March 2, 2006

"A Reconsideration of Presumptions: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?"

That's the title of a talk to be given by UW lawprof Asifa Quraishi, on Monday, March 6th, at 12:00 noon, in Lubar Commons (at the UW Law School). Sponsored by the Middle Eastern Law Students Association.
This presentation will explore some of the issues involved in "reconciling" Islam with democracy, while highlighting some of the similarities (and the differences) between Islamic and Western legal systems.
Highly recommended!


sbw said...

First, from the Muslim Sunnah (An-Nawawi's Forty Hadeeth: No. 13) "None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." This is the principle of RECIPROCITY, commonly called the golden rule. This constitutional principle institutionalizes a single society, open to everyone, regardless of ethnic background, religion or gender.

Second, in the interpretations available to us, the Qur'an, the word of Allah, explains that God put mankind on earth to take charge of the physical world as vice regent, viceroy or khalif. [Al Baqara 2:30] Accordingly, ALL citizens forever retain the responsibility to fashion and improve the future. That responsibility is two-fold:

1) All citizens must permanently and regularly have the constitutional opportunity, based on new experience, to continuously and repeatedly correct how they are governed.
2) To learn how wisely to decide demands transparency and accountability in leadership and universal excellence in education.

That's compatibility with democracy. See Courage and Clarity.

Tom Grey said...

It's not quite the right question.

More importantly, how compatible is Islam with (Universal?) Human Rights?

Many current Muslim countries, especially those with Sharia, do NOT allow free speech, nor free religion. So such contrires as now governed are incompatible.

I think Kurdistan will remain "Islamic" and become more democratic, and more human rights observing. So it will be an affirmative answer in at least one big practice.

Robin Goodfellow said...

That's not really the most important question.

The answer, today, is "mostly no".

However, the real question is: "can Islam become compatible with democracy?"

Which hasn't been answered completely yet, though there are signs that warrant cautious optimism.

Keep in mind that Christianity faced this same test some centuries back, was found wanting, and ultimately changed enough to "pass".

Aaron's cc: said...

After eradicating jizya, hudna, dhimmi and dar al harb from the dogma, we can begin discussions. All else is a ruse.

Robin Goodfellow said...

To expand on my comments:

The central conflict here is the incompatability of western liberal society, culture, technology, and governance with regressive arab/islamic traditionalism and religious fundamentalism. The tricky bit is that even though the "problem" comes from a minority of individuals within Islam, that minority is tolerated and, at times, sheltered by the greater community (rather than being purged and shunned). This presents a thorny situation in that we have two hurdles, we need to see to the defeat of that minority while at the same time bringing the larger community to greater modernity in making it more compatable with democracy, individual liberty, etc. In so far as we in the west wish for liberty, freedom, prosperity et al to be the victor here we have a limited set of options toward that goal. On the one hand there is the truce / al qaeda option, the 2nd Iron Curtain, the civilizational burqha. The isolation and separation of the west from Islam and Islam from the west. This is almost certainly not an option in any reasonable sense, technologically and culturally, though it's conceivable it could be made to work, provided that the west abided the horror of a severely oppressive (taliban-like) regime inflicted on the entirety of the Muslim world. Option 2 would be the complete and utter destruction of Islam from the world (via mass nuclear bombardment, for example). Realistically, individuals who would abide option 1 (relegating Islam to severe oppression and tyranny in perpetuity) are not too far from being able to abide by option 2. For the record, I am strongly opposed to both options 1 and 2. Next we come to option 3, whereby the west DEMANDS Islam change its ways and enforces said demands directly, with severe military and economic force (embargos, blockades, bombings, occupation by millions of western troops, etc.). This option is similar to option 1 though with a slightly better outcome, potentially (I do not favor this option either). The difficulty here is that as outsiders westerners cannot simply ask Islam to change without using force. Then we come to option 4, whereby the west uses its powers (economic, cultural, military) in a somewhat limited fashion to empower those elements of Islam which are more aligned with western interests (in terms of liberty, free markets, peaceful coexistence with other races and religions, etc.) and to disempower those elements which have been working in the other direction (e.g. anti-western jihadis). Option 4 is the best option though also the most complex, most subtle, and least sure. It is also, of course, the option we are currently exercising (most likely due to an outright, and probably subconcious, rejection of the other options).

Svolich said...

Robin, I hope that option 4 is possible. I have become pessimistic on that point. There have been ideologies in the past that have points in common with Islamism - certainty that they are correct, enthusiasm for the extermination of all others, subjugation of the individual to the good of the group.

The adherents of these ideologies - Nazi, Stalinist, the Japanese of WW2 - have been unable to change until a significant fraction of their population has died. We killed the Nazi's and the Japanese. Stalin and the Germans killed the USSR. Mao killed the Chinese. Chavez is on his way in Venezuela.

I'm afraid that until a lot of Moslems are killed - either by us or by the Islamists - the rest won't understand what a really bad idea it all is.

AlaskaJack said...

Yes, this is a very important question. And perhaps it will prompt western democracies to ask an equally important question: Is the notion of the autonomous self ( that is, a self that is neither a son, daughter, brother, sister father, mother, man or woman) that understands freedom only as the capacity and right to define and redefine itself, its roles and its values compatible with democracy?

I think there is some hope that Islam can move toward democracy as it is traditionaly understood but there is no chance that it will ever embrace the post-modern notion of the autonomous self.

sbw said...

The better question turns focus around onto the western world before turning it back on Islam: "What are the minimum requirements for any society?"

I'll try to expand my opinion this weekend, but it seems there are two: 1) humility and 2) a sense that others live their life as acutely as you do.

Humility is the understanding that, because our minds only map reality, sometimes an individual or group thinks it is correct when it is not -- and that is codified in democracy, which continuously allows one individual to convince others there may be a better way. Therefore free speech, and tolerating offense is necessary.

Respect for others applies so long as respect is returned, and it means don't do to someone else what you don't want done to you. [This can moderate the tone offense can take.]

From these thin threads, shared because they can be deduced from personal experience, viable societies embracing different cultures can be produced. On the other side of the coin, if they are not shared, it is a race to convince others of the self-interest of adopting them before having to deal with differences through the law of the jungle.

Goesh said...

One would expect the immense wealth of the Gulf to have been put to better use these past 50 years. We see no significant Islamic contributions to the Arts, Literature, Law, Political Science, Architecture, Human Rights and the Sciences in general these past 50 years. Good grief! While the Israelis were putting a man in outer space, the neighbors were still engaging in honor killings.It is a bit premature by a couple hundred years to be considering this topic when for instance Saudi Arabia does not even allow women to vote or drive cars. If the most influential and probably the most wealthy of Islamic nations harbors a 10th century mentality, what hope is there for the poor nations? By all means have the symposium, it can do no harm. The rest of us will continue on trying to avoid and deal with terrorists who are incapable of coexisting with the civilized world.

submandave said...

I hope the scope of discussion is clearly defined. The question "is Islam compatible with democracy" is obviously the one sbw is addressing, however I believe most people understand this question in its more relevent interpretation to really ask "is Islam, as it is most commonly tought, embodied and enforced in the Moslem world, compatible with democracy." Regardless of the answer to the first, laregly academic, form, we still in practical terms must deal with the answer to the second, more pragmatic, form.

Donald Sensing said...

I would say that the central issue is whether Muslims can ever affirm religious pluralism. The homogenous ummah of an Islamic country may be enjoting political democracy in every sense of the word, but unless they also allow non-Muslims to practice their faith openly and feely, the democratic practice is empty.

The core issue is not democracy per se, it is the religious imperialism of Islam. Only when Muslims affirm in their society and politics that their religion is one of many rather than foremost of all will democracy have real value.

sbw said...

I said above that I'd expand my opinion on minimum requirements for society -- which helps one determine when it's necessary to be ready to defend oneself. Measured steps toward civilization helps explain that members of any culture can deduce humility and reciprocity as substance required by successful societies.

Mohammed Is A Woman, Peace Be Upon Her said...

Mohammed was a woman, peace be upon Her.