Thursday, December 28, 2006

Muslims & Democracy

Some people actually make a living partly by debating whether or not Muslims are congenitally incapable of democracy. OK - not congenitally, exactly, but due to their religion - which is very similar to, though not quite the same as, a congenital defect. Religion is more like a parasite that grows on an sexually-transmitted disease called 'children'.


Although some (usually, United Statesians) consider mentioning this historical fact a faux pas or taboo, the land making up the present United States was appropriated violently by Christian European settlers from its discoverers. The religious heritage the Europeans brought with them was in accordance with their method of land acquisition, as the Old Testament of the Bible is replete with stories of divinely-sanctioned violence, engaged in to acquire land. In fact, the Christian conquerors drew upon their religious heritage down to the last gory detail, namely, killing women and children (for one of many examples, Deuteronomy 2:34).

There is another part of European-Americans' religious heritage, however, that does not in any way comport with their present economic structure and its legal underpinning: capitalism. The Christian Bible is filled with disparaging references to the rich (Mat 19:23-24, Mar 10:25, Luk 1:53, 6:24, Jam 2:6, etc. – and a capitalism without capitalists is unworkable); the early Christian church practiced a primitive communism and a biblical verse predated Marx's "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" (Act 22:44-45); and a vivid story in the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the very low regard God has for Christians who desire to own private property (Act 5:1-10). Yet this heritage has not impeded the Christian West from adopting capitalist democracy any more so than it was convinced the U.S. to beat its swords into plowshares (Isa 2:4) rather than the exact opposite (to the tune of half a trillion dollars per year, no less). Neither was the Old Testament obligation to provide schooling to all male children taken seriously until the 19th century in the U.S.

Some argue today that Muslims are incapable of liberal democracy on account of their Muslim faith. It is true that the Quran is rife with divine commands of intolerance and violence (Surah 2:191 of many examples), as is Arab history (and the Bible). Yet as I hope my examples from the Bible show, a society's religion, though diametrically opposed to its government, laws, and economy, can exist therewith in perfect harmony. As many scholars have noted, capitalist democracy would not be the first seemingly unnatural adoption by Muslim elites throughout history: Arab conquest, for one, was marked by borrowing legal structures from other civilizations; in recent history, Marxism was adopted within many Muslim societies.

To paraphrase a Muslim feminist whose name I cannot remember: if by the stroke of a pen, an imam can issue a fatwa allowing banks to collect interest in contradiction of the Quran and tradition, what keeps him from loosing women from their traditional subordination? Indeed, what keeps him from changing just about everything?

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