This very statement–that Islam is incompatible with democracy–is why I fight so hard with many of my friends on the Right: accepting that statement means we have to declare war on the entire Muslim world if we’re to hope for human freedom to survive.
To me it would be akin to, in World War II, declaring ourselves at war with “Germanic People,” “Latin People,” and “Southeast Asians.” Not Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan. No, we would have declared that we were at war with anyone of Germanic or Latin descent, and anyone who happened to be short, yellow, and slant-eyed (to put it rudely and crassly). ~Dean Esmay
Thanks to Paul Cella for picking up on Mr. Esmay’s post and writing a fine response to it, particularly the crucial observation at the end:
Human freedom’s survival, thank God, does not depend on the universalism of democracy.
To say that Islam and our sort of democracy are incompatible is simply to state the obvious. There are elected governments in Bangladesh, Turkey, Mali and Indonesia, all of which have large or majority Muslim populations, and Iran does go through the process, though heavily influenced by the clerics, of having elections for parliament and president; Muslims in India on the whole participate within the Indian political system. So it is conceivable to have some kind of democracy with Islam, but it is extremely doubtful that it would be our kind. ”Islamic democracy” would likely ultimately degenerate in one of two directions: an authoritarian Islamic populism, presaged by Ahmadinejad’s popularity among poor Iranians as the Hugo Chavez of the East, or a more plain rule of clerics and mujahideen. In the case of the latter, Muslim nations can have what I have sometimes thought of calling mass theocracy, which may even involve mechanisms of voting and formal constitutions, but in the end produces the religious rule you would expect. To the extent that there are success stories of compatibility, however, it is where the Islam is much less strict, much less doctrinaire and much less affected by the intense and fanatical hard-line of Wahhabism or Deobandism. So far Indonesia and Bangladesh have been reasonably successful because of this relatively milder form of Islam and, in Bangladesh’s case, the construction of a national identity based on language and ethnicity as opposed to the definition of Pakistan, of which it once was a part, which was and remains to this day Islam.
Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis
Obviously, freedom will survive in the rest of the world even if the Islamic world remains as it is, assuming two important things. First, this assumes that the rest of the world, or at least sizeable parts of it, is not going to be inundated with Muslim immigrants and that those countries that are receiving a large number of Muslim immigrants will take steps to slow or stop further immigration and compel greater integration. Second, this assumes the much more likely scenario where the Islamic world remains internally fragmented and fundamentally weak as a whole, regardless of whether outside forces do anything to facilitate that weakness. So the continued existence of freedom as we know it is not in jeopardy from insufficiently democratised Muslims; whether Islam is compatible with our sort of democracy would be beside the point even if it were compatible; writing off democratisation in no way obliges us to conflict with all Muslims, but on the contrary ensures that we will have fewer reasons to enter into conflict with them. Removing the ideological drive of democratising the Islamic world that has so motivated the current administration, we would be left with only political and strategic considerations to govern how we related to various Muslim powers. One could maintain pragmatic and even successful relations with many Muslim nations as and when they serve the national interest without stirring up the proverbial hornets’ nest with grandiose schemes to remodel entire regions. Mr. Esmay’s lament comes from a desire to recognise the value of Muslim allies and his conviction that many Americans do not recognise the value of these allies, but what he does not seem to consider is that we are by and large handicapping or undermining those allies with our democratist impulses when putting these impulses into action means dictating an all together foreign form of government that appears as hegemony and foreign interference in local affairs. If Mr. Esmay would like to facilitate better relations with the Muslims who will work with us, we really must drop the democratisation spiel, because it isn’t helping, it is empowering the worst elements in the Islamic world to the detriment of those who are willing to work with us and it continues to fill us with the delusion that we are fighting another ideological war akin to WWII (can allusions to fascism be far behind?) that has the same solution (replace bad regime type X with good regime type Y, stand back and watch Japanese/German ‘miracle’ repeat itself). Hence all of the entirely inapt WWII analogies in the quote cited above.
Of course Mr. Esmay opens himself up to a perfect Malkin retort when he starts talking about a generalised war with “Southeast Asians.” Besides the fact that Japanese people are not Southeast Asians, but rather Northeast Asians, Malkin would come back at him with her arguments for the internment of Japanese-Americans precisely on the assumption–unpalatable to quite a few today–that their national heritage would compromise their loyalty to the United States. How much more might one reasonably suppose that people who willingly and consciously accept a religion will be inclined to identify with their co-religionists and even put more stock by their religious identity than by the identity of the particular country in which they are living? (As it happens, I consider the internment policies one of the blacker marks of FDR’s black mark-filled administration, but I do at least appreciate the rationale of the argument that has been made on behalf of the policy, which was, of course, rubber-stamped by the Supreme Court after the war was over.) But even the internment policy was not part of a war against all Asians, and we were involved in war with the Japanese in no small part because we made the cause of Nationalist China our business (a bad, bad call promoted by Eastern Establishment interests with deep ties to the China trade, but there you have it), just as the focus on jihadis and their apologists and enablers, detailed very well by Paul, does not have to become a fight with all Muslims. We do not want such a fight; it is difficult to see how most Muslim peoples in the world would want one, either.
But I do not accept the parallels with WWII at all. Because even once WWII came to be defined as an ideological war (though it is worth noting that the stress on fighting for democracy was notably less in WWII than it had been in the first war, given the extreme disappointment with the aftermath of “making the world safe for democracy”) it was fought against specific nation-states and not against a decidedly diffuse, religiously-motivated force. The wars are not comparable in any meaningful way. If we are to better distinguish and understand the jihadi enemy, we must stop comparing this conflict to that one, convenient and familiar as it may be to do so. Consequently, we will be less inclined to treat the struggle as an ideological one and view it more coolly and rationally as a struggle with religious fanatics to be waged as any extended political and military conflict would be. We would begin by depriving them of causes around which they could rally, exploiting divisions between different kinds of jihadis and not, no matter what we do, falling for the trap of lumping them into an indistinguishable mass o’ Islamofascism. We would give up on democratisation in the recognition that it is jihad that motivates jihadis, not lack of freedom for Muslim peoples and not their hatred of freedom, which is by and large irrelevant and secondary, and, yes, this is aggravated by certain kinds of policies but is not created ex nihilo by those policies. We would stop pretending that they are all just like us, and we would stop being horrified that they are not just like us, because they were never going to be. We would calmly assess the potential for cooperation with Muslim states as and when it was necessary and advantageous, treat states that deal with us reasonably in a fair and just manner and consequently restrain urges to support unnecessary wars against Muslim nations that have little or nothing to do with our present predicament. At the same time we would make it clear that intimidation and harrassment of non-Muslims and dissident Muslims in our societies are not acceptable and do not constitute the exercise of Muslims’ rights, and attempts to impose Islamic norms on Western societies will be met more and more with laws regulating and supervising the mosques that serve as conduits for the poison that has seeped into Europe and America. Here at home we would do our utmost to blacklist and discredit organisations such as CAIR, which routinely shill and apologise for precisely the worst kinds of Muslims under the cloak of protecting the innocent, law-abiding Muslims, and we would work to make any politician’s association with or indulgence of CAIR and its propaganda unelectable. At the same time, we would do all that we could to severely restrict immigration from Muslim countries, and probably enforcing a moratorium on new arrivals until further notice. Several of these points would be controversial, and they are not an exhaustive list, but if Mr. Esmay would like to keep the conflict from widening and growing to include more and more of the Islamic world, which I agree would be tragic and senseless, then these are the proposals I would recommend that he consider.