Egypt and Islam: democracy or dictatorship?
There are many who rejoice at the downfall of dictators. Certainly, they tend to be odious megalomaniacs who torture their people, repress opposition and oppress minorities. But there are others who observe, like Churchill on democracy, that in some cultures and complex socio-religio-political contexts, it is the lesser evil.
Whether this was the case in Sudan, Tunisia or Egypt remains to be seen. One thing is certain: the peoples of these nations have had enough, and are breaking the shackles and throwing off the chains of decades of dictatorial rule, police brutality and systematic torture.
But for what?
Revolutions in the West have tended towards liberty and the rejection of the Ariston in favour of the Demos. It has been an inevitable consequence of the Reformation and Enlightenment that Christendom was forced to adapt to a New World Order of openness and accountability, with a priesthood of believers, parliamentary democracy, individual responsibility and the Word of God communicated in the vernacular.
But revolutions in what many term the ‘Islamic world’ are not necessarily destined for such an outcome.
And it is not that Islam and democracy are incompatible, as many erroneously aver: it is frequently the proposition of those who have themselves almost certainly never read the Qur’an and are scarcely aware of centuries of scholarship on the mutability and multiplicity of the Islamic faith, which is as diverse and disparate as the myriad of Christian denominations. The problem is the ascendancy and dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam – the Wahhabi strain – which seeks to agitate, occupy, subjugate, inculcate and deny liberty and justice to all, Muslim or not.
There are, of course, some Christian denominations which also agitate politically and seek to inhibit the individual conscience, control education and mould a particular form of society. But these extreme expressions have been tempered by centuries of political engagement and theological scholarship: we tolerate them because they are essentially benign.
In Islam, there has been no reformation, and the clash with the principles of the Enlightenment is an inevitable consequence of globalisation: if you show the darkened oppressed a better way via the light of Google or Twitter, why would they not seek to follow it?
But the revolutionary turmoil in Sudan, Tunisia and Egypt is not part of a coherent theological movement, as was the Reformation; or a socio-cultural awakening and flourishing, like the Enlightenment. It results principally from a perception of Islamic appeasement, compromise and subjugation to the ‘Great Satan’: it is a humiliation to millions of Muslims that the ‘Christian West’ may demand concessions, impose conditions and dictate the terms of debate to the ‘Islamic world’.
The mistake the West still makes – and this is most evident at Westminster and within all policy priorities and internal debates within the main political parties – has been to perpetuate the primacy of economics. Those politicos who have moved on from the purity of political ideology to economic theory are the new enlightened ones. Even if what they spout is myopically Keynesian and thoroughly discredited, they are heard, entertained and honoured with the chains of office of political credibility. They are asked to write articles for prestigious magazines, give lectures to the great and the good and invited to No10.
But those who write on religion are sidelined and shunned as being (at best) a little eccentric, or (at worst) sectarian, bigoted and divisive. In politics, Mammon unites and God divides.
But Tony Blair was right.
And his words have hung upon this blog since its inception:
Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th century. In an era of globalisation, there is nothing more important than getting people of different faiths and cultures to understand each other better and live in peace and mutual respect, and to give faith itself its proper place in the future.We were warned that there would be wars and rumours of war, as there have been throughout human history. But the present conflict is not a result of political ideology, assertions of state sovereignty or economic hegemony: it is cultural and religious.
And the longer we bury our heads in the sand, deceiving ourselves that this may somehow be mediated, deflected and appeased, the more bloody and terrifying will be the final conflict.
Wahhabi Islam opposes and hates: it does not compromise, for that would be to dishonour the Prophet and offend Allah. It advocates a religio-political system of governance which is irreconcilable with the democratic traditions of the West. And it is becoming more militant and ever more dangerous. As it asserts a modern expression, its antipathy towards the West will become increasingly evident, and the terrorist atrocities of the IRA will be as nothing compared to what they will unleash upon us.
The revolution in Iran and the overthrow of the Shah yielded a Shi’a theocracy intent on the destruction of Israel.
Democracy in Gaza yielded government by Hamas, intent on the destruction of Israel
The government of national unity in Lebanon has recently fallen to Hezbollah, intent on the destruction of Israel.
Egypt has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1979, for which Anwar Sadat paid the ultimate price. President Mubarak has sustained and honoured that treaty, against growing antipathy towards Israel and the West, in particular by the Muslim Brotherhood. Let us not fool ourselves that the Egyptian people are not looking for a saviour, a king, a strongman to lead them to their promised land.
Politics abhors a vacuum. Just like the Palestinians fell for the lies of Hamas, it is not impossible that some day soon Egypt will be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
And who could then discount an Iran-Lebanon-Egypt alliance against Israel?
We can no longer afford to gaze at our navels and debate minutiae. These revolutions are the beginning of a jihad the likes of which the world has never seen. Wahhabi Islam must be rooted out and eradicated for it has no respect for democracy, liberty, free markets or civil liberties. It does not care for the rule of law, freedom of conscience of freedom of religion. We must assist those who seek to promote a peaceable Sunni Islam, a moderate Shi’a expression, and encourage all towards an understanding of the Sufi tradition.
And while we must, of course, deplore the appalling loss of life and heed the very different warnings provided to us by Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia and Egypt, so must we also guard against the emerging state within our own state.
As long as questions of religion and culture are subsumed to economics and sidelined by issues of petty politics, we deprive ourselves of the very vocabulary and urgent inquiry we so urgently need.
Oil is one thing.
Wahhabi Islam and a rebellious shari’a-supporting burgeoning youth intent on our destruction is quite another.