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Democracy and Islam

Reader comment on item: A Democratic Islam?

Submitted by Erich Wieger (Turkey), Apr 17, 2008 at 05:07

It strikes me that in the three great monotheisms, the understanding of authority, and of the relationship between spiritual authortiy and political authority, are by no means the same because the Vision of God is not the same. This has sociological and governmental implications.

Democracy is not an absolute, and does not come as a direct command or an inescapable conclussion from the Bible, and certainly not from the Quran. However, the exile experience of Judaism and the older understanding of being strangers and pilgrims in the earth (Abraham to Moses) makes ample room for the Jewish community to respect non-Jewish government and society.

Similarly, though Roman authority coopted the Christian Church in the Fourth Century, and the Church made use of political authority, those who protested this tendency had the moral upper hand from the point of view of the Cross, the early history of the apostles and of the Church of the first three centuries. The dissenters left a trail of martyrs blood. Other, more complex dynamics of secular and religious corperations and their "liberties" in the laws of the Middle Ages also aided the developments of rights, freedoms, cultural and economic initiative in Western Europe. These concepts of competing and autonomous constintuted corperations and bodies of law are not common to Islamic experience. In Islamdom the despot rules all...except as you mention, he is in a tug of war with the clans. But these clans have no corperate, intitutional or constitutional rights. Democracy came in America when the herritage of the constituted rights and freedoms of colonies, corperations and citizens which evolved over centuries in Europe, merged with the primitive Christian understanding of a spiritual Kingdom distinct and free from political domination.

The problem that Islam has is that the Prophet himself took unlimitted political and military power in his hand, and did not foresee lonely pilgrim exile in this world for his followers. The view of authority in Islamdom has much to do with the Prophet's perception of a truely overwhelming but un-self-revealing Allah. He is not humble or joyful. The God-concept of the Muslim is not at all the same as that for the Christian. I am not sure how the God-concept of the Jew fits into that contrast, but I judge that the Psalmic exhortations to joy encourage the Jew to concepts of inner freedom and blessing that are not embraced in Islam. These spiritual distinctions matter. The Islamic combination of Jihad and Sheria flow out of the understanding of an overwhelming and threatening God who demands total surrender of all society in the here and now. The "Rahman u Rahmin" aspect of God is for those who surrender to his Overwhelmingness. This vision of authority tends to translate into similar models of the unlimitted personal political authority of the Despot, and trickle down from there, and from the Mosque sermons, into society. So I am not convinced that democtratic constitutionalism can evolve so long as the Quran and the early history of Islam is taken seriously as an integrated, inwardly consistent Revelation. And how does constitutionalism develop without corperate rights and liberties being acknowledged in a convenant understanding? Covenant thinking seems to be lacking in Islamdom.

I will add that I am skeptical that democracy can last without all of its native roots, which include a wide spread Judeo Christian spirtiuality and intellectuality concerning law, government and society. The totally secular public space is a negativity, a vacuum, that Islam will demand to fill. It will fill it with visions of authority that are incompatable with our tradtional rights and freedoms.

Nevertheless I can hope with you Dr. Pipes. One must confess the complexity of history and of human society, as we watch people meet their real needs. "Each person in his own stubbornness either finds God or misses him." "Every generation is born equidistant to God."

Sincerely

Erich Wieger

PS: I'm not sure if Erdogan's positions have really changed over time, but sorting out the complex faces of AK Party, and a more rigorous examination of their money flows (one recent article was ok, but presented no hard evidence) would be in order...its hard to get a balanced picture of the thing. I have a friend in the party who thinks it is genuine in its pursuit of pluralism and democracy...but he is disappointed in recent developments with Erdogan. He hopes Gul and his friends are better....

Submitting....

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