Can Islam Accommodate Democracy Or Democracy Accommodate Islam? by Benjamin Barber is one of the offerings this weekend from Arts & Letters Daily. Barber was known to me mostly for his 1995 book Jihad vs McWorld, of which you may form some idea from this 1992 Atlantic Monthly essay of the same name, which I read at the time. Subsequent events have made it more relevant.
The picture on the left and the quotation on the right below are from Barber’s site, linked at his name above.
The essay from A&L is a paper presented by the author at the Istanbul Seminars organized by Reset Dialogues on Civilizations in Istanbul from June 2nd to the 6th 2008.
There is a powerful rhetoric around today that claims Islam – not just fundamentalist or Wahhabist or Safalist Islam, but Islam itself is a religion hostile to democracy. Hostile not only to liberty, pluralism and the open society, but to modernity itself as it is defined by liberal values. The attitude evident in Samuel Huntington’s discredited notion of a “clash of civilizations” in which the West and the rest are locked in a struggle for survival, so foreign to discussions like our here in Istanbul, in fact remains ubiquitous in Western politics and media.
It is found not only in Bush’s zealous conduct of a disastrous war on the “axis of evil,” or Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion that Islamic fundamentalism is a “new form of fascism;” or in right wing paranoiac events like David Horowitz’s “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” but is reflected also in writings of liberals like Paul Berman who talk about how the West is “beset with terrorists from the Muslim totalitarian movements who have already killed an astounding number of people;” or in scholars like Bernard Lewis who announce in hushed tones of sympathy that “the world of Islam has become poor, weak and ignorant;” or in Muslim apostates like Ali Hirsi who combine a seemingly liberal appeal to feminist values with a total rejection of not just fundamentalism but Islam itself.
These arguments may in their polemical zealotry beyond rational rebuttal, but Professor Habermas would I think prefer that they be rationally confronted and refuted. That is certainly my view if we wish to get on with the difficult work of crafting democracy in societies that take religion seriously – nearly all societies. I want to offer six straightforward arguments, some historical, some sociological, and some philosophical – all reasonable and commonsensical in the broader sense of rational – that suggest why it is absurd to think that Islam cannot accommodate democracy or that democracy cannot accommodate Islam…
It would require a separate essay to suggest how deeply perverse the typical American understanding of democratization is when it comes to “helping” others achieve liberty.
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