Egypt may yet have a democracy, but will it be liberal democracy — that is, democracy that includes free markets, free speech, freedom of religion, and the rule of law? Highly doubtful. So many Americans assume — because our civil catechism tells us so — that liberal democracy is the natural state of humankind. Robert Merry says we are so in thrall to our own ideology (even Western secularism is derived from a Christian worldview) that we don’t see the Islamic world as it is. Excerpt:
The essential problem with all this is that it is grounded in ignorance. Americans can’t fathom the power of the Islamic idea that there is no spiritual “I,” but only a spiritual “We” that has entered into the quickened body as a reflection of the divine light. The Arabic word for this, as Oswald Spengler points out, is Islam—submission. He adds that the Western religious sacrament of contrition “presupposes the strong and free will that can overcome itself. But it is precisely the impossibility of an Ego as a free power in the face of the divine that constitutes ‘Islam.’” He explains that the Islamic prime sacrament is Grace, which knows no such thing as free will.
As Islam emerged in the seventh century, the consensus of the community became by definition infallible. As Muhammad put it, “My people can never agree in an error.” This concept of an infallible community consensus lies at the heart of two fundamental Islamic religious ideas—first, that the individual is meaningless outside this infallible consensus and, second, that government and religion remain inseparable. Those ideas were incorporated into Islam in the seventh century and remain to this day bedrock maxims of Islamic thought—and powerful doctrinal impediments to the democratic impulse.
Americans know that a central tenet of Islam is an absolute conviction that government and religion are intertwined as one. But they can’t bring themselves to see that this perception is fundamental and embedded in the culture of the region. Nor can they see that this reality will always militate against the democratic impulses that inevitably spring up from time to time within the hopes and dreams of many people of the region.
It is possible, of course, that all this may change, but if so, it will change over a long period of time, and it will be a change that will have to happen organically. Sayyid Qutb, the radical ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood — check out what the Chicago Tribune reported the Brotherhood was up to in America — was not wrong to warn fellow Muslims that the ideology of the West was a deadly poison to Islam. Qutb understood that the more Muslims absorbed the habits of thinking of Westerners, the less authentically Muslim they would be.
Now, Qutb was a fanatic. But he was on to something. I would very much like the Islamic Middle East to adopt some of the more moderating ways of thinking of the West, especially religious tolerance. But it is simply true that the extent to which the Mideast moves toward liberal democracy is the degree to which it moves away from Islam as it has been traditionally understood. We should not be surprised when Arab Muslim peoples prefer to live according to what makes cultural sense to them.
The realist Merry again:
The story of Western civilization is in significant measure the story of the slow, inexorable ascent of liberal democracy. It is a grand story, full of civic tension, brutality, sacrifice, intellectual exploration, heroism and triumph. But this is not the story of Middle Eastern Islam, which emanates from a separate cultural etymology and distinct cultural sensibility.
Read Pat Buchanan today, on the same theme.