Skip to main content

Some so-called experts ask: Are Islam and democracy compatible? Answer is, yes

By Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai* 

First of all, let me clarify that not all Muslims rebel, but some do. Not all rebellions are about self-determination, but some are. Civilization and international peace and security will pay a steep price if the only answer to Muslim discontent is bloody fists, not democratic openings. A survey past and present edifies.
Today, most refugees are Muslim. They are mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. Most American military bases are hosted by predominantly Muslim countries, for example, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. But refugees are also Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, animists, or otherwise. And American military bases exist in important non-Muslim countries too, for example, Germany, Japan, and South Korea. In other words, turmoil and belligerency crosses religious or ethnic lines.
The same can be said of self-determination and democracy struggles. East Timorese were Christians opposing domination by Indonesia’s Muslim majority. Namibia gained self-determination by defeating South Africa’s apartheid. Muslim Eritrea gained self-determination against Christian Ethiopia. The Mexican, American, and Chinese revolutions were engineered without Muslim faces.
In sum, peoples of varying religions, races, and cultures have sought self-determination or democracy. The struggles are not idiomatic with Muslims. In sum, oppressed peoples rebel and seek self-determination irrespective of religious creed.
Some so-called experts ask: Are Islam and democracy compatible? The answer is, yes. Think of Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Islam contains the seeds of democratic practices and habits every bit as much as non-Muslim religions. Islamic scholars cite the principal of Shura or consultative decision-making. Islam also erects no stark hierarchy of religious authority like the Roman Catholic Church.
In fashioning the compact of Medina, the Holy Prophet Mohammad employed revelations from God to create a timeless constitution, yet also sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation. President Thomas Jefferson thus borrowed from the Holy Prophet in the Declaration of Independence in speaking of government by the consent of the governed.
The credibility of proponents of democracy in the Islamic world is impaired by their historical and contemporary equivocations or hypocrisy. Britain was no tribune for Islamic democracy during its colonial heyday in India, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, Oman, Yemen, or the Persian Gulf emirates.
France struggled against Muslim self-determination and democracy in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. The Netherlands neglected to celebrate democracy in Indonesia. The United States supports flagrantly anti-democratic regime today in Egypt and elsewhere. In sum, western democracies place self-interest and national security considerations above Islamic democracy when the two clash.
Civil strife and tumult is risked if democracy does not take the Muslim world by storm. By an overwhelming majority, Muslims covet democracy and are willing to make enormous sacrifices towards that end. Indeed, a comprehensive survey published in 2003 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that many Muslims polled clamored more loudly for political freedoms than Eastern Europeans, most notably Bulgarians and Russians. 
The Pew findings were echoed in 2004 surveys conducted by Pipu Norris of Harvard University and Rob Inglehart of the University of Michigan. Muslims decisively prefer democracy to any other form of government, and many nations in the Muslim world claim a democratic mantle, including Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Muslims are receiving inconsistent messages from the West. First, they are told that immediate democratization is urgent. Then they are told Islam is incompatible with democracy, and thus free elections are to be feared because risking a reprise of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and rule by benighted mullahs and Grand Ayatollahs. Algeria employed that excuse to cancel 1992 elections, which were destined to be captured by an Islamic party and Egypt did the same in 2013.
Muslims do not dislike the United States or Great Britain or the West, but they often oppose their foreign policies that pursue national interests over consistency or moral justice. The West rejoiced at jihad to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, but then denounced it against itself. 
The United States aided Saddam Hussein when he invaded Iran because fearful that the Khomeini revolution might gobble up the Persian Gulf, but then warred twice against Saddam over Kuwait, weapons of mass destruction, and support for terrorism.
Non-democratic regimes in Muslim countries are explained not by religion, but by history, politics, culture, and economic traditions. The United States, like every other country, forges ties with those regimes, which support its interests. Human rights, accountability, and democracy are subordinated. International relations are not exercises in altruism. What might be changed is the United States perception of what are its best interests in the Muslim world. 
Non-democratic regimes in Muslim countries are explained not by religion, but by history, politics, culture, and economic traditions
Thus, the United States stumbled in believing that replacing the democrat Mossadegh with the monarchical Shah in Iran would advance its global agenda in the long run. It did not. Dr Nazir Gilani, President, The Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights (JKCHR) has warned: “Although we hold an undisputable belief that human rights are for all, should know them, demand them and defend them, yet we see this universal faith being savaged under pressures of economic interests.”
At least 750 million Muslims thrive in democratic societies of varying genres. That discredits the effort by some western scholars and ideologues to present Islam as inherently inferior to western liberalism, authoritarian, and anti-democratic. It is a historical fact that Benazir Bhutto was the first female head of the state elected in a Muslim majority country – Pakistan. And America still awaits.
Muslims, like others, cherish self-determination. Self-determination of peoples has been an established human right since World War I and President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points. The concept played a leading role in the post-war settlement, and a few plebiscites were held in disputed border areas. The United Nations, formed after World War II, celebrates self-determination in Article 1.2 as a major objective. 
Self-determination has been enshrined in countless international documents and treaties that an enumeration must be forgone as a concession to the shortness of life. However, largely, self-determination was honored more in the breach than in the observance.
The woolly principle of self-determination, like the principle of nuclear non-proliferation, has been employed according to big power politics, not according to high moral standards or consistency. Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia have been recognized as separate nations out of former Yugoslavia by the United Nations, but Kosovo has not been. 
Likewise, big powers agreed in 1948 that the people of Kashmir have the right to self-determination but this pledge was never fulfilled until iodate. Dr. Nazir Gilani refers to a historical debate “when United States and Great Britain decided in November 1947 and August 1951 to take the Kashmir issue to International Court of Justice (ICJ). 
Over the years, these two countries have been dragging feet on the human rights situation in Kashmir and do not want to disturb Indian market by challenging India under her responsibilities under the Charter, under the limited Instrument of Accession and under the UN template on Kashmir.
The international community and the United States in particular employ double standards, as is customary in human beings individually in both public and private life. The gist of the double standard is this. The Muslim world is urged to practice democracy, yet told to abandon the practice if likely to lead to the election of parties or candidates feared by the United States. Algeria in 1992, Iran in 1953 and Egypt in 2013 are exemplary.
I am not against the idea of self-determination, if tempered by prudence and practicality. Indeed, I believe self-determination is the answer, not the problem in Kashmir and some other convulsed territories. But the world of politics and international relations do not lend themselves to Euclidean formulas.
In the end, I can say with confidence that people of any religion will turn to violence when peaceful avenues of dissent or opposition are closed. We must listen carefully as well as speak forcefully for all international conflicts, be it Palestine, Myanmar or Kashmir.
----
*Secretary General of Washington-based World Kashmir Awareness Forum

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Haven't done a good deed, inner soul is cursing me as sinner: Aurangzeb's last 'will'

Counterview Desk The Tomb of Aurangzeb, the last of the strong Mughal emperors, located in Khuldabad, Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, has this epitaph inscribed on it: "Az tila o nuqreh gar saazand gumbad aghniyaa! Bar mazaar e maa ghareebaan gumbad e gardun bas ast" (the rich may well construct domes of gold and silver on their graves. For the poor folks like me, the sky is enough to shelter my grave).