Editors Note: I got the idea for this from comedian Bill Maher, who asked a caller on the Larry King Show, “If the Arabs want freedom so much, why would they choose to be Muslims?” I agree with Mr. Maher that democracy and religion (especially Islam) are intrinsically antithetical, and make for a difficult marriage politically, especially if the religion is fundamentalist. Then, I read Sam Harris’ book, “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason,” which pointed out that this fact isn’t bad just for the Arabs, it’s dangerous for the West as well. You might want to read it, or, at least, read about it.

Can Democracy and Islam Co-exist?


It’s easy to forget that Western attitudes aren’t the majority view in much of the world. This isn’t a value judgment; it’s just a fact of life.

Defending the wisdom of exporting democracy to Iraq, President Bush asserted that, “Everyone wants freedom.” This sounds indisputable; however, the president was speaking of mainstream Islamic moderates, not the myriad Muslim terrorist groups, and their millions of sympathizers worldwide, that, in his words, “have hijacked a great religion” and “hate us for our freedoms.” Our problem with Muslims may be that it’s more than just our freedoms they hate ― their enemy seems to be the ideal of freedom itself.

In Arabic, the word “Islam” means “submission.” Fundamentalist religious dogma — whether Islamic, Jewish or Christian — places a higher value on submission than it does on free and independent decision making.

In “The End of Faith,” his alarming study of the threat of Islamic extremism, philosopher Sam Harris minimizes the doctrinal differences between Muslim fundamentalism and the elusive mainstream: “Even moderate approaches to Islam generally consider the Koran to be the literal and inerrant word of the one true God.” Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam is “a fringe without a center.” Combine this with the fact that separating church and state is even more foreign to Muslim societies than it is to Red-State America, and it’s not surprising there are no viable Arab democracies.

Many Iraqi legislators have sought to codify as much of Shariah (Koranic law) in their new constitution as possible. They’ve used the tools of democracy to introduce elements of theocracy into a country that had been relatively secular (albeit totalitarian) prior to Saddam’s ouster. (In a recent Zogby poll, a plurality of Arabs surveyed stated that they believe that the clergy does not play a big enough role in Arab politics.)

If an Iranian-style government evolves in Iraq, it won’t be the first time democracy has been the bridge between authoritarianism and a different form of authoritarianism. During the 1930s, Germany’s brief spasm of democracy, the Weimar Republic, rapidly morphed into Nazism. Hitler didn’t need to seize power ― his constituents handed it to him in a free election.

Incipient democracies are fragile. Given an opportunity to vote, Palestinians have chosen Hamas terrorists to lead them from one form of thuggery to the next. Many experts believe that, if Egypt were a true democracy, it would be ruled by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, and a free Saudi electorate would probably opt for Osama bin Ladin, or someone very much like him.

Fertilized by the harsh triumphalism of Islam, the sands of the Middle East form a barren soil for political freedom. Democracies require a tolerance for minority viewpoints, which is anathema to devout Islamists. Democracies also need opposing political parties that believe in their own rightness, but are willing to acknowledge that their opponents aren’t mortal enemies whose beliefs are satanic (fanatics like Anne Coulter notwithstanding).

Democratic nations require free speech, a free press and freedom from religious oppression. However, the crushing domination of Islam in Arab states will hamstring any impulses toward an American-style bill of rights.

Witness the violence sweeping the Muslim world because of a handful of Danish political cartoons. Can freedom of speech survive in a region where expressing moderate or dissenting opinions could get you killed? Absent a centrist mainstream, Islamic nations lack a counterweight to the fanatically pious Jihadists, who view murder and arson as acceptable forms of political discourse.

Christian extremists called for Martin Scorsese’s controversial movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” to be banned, which forced me into a theater to see it. And I also sat through the far less intellectually stimulating “The Passion of the Christ,” because Jewish protesters insisted that I shouldn’t.

However, I wasn’t afraid the Anti-Defamation League or the Knights of Columbus might burn down the theater with me in it. (Okay … maybe Pat Robertson scares me a little.)

Muslims compulsively impose their taboos, often violently, even on those who don’t share them. Years ago, I worked with an intelligent, well-educated and seemingly rational Pakistani who believed Salman Rushdie deserved to die for writing “The Satanic Verses.” He quietly and calmly explained that he’d be proud to carry out the Ayatollah’s fatwah. I hope he never sees this article.

Most American newspapers are too intimidated by the specter of Islamic violence to publish the Danish cartoons. It’s journalistically absurd for The New York Times to print stories about this firestorm, while refusing to show what touched it off; however, when Islam is involved, the sword is mightier than the pen. (Free-press advocates everywhere should give credit to the conservative Weekly Standard for upholding democratic ideals by printing the cartoons. They should also show some respect for their more-courageous European counterparts, including the supposedly craven French.)

Will Islam’s arranged marriage with democracy in Iraq end badly? Within a year from the time the American troops come home, Iraq is likely to descend into civil war, revert to a military dictatorship or become an Iranian-style theocracy. We will have sacrificed thousands of young men and bankrupted our treasury to install a government in Baghdad that may make us nostalgic for good old days of Saddam. Remember, you read it here.

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