Islam and democracy in Iraq: A Realist Perspective
No idea what happened to my front blog page photos, I’ll worry about it later.
Nothing perhaps shows the unfortunate effects of the near exclusive focus on doctrine when approaching questions of Islam, whether in academic treatments or mainstream analysis, than the case of the compatibility of Islam with democratic rule, liberal or otherwise. My goodness are there books on the doctrine of it all, from careful, serious works of Khaled Abou El Fadl to more mainstream and less considered ones like Reza Aslan to many more ridiculous polemical works on either side, which I’ll be nice and not mention by name. Left unnoticed are evolutions in lived practices among Islamic movements, whose commitment to democracy has only grown over time.
There is some discussion on the subject of the commitment of Islamist movements to democracy. Nearly all of it focuses on whether or not Islamist movements, in their undeniable calls for democracy, are being purely instrumental, and using democracy as a means to an end of Islamic rule, at which point they will put an end to their supposed democratic commitment (ie one person, one vote, one time to use Djerejian’s phrase), or whether they are genuine in this. You would think at least that question would be examined as against actual practice, but rarely is it. Part of that is because it has never actually happened that an Islamist movement has been elected and then shut down elections. They’ve taken power through revolution (
But still, that is a case which could be examined. So here it is, the paradigmatic test case, we have had elections, are the Islamist parties still committed to democracy or has their appetite waned once taking power? If not, are there constraints preventing these parties from simply ending elections and taking control, like continuing
It all merits greater study than this blog post, but still, it is worth making a couple of observations here, which demonstrate that at least here, Islamist commitment to democracy has been fundamentally strengthened since the rise of democratic rule, and far from desiring to limit democracy once in power to the extent they are able, to the contrary they are expanding democratic initiatives at every available opportunity. I provide only two examples, key ones in the past several weeks, below.
First, there is Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s call for an open list election. I have noted in an earlier post (http://muslimlawprof.org/2009/10/10/alcohol-and-the-iraq-elections-thoughts-on-religious-expertise.aspx) that I don’t think this open list closed list debate in
Second, the Sadrists of all groups are running a primary, and believe me if the Americans were going to pressure anyone to run a primary, it wouldn’t have been the most anti American Shia group out there. They’ve actually got polling stations set up around the country and they used it to elect the people who are going to stand for them. You didn’t even have to be a Sadrist to run, though they did exercise some control over who can posit themselves as a nominee for their party. Still, they are actively handing over control to the people, not taking it away from them. It really is an incredible story that deserves more press—the Sadrists expressing moral commitments to voter choices to determine proper candidates. If anything should indicate a commitment to democratic rule in
Generally the doctrinalist (and the skeptic) object at this point, and ask “well what is the theory here? How can a Sadrist both claim that the shari’a is God’s Law and that his party follows Islam, and then throw up their hands and pass over the selection of the people who are going to handle all of this to the voters?” And of course Professor Abou El Fadl will provide one, and there will be a debate.
Here’s my answer, as a Realist. I . .. DON’T . . . CARE. I don’t mean it’s irrelevant or not worth discussing, I mean that surely if people can talk about doctrine and ignore lived practices, then I can describe lived practices and not give a crap how they are ultimately going to be justified under some elaborate political theory that will developed post hoc in any event. It’s happening, I’m reporting what I think is obvious empirically, I think it deserves to be debated and argued and analyzed on those terms. In other words, why the commitment to democracy, not what theory impels it because so far as I can tell no theory impels it, so that part doesn’t matter.
And it is no answer to respond simply “well they are just doing that to get votes.” Of course they are taking these positions to get votes, what the hell else would a political party be doing, trying to lose votes? But whose votes are they trying to get? Just like Democrats don’t spend much time in rural
The Sadrists know they lost mass popular support when they created a militia and terrorized people with their black shirted teenager thugs with machine guns. They saw what happened when the Iraqi army pushed them out of
So yeah, the theory isn’t very well developed right now, and yeah, the theory “God’s Law is superior to man’s” sounds much better, but it has no purchase. It has no purchase with the folks in