If anyone were to ask the average Muslim what the greatest problems are in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world, most would likely say that they are political oppression, government corruption, government violence against their citizens, poverty, illiteracy and foreign interference. If you were to ask them to explain what they mean by foreign interference, they will say without ambiguity, US interference in the Muslim world, and most specifically the so-called war on terrorism, which many have come rightfully to believe, is in fact a war on Islam.
This war has engulfed the Muslim world, and in its path it has left not only millions of Muslims dead, it has left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned, created hundreds of thousands of additional refugees and homeless persons, while also increasing numbers of maimed and disabled persons, and people who are suffering from mental illnesses, the result of psychological traumas associated with war, and persistent violence. This is not to mention the vast destruction of infrastructure, and institutions. There is no way to talk about democratic reforms in the Muslim world without first assessing the realities of everyday life for the people, and not only the politics, seeking to determine if democratization is really the solution that is being sought by the people.
In my opinion, too often in the past, Muslim activists sought to understand mostly the tensions created between political groups and governments as they struggle, one against the other for power, excluding almost completely from their analysis, the socio economic realities that are shaping the views of the people, and the people’s responses to their situations. While many will of course support reforms, it may be true that many are not interested in supporting moves towards Western style democracy, since they have realized that democratization may actually mean something far different from what most had believed, and hoped for. This might not only be true for Muslims, but also for the non-Muslims living in predominately Muslim societies. Prior to 9/11 and the US response, Muslims and others living in the Muslim world, were perhaps more intrigued by westernization, because it was masked as modernization. There was a sense that it might be the answer to years of political oppression, corruption and socio-economic failure, economic failure that continues to baffle and frustrate most people, since in spite of the huge stores of natural resources and human resources that characterize the Muslim world, it remains a region that is wrought with some of the world’s worst poverty.
Considering all of this, it might be more appropriate to describe the Muslim thirst for change as a desire to have lives that are normal. In this context, normal means simply to be freed from barriers that prevent people from determining their own destinies. This would require a change not only in political structures, but also cultural, and economic changes. People living in the Muslim world want more, and varied choices, and the freedom to choose their own direction, and also the freedom and resources needed to act to achieve aspirations and desires, what we might call in the US, “the pursuit of happiness.” Without doubt, most people living in Muslim societies will likely say in various ways, that it is not a lack of democratization, where the majority rules a secular liberty society, which is holding the Muslim world in political and socio-economic stasis. What they do say in various ways is that there is a freedom deficit that is behind the lack of intellectual, economic, social and political development in the Muslim world. It seems fair to say, that most believe that with freedom and opportunity, they can change their governments and their destinies in ways that are non-violent, and these changes would result from the expression of their unique personalities, and worldviews as individuals, and also as a people who believe in Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (saws).
Those who promote democratization in the Muslim world are also, without doubt pursuing freedom, what they are not pursuing is freedom as we understand it from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and this is what holds many Muslims back from supporting democracy as a cure-all for what is ailing their societies, along with a growing belief that the democracy being offered to them as Muslims, is not the same democracy once enjoyed in the West. It stands to reason that if the global powers are busy decreasing freedoms and liberty, and increasingly eliminating individual rights in the West, that they are not interested in establishing democracy in the Muslim world, unless the democracy planned for the Muslim world is something quite different than what many once imagined.
Minorities living in the Muslim world are also sure to be reluctant to embrace a system where they are considered minorities, even though one of the primary features touted by democracy activists is the creation of minority rights, protected by a social contract or constitution. If non-Muslims understood what modern Islamic political structures would offer them in a Muslim society, they would, even though they are not Muslims, likely choose the Islamic system over democratization. Unfortunately people may not know the real differences between Islamic politics and democratization, and there is a reason for that. Seldom, if ever do we read comparisons between democratization and Islamization that are honest. The West has described and defined Islamic politics as negative, and as fascism and totalitarianism, to the extent that even Muslims now embrace these false characterizations, and limit themselves in respect to acceptable reforms, to those that are called democratic. They reject almost completely the term, Islamic government, just as they reject the idea of secular government, which is what democracy is, and must be. So great is their repulsion to the words “Islamic government,” that rather than to say Islamic government, the people say they want governments that are structured to conform to the teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah, and laws that conform to the Sharia, which is exactly what an Islamic government seeks to achieve, and exactly what democracy seeks to prevent.
Islamic politics; A Qur’anic View
As a Muslim American, it is sometimes difficult for me to understand completely what many of the secular political activists and analyst who are indigenous to the Muslim world are saying when they promote democracy, and this is especially true when they promote democracy as an alternative to Islamic government in predominately Muslim societies. Previously, when I used to use the words democracy, and democratization, it was to convey the idea of representative, electoral politics as a first step in a larger process of political development. I no longer use either of these words to describe needed reforms in the Muslim world. This is because it has been shown that the powers in the West which are controlling and holding back political development in the Muslim world, are not interested at all in truly representative electoral politics being established there, while such processes are essential to any democratic process, or system of government.
The situations in Algeria, Palestine, and Somalia are clear examples of the lack of interest or desire for real democracy in the Muslim world. In all three of these countries Islamists were elected to power through democratic processes, resulting in the cancellation of the results, and long periods of intense government violence and other measures aimed at wiping out Islamists and their constituencies, and also to kill the democratic impulse and desire for voting among the people. Is this an example of a lack of democracy being a problem, or a lack of freedom?
There is a very strong possibility, that just as the people of the Muslim world have no idea about what Islamic government really is, the Muslim pundits, analysts and activists who are promoting democracy in the Muslim world, may not know what democracy really is, and even worse, they may not have figured out yet that it’s not democracy as it was known in the past in places like France, that is being offered to the Muslim world by the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration, and others in the US and Europe. The US has never been a democracy, and it is not likely that it will ever become a democracy in any real sense. In fact the US is more likely to become a stronger Republic, with a greater emphasis on religious faith and freedom, than previously. So while Muslim democrats are pushing for secular democracies in the Muslim world, US political reformists are agitating for less secular societies that are guided by morals principles, and Judeo-Christian laws. These same powers, the US and France along with Germany and England are also the strongest voices calling for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish Only country, rather than a secular Zionist country, which is what its founder Theodore Hertzl had envisioned. Ironically, as the West is loosing its affection for secular liberal democracy, and in some instances out right rejecting this form of political structuring along with its idealism, and objectives, Muslim democrats are prescribing it as a panacea for the Muslim world.
Islamic government is distinguished from democracy in many important ways. One does not have to mount a rhetorical attack against democracy to illustrate the greater compatibility of Islamic government with Muslim people in Muslim societies. The Qur’an makes many comparisons for us that should be referred to, even in political discussions, since Qur’an is one of the primary sources from which the concept of Islamic government is derived.
Perhaps the first reference in the Qur’an, to Muslims as a unique civilization, distinguished from previously established civilizations by belief rather than race, or ancestry, is found in chapter 2, verses142-143, where it says: “ The fools among the people will say “What has turned them from the Qibla to which they had become accustomed?” Say, “ To God belong the East and the West.” He guides whom He will to a way that is right. Thus have we made you an Ummat (community, society, civilization) justly balanced that you might be witnesses to the nations, and the prophet a witness over you.”
These verses seem to imply that a new community was being formed under the guidance of the prophet Muhammad that would be different, even from the religious communities that had sprung up around other monotheist prophets, which would be the Jewish and Christian communities. The Qibla is the direction to which Muslims turn to pray. For a time, Muslims turned towards Jerusalem to make their communal prayers. They also turned in that direction when praying separately, yet for the purpose of this discussion we are interested only in the communal rites, their meanings, and implications. During that time, the Christians and Jews also held Jerusalem as a sacred place, and so Jerusalem was a symbol of unity among the monotheist sects, since they all followed monotheist prophets who spoke of a continuous line of prophet hood and revelation.
The prophet Muhammad (saws) and his followers had fled religious persecution in Mecca, and relocated to Medina after a brief migration to Abyssinia. It was there that the prophet Muhammad established the first monotheist society. It was a society that was organized and protected by laws shaped by the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, which Muslims believe consists of divinely revealed guidance and commands from God, and not Muhammad. One of the most unique, yet seldom talked about characteristics of this Medina community, is that it was a community consisting of Muslims and non Muslim Christians and Jews of various races. It was neither a racially, or religiously homogeneous community. It was a monotheist community that included people and tribes representing the three primary branches of monotheism. Through mutual agreement to a document crafted by the prophet Muhammad, and agreed upon by all of the tribes of Medina, called the Covenant of Medina, the various tribes organized themselves to protect and to finance the new community. This fact should dispel the idea that Islamic government is a government that is only capable of meeting the needs of Muslims, and that non-Muslims would be second-class, or lower in such societies. It should also dispel the wrong idea that non-Muslim minorities in societies governed by Islamic governments have no rights, or that they would be abused, or mistreated. They all pledged as equals to fight in defense of Medina, and to contribute to communal fund to cover the cost for commonly required services.
The verses of Qur’an go on to say that the direction, or redirection of the focus for prayer has nothing to do with God’s location. Using East and West to symbolize the entire world, the Qur’an says here that God is the owner of the entire world, so we are not to misunderstand the change of Qibla to mean that there are different Gods being worshipped by Muslims, Jews and Christians, but rather we are to understand that the people of the monotheist faiths are all worshipping the same God, no matter where they are, or in which direction they turn to pray. The last verse presented here, verse 143 then completes this transition saying, “Thus have we made of you an Ummat (Islamic civilization) justly balanced,” which can be a reference to the diversity present in the community. It could also be a reference to the Islamic law that would be birthed in this first monotheist society. The laws would be just and balanced, with an eye towards justice and fairness as its main ideological objectives. Of course, this one sentence could also mean both of these things, which is likely. The verse concludes saying, “That you might be witnesses to the nations, and the prophet a witness over you.” How appropriate for a diverse monotheist community to be deemed not only justly balanced, but also an example to the nations. Justice cannot be demonstrated in societies that are racially homogenous, and where everyone is the same economically, or the same color, etc. Justice finds its great challenges in societies that are diverse, since this is where justice takes on the complex qualities that strengthen its capacity to attain and to sustain peace and order, the most important of these qualities being fairness.
There are many verses of the Qur’an that if studied by any sincere person, would make it clear that Islam is not fascism, and that Islamic governments are not fascists’ governments. The various verses of Qur’an also make it clear that women are not less than men and share equal human rights, and some special rights aimed at protecting our femininity, and also our rights to enjoy motherhood without the economic pressures to provide for children financially, unless we desire to do so. Islam also protects our rights to earn money, and to spend or save money as we choose.
If a true and honest contemporary examination of Qur’an in respect to Islamic government was ever conducted, there would be no way for democratization activists to ever say that democracy, which in its most basic form is majority rule, is a superior system to the Islamic government, which is blind to color, class, race, and religion, and emphasizes instead justice and equitable treatment for all people. Add to this the already established Islamic culture, and there is no argument that can be made suggesting that Islamic government represents a form of government that is not compatible with the cultures of the people of that region of the world, whether they are Christians, Muslims or Jews. Whereas in a democracy, majority rule is compulsory, nothing is compulsory in Islam for non-Muslims, and very little is compulsory in respect to choice for Muslims either. The Qur’an says that only on those issues that have already been clearly determined by God, or the prophet Muhammad (saws) can there be no individual, or personal opinion, yet that does not mean that there are any compulsory acts, keeping in mind that compulsory is not the same as obligatory.
For the sake of brevity I will not go beyond this simple and brief demonstration of how grossly Western scholars and pundits have purposefully distorted Islamic politics, and how naïve Muslim democratization activists may be when they discount, and discard Islamic government as a very real and reasonable catalyst for reform in the Muslim world.
In election after election in the Muslim world, the Islamists parties win. The new tactic of the Western powers is to divide the Muslim countries that they cannot dominate naturally with pro-West democratic majorities, thereby creating false majorities in districts, or areas constructed through violent separation, and oppression of Islamists groups and constituencies. They pit the two newly separated areas, one against the other to vie for power, while they provide arms and cash to the ones that promote the Western agenda and that reject the Islamic political agenda, which is basic outside of the unique regional and cultural qualities that it takes on from Muslim country to country, region to region. They oppress, marginalize and even violently attack the Islamists contenders and their constituencies, while they simultaneously call Islamists names like fascists, and terrorists. It is perhaps the most hypocritical and criminal strategy ever employed against the Muslim world, other than Ata Turks secularization of Turkey.
In closing I would like to say something briefly about the freedom deficit in the Muslim world. Muslims are deprived the basic freedoms in their countries that most of the rest of the world enjoys. This is because the US and other Western countries cannot win the hearts and minds of a people that they have acted against as violently and brutally as they have in the so-called war on terrorism. Never has Islam as a religion been so maligned and defamed, and Muslims themselves, killed, illegally detained, massacred, denied basic human rights, tortured and mocked. Since there is very little hope that large pro-Western majorities can be created in enough time for the Western powers to litter Muslim countries with military bases, and for Western corporations to exploit our women and children as cheap labor, they must support totalitarian dictatorships to oppress and to deny basic freedoms, and rights to self-determination. This is also why there must be foreign occupations, to provide these dictators the incentives they need to do the jobs they are paid to do, which is to deprive Muslims of inalienable rights, property ownership, ownership of the means of production, and natural resources. These occupations guarantee that the loyalties of national armies to their people, or governments will not pose a threat to the occupiers overall plan, which is to dominate and to exploit, and never to democratize.
The only way to close this freedom deficit that cripples the Muslim world is for Muslims to liberate themselves from these situations, preferably in ways that non-violent. The answer is not for Muslims to war against one another for non-existent power, unless it becomes necessary for the entire Ummat to call a renegade group, or country into compliance with Islamic law. It is also prohibted for Muslims to act as proxies for non-Muslims against Muslim countries, peoples, interests, etc.
In Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, he writes masterfully on the strategy that was employed by the secularists of the time to bring about the revolution. First they pitted the Church against the monarchy, both struggling against the other for greater wealth and power, while the secularists, empowered by the paralysis of the two larger powers, fomented a revolution that led to the demise of both the church and the monarchy, and France has been a secular liberal, or socialist democracy every since. There is nothing innately evil in that, especially if you are a secular socialist liberal democrat. My point is that this strategy may still be at work today, fomenting violent revolutions throughout the Muslim world that will create secular liberal democracies where there should be, according to the sentiments of the people, Islamic governments.