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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

4/25/2004

A Gimlet Eye

It is after staring at such hard truths, and many like them, for a long time, that one concludes Islam and democracy are incompatible. Moreover, where democracy has been successfully introduced into an Islamic culture -- the one clear example is Ataturk's creation of modern Turkey -- it could be done only by directly attacking and suppressing all public expressions of Islamic authority. In other words, Turkey could only be democratized by being simultaneously de-Islamicized.
david warren
David Warren is, perhaps, drawing rather a long bow. Not because his reading of Islam is wrong; rather because it assumes a level of zealotry which is arguable.

The entire history of the West, particularily British Constitutional history, has been a slow evolution away from the unity of the Christian Church and State. But, realistically, it took - depending on how you count - about 500 years.

Warren rightly points out that this evolution had its roots in Scripture and that the Christian tradition underwrote the drive towards the Enlightenment. But what also happened, and this was critical, was the Reformation. Basically the division of the Christian world into hemispheres one of which followed doctrine which gave supreme authority to the Pope, the other of which rejected Papal authority. While the Anabaptists loudly proclaimed the end of heirarchy, Lutherens, Anglicans and a host of other Protestant sects, asserted their right to differ.

In his article Warren dispairs of the Islamic world ability to embrace demoracy because,
Whereas the whole idea of the Sharia, universal in Islam, runs counter to the notion that human beings can vote to determine anything of importance. God -- Allah -- has decreed the right structure for society from the beginning of time. Ours is to live exclusively by the light of his Koran, which specifies an entire social order, both civil and religious, in remarkable detail.
david warren
Much the same can be said of the Christian's reliance on the Old and New Testaments as the rules for the Kingdom of God. You really can't get much more specific than Leviticus. The old joke about the Baptists being down on sex because it might lead to dancing captures the flavour of the Christian zealots who, to this day, try to impose their religious views by power of law.

At some point, and I would argue this point was no more than a century ago, Christianity was transformed into a religion of personal salvation. It was a transformation, much decried by fundamentalists and tradionalists alike, which recognized that the State could no longer be used to "supress vice and promote virtue". And that recognition came about because Christians could no longer take seriously the idea that anyone who was not of their faith, or their particular sect, was automatically going straight to Hell.

Now, it is quite possible to argue that this moment represented the end of Western Civilization; but it is equally possible to pinpoint it as the beginning of the modern world in which faith is exclusively personal and the public square is left to public rather than personal business.

This is a transformation which is independent of democracy and of Christianity- after all, democracy is simply a way of deciding public issues and which issues are public - it took place just as profoundly in the totalitarian, officially atheistic nations behind the Iron Curtain. Most importantly, it does not threaten Christianity or Islam or your right to dance.

The only pre-requisites for the transformation is an express recognition of the individual as the social unit and the willingness of a society to grant each individual the maximum possible privacy. And note, that is privacy, not liberty. Privacy is the absence of interference, liberty is the presence of freedom. The two are not unrelated, but privacy is more important to the invention of the modern world.

Much of the Islamic world, and we would do well to remember that India has the third largest Moslem population in the world, is torn between the zealotry of the Wahhabi heritics and the much more relaxed, materialist, secular longings of a rising Muslim middle class. For the moment, the zealots are making the running simply because they are acutely aware that the current struggles in the Islamic world will leave them at the margins.

Powerful people, people with wide, deep, popular support do not use suicide bombers and hostage taking as political tools. They don't need to. But, as power, as the Caliphate, is swallowed into the ever expanding maw of individual privacy, mad mullahs and annoyed Ayatollah will toss fatwas and teenagers into the battle against the modern world. And they will lose.

Not because the Koran is wrong or that Sharia is as barbaric as Liviticus; rather because not one of those traditions contemplated the possibility that I might write this piece and publish it without ever once having to ask permission. To bring about Sharia, al-Qaeda has had to use the internet, satellite phones, jet airplanes, rocket propelled grenades, C-4 vests and nitrate explosives. The achieve its ends it has had to embrace their destruction. The future is knocking at every door in Islam. Satellite dishes can pick up more than Al-Jazzera. Computers can do more than provide Fatwas online.

When 9/11 brought the Western worrywarts out in force to ask, "Why do they hate us?" and "Why this, why now?" it was very rare to hear anyone suggest that this was the last gasp of a dying splinter movement in a civilization which is being relentlessly, and successfully, seduced by the future.