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Islam not to blame for lack of democracy

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  • Mass Usuf
    Dear All, I would like to share my thoughts on the Islam and Democracy issue. For ease of reading I am stating them in point form. 1) There were in the recent
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2006

      Dear All,

      I would like to share my thoughts on the Islam and Democracy issue.  For ease of reading I am stating them in point form.

      1) There were in the recent past century three Blocs - Democracy, Communism and Islam.  Of these, two were active one dormant.  The dormant one was of course Islam.

      2) Communism met its death both by the manipulation of the democratic forces and by its own very nature because in any case it was never sustainable.

      3) Islam as a force was felt by the Muslims and the others propelled by the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and also by the influence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979.  The resurgence of Islam was seen, heard and talked about in the media which also greatly contributed to this feeling.

      4) The vacuum created by the gradual death of Communism was filled by Islam as a force.  Like Communism was a threat to the West, Islam now poses a threat to the West.  Sadly, this is how the West has interpreted it.

      5) It is a clear fact that the Western strategists have learnt the Quran and Sunnah more than the Muslim strategists (if any???).  This is not a phenomenon of current global politics but from the time of the colonialists.  They knew Islam as a threat to them even while the Muslims were deep in slumber.

      6) Islam is not a threat to humanity be it in the west or east.  It has come to salvage man.  Nevertheless, this negativity is the widest interpretation given by the Western strategists.

      7) To speak of democracy vis a vis Islam is akin to the saying, taking coal to newcastle.  Islamic principles of Democracy, Fundamental Rights, Human Rights, Ethics of War and Codes of Warring (Todays Geneva Convention etc)  so on and so forth were within the contents of the Quran and Sunnah long before America herself was born and at a time when Europeans were boasting of not bathing for several weeks !!!!!

      8) Having said these we must admit one thing and ADMIT IT LOUDLY i.e. we Muslims are ignorant about Islam and Islamic teachings, its principles, its philosophy, its ideology.  What we know very well is to effectively do the rituals !!!!

      9) No wonder the West is trying to teach us Democracy because we have not done our homework.  And, because of this we think the West is teaching us something that is not in Islam.

      I have written a lot but these are some of my thoughts.  I am forcing myself to stop.

      The Quran says that you plan and Allah also plans.  Allah is the Best of Planners.

      May Allah Guide the entire humanity towards righteousness.

      Mass L. Usuf





      From: Egroup <egroup100@...>
      To: famsy@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [FAMSY] Islam not to blame for lack of democracy
      Date: Sat, 1 Apr 2006 14:15:42 +1000 (EST)

      Islam not to blame for lack of democracy

      By Manal Alafrangi, Staff Writer
      The media has become obsessed with something called "Islam". Daily, an endless number of intellectuals, policy-makers and even inexperienced writers post their views on Islam, outlining "problems" within it and suggesting ways to fix them.
      They are even more obsessed with questioning whether Islam is compatible with "democracy". Here, we are talking about a Western-style democracy; a system familiar only to those who have learnt and seen the West's style of living.
      Often, the argument might be that an essential pre-requisite for modernity and democracy is the separation of State and Church. In the West, this has been brought about by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, whereas the Islamic world has consistently failed to "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God".
      To me, this sounds like a "convenient" argument and a means of simplifying the problem. Secondly, it allows observers to blame Islam as a religion for existing problems, which ultimately spares them from asking questions that may have uncomfortable implications for the West. (The West's historical involvement in the region is relevant here.)

      Past experiences
      Thirdly, it's important to remember that the Middle East has had experiences of separation between state institutions and "religious feelings, norms, beliefs and affiliations". Amr Hamzawy, a senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, contends this is evident in the Egyptian experience: "In the 19th and 20th centuries up to 1970s, Egypt had state institutions which tried to separate public matters. This was also the case in places like Tunisia, Syria and Iraq."
      Religion it should be understood has a prominence in Middle Eastern political discourse which is unparalleled in the West. Having said that, it is not the only source of identity for the people of this region. Middle Easterners, like Westerners, are complex individuals. That the West chooses to view the Middle East based on atavistic, congenitally anti-modern identities only leads to a skewed vision of any possible solution for its development. Ultimately, the West engages itself in a process of minimisation of the social and cultural aspect of Islam in Arab and Muslim countries.
      Moreover, religious identity is far from being the source of the Middle East's problems. In fact, this religious identity functions like nationalism, in that it is a recent construct claiming deep roots. It arises because other options have failed. It is not a problem, but a proposed solution. More precisely, the emergence of political Islam has not been a result of lack of democracy, but rather a reaction to what was present or, more accurately, not present.
      Why is it hard to accept that Middle Eastern identities are as complex and multiple as Western identities? The West has tried to oversimplify the make-up of the region's social fabric, along with its political reality and development.
      Firstly, the term democracy is controversial, having many different applications and practices all over the world. The meaning of it, as understood by a Western culture, cannot be imposed on another culture, whether Arab or Muslim. Only that culture possesses the key of how best to apply a democratic system.
      The popular question being asked in Western media is Islam compatible with democracy is "a misleading one" according to Hamzawy. "Islam is a central component of this region's culture but not the only component."

      Varying interpretations
      Hamzawy is concerned at this approach as it does not allow observers to question "whether it is needed to ask this question the first place � whether or not [theoretically at least] one will find traces of democracy in the so-called Islamic system and democratic practices in the Middle East's historical experiences".
      To him, observers assume that a dilemma exists and that democracy in a Muslim country is an issue that needs to be problematised, "the question itself entails a huge generalisation that there is only one Islam. We are speaking about different practices and not interpretations, Egypt to Indonesia to Morocco". There are differences in how Islam is lived as a social reality within countries of the Middle East.
      And just as practices of Islam vary from one country to another, so too does the interpretation of democracy in the West. According to Hamzawy, Western secular societies have different ways of applying democracy. Take France and the United States for example. "A close look at public and political debates in the US will reveal that religion matters; the mannerism of the discourse is religiously oriented whereby people frame their arguments in religious [often Christian] terms. In Germany or France, people do not frame their arguments in public drawing on religious notions, values or beliefs."
      The starting point shouldn't be whether Islam and democracy are compatible; it should be why is there a lack of democracy in the region. The US, a country that claims to be an advocate of reform and democracy in the Middle East, behaves in an imperial manner. US administrations time and again have constructed the region's history from their convenient point of view, and understand Islam to be what they want it to be, as opposed to what the people of the region make it to be.
      It is common knowledge that Middle Eastern countries entered the 21st century feeling overwhelmed by political unrest, economic inequality, psychological incoherence and social turbulence.
      Today, we see Middle Eastern governments continuing to resist reform of their political systems and instead clinging to power through alternating policies of coercion, repression and reform. But to attribute the current situation to Islam or political Islam is wrong and misleading. There are other factors including poor education and sheer laziness.
      It is time for the West to abandon this binary logic (either the West or Islam) and educate itself on what the Middle East means beyond the religious identity. The West also needs to realise that Middle Eastern life needn't be a copy of one approved model suitable for all to follow. This has been shown to be a failure (Iraq and Afghanistan).
      Rather than trying to blame Islam for lack of democracy, everyone should call for a more productive discussion where numerous viewpoints are included and historical analysis is presented. Debating and questioning are useful and necessary, but when they stem out of ignorance, especially by powerful participants, they lose their usefulness and in fact, becomes extremely dangerous.
      Published: 04/01/2006 

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