Friday, May 23, 2003

From the Eurasia Research Centre mailing list, I got an article from the Washington File on how a recent CSID panel discussed the need for scholars to reinterpret Islam so that it accepts democracy. "Is Islam compatible with democracy?" is a frequently asked question I wish would simply retire. If you go to the world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, you find a democracy (led by a woman, Megawati Sukarnoputri). The world's second largest Muslim population is in India, also a democracy where there have been a few Muslim Presidents. In Qatar, there were recently several days of celebrations at the approval of a more democratic constitution.

The question of the compatibility of Islam and democracy in the Islamic world comes from a belief still floating around much Western scholarship that everything that happens in the Middle East must have its root cause someone in Islam. Yet I have to ask a simple question: During the 19th and 20th centuries, did the ulama (Muslims religious scholars) suddenly decide to stop having agrarian empires and begin having military dictatorships and family-run emirates? The 19th century is a vast hole in my knowledge of history, but I sort of doubt it.

The best evidence of Islam's compatibility with democracy, however, is in the polls quoted by this very article. According to a November 2002 poll by the World Values Survey, 98% of the people in Bangladesh consider democracy the best form of government, as do 89% of Jordanians and 88% of Turks. These three nations ranked higher than the U.S., where only 87% of Americans support democracy, or the 78% who favor democracy in the UK. Are Bangladesh, Jordan, and Turkey overwhelmingly Muslim? Yes, and at least from my experience of Jordan a significant part of the population is conservatively so. Just because a few radicals might see democracy as a Western evil and just because historical circumstances have produced an undemocratic Middle East doesn't mean Muslims are in a crisis over whether they can be democratic and religious at the same time.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home