Islam and Democracy: Is Modernization a Barrier?
John O. Voll
Does religion represent an obstacle to modernization and democratization? Does religion pose a threat to democracy if a democratically elected government becomes a "theocracy"? Does the majority rule of democracy threaten the liberty and freedom of other members of a society? If the majority imposes its will on minorities, is that a departure from democracy in general or from "liberal" democracy? Does modernization strengthen or inhibit democratization and individual liberty? These broad questions are being debated in many different contexts around the world. They provide a framework for looking at the experience of Muslim societies and the relationships between Islam and democracy.
Tensions between democracy and liberty have deep historical roots and are presently visible around the world. The rise of what Fareed Zakaria calls "illiberal democracy" is an important product of these tensions.1 "It appears that many countries are adopting a form of government that mixes a substantial degree of democracy with a good deal of illiberalism "restriction of individual liberties"."? Religion can play a role in defining and imposing this "illiberalism." These developments occur within a global context shaped by the interaction between local politics and the policies of the United States. "Countries are often deciding how best to move along the path to democracy. And the United States is constantly formulating policies to deal with countries as they move—or slip—along that path."? This provides an important framework for studying the case of the Muslim world, since "nowhere are these tough choices between order and instability, liberalism and democracy, and secularism and religious radicalism more stark" than in the Muslim world today.4
Major tensions within societies and in international relations are created by different understandings of the threats and possibilities of democratic participation by religious movements. Many leaders and policy makers who support