Democracy in the Islamic World?
Historically, many nations have undergone radical changes in their governments over time. European monarchies evolved to republican states, just as Cuba changed from a capitalist autocracy to a communist state under Castro. Today, the concerns facing the world focus on whether the Islamic nations can ever be democratic. The possibility of this creates conflict of opinions. Some insist that Islam is inherently anti-democratic and a growing threat to the West because of this, while others hold that Islam is the salvation for nations that have been oppressed by Western influence, and which may then turn to democracy to more strongly assert themselves (Price 4). At the heart of the debate is the political influence of fundamentalist Islam, as well as how Western interventions in Islamic nations has created deep mistrust of everything Western, including type of government. In plain terms, as hostility toward American and other Western presences in these states has been evident for decades, it is only reasonable to assume that the Islamic nation would want no part of the democratic way of life, as it associates it with oppression and undue interference.
At the same time, there are those who firmly believe that democracy may be installed in Islamic states, and that this form of government will be more true to the spirit of Islam than the current regimes in place. In an address made in Washington, D.C. in 2012, Tunisian Rached Ghannouchi, co-founder of the Ennahda movement and political leader, made it clear that there is no contradiction between democracy and Islam. All that is needed, he asserted, is a deep and sincere dialogue between secularists and Islamic leaders (Cesari 190). It is also interesting that Ghannouchi’s address did not refer to problems with the West as a hurdle to achieving this. Instead, his concerns were more expressed as going to the conflict between fundamentalist Muslims and secular interests. As noted, however, he believes these barriers may be overcome, just as he clearly believes that democracy would benefit the people of these states.
To a typical person of the West, it is natural to think that Islamic nations must reject democracy, and because the nature of the religion is so powerful to the people and so strong a force in allowing for authoritarian or autocratic regimes. In the past, many Islamic leaders, holding great power, have insisted upon Islam as guiding their actions and justifying their complete authority in government. This goes to the fundamentalist Islamic view which, again, is innately opposed to anything Western. At the same time, however, it is important for Westerners to better understand the nature of Islam itself. At its core, this is a faith not unlike Christianity in many ways, and its precepts and foundations often reflect the basic tenets of Christianity. This being the case, it is arguable that the biggest hurdle to Islamic democracy remains the resentment of Western influences, and that more relaxed relations between the Western powers and these nations will go to promoting democracy. Put another way, as soon as the Islamic states no longer perceive Western powers as hostile aggressive in their interactions, it is very possible that the populations of these states will be more drawn to creating democratic governments.
Ultimately, the possibility of Islamic nations turning to democratic governments rests on one issue: whether Islam itself is incompatible with such a government. The answer is that it is not. Islam is an expansive faith, and one that exists to promote the well-being of the faithful on all levels of living. As noted, it is reflective of the Christian ideologies that are the platform for Western democracies. It is also important to note that autocratic regimes of any kind tend to eventually give way to more republican or democratic systems. Then, as today’s Islamic nations increasingly move toward reducing the oppression of women, the interests of democracy must be enhanced in the processes, because all Muslims then gain a stronger sense of empowerment. All of this being the reality, it is then very possible that Islamic nations will take on democratic principles. All that is required is a lessening of tensions between these states and the West, and a desire within the people to truly act on the principles of Islam itself.
Cesari, Jocelyne. The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.
Price, Daniel E. Islamic Political Culture, Democracy, and Human Rights: A Comparative Study.
Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print.
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