Islam and democracy

Philippe d’Iribarne, Etudes, 2015/4 (April).

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As can be seen in Indonesia, Turkey, and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and at one time in Kemalist Turkey, Islam and democracy are not necessarily incompatible with one another. It is clear however that in the majority of Muslim countries, democracy and human rights are by no means the rule. “But is Islam the cause?” asks the author. First, he highlights a misconception often expressed during the “Arab spring.” These revolts of the “people as a body” were compatible with Islam, in which the “idea of community (umma) opinion is very important,” but the Arab spring did not demonstrate “the Western sacralization of suffrage, according to which a properly elected power remains legitimate until the end of its mandate if it loses its popularity.” Furthermore, in Islam, “giving power to the people as a body by no means involves recognizing the right of each individual to follow his or her own path.” For example, under Islamic law in many countries, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. And when Islamists—“even those said to be moderate”—come to power through elections, as was recently the case in Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey, they implement “a vision of democracy in which the majority can legitimately impose its will on those who disagree.” Then the author examines the text of the Qu’ran, and concludes that in this work, “intelligence consists entirely of the ability to yield to the proofs that are received, and in no way to attempt a critical approach.” No Muslim philosopher, in his view, has “repudiated the ethos of the Qu’ran.” The Christian world has of course sometimes succumbed to dogmatic blindness, but unlike in Islam, “the sense of darkness in worldly existence, from the difficulty of finding the right path through it, to recognition of the inevitable role of doubt in life, is part of Christianity’s founding principles.” Endly, the author turns to “Western Muslims,” and is struck by the predominance of “strict community scrutiny” and by their ability to exploit the tools of democratic society to reinforce the right to display their “ways of life.” He sees Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, as the exception that proves this rule. Attempts to reform Islam, d’Iribarne concludes, “involve too much of a head-on collision between the hunger for certainty and the distrust of critical debate” to have a significant impact. This “in no way prevents a growing number of Muslims from being strongly committed to freedom of thought and human rights.”

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