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Democracy and Islam

Reader comment on item: The Citizen of the 21st Century: How Far, How Fast?

Submitted by James Sofko (United States), Jul 18, 2002 at 19:42

I do not purport to be more than barely knowledgeable about matters of Islamic doctrine.

I am struck by the absence of any real democratic development anywhere in the Islamic world, excepting Turkey and perhaps Indonesia, which retains some vestiges of its Dutch heritage now rapidly falling away as militant Islam overwhelms the island nation. In no Islamic place do I see a way to power other than as that described by Pryce-Jones as "careerism," a polite term for thuggery. The way to power is by coup, the way to retain power is by coercion and massacre of rivals, and the way of succession is by murder. The "citizens" have nothing to do with rule other than to dance the regime's tune. Nowhere is there an ulema able to resist the sultan, except Iran where the ayatollahs are the sultanate.

In any case it seems to me that this is not simply a matter of modern day resistance to Western innovation. Historically I know of nothing that approaches a Western type democracy although I am aware that the good sultan, maybe better, the true caliph, rules in accordance with the will of Allah, and following his law, as approved by the umma and ulema, his rule will be just and "democratic." Fine, but nobody gets to vote by secret ballot under such a formulation.

Isn't there really something systemic about Islam that causes this counter democratic outcome? Isn't it that there is no "separation of church and state." Isn't it that man's law has no place because Allah's Law, the shari'a, is complete, final and perfect?

In other words isn't Islam the reason why there are no democracies in the Muslim world?
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