Islamism and Democracy

Would Giving Islamists a Chance to Compete for Power in the Middle East Be a Good Thing?

Last Updated: 5-20-2006

Would it bring repressive, fanatical dictatorship?
Or undermine Islamism's raison d'etre? Some sound bite opinions of journalists and scholars.

Yes (Pro-Democracy)

"We've treated oil states as a big dumb gas station.... We tell them, `Just give us the oil and don't hurt Israel.... We don't care what you're saying in your newspapers or schools, or mosques...`
"But we have to care what they say .... [So we should support democracy in the oil states]
.... `But what if the fundamentalists get elected in Saudi Arabia?` I've been asked...
"I want them to pay retail for their radicalism....
Wahhabi fundamentalism is popular in Saudi now because they pay wholesale.
What do I mean?
I mean at they embrace anti-modernism, anti-Westernism in the mosque and enjoy all the benefits of modernism and the West outside it....
If Islamists get elected and cut off oil to the infidels they'll be no more trips to Disneyworld, Paris and London.... How long would Islamism last then?"
- Thomas Friedman, paraphrased from a speech broadcast Sept. 20, 2002)

"If countries do more to include the fundamentalists in the system, they will stop being seen as distant heroes and will be viewed instead as local politicians."
- Fareed Zakaria in Future of Liberty, Norton 2003, p.149

No (Pro-Repression)

"It has been remarked in more than one country that fundamentalists are popular because they are out of power and cannot be held responsible for the present troubles. If they acquired power, and with it responsibility, they would soon lose that popularity. But this would not matter to them, since once in power they would not need that popularity to stay there." In time they might "be transformed or overthrown, but by then they would have done immense, perhaps irreversible damage to the cause of freedom."
- Bernard Lewis in Atlantic Monthly, February 1993

Islamism - Should it be suppressed or accommodated?

Some comments on the more general question of whether Islamism should be suppressed or accommodated.


"As Islamic sentiment grows, the West has two stark alternatives ... press Muslim-dominated countries towards political pluralism and then accept the results," thus being "in a stronger position to hold new Islamic government accountable if they abuse or abandon democratic principles...," or "counter and contain movements by backing or aiding governments that repress them, ... such a policy could become as costly as fighting communism" it would be "demonizing a centuries-old faith."
- Robin Wright in "Islam, Democracy and the West," Foreign Affairs Summer 1992

[COMMENT: Why would "Islamic" governments give a sh*t about whether the West is "holding them accountable"? Their core message is that Westerners are waging a war against Islam. What would they worry about the approval of the enemy? As the murals says in Tehran: "On the day the U.S. will praise us, we will mourn." ( )

`Islamic fundamentalism is a fact of life ... History tells us you cannot kill an idea by repression. Ideas have to be killed by ideas.`
- Egyptian economist Said Naggar
(from: Passion for Islam : Shaping the Modern Middle East: the Egyptian Experience by Caryle Murphy, p.146)

[COMMENT: But is that true? As Fareed Zakaria, said Hitler wasn't killed by ideas, he was killed by bombs, guns, tanks.
`.... Military victory is indeed essential. Radical political Islam is an "armed doctrine," in Edmund Burke's phrase. Like other armed doctrines before it -- fascism, for example -- it can be discredited only by first being defeated. When Adolf Hitler was on the rise and advancing in the 1930s, tens of millions of people in Europe and around the world admired his strength and vision. (Young children from Latin America to Turkey were named Adolf in his honor.) Once Nazism was destroyed, they quickly abandoned his cause .... `
Fareed Zakaria, "How To Save the Arab World," Newsweek Dec. 24, 2001 ]


"Nazis `came to power as a result of general elections.`" In Mein Kampf, Hitler `told people plainly what his politics were going to be once he was in power.` Similarly, Islamic writings and newspapers `foretell what it is going to be like under an Islamic regime, ... It's all there. They consider themselves as the "Party of God." They consider other parties the "parties of the Devil."`
- retired Egyptian ambassador Hussein Amin.
(from: Passion for Islam : Shaping the Modern Middle East: the Egyptian Experience by Caryle Murphy, p.146)

Some Links:

"Is Islamism a Threat? A Debate," Middle East Quarterly, December 1999

.... Islamism and Democracy
MEQ: Is Islamism a democratizing movement? ...
(A debate/discussion between Martin Kramer, Graham Fuller, John Esposito, Daniel Pipes)

"Are Today's Islamic Movements Compatible with Democracy?" by Daniel Pipes,
Insight, August 14, 2000

"If by democracy one means an occasional election, with a limited choice of candidates who cannot speak freely, and no voting for the most powerful position - then sure, Islamism has no problems with democracy. But if the term refers to a system in which citizens have those rights (freedom of speech, the rule of law, minority rights, an independent judiciary) needed to make free and intelligent decisions, that they have a real choice of candidates, and that they can vote for the top leader - then no, Islamism is resoundingly not democratic. ...."

"... Ahmad Nawfal, a Muslim Brother from Jordan, candidly sums up this dual dynamic: `If we have a choice between democracy and dictatorship, we choose democracy. But if it's between Islam and democracy, we choose Islam.` ....