Islam and Democracy

Writing at Comment is Free, Brian Whitaker discusses the Quilliam Foundation’s claim that “violent and nonviolent Islamists broadly share the same ideology and disagree only on tactics.” According to the Quilliam Strategic Briefing Paper, “Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?, “Although some Islamist groups have accepted aspects of democracy, political pluralism and the concept of universal human rights, few — if any — Islamist groups have accepted all of these principles either fully or simultaneously.” The paper goes on to say that Islamism constitutes a threat to secular democracy and “tolerant society,” adding that Islamist ideology promotes an “anti-democratic, fascist state” comparable to racial apartheid.

Presenting a different analysis, Whitaker argues that the key issue is not Islamist violence, but the fact that Islamists “believe in the ‘sovereignty of God,'” which “conflicts with democratic ideas about the sovereignty of the people.” According to Whitaker, the underlying problem is “an anti-libertarian assumption that linking the state with religion is both legitimate and necessary. Not only that, but religion claims the right, at least in some circumstances, to override the will of the people.” Whitaker attributes the increasing popularity of Islamist groups in the world to Western support of undemocratic regimes, adding that “the lack of scope for political and religious debate means that their basic ideology often remains unchallenged in the public discourse.” However, responding to Whitaker, Inayat Bounglawala points to Turkey as model for reconciliation between Islamic values and democracy. In his assessment, he writes that “across the Islamic world, polls have repeatedly found widespread support in favour of the implementation of both democracy and Islamic values.”