Fjordman: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Druze and Christian minorities in Lebanon may well be pondering that question as they watch 800,000 Hezbollah followers try to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saniora from office. Using the very democratic right of peaceable assembly to do so, of course. The armed Hezbollah thugs directing the mobs are just for show. Really.

Fjordman ends Part I of his analysis with this observation:
Two central concepts in sharia are the notions of "blasphemy" and "apostasy," both incurring the death penalty. These laws are incompatible with the ancient Western ideas of freedom of conscience and of speech. Thus, sharia is anathema to the goals of democracy. Sharia is also hostile to equality before the law, since Islamic law is based on the fundamental inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women, free men and slaves. Moreover, it does not provide any protection for minorities, since non-Muslims are supposed to be unarmed and their lives and property subject to the whims of Muslims at any given moment. Although Islam does contain the vague Koranic notion of shura, consultation, this has never been formalized or concretized, which means that there are no formal constraints on the power of the ruler under sharia. The only thing an Islamic ruler may not do is openly to reject Islam.
The search for the seemingly fantastical hordes of 'moderate muslim' is surely complicated by the fact that they have very legitimate fears of enduring capital punishment imposed by sharia "courts". It's certainly a much more effective method of silencing critics than the hysterical name calling engaged in by the leftist (or whatever) cheerleaders who choose to blind themselves to reality.

Fjordman's essay is well worth the time. His observations concerning the undemocratic nature of the EU due to the absence of a 'European' demos seem accurate - as do his reservations concerning the damage being done in the US by the multicultis. I'm not sure that nationalism or a national identity is an absolute prerequisite for democracy because there are many organizations and associations, governed by democratic principles, which transcend national borders and function quite well. They do all have the common element of freedom of association though. Dropping out doesn't result in a headchopper showing up at a former member's door to enforce adherence.


Seneca the Younger said...

So? Blasphemy and apostasy have both carried the death penalty in Christianity too. And there are Islamic countries that don't codify shari'a in their secular law, just as Israel doesn't codify Levitican law in their secular law --- even though the hyper-Orthodox would like to see that changed as well.

Rick Ballard said...

Yesterday has past, hasn't it? I don't recall any rabbinical or ecumenical courts imposing and carrying out a sentence of death for blasphemy or heresy recently. Alternatively, Narullah, Mucky and the Palis have been doing so very recently. Despite the existence of those ephemeral documents which theoretically "protect" the demos from the application of lex talonis as embodied in sharia.

I wonder if "Hey, this isn't codified." was ever the last thought of a muslim victim?

I sort of doubt it.

Knucklehead said...


Blasphemy and apostacy were, to be sure, capital crimes within "Christianity" (and no doubt a few other religions we could identify with a little effort). But the historical times when that was true pre-date modern democracy.

What purpose does it serve to point out that some of the problems Islam suffers from now are problems Christianity suffered from once upon a time? Those days are gone. And they happened before modern explosives, transportation, and communications were even dreamed of.

Islam does not have the luxury of spending a few centuries reforming itself in a technologically primitive world; or, I suppose, it is we non-muslems who do not have the luxury of waiting for Islam to find a way toward reformation. We may not even have a few short decades.

truepeers said...

Is Islam compatible with democracy? Well, that's not quite the question since Islam as practiced at present is largely incompatible with democracy (with some fudging about experiments in Turkey, or Indonesia...).
The question should be: can Islam be changed to make it compatible with 1)national identity and 2)national self-rule? or, must the system be totally dismantled. Long story short, I just don't see how we can know the answer until they/we try seriously to change the present situation, not that we have to be endlessly patient.

I'm not sure that nationalism or a national identity is an absolute prerequisite for democracy because there are many organizations and associations, governed by democratic principles, which transcend national borders and function quite well. They do all have the common element of freedom of association though. Dropping out doesn't result in a headchopper showing up at a former member's door to enforce adherence.

-yes, the right of free entry and exit is the key, which of course cannot apply to membership in territorial entities (and, realistically, the whole world cannot ever become one big happy family) especially when they are welfare states but I think also even if a people and their state try to live up to the libertrian dream/fantasy.

The key to democratic self-rule is that I see myself as 1) interchangeable with any other member of the polity, that whatever faith or belief I hold, it is freely accepted and can be changed and it does not stop me from recognizing a separate domain of politics and lawa in which all are treated equally and in which I may, from time to time, be the one responsible for standing up and protecting the interests of all those with whom I am interchangeable, and who I will defend with my life in times of war, if need be. The interchangeability or equality of all members leads to 2) anyone can become the leader of us all - we accept that at certain moments we can all find ourselves in a situation where we are called upon to act out on our own initiative in the interests of the greater political compact, without preference to any religious or racial membership we might hold. We are all willing to take a lead in defense of what bonds us all together. In short, we (most of us at least) can all be trusted.

Thus, if we have a polity in which we institutionalize notions of minority rights or multiculturalism to the point where we are no longer interchangeable, where there is no way for us to settle our differences without recourse to some arbiter who is not, potentially, any one of us but belongs to an elite bureaucratic class that rules in its interests first, then we no longer have representative self-rule. If all groups, whether or not there is a majority group, are not willing to recognize a common and primary bond for which they will all stand up and fight, then they are not people living in freedom, but are members of an empire whose rights only exist as long as they are politically convenient to the rulers.

truepeers said...

Furthermore, the common political bond of which I speak cannot be forged out of nothing, according to some abstract constitutional principles. It must be built upon some more primary religious, or civilizational bond, which is why self-rule depends on nations that are more than abstract legal concepts. Newcomers have to assimilate to certain civilizational norms; freedom and rights cannot be without shared cultural responsibilities.

Coisty said...

(with some fudging about experiments in Turkey, or Indonesia...)

One could also add Malaysia - perhaps the most successful Muslim "democracy". What they all have in common is that none of these somewhat democratic Muslim countries are Arab. Arab tribalism is as important as Islam.

Non-Muslim countries, such as Russia, may also have resistance to democracy in its DNA. In Russia's case support for authoritarianism evolved from the centralisation required to survive the Mongols and various Western incursions.

Given the difficulties non-Muslim Russians have overcoming these authoritarian tendencies imagine how difficult it will be for the Arab world which is also inflicted with Islam ("to submit") to reform their societies from within. Reforming them from outside by invading their countries may even strengthen such authoritarianism and tribalism.

The only way I can see US intervention reforming the Arab world is if the US aimed for a Carthaginian Peace. That was never going to happen in Iraq but it may happen in the future if an Arab country leaves its fingerprints on a truly devastating attack on an American city.

Seneca the Younger said...

Changing the question, aren't you, Rick? If, in fact, Islam is incompatible with democracy, then it must be that there is no chance for democracy now or in the future. But the eviedence offered is that Islam does these nasty things --- which Christianity did, and not *hat* long ago.

It follows that Christianity must also be incompatible with democracy. Except we know that it's not.

Argument failed.

terrye said...


That is true to some extent, but the history of several cultures have been lost forever because some zealous monks destroyed any trace of them for fear they were of the Devil. And as far as that is concerned the people of Ireland can not seem to get past the incessant idiot holy war that has plagued their culture for centuries.

I think the point is that if Christianity can reform so perhaps can other religions including Islam. In some parts of rural India widows are still thrown on funeral pyres, but that does not mean Hindus are all backward.

I think the larger question should be what is the alternative? Do we kill them all? Burn the mosques? Destory all the Korans? Eradicate them from history? Make it a crime to even be a Muslim because they are inherently evil and can not live in the world with the rest of us? Assume they are all the Enemy?

I am not surprised at the rally in Lebanon, it is after all a power base for Hezbellah, but I am getting really disgusted with this whole argument.

Good God, I can remember people wondering the same kinds of things about the Germans. What did Churchill say? A Hun alive is a war in the making.

Well we better stop and think about what we are saying. We are condemning and judging more than a billion people based on the actions of a relative few people and I for one am not going to support another Crusade.

Rick Ballard said...


Not at all. Christianity works reasonably well with many systems of governance. It was no more antithetical to the dictatorship of the Romans than to the monarchies which followed or to the democracies which have supplanted the monarchies.

Islam is antithetical in conception, nature and substance to democracy precisely for the reasons which Fjordman (and Tru) enunciated above. There is no allowance within Islam for the concept of equality among those granted suffrage which is foundational to democracy. The L Ron Mohmammad thesis is firmly based upon determinative inequality based upon adherence to tenets of the cult. That inequality is enshrined within the legal farce called sharia - which assigns a precise value of one half when weighing the word of muslim with the word of someone fortunate enough to have evaded attachment to the cult.

At fourteen hundred years from inception Christianity was beginning its transition from coexistence with monarchy to coexistence with democracy. At fourteen hundred years from inception Islam remains the beloved toy of tyrannical despots who have found a great utility in using the inherent inequality postulated by the cult to further the subjugation of anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves within its reach.

Coisty's remarks concerning Mayasia, Turkey and Indonesia are right on the mark. A feeble type of democracy will work with Islam until the Arabs exert their influence to return the "moderate" regimes to 7th century core practices. Indonesia is well on its way to sliding under the Wahabbi influence.

Although probably not quite as quickly as Lebanon will be by the Shia.

ex-democrat said...

terrye - are the alternatives as far-fetched as you suggest? after all, in response to the existential menace posed by the soviets, were we not then prepared to "assume they are all the Enemy" and "kill them all" if it became necessary. ?

truepeers said...

For Islam to become democratic, it would have to defer to the equality of all members of the nations that would grow up in the Islamic world (it would help if they were mostly all Muslim nations, and with the "religious cleansing" going on in the Muslim world for some time now, this may be likely; still, if Muslims were not allowed to convert, it would not be much of a democracy or a self-ruling nation); it would have to defer to a secular domain, that the creation is to some degree a partnership of God and man, that Allah is not entirely other; and it would have to allow that this would entail a historical self-understanding in which the various sacred texts are not considered complete and sufficient in and of themselves, but require a historical unfolding and an openness to change, including a rejection of certain Koranic imperatives vis a vis women and slaves, apostates and infidels (to sustain themselves, future democracies will have to compete in a global economy and this must mean that most people living in them are free and equal members), as no longer compatible with some deeper religious message.

These would certainly be very major, radical changes to the eyes of I think most (though not all) Muslims today. But does that mean Islam cannot change in this direction without falling apart, without losing the center that holds it all together? Are the westernized "moderate Muslims" just kidding themselves about still being Muslim? Ultimately, how can anyone know? I can only see this as a question of faith and desire to find out by taking the leap into history. I have some big doubts they can achieve it - I think it more likely that the whole thing would unravel - but how can I know for sure that Islam can't change in some major ways and allow people in future to still find a basis to claim they are being true to its origins, in a way that is meaningful and works for them?

I would certainly not bet my children's future on it; but if they want to give it a try I'm not going to say they can't.

terrye said...


You can not be serious and neither can you Rick. No, I will not consider every man, woman and child in the Muslim world my enemy. I find the very idea to be insane.

Honestly, it took Christians hundreds of years just to learn to live with each other much less other relgions.

terrye said...


Do you know what happened to the Mayans? No? Why? Because the Spanish sent the Catholics into convert them and they destroyed all their history doing it.Between the Christians and the small pox 90% of the population died and then things got real peaceful.

But somehow those Christians learned to seperate their religion from their state. It took centuries for them to do it and the wars with other cultures as well as between Protestant and Catholic Kings almost destroyed Europe..but when it became necessary to reform or destroy themselves, they reformed.

I know that people will say the same can not be said for Muslims, but there are Muslims in this country who live and work alongside other Americans without any problems.

I am serious, if it comes to supporting wholesale slaughter based on religion I will have nothing to do with it. I find the very subject morally objectionable.

truepeers said...

And if they don't want to give it a try, I think we have to try to box them in and make any interaction, short of grabbing the oil fields which can only be exploited by and are only useful to, free and science-oriented members of a global economy, contingent on allowing for things like missionaries and converts to live among htem.

terrye said...

And we were not pointing nuclear weapons at the people of the Soviet Union, we were pointing them at the Soviet State which was targetting us with thousands of nuclear war heads. No one sat around talking about whether or not the Russians were incapable of democracy and assuming it was necessary to kill all of them because they were all bad and would always be bad.

Obviously that was not true. I don't know anyone today who is sorry we did not nuke Russia.

terrye said...


And if they tell you to kiss their ass?

The reason Reagan walked away after 240 dead Marines is that there is no quick and easy way to deal with these people. The reason Carter did not go into Iran is that there is no quick and easy way to deal with these people. The reason Hezbellah has its rallies is for the PR, the cameras, so that people will say, These folks are hopeless and just give up and go away. It has been working for years after all.

It will take patience and time and there will be a lot of setbacks, but there is no way to easily and quickly change these cultures.

truepeers said...


There will not be wholesale slaughter unless we are seriously slaughtered first, precisely because it would rip our society apart, because people like you and me will have no part of it.

Quarantine is obviously the first option if democratization goes nowhere.

But, if we are hit with WMD, we either hit back in a rather conclusive way, or we go away

Rick Ballard said...


We will never "slaughter them wholesale". It really wouldn't be worth the effort in the first place, leaving aside the moral aspect. The muslim people aren't the problem, they're easily intimidated and subjugated when sufficient force is used.

Hitting Mecca and Qum would keep the oil ticks busy enough for a bit and placing a long term tariff on non-North American oil would allow the development of the tar sand and shale oil deposits to the point where the Indians and the Chinese would be the ones to take care of the Arab problem.

I don't know what the moderate muslims who would like to escape should do. I just know that my sympathy is reserved for the Christians and animists being killed and enslaved down in Darfur rather than for people unwilling to fight for freedom.

truepeers said...

Rick, I'm not convinced we can yet go it alone without ME oil. Not simply do we have to use a lot of energy to get at the tar sands, we also have to boil an awful lot of water - so there must be some practical limit (people are already talking about our being near the limits of the river systems now) unless the technology improves.

Still if we get serious about all-round energy independence - nuclear, electric cars, etc. - we can go a long way I'm sure to leaving the problem to the Chinese.

Bostonian said...

"These laws are incompatible with the ancient Western ideas of freedom of conscience and of speech."

Neither of these Western ideas is truly ancient. The latter occurred only after the former, which was the result of a couple of bloody centuries known as the Reformation.

If Islam can be reformed, I expect its transformation to be no less bloody than ours was--quite a lot bloodier, I would guess.

But Islam been static for 1400 years, if my Egyptian co-worker is right, so it will not change unless some serious pressure is applied.

These are interesting times and I am very glad I do not live in Europe.

truepeers said...


Freedom of conscience is ancient, in the sense that it always exists to some degree among humans. But yes, what can be imagined and fought for grows in steps. One major step was the distinction between worldly ethics - limited according to the practical needs of place and time - and universal morality, a distinction that emerged with Judeo-CHristian monotheism and with the Greek division of high culture from religious ritual.

Still, there will always be a difference between what you can think or desire and what you can do or organize people to do. Free speech is pretty wide open in the west right now, which is a good thing, but I think we should be talking about shutting down mosques where hatred of the west and calls to violence are being actively promoted. There should be no freedom to undermine a system of freedoms if you don't have more freedom to offer in return.

chuck said...

Do you know what happened to the Mayans?

I suppose one could also mention the crusade against the Albigensians (Cathars) that gave us the famous line, “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.” In the same time and place the Waldensians and Brethren of the Free Spirit were also suppressed. Later there was the Saint Bartholomew's Day slaughter of the Huguenots.

More recently we have the Holocaust and other 20'th century slaugters, but the perps in those cases were the left, arguably an intolerant and violent religion whose seminaries remain with us as the modern university.

So, while violence and conquest is an important part of traditional Islam, I don't think it is unique. We will be dealing with such tendencies in every generation and seeking to moderate them. I think Islam will not survive modernity in its current form, it is too rigid. Religions have died out before and been replaced. We shall see. If we live that long, anyway.

Seneca the Younger said...

There is no allowance within Islam for the concept of equality among those granted suffrage which is foundational to democracy.

Rick, the notion that this is somehow more in Christianity is just ahistorical. Let's see --- Albigensian, Cathars, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, the imprisonment of George Fox, Joan of Arc, the Thirty Years War, .... More? Witch hunts, Crusades, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Vlad Tepes.

Luther McLeod said...

"The reason Reagan walked away after 240 dead Marines is that there is no quick and easy way to deal with these people. The reason Carter did not go into Iran is that there is no quick and easy way to deal with these people."

I'm sorry Terrye, but I disagree. We could have fought, then, even knowing that it could have made things temporarily worse. But knowing that we were justified in fighting back. But we took the coward's/easy way out...choosing instead, let's talk, I'm sure we can work it all out.

I am not a nuke'em all kind of guy, OTOH I would not be shy about letting them know exactly what we are capable of. Our restraint is killing us. In the end, this is not a game of words, but an exercise of power. We have it and use it, or we have it and lose it.

Our internal conflict just empowers our enemies.


Just now seeing your latest. That is all old. They did not have the means to kill multiple millions of people and destroy the worlds economy. Not saying they would not have. Just that present day reality is different than it was then.

Rick Ballard said...

Beyond that Luther, the question is whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Arguing about Christianity is totally irrelevant.

At the moment orthodox Islam is ascendant and there is no historical evidence of any muslim of theological importance ever having accepted democracy as normative unless it was subsumed to sharia. The second article of the "democratic" Iraqi constitution states:

"First: Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation:

A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established."

They wasted a lot of ink on printing the rest of it.

Luther McLeod said...

"Arguing about Christianity is totally irrelevant"

That is true.

"They wasted a lot of ink on printing the rest of it"

So is that.

But, is it Medusa, or not? Would cutting of the tendrils of the leaders give us the upper hand? I'm not entirely sure. I think I am of the opinion that it will take pitched battles to settle this. Though how that might come about I have no clue. It may well be an impossible scenario. They could not win in that case, and so, will not engage.

Instead, they are eating at us from the inside out. A malignant worm as it were. Unseen and, for the most part, unfelt. Until one day it it will rear its ugly head from our gut. Will we then, so weakened, be able to resist?

Does this country any longer have the will to swallow the purgative to prevent the above? I truly wonder as to the answer of that.

Apologies for being so inarticulate/confused/conflicted, but that is how it is. I do have demons to keep corralled.

loner said...

If a form of democractic rule could be imposed on Japan, it could be imposed on any number of Arab and/or Islamic countries. One requirement though is that the imposer be credible and it helps if the tribalist-nationalist sensibilities of the peoples within the territorial boundries of the nation-state upon which such governance is to be imposed are sufficiently similar or sufficiently geographically mixed so as to not give them small reason to commit to protecting the territorial integrity of the nation-state and to supporting the legal framework under which it is governed as primary guarantors of their security and of what level of individual freedom they've granted themselves.

terrye said...


I am not saying Reagan and Carter should not have done anything, I am saying it was not politically viable for them to do anything because of the effort it would ultimately require. People were not going to stand for it then anymore than they are ready to deal with it now. And there was no 9/11 to spur on public opinion. Speaking of democracy, I am beginning to wonder if some people right here are compatable with it. We can not just ignore the will of the people.

And Rick, bombing Mecca would be self destructive in the extreme.

Luther McLeod said...

OK Terrye, sorry, I suppose I read too much into your comment. But I still hold we should have done something, regardless of the political difficulties involved. That is what leadership is about. That the loss in Beirut was met with silence on our part is in large parcel, why we are, where we are today. We left our honor and integrity on the shore when we sailed away.