16 April 2008

Islam & Democracy

Now what follows is by no means the definitive debate on this subject. However, it was interesting to me for two reasons: one that the debate occurred in Australia and secondly my personal belief that frank and open discussion is the only way we, as a people, can overcome our differences and live in a world where there is peace!

I do not paste this to offend but if anyone drops by and feels the need to comment, then go for it, as I said frank and open discussion!

What follows is cut and pasted in its entirety as it appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.

IT was a debate over one of the most vexed issues of our times - one that pitted not only ideas and opinions against each other, but entire civilisations.

In front of a packed audience of 1200 passionate souls, a panel of experts on politics and Islam opened the Intelligence2 debate series by ripping into the proposition that Islam is incompatible with democracy.

The security guards and flyer-wielding campaigners at the doors gave some indication of the fraught nature of the subject matter from the outset. And those on stage did not disappoint, taking the discussion from the soaring heights of Islam's philosophical antecedents to the cold, hard reality of suppression under Sharia law.

Having told another Sydney audience earlier this week that Islam would dominate Europe, the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, immediately provided a cutting criticism of the world's second largest religion.

"Islam is undemocratic in spirit," he said. "It takes a lot of learning to have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association. These are things that are learnt over a period of time and it is that which the West has achieved and which Islam is a long way from learning.

"Yes, there are Muslim states which are democratic in form, but true democracy is yet to take root. The great obstacle to this change is the fact that in the Middle East the social system is fundamentally tribal and that obstructs the development of the key requisites of democracy."

The rebuttal from the Pakistan-born director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Muslim States and Societies, Samina Yasmeen, was a cool cloth to Pipes's fire.

"You will see what you want to see and if you want to identify Islam as incompatible I have no doubt that you will continue seeing that," she said.

"How is it, though, that Muslims in non-Muslim societies are able to get on so well when Islam is incompatible? I would argue that Muslim majority states do show a lot of tolerance, not only of the Muslim community, but also of the non-Muslim community."

Amina Rasul, a human rights activist and director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy, followed the theme. "What the West should not do is criticise states which are not democratic while supporting despots who suppress human rights because it is in their economic benefit," Rasul said.

"There are 800 million Muslims living happily and successfully in democratic nations - why is it that the extremes are always focused on?"

The Herald columnist Paul Sheehan brought the question into stark relief by comparing a trip to Mecca with a trip to Rome.

"When you visit the Vatican, one thing that is for certain is that you will be allowed in," Sheehan said. "When you visit Saudi Arabia the checks at the airport and for those travelling into Mecca are not just for security reasons, they are to prevent non-Muslims from coming in."

Finally the statements were brought back to first principles by Waleed Aly, the young lawyer, writer and spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria.

"My opponents have defined terms such as Islam and Sharia law to suit their arguments and in so doing have ignored the myriad interpretations of these terms."

In the end, the audience had the final call and it delivered a victory to hope - but only just. A poll conducted as the audience entered found 38 per cent for the affirmative, 42 per cent for the negative and the remaining 20 per cent undecided. In the tradition of many a democratic poll, the numbers had tightened by the end of the night - with the proposition going down by a narrow margin of 52 to 48 per cent.

"The response to this debate has been phenomenal and I've been trying to find an explanation for this overwhelming response," said Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre. "For the past decade people have not really engaged with these issues. People have formed hasty judgments and not engaged with the details. They've been more focused on their own concerns in their community and in their backyard. But there has been a change in mood in Australia."

Indeed, it could have been a hostile affair, but there were no howls from the audience. Sheehan referred to threats against Pipes before the event and the need for security to protect him. As it turned out, the guards had little to do.

Not even Michael Darby could get a reaction in the foyer afterwards as he handed out pamphlets on "how you can ensure Australia remains a Christian nation". Darby said: "I may have handed out some to Muslim people but I can't tell who is Muslim. I can say ladies with scarves did not rush me."

The IQ2 debate series is a partnership between the St James Ethics Centre, The Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and the City of Sydney.


oigal said...

"Islam is undemocratic in spirit," he said. "It takes a lot of learning to have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association. These are things that are learnt over a period of time and it is that which the West has achieved and which Islam is a long way from learning"

I would say that is a fairly accurate comment although you could replace Islam with Religion in general and the comment would still be true. The difference is the West has after some long, bitter and bloody battles managed (mostly)to push religion out of the direct influence of government, although it still resides in the dark corners of our mind whenever there is the insecure need to call on the BIG DADDY in the sky.

Personally I like Woody Allen's quote.."The best thing you can say about GOD, She is an under-achiever"

rimafauzi said...

oigal couldn't have said it better.
it's time for all people to set aside their differences (religion) and just focus on their common goal. but sadly, religion and fundamentalism has been slowly but surely gaining ground. i fear for what's going to happen in the next 40-50 years.

Rob Baiton said...

The next 40 or 50 years...Nah, within the next ten years!

Trouble has always been brewing in this regard...what is funny for me in that perversely sad and stupid kind of a way is that Muslims and Christians pray to, and believe in, the same God and yet seem willing to kill in the name of that God!

Tolerance and peace still seem too far away for my liking!

m said...

in Norwegian newspapers people now are talking about what is said to be "secular extremism". it's the prejudice and judgmental attitude from the liberalism and secularist towards the religious people. when i say religious, means not only Islam. though Norway is a Lutheran country, discrimination is exist even for the Christians. the unique thing is, then hand in hand Muslims and Christian are debating against the secularist. it's soo cool.

well, my points is that, if you guys have bad empirical experiences on Muslims (even though it's over centuries), don't judge forever Islam will be like that. The Muslims now are getting more intellectual and negotiable. we are moving forward, slowly but we do.

so the intellectual Muslims have good intention to improve the situation. You guys just hang in there and give us some time. You know you can't eradicate religion. It's a fact you have to work on, do some religion management.

hehe. peace everybody!

oigal said...


For what is worth I am not anti Islam but anti all religious hard cases

Rob Baiton said...

I am anti-extremism no matter how it is wrapped, bundled, and sold!

m said...

it depend on how u measure extreme, no?

i mean, of course educated people would not go bombing the air plane to show how wrong others are. people are doing their own crime in their own way.
u know..non intellectuals rob bank with gun, intellectuals rob bank with their network, suite and tie.

don't get me wrong. i hope and wish you are not discriminative.
but to me, if people wouldn't accept me as their employee because i am wearing head scarf, i would categorize them as secularist extremist. as a muslms i disagree that grow beard has anything to do with ibadah to Allah. but i shall not have prejudice against those who choose to do so.

my Christian friend complained because he often being asked if he will preach in the office (at the job interview)-knowing he is a good Christian studying theology. He is upset on such treatment. he thinks people are being judgmental to his faith and he categorize those people as secularist extremist.

i hope you guys are not in the club.

but honestly, i understand people's sickness to religion. i can accept being treated differently, being questioned for my conservative values, or being stared at strangely. i understand them, but still think it's wrong.

oigal said...

I make expections for collingwood supporters for they know not what they do!

oigal said...

Nearly all of our girls wear the scarf at our office M,

I think thats the point, the only time I would become annoyed if some wacker (and it is happening elsewhere) wants to make it complusary.

Had a simliar arguement recently when a local "private" school wanted to make reciting the Lord's Prayer Compulsary..

It's all about leaving people to make there own choices without inflicting their choices on others..

M said...

hm, ya i can understand. and i agree with you. It's totally stupid to measure one's morality/intellectuality based on what hangs on the top of their head; with or without.

But, politically, it will be weird if protest on Islamic democracy comes from non Muslims. I think the Muslims should discuss among themselves. I mean, imagine if Muslims protesting why priest are not allowed to get married in Catholic churches. We can argue on the name of humanity but what good does it make?

Leave the problem to the Muslims themselves. What you can do is perhaps to sneak in through education and development. Show how a more openness can create a better life for every body, just as what Islam originally is all about; Rahmatan lil alamien (bless of the universe). give more scholarship to pesantren students to go to developed countries so they travel and see the world.

Many are like that not because they choose to be like that, but merely because they live in such underlying structure which makes them believe in what they believe in. The only fundamental way to make a change is to entangle them from the structure. send them to another system an let them experience themselves.

ah, so long arguments here. but trust, i wrote that from my heart.

cleananglingpledge said...

Well, I do not really suppose this may work.