls on Java as examples of saudi inspired barbarism (his words!). Thats how Indonesians view Arabs – Base barbarians and it is the misfortune of all Islam that the Prophet was one and that the Holy Places are there. Ouch!

    TCH

  17. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 12:50 pm  

    Roger, if Christian and Muslim countries can operate to a secular constitution which advocates the separatation of church/mosque from state, then it there is no reason why it should not be as open as a secular state. See the USA and indeed post-war European Christian Democracies.

    The road to Christian Democracies has indeed been long and winding. It was finally possible in the 20th Century when the Catholic tenet of man’s inherent sinfulness was reconciled with his ability to dictate legislation. This has been the model that has been adopted in Latin America and the Phillipines.

    The hurdle “Islamic” democracies will have to face is easier on one hand because the religion does not have the idea of the sinfulness of man. The problem for Islamic democracies will be to reconcile the divinity of sharia law with civil law. Non-Arab muslim-majority states are less marked by this “hangup” than Arab states.

    Desi, I know what you mean. But I think “Islamic Democracy” is not necessarly oxymoronic a term if considered as secular liberal democracy in a muslim-majority state. Turkey has shown that this is not only possible but, more importantly, sustainable.

  18. Dhanush — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:02 pm  

    if Christian and Muslim countries

    This is your problem. There are no ‘Christian countries’ in the same way that there are Muslim countries.

    Christianity was defanged and depoliticised many moons ago in Europe.

    Islam, due to its rigidity, is yet to grow up and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

    Good luck to you though, I hope the Mullahs don’t castrate you.

  19. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:07 pm  

    TCH, what is happening in Indonesia, as explained by your Indonesian friend is pretty much the situation in all South and South east Asian states which have muslim populations who export migrant labour to Saudi Arabia. Democracy in these contries is stalled between a rock and a hard place, signified by military autocracies propped up by USA (and the EU) on the one hand and Wahhabi fundamentalism funded by Saudi on the other.

  20. Sofia — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:10 pm  

    “Turkey has shown that this is not only possible but, more importantly, sustainable”

    Sid, I think using Turkey as an example is wrong…they do not espouse democracy.

  21. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:14 pm  

    Sofia, I used Turkey as an example of a country where the Islamists are forced to operate in a working democracy just like any other democratic party and are even successful at doing so. Turkey does not “espouse” democracy but its democratic system is clearly a model for muslim-majority states looking to implement democracy.

  22. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:19 pm  

    This is your problem. There are no ‘Christian countries’ in the same way that there are Muslim countries.

    You’re right muzumdar. I’m hoping that 50 years down the road there will be no more Muslim countries, only Muslim Democracies.

  23. Dhanush — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:44 pm  

    sidney,

    My wider point, which seems to have escaped you, was that the comparison of Christian countries and Muslim ones is stupid and naive.

    Why? To put it crudely: Western civilisation/culture is infinitely superior to Islamic civilization/culture in terms of individualism, freedom of speech, respect for human rights, democratic political systems, civil society activism, freedom of worship, encouragement of gender equality, separation of church and state etc etc

    Christianity, despite the attempts of the papacy, was never a set of rules and regulations; it was and is a deep, profound and moving spiritual movement and philosophy. Hence when the Enlightenment came about Christianity was able to adapt.

    Islam is and always has been a fixed set of dogmas, rituals and pointless rules. The only time it has escaped from this is when it has been forced to merge with other cultures (hence: Sufi-ism). And each time this has happened, the Orthodox Ummah has sought to destroy it (eg Aurangzeb).

    So…

    Islam’s fixation with its own pointless set of regulations makes it far more difficult to ‘change’ – in the sense that you are talking about sid – into a plural democratic interpretation.

    What does this mean then? I’d say at least another 200 years of Islamdom and Muslims living in squalor, with no women’s rights and under the watchful gaze of the Mullahs.

    Happy days.

  24. The Common Humanist — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:44 pm  

    Sid,
    Cheers for the extra info – that choice strikes me as something along the lines of ‘Do you want to be shot or stabbed?’

    TC ‘Still waiting for humanity to grow up’ H

  25. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:54 pm  

    muzumdar/Fiqi/Dhanush

    Aurangzeb was a hero to some but he never meant shit to me. If you’re here to exact reparations for events in the Indian Deccan in 1707, I regret to inform you “Baby, I’m not your man”.

  26. Dhanush — on 28th January, 2008 at 1:59 pm  

    sid

    I used him as an example of an Orthodox Muslim attempting to destroy a more liberal and spiritual version of Islam.

    The point in bringing him up was to say: whenever a Muslim attempts to reform/drag Islam into the contemporary world, there are far greater Islamic powers that be who will go out of their way to destroy those Muslims and any notion of progress.

    Now use the above and apply it to your ‘I have a dream about Muslim democracies’ etc etc speech in 17.

    Get it yet?

    Never mind.

  27. Katy Newton — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:02 pm  

    Christianity, despite the attempts of the papacy, was never a set of rules and regulations; it was and is a deep, profound and moving spiritual movement and philosophy

    That’s CRAP. Yes, Christianity now coexists better with secular democracy than it did but to say that it was never a set of rules and regulations is absolute bollocks. Spanish Inquisition, anyone? The English Civil War? Is it only me who knows that one of the main causes of the civil war was civil dissatisfaction caused by the fact that James II was a Catholic monarch in a largely Protestant realm? And this is not a secular democracy. It is a Christian democracy. Christianity is the majority religion in this country, the national holidays are for the most part Christian holidays, the upper echelons of the Church sit in the Houses of Parliament and the ruler of the realm is also the Defender of the Faith. And Catholicism is experiencing a major revival at the moment.

    In short – don’t go confusing the coexistence of Christianity and democracy in this country with the elimination of Christianity from the fabric of the State.

  28. Katy Newton — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:46 pm  

    Sheesh. Sorry. I get wound up. But come ON. You don’t have to be Islam’s biggest fan (although why you’re getting at secular Sid as if he’s Osama Bin Laden I don’t know) – but that doesn’t give you licence to airbrush out the absurdities, idiocies, embarrassments and atrocities committed in the name of Christianity over the last 200 years.

  29. Dhanush — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:49 pm  

    Katy

    I am talking about the Christianity of the Bible, not the Christianity of the Papacy, Inquisition etc etc.

    And this is not a secular democracy. It is a Christian democracy.

    You don’t say.

    You have completely misunderstood my entire post. Congratulations.

    Perhaps you should remain in exile and continue wallowing in self-pity.

  30. Katy Newton — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:55 pm  

    There are no ‘Christian countries’ in the same way that there are Muslim countries.

    That’s what you said and I don’t think you are right. Perhaps you need to explain yourself more clearly – not, to be honest, that I particularly care about you or what you think after that nasty little shot on the end.

  31. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

    Katy, he’s a well known troll and a nasty scumbag to boot. Best not to engage.

  32. Katy Newton — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:57 pm  

    Incidentally, the Inquisition found Scriptural justification for everything they did. As far as they were concerned, they were carrying out the Christianity of the Bible. Remember that the Bible incorporates the Old Testament as well as the New, and the Old Testament is full of (a) rules, (b) regulations and (c) pretty graphic and bloody punishments for those who don’t toe the line.

    I think your view of Christianity is a little naive.

  33. Katy Newton — on 28th January, 2008 at 2:58 pm  

    I know, Sid, but… the wrongness… the sheer demonstrably-not-rightness of what he is saying… it burns us.

  34. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 3:00 pm  

    that’s mentalism for you.

  35. The Common Humanist — on 28th January, 2008 at 3:01 pm  

    Pretty much what Katy said.

    Although I think this is a for all intents and purposes a publicly secular country (despite some of the trimmings) that is privately quite religious in an unassuming manner.

    For example, a slight majority of people I know in the Labour Party would describe themselves as Christians but this does not impact on their opinions about public policy particularly.

    Christianity has only been relatively peaceable in the UK since the end of the Renaissance Period.

    The return of militant religion is a fairly new event in the UK and we are probably seeing religious issues to the fore in a way that hasn’t been true on the mainland since the Civil War period – thankyou militant Islam for that! 8-(

  36. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 3:06 pm  

    I thought there has been an upsurge in Catholicism in this country because of the influx of Eastern European, mostly Polish, immigrants who take their sacraments rather seriously. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

  37. Jai — on 28th January, 2008 at 3:19 pm  

    Alright, reading between the lines of what Dhanush was trying to say, I think the basic point was that there is a difference between “Christianity” directly related to Christ’s own teachings and message, and the organised religion termed “Christianity” which subsequently developed once the contents of the Bible as we know it were collated and finalised, particularly in relation to the establishment of the Catholic Church.

    So in this sense, there certainly was a marked difference (particularly in relation to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition etc, which Katy has already correctly mentioned) between Jesus’s own message of spirituality — which in some aspects isn’t that different to parts of Sufism, bhakti Hinduism and the fundamental basis of Sikhism — and a great deal of what followed. And that’s before we even begin to touch subjects such as European colonialism, slavery in the US, and so on.

    Katy is also correct about the impact of the Old Testament and the fact that strict rules, laws etc did exist in that part of the Bible. Leviticus is the most well-known example.

    The bottom line is that Dhanush and Katy are actually both right in what they have been saying, although one needs to understand the gist of what Dhanush was trying to explain. Also, Katy is a nice person and is generally perfectly polite and respectful towards others (although I think the “crap” remark in #27 could have been more carefully worded), so she does not deserve to be “slapped down” as per the last sentence in #29. regardless of the crossed wires in both directions which had obviously previously occurred.

  38. Ravi Naik — on 28th January, 2008 at 4:23 pm  

    “The bottom line is that Dhanush and Katy are actually both right in what they have been saying, although one needs to understand the gist of what Dhanush was trying to explain.”

    Dhanush is not right, he is absolutely *wrong* in my view.

    It is disingenuous to think that during the Dark Ages, the Church was reading and studying the Bible and doing the opposite. Their actions – if you asked them – were according to the Bible, and they believed they were doing good by killing God’s “enemies”.

    It is rich to say that all the horrid things that the Church did were not according to the scriptures. One could easily apply the same excuse to Islam. Here is a secret: the Bible is ambiguous and contradictory, it has a lot of good in it, but also contains a lot of horrifying stories. People of good will be inspired by the good things, and evil people will pick what suits them. It is all about interpretation. The same applies to all other religious books.

  39. Cover Drive — on 28th January, 2008 at 4:43 pm  

    And this is not a secular democracy. It is a Christian democracy.

    The Bible doesn’t encourage:
    - civil partnerships between homosexuals
    - homosexual adoption
    - use of contraception
    - human genetic research
    - 24 hour drinking
    - abortion

    The UK is hardly a Christian democracy. It’s secular democracy with a government intent on greater secularism.

  40. Jai — on 28th January, 2008 at 4:44 pm  

    Religion is a code of laws, every religion.

    Partially correct, although I think there’s a difference between “guidelines & advice” and actual enforceable laws. Not all religions are necessarily the same in this aspect.

  41. Ravi Naik — on 28th January, 2008 at 4:56 pm  

    “The problem with your argument, son, is that you are using blanket assertions for all Christianity and all Christendom. This is a stupid argument because the Bible (New Testament in particular) is a philosophical work, not a regulatory one”

    It is irrelevant, because people who interpret the Book provide the regulations. Similarly, historically and geographically, the Muslim world is diverse and not constrained to one set of rules or views. Some are very conservative and repressive, and others are liberal and progressive. And please, at least acknowledge that Christianity does have its dogmas and drones alike.

    There is no doubt that Christianity today is more progressive in general than the Muslim world. But it is due to protestant reformation, and the progressive and secular humanist movements that appeared in Europe, which lead to change the Church itself.

    I also advise you to read about the golden age of Islam and compare it with Christianity at that time.

  42. Natty — on 28th January, 2008 at 5:08 pm  

    Gotta love the Muzzies, their hypocrisy and their apologists. Very funny lot.

    The hate is coming through with the same old tired claims.

    Every religion has imperalism which is how they spread. Otherwise they would be extinct.

    I can see you are going on a bashing against Muslims and using your tired right whinge arguments to try and win.

  43. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 5:16 pm  

    stick to the topic or i’ll delete your funky ass.

  44. The Common Humanist — on 28th January, 2008 at 5:17 pm  

    Dhanush,

    Stop sitting on that fence…..

    Am guessing, its just a thought, that you are not Islams biggest fan?

    The Golden Age, whilst funded and fuelled by conquest and imperialism (but hey, whose wasn’t in the Middle Ages? Thats hardly a uniquely Islamic vice) was also a period of tremendous scholarly advance and expansion in the arts, science and cartography.

    You also might want to question as to why the Pax Arabica of the 7th to 9th centuries found it fairly easy to take over large portions of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Parthians, Visigothic North Africa and Andalusia….. could it be that they were cunning warriors that were also generous in victory and also, by the standards of the time, offered something equating to a reasonable code of laws open to everyone?

    In short they offered the inhabitants of the region a better deal then the Christianised lands mentioned above…..could well be……!

  45. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 5:22 pm  

    Cover Drive

    The UK is hardly a Christian democracy. It’s secular democracy with a government intent on greater secularism.

    I’m afraid it’s not secular in the strictest sense. If it were, why is there a Blasphemy Law that selectively protects the interests of the Church only. Sure it’s a curiosity from a bygone age, but that age was based on Christian law and traditions that inform all laws of the land as Katy has enumerated upthread.

  46. Ravi Naik — on 28th January, 2008 at 5:56 pm  

    “The so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’ consisted of Imperialism into Christian Spain, the imposition of the Jaziya on non-Muslims within Spain”

    Yes, Jews and Christians were allowed to live in Muslim lands by paying a tax. Now, compare that to the treatment Muslims, Jews and non-Christians had in Christian lands! How about science, arts? How does that compare?

    “And let’s not forget the ‘golden age’ was topped off with such un-Islamic pursuits as wine guzzling and painting.”

    Ha! So, anything progressive and liberal in the Islamic world is un-Islamic. If you had the capability to understand how twisted your logic is, you would understand how amusing you are… ;)

  47. Natty — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:00 pm  

    >Really? I don’t recall Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or
    >Sikh Imperialism?

    Try reading history. How did Jews come to rule the Holy Land if they were not imperialistic? Ever read the story of the Prophet Joshua and his invasion of a city? The 12 Tribes of Israel ruling over what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Soloman and the Queen of Sheba etc. Judaism stopped trying to convert people and expanding after the destruction of the Temple and Jewish Laws were rewritten.

    Sikh’s ruled over there own state and to have a state it doesn’t just appear it requires conquest.

    The Hindu empire at one time spread from India to SE Asia and ruled over Bhuddists etc. So that was through imperialism.

    I repeat for any religion to spread it is imperialistic and it requires converts. All religion has been spread through evangelism and conquest. From ancient times to now.

    The simple fact is that you simply have come here to spread your hatred of one. Hence you are being selective about what you present.

  48. Cover Drive — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:04 pm  

    Yes but the C of E is still bank-rolled by the tax payer.

    The majority of funding for the church in UK comes from the worshippers themselves, which is why the church is worried because church attendance is generally decreasing even though migrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, Philippines, South Asia and other places have boosted it in recent years.

    Sid, maybe the UK is not 100% secular in the strictest sense but it is largely going that way helped also by the government in very subtle ways like closing down Christian schools.

  49. Jai — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:16 pm  

    Ravi,

    Ha! So, anything progressive and liberal in the Islamic world is un-Islamic. If you had the capability to understand how twisted your logic is, you would understand how amusing you are…

    To be honest with you mate, both alcohol and paintings (in the sense of portraits etc) aren’t allowed in orthodox Islam, even though both have occurred at various times in the Muslim world and especially in medieval India.

    Your first paragraph in #53 is correct, however.

    I could also torpedo a couple of remarks by Natty in #54 but will refrain to do so as it will lead this thread further off-topic (as Sid mentioned in #50), and I also don’t want to get involved in another idiotic argument with anyone about medieval history. Especially when it has absolutely nothing to do with the question of “Islam and Democracy”, unless one is going to use historical examples to support the cases for and/or against the argument.

  50. Don — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:17 pm  

    Cover Drive,

    Do you really see this government as being intent on greater secularism? The reform of the Lords left the bishops firmly in place, faith schools are multiplying and relgious leaders have privileged access to government in matters of social reform.

    BTW, I don’t see how the bible could have a position on stem cell research, and on abortion it seems relatively unconcerned ( Exodus 21:22-23, Leviticus 27:6 ).

  51. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:24 pm  

    Jai, the extreme measure of deleting comments should only be the right of the admins or the person who owns the original post. I threatened to do so with muzumdar’s in #50 because he has managed to pollute this thread, as he always does with personal and racist insults.

  52. Jai — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:53 pm  

    Sid, unless I’ve misunderstood you, by “torpedo” I wasn’t referring to actually deleting comments, just providing counter-arguments refuting the other party’s assertions.

  53. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 6:57 pm  

    yeah, i was just alerting you to the root of the original diversion, that people are reacting to provocation. and also justifying the ground rules for “sniping” comments.(don’t you just love these warfare allusions?)

  54. Sid — on 28th January, 2008 at 7:15 pm  

    I’m just going by the Quran and the Ahadtihs. Wine guzzling, painting, singing, dancing, getting off the shitter with your left foot etc etc you name it is strictly forbidden.

    If you want people to excell at something, prohibit it religiously. As for the rest of your “everyone is an imperialist except me and my monkey” tosh is straight out of the Islamist book of victimhood, it must be said.

  55. Cover Drive — on 28th January, 2008 at 7:23 pm  

    Do you really see this government as being intent on greater secularism?

    There’s been a dramatic shift in the government’s position on faith schools since Gordon Brown took over. Now the government is willing to provide funding for schools that are the most deprived and they are inevitably non-religious schools. Nearly half of all the village schools that could face closure are Christian schools.

    Actually religious schools are bad for integration so I’m not that concerned. My point is, the UK is becoming increasingly secular.

    Generally, Eastern Christianity did not spread by imperialism. Christianity was the dominant religion in the Middle East before Islam and it reached the West after it reached the East. I recommend William Dalrymple’s book “From the Holy Mountain” for an account of early Eastern Christianity.

  56. douglas clark — on 28th January, 2008 at 9:04 pm  

    Sid,

    Back on the track of what your article said. I agree with much of what you have to say. It is clearly next to impossible to run a functioning democratic state if you are looking over your shoulder all the time at a possible military coup d’état. South America has many, many examples of that ‘one step forward, two steps back’ mentality, although it does, at least, now look fingers crossed, that they have overcome that hurdle in their major democracies.

    Perhaps SE Asia should be looking to South America for advice and guidance? Just a thought.

  57. douglas clark — on 28th January, 2008 at 9:10 pm  

    Sid,

    And given my powers of prediction, expect an overnight coup d’état, somewhere in South America.

  58. Sunny — on 29th January, 2008 at 12:32 am  

    Grrr… why do you folks bother replying to that inbred Muzumdar/Dhanush? FFS, it takes me ages to wipe his excrement from here if it takes ove the thread.

    Anyway, I don’t disagree with this piece. In theory its great. In practice, I think events throw this into the air.

    For example, in Pakistan now, I’m not sure if I see any strong democratic traditions emerging soon even if we stop funding Musharraf. And even then, its better to fund him, IMO, than not, for now.

  59. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 1:22 am  

    “For example, in Pakistan now, I’m not sure if I see any strong democratic traditions emerging soon even if we stop funding Musharraf.”

    How do we know this, unless we’ve walked around on the ground?

  60. Sid — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:24 am  

    Surely then there is need then for highlighting the activities and struggles of the pro-democratic groups in Pakistan?

    Look, military dictatorships are being flooded by money and aid in Pakistan and Bangladesh by international donors for keeping “Islamists out”. We all know that, behind the scenes, the same military establishment has its own priorities about who they make strategic allegiances with, and they don’t balk when it comes to sleeping with Islamist extremists.

    Meanwhile al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan are being flooded with money from Saudi.

    What do pro-democracy groups go for international institutional support? Shouldn’t we be forming allegiances with such groups instead of talking up their problems and isolation? I particualarly see a need for international allegiances being made between pro-democracy groups in the Muslim world, particulalry the non-Arab ones where democracy has already been exercised and operate. We as progressives (for want of a better term) should be moving on this.

  61. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 5:44 pm  

    Sid:

    “I particualarly see a need for international allegiances being made between pro-democracy groups in the Muslim world, particulalry the non-Arab ones where democracy has already been exercised and operate.”

    I personally see a need for international allegiances with all, not just non-Arabs in the “Muslim World.” I hate to break it to everyone, but the so-called “Muslim world” is the not root of all evils on this entire planet, nor will fixing the problems of the “Muslim World” will eradicate the larger problems of class inequality, injustice, inequality, etc that rake this globe.

  62. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 5:46 pm  

    And I put “Muslim world” in quotes because I don’t believe that’s an accurate unit of analysis. It is not a uniform, monolithic, and homogenous entity. It’s a little like talking about the “Hindu World,” “Christian World,” and “Jewish World” but no one really says that.

  63. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:10 pm  

    Meanwhile al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan are being flooded with money from Saudi.

    Not sure how much you’d agree with the following article, Sid, but today’s Times had an interesting spin on the issue of Pakistan:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3266438.ece

  64. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:19 pm  

    It’s a little like talking about the “Hindu World,”…..and “Jewish World” but no one really says that.

    Which would have been fairly accurate, albeit somewhat sweeping and generalised, euphemisms to use if Hindus resided in numerous countries where they were the dominant group numerically, culturally and politically, rather than just India and Nepal. Ditto for Jewish people re: Israel.

    “Christian World,”…..but no one really says that.

    The term that was used was “Christendom”, in the days when religious affiliation was a major part of the culture and identities of the countries concerned and the vast majority of Christians were confined to Europe.

  65. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:38 pm  

    …..which does not mean that the “Muslim world” is indeed a homogeneous uniform block, but Sid’s comments clearly do not imply anything of the sort.

  66. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:39 pm  

    Jai, my point is that there’s a good reason why people do not say “Hindu World,” “Jewish World,” and “Christian World” because it depends on location, not exclusively on religion. Indonesian Muslims are not the same as Muslims from Senegal.

    Yet we pervasively say “Muslim World” in the media, our national discussions, global discussions, etc and I find that problematic.

  67. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 8:46 pm  

    Sid:

    “Surely then there is need then for highlighting the activities and struggles of the pro-democratic groups in Pakistan?”

    Or we could detain and interrogate key individuals for 8 hours like the US authorities did with Mr. Edhi:

    “Mr Edhi runs the largest social welfare network in Pakistan, and has offices in several countries, including the US.

    Officials interrogated him for over eight hours at JFK airport on 9 January and then took his passport, he says.

    Mr Edhi told the BBC that while he was allowed to enter the US, the passport has still not been returned to him.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7215145.stm

  68. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 9:09 pm  

    my point is that there’s a good reason why people do not say “Hindu World,” “Jewish World,” and “Christian World” because it depends on location, not exclusively on religion.

    People do not say “Hindu World” and “Jewish World” because neither exist (not any more, in the case of the former); they would, however, have been accurate terms if India was fragmented into multiple smaller independent nations and places like Thailand and Indonesia still had huge Hindu populations. Ditto if there were numerous countries across the planet where Jewish people were the majority.

    “Christian World” or “Christendom” would be accurate terms if countries where the majority of the population are currently nominally Christian were more staunchly devout in their religious beliefs and declarations of affiliation, particularly if the ruling groups also supported and espoused this. This was the case in medieval Europe and also during the colonial period, but is not applicable now. However, in the modern era the term could perhaps be applied to some parts of Africa and possibly parts of Latin America. Some would of course also say that some quarters of the modern United States also fall under this definition, but I would not presume to comment on that.

    However, it is correct to be cautious of making unnecessary generalisations or presuming commonality between disparate groups on any given issue purely on the basis of a common religion. Local factors play a considerable part, including popular interpretations of the religion the majority there may practice. Nevertheless, when there is a common religious affiliation and it has a sizeable impact on local norms, customs and attitudes, there is often (by no means not always) a vein of commonality that the regions concerned may share in various aspects.

  69. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 9:16 pm  

    Yet we pervasively say “Muslim World” in the media, our national discussions, global discussions, etc and I find that problematic.

    And yes this term should only be used when there really is an unequivocal degree of similarity on any given topic right across most of the populations where the majority are Muslim. It should not be used as a one-size-fits-all phrase unless it really is accurate.

  70. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 9:22 pm  

    …..although, again, I think Sid’s usage of the term is accurate on this particular occasion.

  71. Jai — on 29th January, 2008 at 9:24 pm  

    (by no means not always)

    Typo in #69: That should of course say “by no means always”, but y’all already knew that.

  72. Desi Italiana — on 29th January, 2008 at 10:26 pm  

    Jai,

    “Local factors play a considerable part, including popular interpretations of the religion the majority there may practice.”

    “Nevertheless, when there is a common religious affiliation and it has a sizeable impact on local norms, customs and attitudes, there is often (by no means not always) a vein of commonality that the regions concerned may share in various aspects.”

    I understand your argument hon, but I’m really hesistant to subscribe to the notion that a common religion can allow for a term like the “Muslim World” period.

    Particularly with your second paragraph I quoted above…I have been to several “Muslim countries” that were startling different from one another. Language, dialect, history, and local customs (such as “nazar” in Turkey and then Berber practices that Sufi Muslims in Morocco follow) are not somehow more negligible or have a lighter impact than “Islam”. They very are a part and parcel of those locations. And whoever plays that tune of the “Global Ummah” and “Muslim solidarity” raises my suspicions as well on several different levels(especially when they take on a so-called “Muslim cause” and when you talk to them, you realize how little they know about what is actually going on in certain places.)

    Just out of curiosity, I am wondering how many people consider India as part of the “Muslim” world because 1. Its Muslim population is greater than the Muslim population in Arab countries put together and 2) Turkey, with a majority Muslim population, and India have lots and lots of similarities due to historical relationship…

  73. Sid — on 29th January, 2008 at 11:38 pm  

    Desi

    “Muslim World” is a naff term, I agree. Smells like colonial spirit and all that. But still useful when describing the collection of countries from West Africa to Indonesia which are completely culturally and linguistically different but share a common religious tradition. For whatever reason, this shared theological thread confers certain commonlities in culture and philosophical outlook. Its a utilitarian term that is as suitable as “the west” when describing countries of the North. I am not implying a homogeneous theocratic bloc when I use it since such a thing doesn’t exist. I also feel thoroughly chastised for using it and I won’t do it again. I promise.

    As to the point of the need for forging allegiances between pro-democracy activists and groups in non-Arab countries, well that’s because, as I said, there just seems to more of an appetite for democracy in these countries than there is in Arab [gulp] World. Thats not to say I am excluding Arab democratic causes, since the Algerian and Egyptian struggles for democracy offer invaluable lessons.

    Among these Muslim, non-Arab countries which are in the midst of massive social upheaval into democracies are the faction of the Pakistani Muslim League that held sway until the military takeover in 1999; the Awami League and the BNP in Bangladesh; Malaysia’s ruling UMNO party; and a cluster of mildly Islamic parties that share power in Indonesia.

    I don’t see the same upheavals, the same agoninsing discourse for democracy in the Arab world at this point in time. Even the pro-Western liberals in Egypt are principally pro-Mubarak elites who are more than happy with an autocratic despot in power as long its not the Islamic Brotherhood.

    Compare and contrast with Indonesia’s history with Suharto. He was a complete despot yet still played out sham elections so that people would be appeased with the perception of a democratic process.

  74. Desi Italiana — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:11 am  

    Sid:

    “But still useful when describing the collection of countries from West Africa to Indonesia which are completely culturally and linguistically different but share a common religious tradition.”

    But jaanam, that’s what I’m taking issue with. Their religious traditions differ. They differ in Morocco, which has a blend of pre Islamic stuff in it (and would cause Wahabbists to denounce them as “unIslamic”. In Indonesia, there are instances by Indonesian Muslims which do not go strictly by the Good Book. What I am saying is that there ARE religious differences on the ground, in the way Islam is practiced, conceived, etc. And in our own South Asian backyard, Islam is NOT the same as how it is practiced in, say, Jordan. Hell, Islam in the subcontinent is variegated itself!

    “As to the point of the need for forging allegiances between pro-democracy activists and groups in non-Arab countries, well that’s because, as I said, there just seems to more of an appetite for democracy in these countries than there is in Arab [gulp] World.”

    What I meant was not looking exclusively at even the Arab World. Part of me wants to bet money that we disproportionately hear about desire of democracy or lack thereof in Arab and majority Muslim countries because of the media attention due to geo-political events. But there are many, many movements throughout the world where 1) are in the so-called Arab world and 2) where the majority is not Muslim.

    “I also feel thoroughly chastised for using it and I won’t do it again. I promise.”

    I’m not chastising you :) Just saying what I think, and your point about how we say “the West” is a good one and taken. Smooches.

  75. Desi Italiana — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:12 am  

    Typo:

    “1) are in the so-called Arab world and 2) where the majority is not Muslim.”

    Should read:

    “1) are NOT in the so-called Arab world and 2) where the majority is not Muslim.

  76. Sid — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:14 am  

    Oh yeah, the treatment of Mr Edhi, a renowned humanitarian, by the US Immigration service shows perfectly the clueless, intellectual-poverty that marks that benighted institution – and how it operates.

  77. Desi Italiana — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:14 am  

    “What I am saying is that there ARE religious differences on the ground, in the way Islam is practiced, conceived, etc.”

    To add, like the dervishes in Syria and on the border of Turkey; the Chinese Muslims where some animism is thrown in; in North Africa, some mystical berber type of stuff; and now, in America, Islam which is striving to strip itself of any “cultural baggage” and linguistic affiliations but oddly, taking on an American “cultural” flavor (for lack of a better word).

  78. BobN — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:33 am  

    “Finally, Islamist parties would need to accept the role of sharia to cover only certian aspects of law, ethics and morality that are congruent with civil law.” It strikes me that the opposite would work better. Let the Islamists — and all other politicians, religionist and otherwise — address all the other policies and leave ethics and “morality” alone (with the possible exception of severe punishment for corruption). Instead of ascending to power based on prejudice against other religions, the oppression of women, and the elimination of sexual minorities, they’d have to convince people to vote for them based on their tax policies, foreign policy, trade policies, etc. There’s only one flaw with my suggestion, of course. They’d never get elected without the prejudices.

  79. Desi Italiana — on 30th January, 2008 at 12:58 am  

    “Instead of ascending to power based on prejudice against other religions, the oppression of women, and the elimination of sexual minorities, they’d have to convince people to vote for them based on their tax policies, foreign policy, trade policies, etc.”

    Bob, what you offer as a remedy is not only a good suggestion for Islamist parties, but for religious parties in general. Oppression of women, sexual discrimination, and prejudice and hate against other religions is not a monopoly that only Islamists have.

  80. Sid — on 30th January, 2008 at 10:38 am  

    BobN, as I’ve said, by building democracy on a bedrock of solid secularism, polarising aspects of religious law will be be seen as quirks of a party’s mandate and eventually phased out altogether. Just as Christian democratic parties distanced themselves from passing judgement on the “evil” of sodomy (in spite of the Buggery Act being a felony in the UK as late as 1953). It was only in the 80s when homosexuality was made legal in the entire UK.

    The AK in Turkey has shown us that non implementation of sharia is a pre-condition for the Turkish electorate and they have won on the strength of their civil policies.

  81. Rumbold — on 30th January, 2008 at 10:45 am  

    Great piece Sid. I agree completly. Andrew Sullivan was impressed as well:

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/01/creating-islami.html

  82. Sid — on 30th January, 2008 at 11:00 am  

    Thanks Rumbold. Good to see you popping in here every now and then.

  83. Jai — on 30th January, 2008 at 11:14 am  

    Rumbold, if you don’t mind me asking, whereabouts exactly in India are you at the moment ?

  84. Rumbold — on 30th January, 2008 at 11:19 am  

    Gwalior- Am off to see the fort tomorrow. It is more relaxing then Delhi and Agra (less people harassing you), and I have more opportunity to use my limited Hindi (which seems to mystify those I try it on).

  85. Jai — on 30th January, 2008 at 11:50 am  

    Great stuff Rumbold, that fort is going to absolutely blow your socks off when you see it.

    I’d been meaning to mention this to you; when you visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, if you get the time/chance then try to sit next to the central pool for a while either early in the morning or during sunset. Many people find it to be extremely calming and therapeutic, and you get more of a feel for the spiritual vibe of the place, especially with the hymns being played over the loudspeakers. Might also help to sooth your frazzled nerves from all the hustle & bustle and general “touristy” hassle you’ve been experiencing.

    By the way, regarding your Hindi, there’s actually a famous Bollywood actor (now appearing more frequently in Indian tv serials) called Tom Alter, who is of white American descent and basically grew up in India. He speaks the most eloquent, flawless, accent-free Urdu in real life — and he’s got the baritone voice to go with it too. It’s quite a pleasant surprise (and very disconcerting for those not used to it) to see him chatting away in the language !

  86. MARC SNYDER — on 30th January, 2008 at 7:09 pm  

    THERE IS AN OBVIOUS CONFLICT IN ISLAMIC DEMOCRACIES AND ONE ONLY NEED TO LOOK AT ALGERIA TO SEE IT.
    THE MILITARY STEPPED IN WHEN ISLAMIC PARTIES WON THE ELECTIONS. IN TURKEY , THE MILITARY IS THE SECULAR VOICE AGAINST ISLAMICISTS.

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