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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Are Islam and Democracy Incompatible?

Are Islam and democracy incompatible? The fact that few Islamic countries are democratic has led some to that conclusion. For instance, the philosopher Jacques Derrida once declared that Islam is “the other of democracy,” the historian Bernard Lewis has argued the basic modern notion of democracy is “alien” in most Islamic societies; and the linguist George Lakoff has written that “Muslim thinking is in principle against the individualism, pluralism, and secularism characteristic of modern democracies.” And when you look at the data, it can be tempting to draw the same conclusion. As the table below shows, most Islamic countries do score low on various measures of democracy:1

However, the fact that some Muslim countries are democratic suggests that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. Why that may be so is the subject of Paul Kubicek's (professor of political science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan) new book ("Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World"), in which he conducts case studies of seven Muslim countries that are or close to being democratic: Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Indonesia, and Senegal.

I may be going out on a limb, here, but I'm guessing that most readers are not interested in reading Kubicek's book. You can listen to an interview of Kubicek on the topic in a recent Research on Religion podcast ("Paul Kubicek on Islam, Political Islam, and Democracy"). I highly recommend it. Here is a brief description of the podcast (from the Research on Religion website):
Can democratic governance on a national scale coincide with Islam? Professor Paul Kubicek (Oakland University) takes us on a comparative journey to show where predominately Islamic populations have existed successfully with democracy. While much of media and scholarly attention on the topic of Islam and democracy has focused on the Middle East, Paul discusses the interesting cases of Turkey, Senegal, Mali, and Tunisia, while also noting some of the difficulties in democratic transitions in places such as Bangladesh. He also shares his reflections on the Arab Spring.
As always, you can listen to the podcast from the Research on Religion website or download it from iTunes.

P.S. Anyone who is entertaining the idea of reading Kubicek's book read the introduction by clicking on the following link:


1Paul Kubicek. 2015. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World. Boulder, CO: Lynne  Rienner Publishers, p. 5.

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