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Islam and Democracy

By Lawrence Reza Ershaghi
In the past when the word democracy was mentioned, the words liberal or secular would always accompany and precede it. Today, however it is a given that democracy will be secular. This taking for granted of the two terms as going hand in hand is what has befuddled the American Administration when the Iraqi people voted for Islamic parties in elections last year. Recall the banners waved by Iraqi's "No to America, No to Saddam, Yes to Islam." This insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and disregard of a governing system which is based on the core values of Islam is a destructive path embarked upon by United States foreign policy and military adventures. According to the American administration, Muslims must either accept and become enlightened by western secular and liberal values and by extension be labeled progressive or reject such notions and become "fundamentalists" enemy states by default.

The dilemma Washington faces today is the translation of democracy (which is a means to an end) in the Middle East. The implications of popular vote and equal opportunity in the Middle East would be the removal of Washington's puppet regimes and Islamic movements sweeping elections. In fact, one should recall that Hosni Mubarak warned Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq about the implications of "democracy" in the region. These dictators and monarchs in the region, which have repressed Islamic movements, now tell Washington, your choices are either tolerate us or deal with the "fundamentalists." It is this fundamental obsession for the principle of seperation of "church and state" that sets people in the West and Islamic world miles apart. It does not matter if 100,000 Algerians lose their lives, but political parties must remain godless. In Turkey, secularism is apparently more important than democracy, when the army must intervene on behalf of the state to cancel Islamist parties' electoral victory.

Now today the proliferation of the concept of "Islamic democracy" has been introduced. It's interesting that these debates present democracy as a challenge to Islam. What's interesting is that the United States itself propped these regimes in the Middle East and now uses them to accuse Islam of incompatibility with democracy. All of this recent literature is now written on the compatibility or incompatibility of these two terms. Nobel peace prize winner, Shirin Ebadi gave a speech at UCLA on this issue, arguing the compatibility of Islam and democracy. But who is setting this agenda? She is working within a framework and an agenda set by the West for its own interests. It is a pseudo-democracy which is being promoted which smacks of Orientalism. Clearly, the West wants to re-define Islam to serve its objectives.

It should be noted rather that it is Islam that poses a formidable challenge to democracy. Although, it is true that the core principles of democracy are compatible with Islam, it should be noted that it is just one of the many components of Islam. To support an idea or a system that does not serve the ultimate objective of our existence is of no use. The "majority is right" principle is equally dangerous. One extra vote is sufficient to make anything legal. The problem with this is that numeral majorities do not always carry the weight of moral justice. The Holy Quran not only denounces tyrants, but it also denounces those who follow tyrants and obey their orders. This is exactly why Imam Hussein rose up against the tyrant Yazid in Karbala. It was for the ideal of justice, which is the supreme purpose of model human governance that he rose up. Imam Ali used to say the one who submits to oppression is worse than the oppressor. 

Moroever, it is futile to measure Islam against changing human standards. A secular state is simply unable to cultivate virtue because of relativism. According to this, all truth is relative, what everyone believes is true for him, and all beliefs are equally valid. This sounds a bit like tolerance. People attempt to be so tolerant that they end up tolerating intolerance and immorality. But, prostitution can not be both right and wrong. Legislation in such a system becomes a mockery. In a society, where everyone has a right to believe according to their own standards, everyone in effect has a right to be wrong. The thesis that all points of view are equally valid is clearly ridiculous. The absence of permanent values leads to hedonism, making pleasure the greatest attainable good. And we see this today in America, freedom translates to the glorification of satisfying one's carnal desires. What then is the difference between humans and animals? Thus, freedom becomes the freedom to pursue self-destructive tendencies. This is in utter contradiction with the Islamic injunction of "enjoin the good and forbid the wrong."

This modern pursuit of happiness has resulted in extreme expressions of escapism, such as alcoholism and drug abuse. In fact, this is probably the only country in the world where "vacation packages" are promoted at great lengths, for people wishing to escape the misery of daily life. All of this is contradictory to the objective of Islam, where each citizen is to humble oneself for the interests of the community and serve and please Allah. In the West, they say render unto God what is God and unto Caesar what is Caesar, but in the Muslim world they say Din wa Dawlat (religion and state). Today Christianity has become a Sunday religion and they want Islam to become a Friday religion.

Democracy, remember simply evolved as a response to the problems of tyranny and aristocracy in Europe. That system was simply unsustainable, so the illusion of giving the public a feeling of equality and participation was fostered. Furthermore, democracy is going to be the basis of all future interventions, since the term evokes much excitement for people today. Washington embarks upon its crusades in the name of democracy. But occupations will never lead to democracy. If democracy is a prerequisite for the flourishing of freedom, I can't help to disbelieve this, because America is relatively the "freest" country in the world, yet its people are the most brainwashed. However, this can be explained due to the dominance of corporate media, which possess an unprecedented capacity to manipulate information and shape public opinion.

If democracy is a prereq for success, Cuba defies this. Cuba is not a democracy, yet it has achieved first world education and health standards in a 3rd world country. Its literacy rates and infant mortality now rival or some would argue even outstrip those of the United States. Cuba sends 50,000 doctors to work for free in about 100 third world countries. It has developed pharmaceutical and biotech industries that are the most advanced in Latin America. Moreover, let us recall that in Bosnia it was democracy which legitimized the worst war crimes in Europe since the Nazi's. This Islamophobic trend in the West was deepened after the triumph of the Islamic revolution in Iran and its enemies have made no secret of "trying to extinguish the light of Allah." A few years back, I remember reading the The New York Times and it stated the "red menace is now gone, but here is Islam." Yes, here is Islam and it will shake the very foundations of the West, secularism and modernity, two of the most totalitarian principles in the contemporary world seeking to impose itself upon all traditional and native societies. It is no wonder the world was baffled when Iran had the only religious revolution in the Modern world. And whether one agrees or disagrees, everyone will be forced to confront this issue, since Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.
About the author:
Lawrence Reza Ershaghi holds a B.A. in Political Science, from University of California, Irvine. He is currently candidate for J.D. at Chicago-Kent School of Law

... Payvand News - 8/27/05 ... --

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