Saturday, February 23, 2013
Can Islam be Democratized?
Can Islam be Democratized? by Prof. Paul Eidelberg Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:25 am (PST) . Posted by: "Yaacov Levi" jlevi_us Can Islam be Democratized? Paul Eidelberg Ariel Center for Policy Research November 2002 (Abridged) Introduction The West is involved in nothing less than an existential war with Islam. No war can be wisely conducted and won unless the enemy is clearly defined. To understand this enemy, let us consult the doyen of Islamic history, Professor Bernard Lewis. In The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (1998), Lewis writes: A basic, distinguishing feature of Islam is the all-embracing character of religion in the perception of Muslims. The Prophet, unlike earlier founders of religions, founded and governed a polity. As ruler, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, commanded armies, made war, made peace, collected taxes, and did all the other things that a rulers does. This is reflected in the Qur’an itself, in the biography of the Prophet, and in the traditions concerning his life and work. The distinctive quality of Islam is most vividly illustrated in the injunction which occurs not once but several times in the Qur’an (3:104, 110; 7:157; 22:41, etc.), by which Muslims are instructed as to their basic duty, which is “to command good and forbid evil”—not just to do good and avoid evil, a personal duty imposed by all religions, but to command good and forbid evil, that is to say, to exercise authority to that end. Under the Prophet’s immediate successors, in the formative period of Islamic doctrine and law, his state became an empire in which Muslims conquered and subjugated non-Muslims. From its very inception, classical Islam fused religion and government, faith and power—with power concentrated in Muhammad and his successors, the caliphs…. Lewis’s description of classical Islam conforms to what he calls “The current wave of religious militancy,” and which he says is “one of many in Islamic history …” In a most important conference held on October 3, 2002 at the American Enterprise Institute, Lewis declared that Islamic fundamentalism is “Islamism revived.” Yossef Bodansky puts it more vividly: Throughout the Muslim world, from the Philippines to Morocco and in numerous Muslim émigré communities from Western Europe to the United States, Islamist terrorist and subversive cells are getting ready to strike out. As of late 1998, with the confrontation escalating between the United States and the Islamist international terrorist system as represented in the person of Osama bin Laden, the terrorists have become increasingly ready with redundant and resilient networks, weapons of mass destruction, and powerful bombs, as well as zeal and readiness for martyrdom—all for what they perceive to be the noble cause of bringing the United States suffering and pain. A fatwa proclaimed, “one billion Muslims are capable of turning their bodies into bombs which are equal in force to all the weapons of … mass destruction possessed by the Americans.” Having suffered scores of suicide bombers, people in Israel take such fatwas seriously. One wonders, however, whether America, despite 9/11, has the moral stamina to define and confront mankind’s greatest enemy, which, as have elsewhere shown, bears a striking resemblance to Nazism. Some fear that because of its economic interests in the Middle East, America may sacrifice Israel on the altar of Islam. Hence this essay. Part I. Defining the Enemy and Ourselves No less than Winston Churchill referred to Mein Kampf as “the new Qur’an of faith and war …” Apologists nonetheless select passages from the Qur’an that mention Islam’s “pleasant and peaceful ways,” while ignoring those that inspire Islam’s hate-filled and murderous fanaticism. In a mosque sermon in Qatar on June 7, 2002, the imam prayed to Allah “to humiliate the infidels… destroy the Jews, the Christians, and their supporters…make their wives widows, make their children orphans, and make them a prey for Muslims.” Islam is anything but a religion of peace. Islam’s most distinguishing and historically dynamic principle is jihad), and all four schools of Islamic law (Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’i, Maliki) refer to jihad as a commandment to wage offensive war against infidels for the sake of Allah. Consistent therewith, Muslims have plundered, butchered, subjugated, and degraded countless Christian and Jewish communities since the time of Muhammad. That they exult in this history of savagery in the name of Allah — we saw them rejoice throughout Islamdom in the destruction of the Twin Towers — is all the more reason why certain Islamic regimes must be conquered, as was Nazi Germany before it was democratized. America’s war against “international terrorism” is in truth a war against Arab-Islamic civilization. This war dwarfs all others. Muslim-Arabs, who have no regard for the sanctity of human life, are accumulating weapons of mass murder. Muslims commit atrocities around the globe. Throughout its vast domain Islam nurtures and provides havens for thousands of highly skilled terrorists committed to the destruction of Western civilization in general and of Israel in particular. Many of their leaders have been educated in the West and are familiar with biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. They are motivated not by a righteous desire to alleviate the poverty of the Muslim world, but by a satanic hatred of the non-Muslim world. As Lewis has warned, the suicide bomber may become the metaphor of the Middle East. Never has mankind been so menaced. Islam is over-running Europe. Its goal is nothing less than conquest. And Europe, rotting in nihilism, hedonism, and anti-Semitism, is allied with its grave-diggers. The one country that stands in the way of Islam is the United States. Needless to say, the U.S. cannot wage war simultaneously against some fifty Islamic regimes. Accordingly, before this essay was written, intrepid commentators like Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute urged America to proceed incrementally, after disposing of Iraq. Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two greatest sponsors of international terrorism, are certainly eligible for something more than sweet talk carrots. From the demise of these and perhaps one or two other Islamic tyrannies (e.g. Syria and the Sudan), a chain reaction may follow and transform Islamdom—or so it is hoped. On the other hand, some commentators have urged an American crusade to democratize the Islamdom. Predictably, they conceive of this crusade in purely secular terms. They ignore not only the fanatical devotion of the Muslim masses to Islam, but the unappealing aspects of the secular democratic world which, as eminent western scholars admit, is steeped in moral decay. Democratizing Islam might not be an unmixed blessing for the 1.5 billion Muslims that inhabit this planet. If the war against Islam is to be won, the partisans of democracy will require a deeper understanding of its shortcomings. These partisans invariably emphasize the freedom and equality enjoyed in democracies. They overlook the fact that, unlike in former times, democratic freedom and equality lack ethical and rational constraints. Moral relativism infects the democratic mind and saps the will to overcome the absolutism of the Islamic mind. Lovers of democracy need to ask: What is there about democratic freedom that would prompt a person to restrain his passions, to be kind, honest, just? What is there about democratic equality that would prompt him to defer to wisdom or to show respect for teachers or parents? Are such qualities conspicuous in the secular democratic state? The partisans of the secular democratic state need to recognize that freedom and equality, which they exalt, are only pure potentialities: neither good nor bad, hence morally neutral. In the war against Islamic barbarism democrats need to see that the sanctity of human life and the decency and civility still visible in contemporary democracy have nothing to do with democracy itself. They are rooted primarily in the Bible of Israel. Waving the flag of freedom and equality American style will not purge Islam, whose believers are willing to die for Allah. If, however, freedom and equality are derived from the Jewish conception of man’s creation in the image of God—which alone can provide democracy with ethical and rational foundations—and if democracy, so conceived and so proclaimed, rallies a hundred million Christians in America, so many of whom look to Israel for light, then it may be possible to illuminate and transform the Islamic world. But this means that America needs Israel in the war against Islam. Unfortunately, Israel’s ruling elites have uncritically embraced contemporary democracy as their religion despite its moral failings. The egotistical pluralism of democratic politics has fragmented the nation, and it made Israel just another secular democratic state. Such a state, devoid of Jewish wisdom and vision, cannot possibly inspire America in the war against Islam. Israel’s leaders can speak of nothing more than pedestrian than “peace and security,” for which they are willing to sacrifice Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Jewish people. This not only diminishes American respect for Israel. It also arouses the contempt and arrogance of Muslims. But even if Israel’s Government were headed by a wise and dauntless leader, how can Israel’s cabinet, fragmented by rival parties, pursue a consistent and resolute national strategy whose initial objective is to eradicate the existential threat facing this country? On the other hand, what positive and distinctively Jewish goal can inspire this country when cultural egalitarianism takes precedence over Judaism in the minds of Israel’s ruling elites? Thus, to say that America’s needs Israel in the war against Islam can only mean an Israel very different from the present one. I have in mind an Israel whose structure of government inspires respect, and whose immediate goal vis-à-vis Israel’s enemies is not peace but victory. Only such an Israel, working with America, can possibly bring about a salutary transformation of Islam. Part II. How Islam Might Be Democratized Unlike Soviet Communism, Islam is not merely a political ideology but a theo-political civilization which has imbued countless Muslims with overweening and aggressive pride. As indicated above, Muhammad and his successors established the most extensive empire in history. Islam’s past greatness is more real in the consciousness of the Muslim masses than Islam’s present backwardness. Western educated Muslim terrorists, who typically come from the middle class, disdain the blandishments of democracy. Beneath the veneer of Westernization these Muslims have preserved the cultural identity in which they have been weaned. Not only do they dream of Islam’s past glory, but their reveries inspire their hatred and contempt for Islam’s usurpers and drive these Muslims to suicidal murder. Muslim intellectuals, including those educated at Harvard and Oxford, despise the moral and cultural relativism that permeates the mentality of the West. I mention this because it would never occur to a relativist to refute Islam, which refutation may, in the last analysis, be necessary to break Islam’s hold on the Muslim masses. Who, indeed, in this age of theological egalitarianism will question Islam’s deity—say by discrediting his prophet, Muhammad? It was by destroying Zeus and Jupiter that the Greek and Roman civilizations were destroyed. And then there was Hirohito, the god of Japan, whose demise preceded the democratization of Japan. Bearing the conquest and American occupation of Japan in mind, only if certain Islamic regimes are conquered and occupied, only if an entire generation of Muslim children is re-educated, only if political power is decentralized and political accountability replaces Islam’s top-down leadership, can one speak sensibly of democratizing Islam. Merely to eliminate Muslim despots and institute democratic elections will accomplish nothing. Although Arab regimes have always been authoritarian, they divide into two basic types: military tyrannies and hereditary monarchies in which the military sustains the regime. Also, while some Muslim governments are conservative, others are revolutionary. Some practice capitalism while others practice various kinds of socialism. Some are either friends or enemies of the United States, while others are more or less neutral. And of course, there are enormous differences in the per capita income and in the education level of these various Arab and Muslim countries. Hence the type of democracy best suited for one state will not be equally suited for another. Doctrinairism must be avoided. A constitutional monarchy may be more appropriate in one country than a constitutional democracy. Similarly, in some countries a presidential system of government may be preferable to a parliamentary one. And wherever significant ethnic and religious diversity exists in a particular country as large as Iraq, a federal rather than a unitary system of government may be in order. In such cases a bicameral legislature may be desirable, where one branch represents territorial divisions. Most important, the legal distribution of power assigned to the various branches of government must take account of the factual distribution of power in a particular country. Indeed, it will be necessary to radically change the factual distribution of power of Islamic regimes if any type of democracy is to endure, and the changes must be institutionalized and supervised over a significant period of time. Finally, there inevitably arises the relationship between religion and state. Let us be candid and admit that the separation of religion and state or public law in the West has not been an unmixed blessing. Separation surely was conducive to personal freedom and a more tolerant daily life. But over the course of the last two centuries, as personal freedom and daily life became more and more removed from religion, or, conversely, the more religion became a Sunday or fringe affair, freedom became separated from morality. The moral corruption now rampant in the West is a direct consequence of the separation of church and state. I hasten to add, however, that this separation was not unrelated to the church’s own corruption. Hence we must avoid both secular and religious dogmatism when addressing the problem of democratizing Islam. To illustrate the problem, recall Algeria’s experiment with multiparty national elections in December 1991. In the first round of voting the Islamic Salvation Front did well enough to prompt the military junta in power to cancel the second round and outlaw this populist party of unadulterated Muslims. The capitals of the democratic world breathed a sigh of relief at this failure of “democracy”! Meanwhile, Islamic terrorism continued to bloody Algeria. Another illustration: Democracy means popular sovereignty, which translates into the rule of the majority. But the rule of the majority in most Muslim countries would result in the suppression of many rights associated with democracy. Bernard Lewis put it this way: “In the Western world, we are accustomed to regard women's rights as part of the liberal program. In the Middle East, it doesn't work that way. The liberal program is giving people what they want and what the people want [in Arab-Islamic countries] is suppressing women, so that you find that women's rights [in the Middle East] fair better under autocratic than [they would] under democratic regimes.” This is one reason why Lewis believes that constitutional monarchy, which would be more compatible with Islamic culture, may also be preferable to unqualified democracy. The above illustrations suggest that, given the religiosity of the Muslim masses, successful democratization of many Islamic regimes will have to benon-secular and moderately hierarchical. Consistent therewith, Islamic law embodies certain concepts which may serve the cause of democratization, if these concepts are newly interpreted, taught in schools, and used to restructure the governments of Islamic regimes. I have in mind four concepts which Muslim apologists refer to as having democratic significance, but which skeptics reject as illusionary. Here is how Haifa University political scientist David Bukay defines and dismisses these concepts: An immense literature has been published under the rubric, “Democracy in Islam”. It has several aspects: first, shurah consultation, as if it functioned as in the Western system of parliamentary power; second, ijma’, the consensus of the community, as if there were social and political pluralism with decisions based on a majority; third, ijtihad, innovative interpretation, as if there were readiness to absorb opposing values and positions into the functioning of the Muslim political system; and fourth, hakmiyah[as if it means popular] sovereignty. Even in the conceptions of Islamic thinkers, shurah does not mean participation in political processes or politcal bargaining, including representation of pressure and interest groups … What they were referring to was an advisory council of experts in the moral field. Further, ijma’ does not express consensus of the community. Rather it is an accepted tribal framework made of the tribal leaders or the heads of the community, or a “council of wise men”. Consensus was never a basis for general public expression. The same applies to ijtihad .… there is no readiness to absorb the basic values of democracy, such as freedom of assembly and participation or individual rights. These were the prerogatives of the ruling elites alone. The people were never sovereign and were never asked its opinion on political issues. Sovereignty [of the people] … cannot exist in an all-embracing religion like Islam. Dr. Bukay’s skepticism regarding these concepts may not hold IF key Islamic regimes are conquered and transformed, something he does not contemplate. Moreover, the characteristics he attributes to democracy apply primarily to contemporary democracy, which is seeular and devoid of substantive ethical norms. The present wrier rejects normlessdemocracy and proposes, for Islam—indeed, for the West as a whole—a normativeor classical conception of democracy, which can be assimilated to Judaism and Christianity. Bukay errs when he says that “any religion is opposed to democratic values in its conceptions and basic principles.” As I have elsewhere shown,Judaism provides a solid rational and ethical foundation for freedom and equality. Muslims will the more readily embrace these principles if they are derived from a religious source rather than from secular humanism. Returning to the four Islamic concepts in question, no doubt Professor Lewis had these in mind when he said “there are these older traditions, I will not say of democratic government but of government under law, government by consent, and government by contract in the Islamic world…. And this I think holds possibilities for the future.” Let us see how this can be done from a theoretical perspective. Abstracted from the oligarchic power structure that dominated Islam in the past, “consultation,” “consensus,” “innovative interpretation,” and “sovereignty” may be construed to justify a classical, democratic system of institutional checks and balances. “Consultation” and “consensus” can prescribe and describe the functional relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. The Executive obviously consults the Legislature when submitting bills to that body. Whether unicameral or bicameral, the Legislature, which in the West represents the diverse interests and opinions of civil society, deliberates and reaches an agreement (or consensus) to approve or reject or propose amendments to the bills in question. The concept “innovative interpretation” may be assimilated to the function of a Supreme Court that can narrow or broaden the application of a law which citizens, in society at large, may challenge as violating a higher law, a constitution. The principles of this constitution must not clash with Islamic law as qualified by the first three aforementioned concepts (and others to be mentioned further on). As for the fourth concept, “sovereignty,” it must be limited to the majority of the people as represented in one branch of the Legislature if the latter is bicameral, as may be desirable in many Islamic regimes. Suggested here is a constitutional and somewhat hierachic system of government based on religious principles. The constitution would prescribe, in addition to Islamic courts, an independent, unitary executive having the power to propose legislation, but which legislation would require the approval of a popularly elected assembly. This assembly need not have the power to initiate legislation. In fact, it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that representative assemblies acquired that function. One can even go back to classical antiquity and find examples of popular assemblies whose function was not to make laws but to approve or reject proposed legislation submitted by magistrates. (John Stuart Mill has said, a “numerous assembly is as little fitted for the direct business of legislation as for that of administration.” The primary work of legislation must be done, and increasingly is being done, by the executive departments and administrative agencies.) We want to interpenetrate democratic and constructive Islamic values. * * * A crucial aspect of Islam’s democratization is the introduction of a market economy. Such an economy would decentralize the corporate power of Arab regimes, raise the living standards of their poverty-stricken people, and hasten the development of civil society, meaning private and social institutions to counterbalance the power of government. One last word. The democratization of Islam would be facilitated if Israel herself were a genuine constitutional democracy inspired by the sublime principles of the Torah and cease stumbling from one crisis, or from one meaningless election, to another as just another secular democratic state.☼