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Lecture 7

The Rise of “Muslim Democracy” by Vali Nasr (Lecture 7: Religion and Politics - July 25)

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Political Science
Antoinette Handley

Lecture 7: Religion and Politics (July 25) The Rise of “Muslim Democracy” Vali Nasr Muslim Democrats • View political life with a pragmatic eye. • Reject or at least discount the classic Islamist claim that Islam commands the pursuit of a shari‘a state • Their main goal tends to be the more mundane one of crafting viable electoral platforms and stable governing coalitions to serve individual and collective interests within a democratic arena. Islamists view democracy not as something deeply legitimate, but at best as a tool or tactic that may be useful in gaining the power to build an Islamic state. Muslim Democrats on the other hand, do not seek to enshrine Islam in politics, though they do wish to harness its potential to help them win votes. The rise of Muslim Democracy has resulted in traditional Muslim vales being integrated into political platforms designed to win regular democratic elections. As a result of this Muslim majority countries tend to dominate all other political parties. In these Muslim societies, the “vital center” of politics is likely to belong neither to secularist and leftist parties nor to Islamists. Political parties that integrate Muslim values and moderate Islamic politics into broader right-of- center platforms that go beyond exclusively religious concerns will rule the strategic middle. This can appeal to a broad cross section of voters and create a stable ground between religious and secular politics. Muslim Democrats can begin from an Islamist point of departure, but may also form from non- religious parties. Eg. Military run organizations Muslim Democracy rests not on an abstract, carefully thought-out theological and ideological accommodation between Islam and democracy, but rather on a practical synthesis that is emerging in much of the Muslim world in response to the opportunities and demands created by the ballot box. Muslim democracy somewhat resembles Christian democracy. Liberalism and Consolidation The depth of commitment to liberal and secular values that democratic consolidation requires is a condition for Muslim Democracy’s final success. As was the case with Christian Democracy in Europe, it is the imperative of competition inherent in democracy that will transform the unsecular tendencies of Muslim Democracy into a long-term commitment to democratic values. Muslim Democrats are in the streets looking for votes and in the process are changing Islam’s relation to politics. The rise of Muslim Democracy suggests that political change will come before religious change. Islamist ideology, which has dominated political debates calls for the creation of a utopian Islamic state that notionally vests all sovereignty in God. This call is based on a narrow interpretation of Islamic law, and promotes an illiberal, authoritarian politics that leaves little room for civil liberties, cultural pluralism, the rights of women and minorities, and democracy. The Islamist surge since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has led many to argue that well-organized and determined Islamists will use democratic reforms in Muslim-majority societies to seize power (probably through one-time elections) and impose theocracy (priests ruling in the name of God). Democracy should therefore wait until liberalization via ideological and religious reform can blunt the Islamist threat. In each land, the Muslim Democratic experiment has proceeded more or less independently. • In Turkey and Malaysia, Muslim Democracy is a winning electoral formula that has yet to fully articulate a vision for governing. • In Indonesia, Muslim Democracy is less a platform and more a space wherein a number of parties are s
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