The trouble is that political Islam seeks to impose personal restraint as part of a social contract that turns the action of restraint into a means of political coercion with disastrous results for the citizenry
October 17, 2005
In response to what can only be described as Lawrence Reza Ershaghi's highly fallacious assertions in "Islam vs. Democracy", I thought that silence in face of these non-arguments is tantamount to betrayal of our future.
The gist of the argument is that Islam is such potent and coherent religion/philosophy that far from being challenged by the tenets of Secular Democracy, it poses a serious challenge to Democracy itself. It does so by virtue of the fact that it provides a value based Totality that can enrich the spiritual vacuum otherwise left behind by Secularism. Indeed the author claims and I quote: 'the absence of permanent values leads to hedonism, making pleasure the greatest attainable good. And we see this today in America, freedom translates to the glorification of satisfying one's carnal desires'.
Later on the author submits that: 'Thus, freedom becomes the freedom to pursue self-destructive tendencies'.
In my view there are several fallacies with this argument:
Firstly, the very same religious dogma that has bedevilled the Islamic and medieval Christian civilisations is also the same dogma that when caste aside (as at the dawn of Renaissance and Reformation) has enabled man to pursue such high ideals as Modern Art and Science. In other words the questioning of religious values has proved to be liberating and enlightening. Individualism has fostered the spiritually satisfying notion of man being the author of his own destiny. This is an enfranchising and empowering nay life enhancing cultural attitude.
What may appear as vice (Carnal Desires) are just one inevitable aspect of this liberation. No action is without consequences. At any rate the pleasures of the flesh have inspired great works of art and must not be shun. Would it be better to stigmatise the pleasures of the flesh and drive these underground as happens in Iran? And to what benefit? So that the non-permissive society pretends that just because these pleasures of the flesh are conspicuous by their absence they do not exist! Making hypocrites of all of us is the past time of Islam.
There is perhaps a case for self-restraint. The trouble is that political Islam seeks to impose that restraint as part of a social contract that turns the action of restraint into a means of political coercion with disastrous results for the citizenry. Don't take my word for it, look at the disastrous results of this in Iran today. Look at the disastrous results of this any where political Islam has sought to promote personal restraint by law. The result has been state coercion and the slaying and torture not to say slaughter of innocents.
Secondly individuals have choices; they have a choice to seek pleasures in the flesh as in the mind or for that matter the spirit. Lumbering them with religious guilt and duty is not going to alter their desires or choices. Removing that choice will render people dysfunctional, flawed, depraved and frustrated. None of this is healthy as the author's perception is likely to encourage.
Thirdly one of the choices that Secular Democratic societies render is that of Gnostic religious belief. What is more it allows the freedom of belief. Who is to say that the religious values espoused by the Bahaais in Iran who are persecuted by the Islamic religion is suspect? Yet they are persecuted precisely because the Islamic regime in Iran is a vile theocracy.
The author comes up with some incredible assertions: 'The Holy Quran not only denounces tyrants, but it also denounces those who follow tyrants and obey their orders. This is exactly why Imam Hussein rose up against the tyrant Yazid in Karbala. It was for the ideal of justice, which is the supreme purpose of model human governance that he rose up. Imam Ali used to say the one who submits to oppression is worse than the oppressor'.
Actually the question of Hussein and Yazid have to be sought in the power struggles that bedevilled Islam in the aftermath of Ali's standoff with Abubakre over the Caliphate. It has absolutely nothing to do with notions of justice seeking in Quran. At best it is a petty feud at worst a clash of egos. It has become the staff of petty contention between the Shiites and Sunnis and has done nothing other than muddying the waters. Fact is that the Yazidi cult of Sunnis revere Yazid. So who is right in all this? The Shias who are Anti-Yazid and Muslim? Or the Sunni-Yazidis who are also Muslim?
More generally what is written in the Quran is interpreted by fallible individuals. Else one can look at any societies run on the basis of Sharia law to find how unjust and inequitable they are. Saudi Arabia and Iran are notable examples. Quite honestly for any one to argue that Secular Democracy is being seriously challenged by Islam when empirical models of both exist, and in which the latter has proved to be an abject failure, must have his perception seriously reappraised.
Quite incredibly the author argues that at any rate all talks of Democracy in the region is a symptom of Western arrogance and hypocrisy. He says and I quote: '[Secular Democracy is] an agenda set by the West for its own interests'. He later on says: 'But occupations will never lead to democracy. If democracy is a prerequisite for the flourishing of freedom, I can't help to disbelieve this, because America is relatively the "freest" country in the world, yet its people are the most brainwashed'.
To round off his observation, which is the result of what can only be described as a deluded mind, he furnishes: 'Moreover, let us recall that in Bosnia it was democracy which legitimized the worst war crimes in Europe since the Nazis. This Islamophobic trend in the West was deepened after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its enemies have made no secret of "trying to extinguish the light of Allah."
It is amazing that a set of rather incoherent arguments are stitched together in this way on so much false premise and misconception of events. The following points ought to guide (hopefully) the observer to tone down his tirade and look at facts with a more discerning eye:
Firstly, occupations have in some stark circumstances led to democracies before; indeed after World War II Germany and Japan (one a fascist dictatorship and another a militarist Monarchy albeit a constitutional one) were both occupied by the USA and both became liberal democracies. True enough both may have had a democratic tradition but these democratic traditions could only be built upon once those countries were occupied. In their former sovereign state those Democratic traditions were not undermined.
Secondly, it is rather rich to accept the argument that the American public are brainwashed (by corporate media?!?) from some one who espouses an Islamic order in which 'cultish' behaviour and fanaticism are important hallmarks.
Thirdly, Democracy did not legitimise massacres in Bosnia. Bosnia was part of the old Yugoslavia which was stitched together after the decline of the Ottoman empire. The dormant ethnic tensions and rivalries were centuries old and had only been partially contained (and therefore exasperated) by a totalitarian Communist psuedo-federalism under Tito. Which destructive psuedo ˆfederalism has borne dire consequences to this day. I would have thought that a modicum of respect for historical facts would not have gone amiss.
Fourthly, this Islamic Revolution as the author calls it is also the Revolution whose children (inclusive of some of its former apparatchiks like the brave Mr Ganji) now regard as one of the biggest calamities to befall Iran. If this is what is known as the 'light of Allah' then quite frankly the sooner it is extinguished and Democratic secularism declared the better for all.
Again more generally the disregard for facts by this author is astounding: 'What's interesting is that the United States itself propped these regimes in the Middle East and now uses them to accuse Islam of incompatibility with democracy'.
The author tends to forget that apart from the possible exception of Saudi Arabia (one of the most backward countries in the world to this day) and Zia-Ul-Haq's Pakistan all the pro-Western states of the Mid-East have actually been highly secular. Indeed some of the biggest opponents of the US like Iran and Libya have been Islamic or quasi-Islamic. There has not been a conscious effort on the part of the US to foist Islam on any body.
In fact it is the inherent backwardness of these societies that has always resorted to Islam to undermine the Nation-State in what ever form. The US tolerance of the Taliban was only partially secured through diplomatic pressure by the Pakistanis and Saudis in the Mid-90s for logistical reasons (principally the passage of Gas pipes through Pakistan and Afghanistan). Had the region not been cursed by the odious demon of the Islamic Republic of Iran it would have been inconceivable that the US would have succumbed to such pressures.
The author goes on: 'If democracy is a prereq for success, Cuba defies this'.
May be the author would like to persuade the hundreds of thousands of Cubans- who would take the first plane out to Miami if given half a chance- that Cuba is a success. I trust that he has actually lived there and he knows what it is like living in this success. I trust that he is not simply writing in the comfort of some Liberal Democracy in the West whose abysmal failure has nevertheless afforded him the liberty to criticise it so.
Still Cuba which the author so admires is actually and interestingly governed by a highly secular and atheistic dictator whose only common point with the Hizbollahis of Iran is the length of his beard and the state of his hygiene (apart from his abject brutality and dictatorial tendencies masquerading as anti-Imperialism).
Then again he writes: 'In Turkey, secularism is apparently more important than democracy, when the army must intervene on behalf of the state to cancel Islamist parties' electoral victory', what he forgets is that in the very last elections in Turkey an Islamist government swept to power. The same party has now accepted secularism after years of admonishing it and if it secures enough votes it will sweep to power again.
In short the author has been badly briefed.