Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Will Baude of Crescat Sententia reports on an Islam and Democracy forum associated with Patrick Belton of Oxblog. I have previously posted on this subject here. Seriously, why do people always pick on Islam? How come we don't have forums on Buddhism and democracy after looking at governments of nations which have large Buddhist populations? (Note: This is not an attack on Buddhism, the influence of which I have found valuable in my life.)

Based on Will's description, this forum sounds like the classic case of people sitting around deciding that "the Islamic world" is somehow deeply flawed and they need to run over there and fix the inferior civilization. First of all, as Judge Kleinfeld noted, "Islam" is not "the problem." Gee, thanks. This does not stop Will from calling for a "Radio Free Islam," which would presumably be similar to the current Radio Sawa only with a more controversial name. There was talk of "using the education system to propagandize good, truth, and the American way." What does this mean exactly? If they want to install a Western-style system, it is already in progress at the university level, with institutions such as Yarmouk University in Jordan where I studied Arabic during the summer of 2001, and Sultan Qaboos University in Oman where I hope to go for my dissertation research in 2004-05. Beyond that, I'm a little uncertain what this group wants to do. Perhaps they were thinking of some of the Saudi textbooks which teach anti-Semitism, for example - I'd like to find out more on that point.

Will correctly points out that economic prosperity does not lead automatically to democracy. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it slows things down. After all, if everything in your country is going well, why topple the government? Gulf states such as Qatar and Kuwait have recently made moves toward more popular representation in government; while both of these nations remain monarchies, I'd still say that shows that people are aware of democratic values and that states are taking steps to answer these demands.

I think the thing that really got me from what I read of this forum, though, was a certain sense that nobody had much respect for or understanding of existing institutions in the Arab world. As I said way back here, "The reality is that the Islamic world got to this point by its own unique path, and in order to really start to understand, it helps to go back before the beginning and watch it being built brick by brick." Will reports people wondered by the Islamic fundamentalists were successful at institution-building. I don't know for sure what that referred to, but perhaps it has to do with building on foundations already present in the culture rather than importing European ideas and hoping they take root. I don't have answers, but I suggest that following their lead might be the most profitable way to foster governmental change in the region. Having an idea of how something works is a good idea before you try to fix it.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home