Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Democracy and Secularism

I was very annoyed when I learned that in a recent poll, 83% of respondents considered Secularist extremism a bigger danger to democracy than Islamic extremism.

I am not very surprised by the results, because as I watched the AL-Jazeera TV show in which the poll was discussed, I discovered that there is a lot of confusion regarding what Secularism is really about. The confusion was apparent throughout the discussion by both guests, one of which was a "secularist thinker" based in the middle east and the other was a "Muslim fundamentalist" based in London.

The confusion largely arose from mixing the concept of Atheism with Secularism. Because of this mix-up of concepts, the Muslim fundamentalist kept accusing the other guy of being an apostate and kept "giving" him chances to repent and go back to Islam.

While many atheists are Secularist, there are many instances were Secularism does not mean Atheism; "believers can be, indeed have often been, enthusiastic supporters of secularism as a political principle, while remaining firm religious believers."

Let me give one small example, very close here at home, my mother who prays 5 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year does not support anything resembling the Saudi regime and it's version of an Islamic state. She thinks, that it is the wrong version of Isalm and prefers the milder and more secular version we have here in Jordan. This view is not limited to my mother, and is shared by many people who consider themselves religious, while at the same time not supporting a Saudi style Islamic state.

As for my interpretation of the poll results, I think the respondents' idea of "secularist extremism" is based on what they currently have for governments, i.e. mainly "Secular" Dictatorships. And considering the fact that most of the respondents are not happy with the existing Arab regimes, it makes a lot of sense that they would prefer the alternative, which in this case is "Islamic extremism."

An Islamic Dictatorship is as bad as a secular one. The main problem here is not in Secularism. The fact that Dictatorships in the Arab world happen to be Secular is only incidentals. How do we know this? We know this because the "real" democracies in the world are more secular leaning. So we can conclude that the problem is mostly with dictatorship and not with "Secularism;" Secularism is not an enemy of Democracy.

I know it gets good viewership ratings when Al-Jazeera has a show with the title "Isalmic extremism vs. Secular extremism, which one is hurting democracy?" but things are not as simple as that, it is not an either/or kind of thing. One shoe does not fit all; individual Arab states, might have some success with various degrees of hybridization. Having semi-secular and Semi-Islamic implementations.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article. I would love to follow you on twitter.

9:31 AM  

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