Shared from the 12/7/2015 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette eEdition

Islam is off-limits


The more terrorist attacks are committed in the name of Islam, the more we are told to shut up about it. Discussion begins and ends with the mantra that “Islam is a religion of peace.”

A new term, “Islamophobia,” has even been coined and applied to anyone who has asks awkward questions or points out anything that might contradict the orthodoxy.

This is peculiar because the strictures of political correctness would not seem, at least at first glance, to apply to Islam. As David Harsanyi notes in a recent piece in The Federalist, “Islam is not a race. Islam is not an ethnicity. Islam is a religion and a political philosophy. And it is distinct from other religions and political philosophies.” It is also one “comprised of all races and many ethnicities.”

The point is that Islam is not based on ascription; it is instead a belief system that one freely chooses to embrace (or reject). And in a rational world all belief systems should be assessed in terms of content and consequences.

We should be able to criticize Islam (or Hinduism, Buddhism, or Christianity) in the same way we criticize fascism, progressivism, and conservatism. Belief systems falling into the category of religion shouldn’t receive immunity from criticism in a way that belief systems falling into the category of secular ideologies don’t.

Religions are also, and by definition, different from one another. They hold up different values and identify as sacred different things. And, like ideologies, they produce different political outcomes in lands where they predominate.

Few, for instance, would deny that Christianity has been a historically significant factor in the development of Western democracy and freedom. And any student who wrote a paper on India’s development without mention of Hinduism or on the creation of Israel without citing Zionism would deserve to fail.

Islam, too, is associated with certain political outcomes, although those outcomes, even apart from Islamic-linked terrorism, have been less than flattering.

Because of the Global Democratic Revolution, for the first time in history there are now more democracies than dictatorships and most people now live under governments they helped choose.

Alas, that revolution has had a minimal impact on what is called the “Muslim World.” Of the 50 or so Muslim-majority countries, only one—Post-Suharto Indonesia—is classified as fully democratic by both Freedom House and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Out of nearly 200 nation-states, no Muslim country ranks in the top 50 on the latter’s “Democracy Index.”

This is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of contemporary world politics, or at least the one that a generic alien landing in his spaceship with no prior study of Earth would likely notice first when turning to the realm of human governance.

The unavoidable truth is that dictatorships have been falling just about everywhere in recent decades, except for the Middle East and other areas where Islam influences politics. An overwhelming majority of the world’s remaining dictatorships are now Muslim-majority countries; authoritarianism as a form of rule has now become largely a Muslim enterprise.

Precisely why this might be turns our attention to the interplay between religion, culture and values on the one hand, and politics as an expression thereof on the other. Culture matters and the primary determinant of culture has always been religion. Going further, religion determines the values that strongly influence political institutions and processes.

As such, central to scholarly treatments of Islam and democracy is concern that Islamic values are incompatible with self-government; more precisely, that the Islamic preference for Sharia, or Koranic law, precludes democracy. If law can come only from Allah, then man-made law—that is, the kind made by elected legislatures, the essence of self-government—becomes by definition blasphemous.

The extensive survey research on Islam carried out by the Pew Research Center over time has, along these lines, consistently shown that overwhelming majorities in most Muslim countries prefer Koranic law. In Pew’s 2013 survey, those numbers reached alarming levels—84 percent in Pakistan, 74 percent in Egypt, 71 percent in Jordan, 91 percent in Iraq and no less than 99 percent in Afghanistan (with the results for the last two perhaps telling us something about the wisdom of our nation-building efforts there).

In such data might be found at least some explanation for why the Arab Spring has turned into ISIS and the Arab Winter, and why, more broadly, the Islamic world remains the obvious outlier in the otherwise inexorable spread of liberal democracy. Separation of church and state has long been regarded as a requirement for democracy; yet lack of such a separation seems to characterize Islamic thinking on politics.

It isn’t bigotry, let alone “Islamophobia,” to discuss such things, because there should be no sacred cows among belief systems. It would be preposterous, after all, to forbid people from saying critical things about National Socialism or Marxism-Leninism or Maoism.

Few would argue that the concept of religious belief should be immune from criticism, even ridicule. So why should any particular religion or religious sect be?

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Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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