Modernization, Democracy, and Islam

By Shireen T. Hunter; Huma Malik | Go to book overview

13
Arab Liberal Legacies Full Circle

Saad Eddin Ibrahim

Since the events of September 11, 2001, the Arab world has become a battlefield for armed conflicts of all kinds: civil strife, interstate wars, and the war on terrorism. The United States and, to a lesser extent, other Western coalition partners added spreading "democracy" to the list of objectives of their military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. This, in turn, has triggered a heated debate among social scientists, politicians, and laymen in the Arab world, revolving around the question, can democracy be imposed by force from the outside? The examples of post-World War II Japan and Germany are often cited by those who favor the introduction of democratic governance by all means to countries long ruled by autocratic regimes. Others have argued that there is an Arab or Middle East "exceptionalism"; in other words, methods applied elsewhere do not necessarily work in this region. A multitude of historical, cultural, religious, and structural factors are believed to underline such exceptionalism. Leading U.S. policy makers have recently challenged this exceptionalism. In a November 6, 2003, speech, President George W Bush stated:

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today,
and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the
Middle East—countries of great strategic importance—democracy has not yet taken root.
And the questions arise: are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach
of liberty…. Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhos-
pitable to the representative government. This "cultural condescension," as Ronald Rea-
gan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so called Japan
expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would "never work." Another ob-
server declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote,
"most uncertain at best"—he made that claim in 1957. … It should be clear to all that
Islam—the faith of one-fifth of humanity—is consistent with democratic rule.…More

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