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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

Islam and Democracy: Possibilities, Challenges, and Risks of Bringing Democracy to Islamic Nations, Government, and People

Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC
June 16, 2003

The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Administration views or policy.

Opening Remarks and Introduction

Panel Moderator
Alexander Kronemer

Panel Participants
Dr. Abdulwahab Alkebsi
Dr. Hillel Fradkin
Dr. Maysam al-Faruqi
Dr. Asma Afsaraddin

MR. KRONEMER:  Good afternoon, and welcome to the Secretary's Open Forum for this discussion on Islam and democracy. Perhaps the most pressing foreign policy issue today is the question about whether or not Islam can flourish--I'm sorry, democracy can flourish--in the lands where Islam prevails. And yet as a question it has really been asked of that about other areas and other places for the last 20 years. In the '80s we were asking the question can Islam--I'm sorry--I keep saying the word "Islam," and I mean "democracy"--so we know they are unified. Can democracy flourish in Latin America? There were optimists about that, pessimists arguing, debating whether that can happen. Later we asked the question of can democracy flourish in Russia or in the former Soviet states. Can it flourish in East Asia? And in all those places we have seen some false starts and some imperfections, but in those 20 years we have seen in fact democracy come to those areas, come to those lands.

So today the question is about the lands where Islam prevail and the winds of democracy are blowing through, and we find ourselves now very much engaged in a debate, both outside the Islamic world but also, and very importantly, inside the Islamic world, about whether these two forces, these two ideas, are compatible.

And perhaps no better sign that the winds of democracy are blowing through the Islamic world is when we see the forces of authoritarianism beginning to rise. Recent newspaper articles about Iran, for example, are showing that to be the case. It is the question of the day. It is why we have come here together and have this distinguished panel to help us as we engage in this discussion and perhaps debate.

I would like to just briefly introduce the people we have with us. We have, closest to my left, Dr. Maysam al Faruqi, Dr. Hillel Fradkin, Dr. Abdulwahab Alkebsi, and Dr. Asma Afsaraddin.

Dr. al-Faruqi has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies with a focus in Koranic and Islamic law from Temple University and currently teaches Islamic studies at Georgetown. She is an adviser to many non-governmental organizations on the Muslim world, and the co-founder of the Georgetown Study Project that deals with women's rights and Islamic law. Her most recent publication, Windows of Faith, is on women and Islamic law.

Dr. Fradkin is a frequent writer on Islamic-Jewish studies on contemporary politics and on the issue of religion in the modern world. He is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and has a Ph.D. in Islamic History and Thought from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Abdulwahab Alkebsi is the former executive director for the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, and very recently--so recently, in fact, that he's not listed as that in his biography--but is now the program officer for the Middle East for the National Endowment for Democracy. He has lectured in cities and universities around the world and has had articles published in the Brookings Institution and the Hamline School of Law, among other places.

Finally, Dr. Asma Afsaruddin is a Guggenheim Fellow and Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and is the author of numerous articles and books, including Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership.

While they are going to be participating and helping flesh out these issues, my primary job in this discussion on Islamic democracy is to make sure that democracy flourishes here at the Open Forum for this discussion. And I think Mr. Keppler may have given you some sense of how we are going to do things today. We do have a large audience, and we expect it to grow as the discussion goes on. What we are going to do is take questions from the audience as one normally would, but you will see there are index cards provided in different places. We do expect to get a lot of questions and comments. So I would urge you to also write your questions or your comments and pass them forward. There's going to be- our assistant back there will be picking those up--could you just wave your hand so they all see you? So just put up your hand, and she will be bringing those up. We will be taking questions from the audience. But also we are going to be trying to collate some of the questions that are coming up on index cards, so that we can try to have as full a discussion as we possibly can.

I've asked--in reference to time--I have asked all the participants to keep their comments brief, to under 5 minutes at the most. And so for the people asking questions I'm going to also impose and ask for you to keep your questions and comments you may have brief. Actually, when we begin talking, we will start a clock ticking. In about a minute or so, please try to wind up your questions, and I'll remind you when we get to that time, if we haven't yet.

What we are going to do right now then is I am going to give each of the panelists an opportunity to begin to address this issue. I am going to ask them each a question, and then please just each of you just answer separately. After you've all had a chance, we will come back and give you a chance to embellish or comment on the other panelists' commentary. After that I will begin taking questions from the audience.

I would like to begin actually with Dr. Al-Faruqi, because you know the basic question that we have, obviously, is always the question: Is Islam at all compatible with democracy? Are there things theologically or koranically that prevent or in some ways provide opportunities? And with your background, I'd like you to maybe comment on that, if you could.

DR. AL-FARUQI:  Thank you, Mr. Kronemer. Of course, I could rephrase the question in a slightly different way, because often we make democracy synonymous to human rights and respect of human rights. And if I were to phrase it as do Muslims, who believe in Islam, want to have human rights applied to them or not? I think the answer becomes pretty obvious. I don't think you would find an individual who would say, no, I don't want human rights, thank you very much. You can abuse me as you like.

If we look at Islam, Islam of course is a religion first and foremost, a religion based on the belief of God and absolute divinity of God. The worship of God is the mandate of the Muslim, and the Muslim is there according to the Koran, according to Islam, to worship God and to lead an ethical life, which is the only way Islam, by which one reaches paradise and stands favorably on the day of judgment. It is an ethical mandate for the Muslims to live an ethical life, and therefore to create around themselves systems of life that are, indeed, ethical; thus, proper ethical behavior in private life but also in public life; a proper ethical behavior in the economic world and social realm and the political realm. And to provide for an ethical society is the primary mandate again of the Muslim.

Islam is primarily a religion. It is not a state. One could be a Muslim in a non-Islamic majority area and be fully a Muslim. Muslims can live together as, say, a small tribe or small community in an island and not have a state, and be fully Muslims and abide by the presets of Islam.

If there is a majority of Muslims, then obviously Islam will demand ethical behavior on the part of the state--no doubt about it--and the preservations of the rights of individuals. Therefore, does Islam have something to do and say about the state? Indeed, it does, and Muslims will hold their state to be responsible for guaranteeing and providing them the rights that are provided by their own Islamic law, by their own faith. And they will definitely refuse to have a state not allowing them to practice freely their faith and live in accordance to the law.

Incidentally, the rights of individuals, according to the Koran, is not restricted to Muslims, but also of course to non-Muslims. Of course, the Koran will make that point very clearly and will refuse absolutely any coercion on non-Muslims--thus the very verse in the Koran--(speaks in Arabic) -- "If your lord had so wished, all his creatures would believe in him, all of them without exception." But he did not. Would you then compel people to believe? Would you dare to force people to practice a faith that they do not wish to practice or to believe in?

And so non-Muslims historically in Muslim lands, Islamic lands, have always had their own rights, their own courts, the right to live by their own law, often were themselves participants in the style of government, in Islamic lands, so they would be prime ministers, viziers, ministers--not to say that Muslims did not commit, like all other communities, atrocities against certain groups at various times -- no doubt about it--they are human beings, and they break the law as surely as Christians break the law, as surely as Jews break the law. But certainly their faith holds them to that ethical behavior and by and large they did. And so I would point that we cannot--we do not witness inquisitions or holocausts in the lands of Islam, or a wholesale colonial effort where, for instance, 30 million Native Americans are eventually just eradicated. We do not find that in the history of Islam, and I think Muslims are very proud of that in their history, and rightly so.

In terms of the relationship between Islam and democracy proper, it will all depend on the definition of "democracy," of course. Islamic law in general does hold for, demand elections, rule of law, demands the ruler be bound by law and that that ruler cannot--Islamic law does not accept the concept of a theocracy in which a ruler can decide on his own--what the law is that people will live by. Islamic law is derived by jurists by consensus, and thus the consensus of the community, and respect of Islamic law is something that is mandated by Islam, and, of course, that's what Muslims will demand.

Some of these were carried out in history by Muslims; some were not very successfully. For example, Islamic law does mandate elections, and we see that except for the first four hadiths that was not actually carried out in Islamic history. But then I mean we can hardly have proper elections in Florida in the 21st century; I mean, 1,500 years ago it was much harder to hold effective elections throughout an empire. So there are certain historical arguments as to why Muslims failed to always live by what Islamic law demanded that they should have.

And the definition of "democracy," I would submit, depends again on what we define as "democracy"--are we talking about rule of law? Are we talking about institutions? Are we talking about elections? The fact of the matter is we could have democracy and not have respect of human rights. I would submit to you, and you would agree I think with me, that for the better part of the 200-plus history of American democracy some groups--like Native Americans and African Americans, certainly did not enjoy much in terms of rights. And yet it was a democracy in the U.S. --no doubt about it, it was a democracy from the start.

And so would Islam, for instance, accept that kind of thwarted democracy? No. Would Christianity? No. Would Judaism? No. Do Christians, Muslims, Jews sometimes actually abuse what their religions would say or end up with a system that is not proper? Yes, it does happen, but that doesn't mean that in the religion itself there is an endorsement of such practices, as say the enslavement of a whole community.

Ultimately, it is what ensures the dignity and rights of individuals, which is what Islamic law will demand, and will hold an Islamic state up to. Ultimately, however, I would submit to you that what really ensures the dignity and the rights of individuals is not so much a political structure. It is really--and not governments, which often fight against the rights of their own citizens, as did happen even here in the United States. And often governments end up having to carry out basically the policies dictated by interest groups and lobbies. What matters really is for people, in whatever political system they are, to stand up for their rights, for the fundamental dignity that all of the universal religions do mandate and provide them with. And Muslim jurists have always maintained the right of Muslims to stand up and call for and demand their rights. The only thing they do not want--and they all unanimously agree on this--is that they don't want these rights to be called for in a chaotic manner or by civil war or by force. They want basically--they want it to be achieved through a different process, perhaps involving civil disobedience, but not more than that. And I think that, ultimately, it is the belief in such ideals that transform society and makes it a great society.

I would say that what transformed America into a democracy respecting human rights is the greatness of American culture itself that does provide for people such a notion as the beautiful notion of--as translated by Martin Luther King--of having a dream. "I have a dream," which is that I will be able to realize the proper respect for my rights and my dignity in the society. And having provided--for our culture to provide that for its people, it ensures that those people will stand up for their rights and make sure that they are, indeed, respected.

In a nutshell, there are lots of things, but I am sure that I will be having the wrath of the moderator soon if I don't stop now. So there are a lot of things that we can address later in the questions and answers. Thank you.

MR. KRONEMER:  Thank you. Okay, so that's one side of the equation, the notion of Islam, democracy, and how Islam may view democratic institutions. But the other side of the equation is democracy itself. And Dr. Fradkin, I would like to ask you the question: Is democracy itself flexible to take into account things like -- because it's been noted by many people that in Islamic lands probably the notion of separation of church and state in many countries is not going to really happen, that Islam is so much a part of the society that it would have to in some way be a part of the political system. So is the separation of church and state a requirement for democracy? And is democracy itself able to take into account religion?

DR. FRADKIN:  Thank you all for having me here today. I want to say this first--I won't address this now, but perhaps later. I think it may be the case--that the premise that you just stated, which is a well-known premise, that the separation of church and state, or rather mosque and state, in Muslim countries is very unlikely--may be actually a questionable premise, both historically and from contemporary perspective, but I'll leave that to later and address the general questions that you pose to me. Actually the question was posed in two different forms, and I'll try to answer it in two different ways.

First, Is democracy flexible enough to include religion? And I think the answer is emphatically yes, and we have more or less a decisive proof of that in the United States itself. After all, American democracy includes religion in at least two senses: One, it has a very robust religious life, and that's not any secret; and, two, it has a very robust engagement--and perhaps this is more to the point--very robust engagement of religious groups in public life. In fact, so robust that there are from time to time complaints about that engagement in public life, including quite recently. Although it also includes--and I'm reminded of this by Dr. Faruqi's remarks that, of course, the church and religious groups played a very, very substantial role in what was called the civil rights movement. It's extremely unlikely that the rectification of the greatest injustice that was committed in this country would have happened either at all or as speedily as it did without the active engagement of religious groups.

But then the question was framed a second way, and perhaps this is more germane to the question of Islam and democracy today, and it might be put: Can you have democracy and also have an established religion? And here, too, the answer is emphatically yes. And we have some examples of that--for example, Great Britain, which is clearly a democracy but also has an official and established religion; namely, the Church of England. So formally speaking we can say that the answer is yes to both your questions.

But I suppose the real question is when one gets down to hard cases is: What do you need to make democracy work, and what must one do in regard to religion from that perspective? Is there something special that is necessary? And here I think the answer is that there is something particular with regard to religion which is necessary for democracy, at least modern democracy, to work as such, and, indeed, to do its work, the work that people expect from democracy. And that is, I think, what is necessary is absolute freedom of religion, or as it is sometimes called, freedom of conscience.

All successful modern democracies have this somehow or other at their foundation, for it means that at bottom, whether the state has an established religion or not, the power of the state cannot and will not be used to coerce individuals in matters of religious belief and practice. Individuals may feel pressure from other sources to be of one religion or another--family, friends, their community-- but the state will play no role.

Now, the principle is, of course, not simply enough. There must be constitutional, political, and legal arrangements which protect this freedom as much as is humanly possible. This principle, it seems to me, has a dignity and importance all its own, and its dignity and importance is how it has been argued for. But it also is crucial for the work democracy is supposed to do, and especially the work people would like to see it do in Muslim countries today. The reason people have recently proposed democratic reform in Muslim countries is not only to see them work democratically in some formal sense, but to see them, if I may put it this way, to work, period. The general view, as reflected among other things, in a recent report on the condition of Arab countries in particular, is that Muslim countries currently have little political and economic vitality. And the chief cause is said to be that political participation is highly limited and restricted. Democracy is offered in this mode of discourse, and I think fairly so, as the remedy on the ground that it would increase political participation, and therewith create a more dynamic, productive, and satisfying society. The condition of such a democratic process is that the political process, in general, must not exclude or privilege any citizen or any group. And to achieve this kind of political process may require a number of things, but above all, I think, freedom of religion, since religious differences offer the greatest temptation in any society, including our own, for exclusion. I'll stop at that point.

MR. KRONEMER:  Thank you. So we are discussing--we began this conversation with the opportunities and possibilities, which you both have answered, to say I think that at least from a theological and theoretical point of view are very possible. Dr. Alkebsi, you work sort of in a daily way on the ground with particular instances of countries. So let's move the conversation right now onto the issue of challenges. And what do you see as some of the significant challenges facing Islamic countries as they move in a direction of democracy?

DR. ALKEBSI:  Thank you, Alex. The subject is so complicated that it will take 5 hours to allow me to just scratch the surface, so I will use the whole 5 hours just for that. But it is a challenge. Just to cite a couple of examples: The Freedom House developed a recent survey in which 47 countries with Muslim majority, 11 were found to be electoral democracies--some kind of electoral democracies versus the 145 other nations 64% were found to be electoral democracies. In the Arab countries that Freedom House saw none of the 16 Arab countries of the Middle East, none was found to be an electoral democracy.

Also, there's another report done by the UN Development Programme--I hope you all have seen it-- it should be required reading, especially around here--“The Arab Human Development Report”-- where they talk about a lot of deficiencies. But the biggest, the most glaring deficiency is the freedom deficiency.

So what are the challenges? Why is the Islamic world undemocratic right now? I think there are internal and external factors, and unless we see both of these factors I don't think we will be able to solve the problem. It has to be a holistic approach.

It has been my experience that people in the Muslim world blame the outside factors, and it's my experience in America and Europe to see them as inherent to the Islamic world. Well, guess what? It's not. It's a combination of both.

What are the internal factors? Islam and the Islamic world, like most empires, have lived for at least 1,000 years of its history under tyrannical rule. These tyrannical rulers gained legitimacy from an Islamic religious perspective. And for that they used what we in my land were called "ulama soba," which are the scholars of the state. These scholars of the state developed the discourse necessary to make their rule legitimate. So I am as a Muslim, as an American say--maybe it's not politically correct, but I want to tell you that our Islamic discourse today on political affairs is arcane, and it's not conducive to democracy. That is an internal inherent problem to the Islamic world.

Let me give you an example. If you have a survey today in most Muslim countries, even those who live in open societies, and ask about what happens to a Muslim who decides to change his religion-- what happens there? Well, it's a death penalty. How can you have freedom of religion if you can't change your religion?

Another example: When you ask most Muslims, at the street level or the intellectual level, about women, and can they be the number one ruler, not many people will tell you yes, she can be the number one head of the state. So--and the scholars of the state and the rulers in the Islamic world over history, especially the last 500 years, have closed the door to a very institution in Islam. It's called “ijtihad,” where it is innovation, where you can innovate, use text and use it to necessities of the modern day to create discourse to apply Islam to modern problems. This has been closed for the last 500 years. So we are practically today applying discourse that was applicable 500 years--and we want to apply it to today's problems. So we have some serious internal problems to the Islamic world.

But there also have been some external problems. The promoters of democracy in the Islamic world have been associated with colonialism for the longest time. How can the British promote democracy with what they have done in the Arab and Islamic world? How can the French promote democracy in Algeria? Historically, democracy promotion and democracy examples have come with colonialism, with oppression. Today, at least, in the perception of many in the Islamic world, the United States--which is the biggest promoter of democracy in the world--foreign policy has not been in line with American values. That's at least a perception in the Islamic world. You talk about democracy--well, look at who you are supporting in that part of the world. You are supporting the tyrants over the rights of the people. Hopefully, I see signs of this changing. Hopefully, we see a change in the paradigm from both the United States and the Arab and the Islamic world. But at least up till now the perception has been the promoters of democracy have been the ones that have committed the most aggression against democracy in the Islamic world.

There are a lot of things, but I want to reemphasize, Alex, if I may, that if you want to approach proper solutions to democracy in the Islamic world, we have to see both paradigms. We have to see the internal factors and the external factors and look at the problem holistically to be able to solve it. Thank you, Alex. I hope I have a chance to answer their questions, too.

MR. KRONEMER:  Thank you very much. Well, Dr. Afsaruddin, a match--going to save one of the toughest questions now for you. Lucky you came here, aren't you? Okay, so we have talked-- we have opened the discussion, talked about possibilities. Dr. Alkebsi has talked a little bit about the challenges, which we hope to revisit in a little more depth. But let's just, if you could, just outline for us what the risks are both in not seeing democracy come and not promoting democracy in Islamic countries, but also if you can touch on what the risks are in democracy actually coming to some Islamic countries, if you see anything?

DR. AFSARADDIN:  Okay, I'll start with the first part of your question. There are definitely risks if Muslim countries don't become democratic. If the governments of Muslim countries do not become democratic, then they are not actually listening to their people; they are ignoring the wishes of a majority of their populations, I would say, who are very desirous of political freedoms in their countries and crave accountable governments.

According to a survey, if I can throw another survey at you in addition to the one that you mentioned that was published by the Pew Global Attitudes Project last year, which surveyed about 38,000 people in 44 different countries--a significant number of which were Muslim countries: They found that many of the Muslim peoples polled actually expressed a stronger desire for political freedoms, for democratic freedoms, than people in eastern Europe, notably Bulgaria and Russia. I think that's a very significant result of this survey that points to some of the points we have all been making regarding the desire for democracy in Muslim countries.

I believe Muslims will be increasingly demanding greater political participation in their countries. I don't imagine that these nondemocratic regimes are about to be toppled overnight, but they are certainly unpopular, and this unpopularity will translate, one hopes--certainly not in the future, but in the long term--to their transformation and perhaps even their removal by the people living in these countries.

There is a general shared feeling among Muslims, as there always has been throughout time, that autocratic and authoritarian regimes are morally wrong and un-Islamic. So I think that lends emphasis to what Dr. Al-Faruqi has said. Actually, this is a powerful source of discontent in many of these Muslim countries. And one finds this discontent reflected in the early medieval literature, and one finds it not. The Koranic injunctions in favor of “shura”--and I think this is a word that needs to be introduced into our conversation now, which is "consultation," is frequently invoked in discussions on political theory and organization. Medieval sources emphasize how the Prophet Mohammad would engage in frequent consultation with his companions. And the example of his four successors, who are called the rightly guided “hadiths,” further confirm the normative nature of these principles. This is a powerful normative concept embedded in political discourses in Muslim countries to this day, and that has a long genealogy back to the very early period.

For those who claim--and this is a claim that is often made by people who are critical of the idea that Islam and democracy are compatible in many ways--for those who claim that shura and its manifestation in the early Islamic period do not add up to liberal democracy, I would say they are absolutely right. But then nothing at this stage in history did. But it is a powerful concept that we can work with and, through the principle which you mention, be able to develop it in accordance with the principles we accept as forming the basis for modern democracies. When you think about it after all, classical Athenian democracy in Western discourse is often held up as a paragon of modern democratic ideals--certainly a precursor. Even though the Athenian version of it was not inclusive of everybody, in a similar way I would suggest that the concept of shura could be broadened and updated, if you like, through the principle of “ijtihad” to conform with modern democratic notions.

In any case, such a widespread desire for democratic freedoms among Muslims has led, and will continue to lead, I think, to the question of legitimacy of autocratic governments at both the moral and political levels.

Now, the second part of your question points to some of the problems inherent in the process of democratization. And the problem appears to be that Muslims are damned if they do and damned if they don't. The mantra has been and continues to be directed at Muslims, at Muslim countries in particular is that they must democratize, and they must do it preferably now.

The subtext of this message coming from us sometimes, however, appears to be that, well, democracy is very good for you guys, but only if you elect the kind of people we approve of. As instances of this attitude, we are reminded of Algeria, for example, in the 1990s when the Islamists did win with a clear majority in democratically held elections but were denied an opportunity to form a government. And at an earlier time, in 1953, Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran also was elected prime minister but was deemed unfit to rule by the United States because of his nationalist aspirations and his perceived Marxist loyalties.

So the short and not so sweet answer to the question is, yes, there are risks to the United States as there are risks to the Muslim countries themselves in undertaking the democratic experiment. And even though this sounds terribly hackneyed, I would say, well, no pain and no gain. These risks are certainly worth taking along the rocky road to democracy and pluralism in order to get things moving and to effect real change.

Mistakes will be made. In fact, mistakes will have to be made on the road to political maturity. Western countries after all have been able to take as much time as they wanted to evolve into democracies from despotism and make terrible mistakes along the way and commit frightful atrocities. And one thinks of the mindless brutal violence that accompanied the European reformation. Muslim countries apparently, however, cannot afford such luxury or be granted such leeway these days.

I think the current global system in which we exist makes it, shall we say, somewhat difficult, considering that events that happen in a region as strategically important as the Middle East, and have such strong and long-term repercussions here. So this option of naturally evolving into polities with consensual accountable governments, without interference from outside powers, seems effectively nonexistent for Muslim countries today.

Can these risks be minimized? I like to think so. I think a relentless display of good will and honest intentions on our part would help to allay the climate of suspicion and mistrust of the U.S. in many Muslim countries.

The mistakes made under several of our administrations in supporting authoritarian governments abroad do not in themselves vitiate the American democratic experiment or the concept of democracy itself. But the good will credibility and self-respect that we have sacrificed in the process, I think, can be recouped only through a resolve not to repeat past history.

So, ultimately, democratically elected governments will happen in the Muslim world when the peoples inhabiting these countries demand such governments of their own free will, and we can see this process already underway--and because they realize it is in their own best interests to do so.
The United States can certainly move this process along by being a friend of the people in these cases, and not a friend of their authoritarian governments.

MR. KRONEMER:  Thank you. Well, amazingly, I think the four of you have managed to give a very good picture of the landscape on this topic. And, again, just to repeat for those of you who may have come in a bit late, we are going to begin taking questions in just a moment. There are index cards at least some of the stations. If you don't have one, you can raise your hand and Jennifer Navarro back there will be happy to give you one, or a pen if you need one. We will take questions, as normal, but there are so many people and there will probably be so many questions that I am urging everyone to write your questions and pass them forward so that we can organize them somewhat and go through them and try to make sure, at least, the major questions, the repeated questions, will certainly be asked, if not asked by one of you already.

So while you are doing that, I am just going to throw one question back to the panelists myself, and then we will open it up to the gathered audience here. What I am hearing you all say is, you know, in quoting some of the surveys that there is this desire, strong desire for democracy, that they are really at the basic level, at the theoretical level of democracy and Islam, there really isn't anything stopping it.

So I'd like to return actually to Dr. Alkebsi's comments, and maybe all of you can weigh in a little bit. So how do you get from where we are today to where we are there? You raised two actually, I thought, very big points that seem like obstacles--perceptions that democracy is associated with colonialism and, therefore, is in some way undesirable perhaps in some people's mind, but also the way that medieval thinking has developed and continues, you are saying, to have an influence. I'd like all of you perhaps to comment on that--the practical question of how do we get further along in this process.

DR. ALKEBSI:  (inaudible) Going into your--to answer your question, I'd like to comment a little about what was said here before and restrain myself during my 5 minutes--but a very impressive presentation about the pathway to Islamic democracy for myself. But I've tended to stop doing that a little while ago because of the need to convince you that Islam and democracy are compatible. I need to convince the people out there that Islam and democracy are compatible. You don't have to believe that, but people in the Muslim world have to believe that. What I have to convince you is that we are doing it the wrong way. We are going to the Islamic world and saying, whoa, listen, we have this wonderful package for you--it's called democracy. It will help your governance; it will help your economic systems; it will help give you freedom. It's a wonderful product. But, guess what? It's not compatible with your religion. You have to give up one of them. Guess which one they will pick? They will definitely pick Islam over democracy. So our job is to convince them that it is. And that's what we have been doing--trying to do--for the last 15 years or so.

But the question about secularism also is very interesting. In October I was out in three Arab countries trying to build a network of democrats. And we built this--in my old job--Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. I am now with the National Endowment for Democracy--we built it as a debate between Islamists and secularists and how they can work together toward democracy. This is one of the ways we can, to answer your question, Alex, foment and encourage debate and communication and hopefully cooperation between Islamists and secularists.

In the three countries, we had the secularists take us aside and say, please don't call us secularists--you know, it's a four-word here--don't call us secularists. So we started using other terminology-- nationalists, democratic forces. But in every debate I had with an Islamist, I convinced them that secularism is the best thing for you--secularism. And you have to explain what secularism is. How do you approach secularism? Is it the Turkish example? The Tunisian example? They won't accept it--where secularism means anti-religion. Secularism has to be a way for freedom of religion. If you explain it that way, if you define it that way, then the Muslim will be the biggest supporter of secularism. And the example I use today in the Islamic world is, unlike Europe in the medieval times, today we have state-dominated religions. So we need to free religion from the state today. This is what is going on in the Islamic world. We have states dominating religion. All the sermons given in the Friday prayers, which are like Sunday sermons, are dominated by the state. The endowments, which have been “wakf” in Islamic literature and Islamic tradition, it is an institution which gave civil society its independence. Today every Arab country and most Islamic countries have ministries of wakf that control these endowments. So you have lost independent civil society. If you explain it that way, that secularism will give you independence from the state-- guess what? They will support it. So it depends, Alex, on how you approach it and how you take it. Thank you.

DR. AL-FARUQI:  Well, one of the problems definitely is that, and throughout the Muslim world, the systems of state that are there are not structures that have been developed internally. Indeed, practically all of them are secular, whether we are talking about Syria or Egypt or Lebanon or Algeria. All of those have inherited secular systems that have been actually imposed by the colonial forces in the 20th century. And so no doubt about it, if you then associate those secular countries or secular systems with the abuses that have been carried out in their name, Muslims have no positive understanding or acceptance of what secularism is. They have been living under secular states now for over 50 years--actually 100 years--that have not guaranteed their rights. And again, as I said before, having a secular democracy does not guarantee human rights, as was the case in the United States for quite a while in relationship with African Americans, and to some extent still is the case for Native Americans.

So, basically, what matters is to have individual rights. And I don't know of anyone who would say, "I don't want my individual rights to be respected." Most Muslim organizations, as far as I can tell are, indeed, devoted to have basically the rights of the individuals respected.

Now whether they will call this an Islamic requirement, or whether they call it a secular requirement, or whether they simply call it basic human value requirement, it doesn't matter. That is what they want, and that is the right thing, and that's what individuals, usually communities, and majorities do want. The point is to help them along and not interfere with that internal system by which they come to these conclusions in that system and impose on them a method that does not necessarily work for them, but helps them work out their issues internally without ending in chaos, civil war, which has been the case in Algeria which is far worse basically than having say a purely secular system imposed or purely an Islamic system imposed. We end up with chaotic--(short audio break for tape flip)--the Muslims have to define that term themselves. That is their prerogative, their right--and define the states in which they want to live. And since Islam does promote individual rights, there is no reason why Muslims cannot have such a structure.

MR. KRONEMER:  Yes, Dr. Fradkin?

DR. FRADKIN:  If I can get in on this a little bit, I want to say first of all that I particularly want to endorse Abdul's framing of the issue in terms of these external and internal factors, and also the comments that were made by Asma about the risks or obstacles. It does seem to me that it has been the case that there are certain historical weights that are both external and internal. And when the internal was unfortunate tyrannical tradition in political life, which notwithstanding the fact that it is posed in an Islamic principle had no opposition in actual concrete political life. But also to say that in a way the modern history made this worse, and particularly with regard to, say, the issue that I was asked to address, religion and the state, because it is--it was the case in the pre-modern period that there was not in the strict sense of the term a union of mosque and state. That is, there was--it was often the case that the religious establishment such as it was operated--was not part of the governmental system, part of the governmental bureaucracy, operated privately and independently, and did represent some kind of counterweight to tyrannical regimes. It was precisely the secular autocracies which have enforced the kind of union of religion and state. In many countries, for example Egypt, it was under Nasser and the free officers movement that the clergy became state employees and as a result lost their freedom from the state.

I think it also is the case that there were important external factors, like the portrayal of liberal principles under colonialism by the British and the French, and also to some extent the United States through its support for autocratic rulers. And here just to underscore the point, I think these things are reversible insofar as on the one hand there develops what Abdul was describing before, a new Islamic discourse on democratic governance, and on the other hand a consistent application of American principles in our policy.

It seems to me we will also have as far as religion and state--we face once this question with respect to the new situation in Iraq. There, people have said that there is no--one would have to see this in terms of a union of mosque and state. But this actually would beg the question, I think very seriously beg the question of which Islam would be in fact become the established religion of Iraq? There is, as is well known, a very great divide between the Shiite and the Sunni community. So it may very well turn out that for both communities in this certain sense the fact that there will not be an established religion in the full constitutional sense would be the best deal that both of them can have, and the best deal they'll want.

MR. KRONEMER:  If I may--thank you, if I may jump in. We are getting dozens of questions up here, and many of them having to do with U.S. foreign policy issues regarding this, which obviously is something we do want to get into and will. However, going back actually to the first question that we asked about opportunities and possibilities, there have come several questions. And, Dr. Alkebsi, I am sorry to say this, but there are people who aren't convinced in this audience --(laughter)--even though--and I think we are going to have to spend a little more time, because we've actually received a number of very important questions on that issue, questions asking--and I am just going to mention a few of them, and you can all pick up, and maybe we'll start with you Dr. Afsaruddin, since you didn't have a chance to comment on that last one, if you'd like.

So there's been questions like, for example, we talked about--Dr. Al-Faruqi you talked about human rights and things of that nature but didn't really address the issue of democracy, per se. Is democracy--does Islam promote or in some way inhibit democracy? There is the concern that, in fact, there are bad guys out there who may use democratic institutions. Someone quoted a Turkish jihadist who said that we are going to use democratic institutions in order to overthrow the government. It was mentioned by one of you also about the Algerian issue. But that was a concern about the Algerian election represented one man, one vote, one time. So the question is really is it--do these types of views that say that we are going to participate--this notion of we'll participate in the democratic elections only to gain power that way and to hold it--is that a realistic fear? And how do we address that fear. Also, if we can comment again, maybe from a theological point of view once more, addressing more particularly the issue of democracy and how Islam either supports or thwarts that.

DR. AFSARUDDIN:  I'd feel more confident by addressing the question about framing democracy in Islamic discourse. I am going to throw out some concepts that fit very well into this kind of discourse on democracy and making it compatible with Islamic principles. Shura is one of the concepts I mentioned about consultation, more specifically consultative governance. There also is the notion of “baya,” or expressing allegiance to the leader. If you look at the early Islamic literature, there is a great deal of emphasis on that, and, again, the precedence set by the first four capliphs is a very important part of this discourse, the fact that they solicited permission, if you'd like, or the tacit, at least, the tacit consent of their people in exceeding to their rule. This was done by a formal proclamation of their loyalty to the government. This was carried out through the first 30-year period of rule under the first four successors and today remains a normative example for Muslims. People living today under the most tyrannical regimes will point to this period and say the people actually had a say in the selection of their leaders and a say in the running of their governments. And then the not in of consensus, that there has to be ijtihad in Arabic, that there has to be at least a broad-based general consensus on the legitimacy of the leader. Again you find this reflected in the early Islamic literature, and it's a powerful concept that is invoked to this day.

I feel that we often do a disservice to the kind of work we do promoting democratic ideals by focusing only on particular terminology that is coming from a different kind of discourse, if you like, a different kind of dynamic--very culturally specific, very historically specific. I think our failure has been in not being able to reframe the terms of this discourse in terms that are meaningful to Muslims living in the Islamic world. I think invoking these concepts that really resonate powerfully with them helps them to see that there is a lot that there is compatible with Western notions of liberal democracy, and that there is a way of creating a parallel discourse.

DR. AL-FARUQI:  May I comment on that? You've defined pretty thoroughly, that, and it is rule of law and limited government as a matter of fact, and consensus and elections. All that is part of Islamic law, no doubt about it.

In terms of the myth that if we allow elections in which an Islamic party comes to power and therefore automatically negates the process, first--consider that all the systems that we have in the Arab and Muslim world are secular systems that bring about autocratic secular systems and parties that take over power and impose their rule. You can impose your rule whether it is basically secular, Islamic, Christian, Jewish. It basically isn't something that is associated with a religion or a culture. You can basically take over and become totally autocratic. And, definitely, the people who must--the force that must resist that are the people themselves, because then in that case their fundamental rights are being taken away from them.

Now in relationship though to the concept of Islamic democracy or democracy where Islamic law does rule, and the difficulties that some Muslims have with the concept of democracy, it isn't on the issue of consensus and rule of law, limited government, and things like that. Rather it is that the concept of democracy is often strongly associated, because it's Western terminology, with secular systems of separation of church and state that are the result of historical conditions of Western experience. And that leads to the concept of secular values, which because they are secular and not called religious, are then basically freely imposed on all individuals, whether those accommodate their specific religions or not. I'll give you examples right here in the United States. We do have government basically or a Supreme Court controlling issues of abortion, polygamy, sexual practices now, the most recent case now that is going to the Supreme Court, for instance. And that according to Islamic law is not really the business of a government, secular or non-secular. That is part of religion, religious practices, religious faith, and should remain in the field of those rights of the individuals. And the fear of many Muslims is the concept of a secular state which because it shows itself secular, therefore aggregates itself the right of imposing certain views, certain values automatically on all people, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Austrian or whatever-- just because they are called secular and not religious. And that is a concern which is a legitimate concern as a matter of fact that is voiced by many Muslims.

MR. KRONEMER:  Dr. Fradkin, before you turn to that, let me point the question toward you because this particular aspect of this discussion, because there were a couple questions asking you specifically--don't worry--(laughter)--but, no, asking you specifically from two points of view. One point of view was saying that isn't it true that sharia inhibits freedom of religious practice, that it stops people from being able to practice their religion freely, and isn't that the basis of democracy? And yet there was another question completely from the opposite point of view saying, effectively, isn't it true that sharia allows for--actually allows in some way for the separation of church and state by its offering protection to Jews and Christians and others living inside of it? So since you had addressed sort of specifically that issue, if you can try to elucidate that a little bit, that would be great.

DR. FRADKIN:  I think it's clear from the two questions that there is, and it probably is bound to be a considerable amount of ambiguity about what the sharia does or does not say on this issue. And it would be--it's also fair to say that there is just a fair amount of ambiguity about what the sharia is and is not. That is, there are at least four schools of Muslim law, five if one includes Shiite law, and actually many more that have had some influence at one time or another in Islamic history. I don't think it is the case that one could simply say that under any of these--under most traditional understandings of what sharia is, one would find simply the concept of freedom of religious concept as it came to be developed in the West, and that does pose something of a problem. But as a number of people have pointed--and my colleagues have pointed out--one of the, that is, a problem that could have been, might still be overcome by religious interpretation or legal interpretation, and that there was a period within Islamic history when interpretation was a very lively and imaginative and creative process which it ceased to be some several hundred years ago, and that through what was called closing the door of ijtihad, closing the door of independent reasoning. And my colleagues Abdul has suggested that that door--and many other people have suggested that door needs to be reopened in such a way as to develop the law in ways which not only conform to Western notions, but will conform to the needs of Muslims in reconstituting vital societies. So I think there's no simple yea or nay on this, but I think it is ambiguous in both senses, that the law is ambiguous and the future is ambiguous.

And that leads me, if I could add one thing here, and it was brought up I think by a number of my colleagues, perhaps most directly by Asma, that, of course, Christianity, Judaism--it was implicit, I think, in what you said that neither of those two religions was always friendly to democracy--either its principles or its constitutional arrangements--and that that took a long time to develop. And not all the consequences of that historical development were particularly pretty--say, the religious wars which were far more destructive in human life than so far anything remotely which has occurred in Islamic countries as a result of civil war, unless one sort of thinks of the war between Iraq and Iran as something like a civil war, which is probably not quite a fit.

So it's well, and I think it's important for us in America to realize that the benefits that we enjoy of democratic governance came as a result of a very long and painful political but also intellectual process, and that intellectual process--both those things have to occur in Muslim countries.

The unfortunate thing or the injustice of it, I think, was implicit in Asma's remark, is that it has to happen more quickly than it did in the West; that there's a--the combination--it has to come more quickly both for sake of Muslim citizens who are tired of living in the conditions they have, and also because of another modern creation; namely, modern technology, which unfortunately brings us great benefits but also brings great curses in the form of modes of destruction, which can be catastrophic.

So the task really it seems to me is relatively speedily to find a strategy which would create both the information culture through intelligence discourse and also a constitutional or a political process which would institutionalize the kinds of liberties that people are, in fact, seeking in the Muslim world.

MR. KRONEMER:  Can I make a deal with you? I have about literally 20 questions on the issue of policy, and I really would like to if we--I'll give you the first, and you can even move in, put your comments that you might want to have, fit them into this. But I'd like to move the conversation in that direction, because we are getting to so many questions on that, if I could.

And the overarching question that we are getting is what should the U.S. role be in promoting democracy in Islamic countries? And a few things that have been noted, which you don't have to address these as points, but just to get the context of how these questions are being framed. First of all, the notion of isn't it--it hasn't been mentioned; isn't it true that the U.S. association with democracy attempts themselves will taint them in the eyes of democracy advocates in various countries? Should we impose democracy? I mean, should we really be in the business of imposing democracy? Can we wait for its natural--I mean, as was just mentioned by Dr. Fradkin of the sense of we need it now. How do we get it now when we've already noted that in the West it took hundreds of years to develop. So should we impose it? And, frankly, and getting to the issue of risks, and the U.S. involvement in promoting democracy, but what happens if we promote democracy and we wind up with a democratically elected government that is anti-Western or anti-American that thwarts our foreign policy issues? Or even the war on terrorism. We are receiving a lot of support, someone noted, from those same autocrats. So what happens if we get those autocrats out? So a big question: What should the U.S. role be, and that's some of the context of how these questions are coming. You start.

DR. ALKEBSI:  That's a good deal. I mean, it's impossible to answer all the questions and limit them to again the 5 hours that you are giving me here. But I want to just touch upon the point of sharia, because it's extremely important. We have fallen into the trap of the definition of sharia that we want to fight. What is called today sharia is what Muslims call “fiqh.” Fiqh is the understanding of God's love. Sharia means God's law that they are promoting, then they have to defend it. It's God's law. I can't allow you to change it.

What is used today in some Islamic nations is what is an understanding of God's law. And I want to give you an example. Imam Shafi, which is one of the four major scholars of the Sunni Islamic schools, interpreted something using fiqh when he lived in Baghdad, Iraq. And when he moved to Egypt, when he was asked the same question, he interpreted it differently. They said but you applied this differently in Baghdad. He said, well, every place and every time a different interpretation of the text.

Now, today we are applying in the United States what we applied, what we want to apply in the United States, what we applied in Baghdad 1,000 years ago. So the time is correct; the place is not correct. And this is not sharia. It is fiqh. Sorry for the--it's very important not to fall in the trap of their definition for it.

Going to what the United States should do. The United States should be a facilitator for democracy in that part of the world. Democracy will not flourish without the help of the United States. But the question is how. Democracy is democracy is democracy at some level. If there is no human rights, there is no democracy. If there is no freedom of the press, there is no democracy--no empowerment of women. There are some issues that we have to apply. And if it is not given, if it is not applied, then it is not a democracy.

But it is not always the same model that we apply here. A Jeffersonian democracy might not even apply in the United Kingdom, let alone in Saudi Arabia or Iran or Iraq or that part of the world. We have to use indigenous institutions, some religious and some secular, some based on the society and some based on religion. I'll just take a couple of examples and not take so much time.

A mosque in the Islamic world, the word for it, and I'll keep repeating vocabulary here. A word for "mosque" is "jamma" which means if you translate it, "community center." Now, we have lost that value of a mosque in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, some of the people who are not so democratic have used the mosque, and in some extreme cases the mosque has been a recruiting ground for terrorists. Why can it be the community center again where you promote democracy in it? The community moves together; they vote on their issues; they help each other. If somebody is sick, they take care of them. That's what the mosque is. And most Muslims don't know that there was a call for democracy, for shura--don't use the word "democracy," for them to get together. There was a call, like the call for prayer, like that if you know it. There was a special call for Muslims to get together when there is a crisis, for them how to deal with it. This thing has disappeared. This is a religious institution--the hajj, the pilgrimage. Muslims get together every year, millions of them get together. Why can't we benefit from this to promote democracy, to get together and promote democracy for it?

Now, when I talk about institutions based on society, not religion--I handle Afghanistan at my work at the National Endowment for Democracy, and two institutions that we are trying to develop right now are called “maliks”--in Afghanistan these are powerbrokers based on the village, not on tribal factors. So if we can promote when they get together, these maliks to promote democracy, to work together, the “jirgas” or the councils, we do not have to apply a carbon copy of the American model in the Islamic world. There are some principles that we have to apply, but we have to take into account some indigenous factors in that part of the world.

MR. KRONEMER:  Dr. Fradkin and then you. Go ahead.

DR. FRADKIN:  I would like to say first I think the issue was really what American policy should be and whether--how not to taint the process and especially if doesn't it become tainted if we object to governments, the election of governments which might be hostile to American interests? Now, first of all, there were several possible ways in which this could be problematic for us. First was the notion that various autocracies have been helpful to us in various ways, particularly in the Muslim world. I think that's a dubious assumption, that they have been or are now particularly helpful to us in things that matter most to us, including the war on the terrorism. So I'm not sure that there's a great gain there that we risk losing by opening, by seeing a democratic process. And as far as that's concerned, the Algeria example is held up usually as some sort of cautionary tale. In Algeria the experiment was never put to a test. There was a coup, and we never got to see what the Islamic party would do if it was in control. That wasn't our call. That was the French call. And the net result has been a civil war, which has now cost 200,000 lives and brought us the civil rights itself right into the streets of Paris. So I don't see that one could argue that that is very clearly a case which argues against taking the risk of democracy, because not having taken the risk has produced huge costs.

And having said that, I think it is the case that if we are to be for democracy, then we have to let the chips fall somewhat where they may. I mean, we have had recently the experience of democracies that we helped which opposed us in various ways: Turkey, South Korea, and so forth. . . .

DR. AL-FARUQI:  France. (Laughter.)

DR. FRADKIN:  France. (Laughter.) Well, you know these are--in all cases, I think, they were wrong, but these are not the obstacles that they put in our path to the pursuit of reasonable policy objectives. We're not decisive, and we haven't come up to the level where we find ourselves directly under assault from a democracy in ways which go absolutely to the heart of our security and so forth. And that it seems to me is a high threshold, but it's one that we should keep in mind.
So I think it is the case that we should entertain a fair amount of latitude in this regard. But it also seems to me that there are positive signs as well; that is, if one takes the case of Iraq, there was, it has been argued almost from the beginning, that there would be a great Shiite menace to democracy, to our interests in Iraq. And so far that has failed to materialize. It has failed to materialize, at least to the present day, because the Shiites themselves are so diverse, so fractious, that it is beginning to look to them, it seems to me, as if democratic practice would be preferable to any kind of theocratic-democratic arrangement.

So we don't know, and there are some risks that will have to be borne, if we are serious about having a fairly consistent policy. I think those risks for the time being are at least as bearable as the risks of not proceeding with a democratic policy.

DR. AL-FARUQI:  Well, to the question of can we impose democracy--it's a contradiction in terms. It basically nullifies the whole system. You can impose an autocratic regime. You can impose policies that are not accepted and agreed upon by people. You cannot impose a democracy, if we mean by democracy the acceptance of people and the reflection of what it is that people want. So, therefore, it is just impossible to impose democracy.

And, specifically, as far as Muslims are concerned, Islamic law, as pointed out by Dr. Fradkin correctly, is basically an amalgamation of several schools of law, and thank goodness for that, and it is a matter of consensus and coming to agreement basically from several points of view as to what should be the proper values, the proper rights to be adopted. And that, ultimately, is the right of Muslims themselves to determine what the law is, what the sharia is, how they understand it, just as it the right of Americans themselves to determine for themselves whether they want capital punishment or not. And it should not be, for instance, the place of the French to invade America in order to make sure that they don't use capital punishment in their policies, for instance. So it is a matter of internal matters of determining what the values are that people do live by. And usually people maintain and insist on having their legitimate rights be recognized and applied.

Now, in terms of the policies in the Muslim world that are actually amicable to, for instance, American interests, all of those issues--if you look at the polls in the Muslim world, all Muslims say, and practically all Poles say the same thing--admire American culture, admire American constitutions and the freedoms that are guaranteed in America, and they always, always conclude after that by saying that they loathe U.S. foreign policy. So it is often a matter of polices. It's not a matter of not liking America or American culture or American principles. It is disagreement on matters of foreign policy. And so, for instance, what certainly Muslims dislike is intervention in their internal affairs, such as has happened fomenting a coup d'etat, say, in Iran, to have a certain government place do that. I don't think that any people, any country is going to look favorably on that, and say, yes, we would like that to happen and to have governments changed against our will and imposed on us. And that kind of policy is not, I submit to you, the heart and matter of American democracy and the American system, but it is certain practices that governments--certain governments--have taken or at certain times. And those create a lot of ill will, no doubt about it--not just in the Muslim world but any country that has been the subject of that. And, of course, the other two main issues for the Muslim world, that if they are resolved there would be practically no problems anymore with the Muslim world. It was the imposition of policies as in the past that might basically cause the death of lots of people, as was the case in Iraq because of the sanctions imposed on Iraq. And the problem and the issue which for the Muslim world is ultimately the symbol of the problem between the U.S. and the Muslim world is, of course, the rights of Palestinians to live legitimately--to have legitimate rights, be honored, and recognized. After all, it's been 50 years without this issue being resolved. And if that issue were resolved on fair, on balanced, on international law grounds, I would say the Muslim world would fall on its knees and worship the United States of America.

MR. KRONEMER:  Well. (Laughter.) That's a vision. Okay, so let me tell you, panelists, that what people are hearing you say--I have now 25 of these--what people are hearing you all say is, again going back to the fundamentals of Islam and democracy, that there, yes, maybe they are not incompatible. But in the way things have developed over time, in the way it is currently practiced, there does seem still in the minds of many people to be a gulf. We are really approaching toward the end of our session, so I am not sure we have time to really explore fully the development, the historical aspects and so forth.

But let me read one question that in some way I believe gets at the heart of these other questions that we are receiving here. And I'll just read it to you. It says: “Since the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and culminating in the tragedy of 9/11, Americans have developed an intuitive fear about Islamic fundamentalism which we closely associate with the preaching and intentions of al Qaeda. Is Islamic fundamentalism mainstream, or is it a deviate aberration of Islam?” And, I think, really what this question and some of the other context ones are getting at is on the one hand we are saying that there isn't fundamentally a clash here, and yet at the same time some people have noted, for example, that the notion that you can't change your religion -- if freedom of religion is a basis for a democracy, and if Islam at some fundamental level was saying you can't change your religion, are we talking about some incompatibilities after all? But let's just go with the question: Is Islamic fundamentalism mainstream, or is it a deviate form of Islam? And we are in our last, say, 5 or 6 minutes, so brief answers each of you, please.

DR. AFSARUDDIN:  Just with regard to freedom of religion, I mean, there is a very important verse in the Koran that says there is a compulsion in religion. And it was always understood to mean that you couldn't coerce anybody to change their religion. Now, there is a different issue, a related issue, the issue of apostasy, and that became understood by the jurists as deserving of capital punishment.

MR. KRONEMER:  Leaving Islam you mean?

DR. AFSARUDDIN:  Pardon me?

MR. KRONEMER:  For someone to leave Islam?

DR. AFSARUDDIN:  That's right, apostatizing from Islam and adopting another religion. However, that has been called into question, I think, by very good research done by modern Islamic thinkers, someone like Hashim Kemal, who was working at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, and has pointed to the fact that however the notion of apostasy has been actually joined to the notion of treason to the state; so that someone who leaves Islam and commits some actions that are considered detrimental to the state, then that was deserving of capital punishment, and other jurists, in fact, thought that kind of punishment could be discretionary and did not have to lead to actual death.

So what I am saying is there is actually a lot of flexibility within the Islamic tradition as it developed for alternative interpretations to be developed by us today who know how to engage with these words and who know how to reread the text and develop a new hermeneutic, which I think is really necessary for reinterpreting Islamic law.

DR. ALKEBSI:  I just want to clarify when I say an archaic set of Islamic discourse in political affairs I am not talking about the authentic text of the Koran or the tradition of the prophet. I'm talking about the collection of political discourse that we have collected over the last 25 years. There is nothing in the Koran or the tradition of the prophet that says anything about apostasy. It's very clear. Freedom of religion is a very clear issue in Islamic authentic discourse.

Coming back to the issue of fundamentalism and is it deviant or is it mainstream, there is nothing called "fundamentalist." If I know--if I can define what a "fundamentalist" is exactly, then it would be clear for me to say if it's deviant or not. It's a whole spectrum of somebody from the total moderate side to somebody from the total extremist side, and everything in between. There are some elements of fundamentalism that tend to be in the majority of, in the mainstream of Muslim. There are some elements within what we see as extremism that are totally deviant. So the group of people who would fly into the World Trade Center is extremely deviant—an extremely small group. But, unfortunately, many Muslims have studied throughout history and have absorbed some issues that are outside of what the Koran or what the tradition of the prophet would say, and made it into mainstream. So, again, we have to define what we mean by "fundamentalism" for me to tell you what percentage of Muslims it would be.

DR. FRADKIN:  On fundamentalism, I think my view is a little bit different than Abdul's. I think there is something that one can reasonably call "fundamentalism," and the difficulties have to do with the fact that there have been a variety of forms which differ from one another but, nonetheless, have certain common features. Is it deviant? In some respects it is, and obviously so. There is a way in which Islamic fundamentalism of the 20th century is a very artificial form of Islamic thought. It's so artificial that it borrows a great deal from Western thought, especially fascism and communism, which is surely not traditional.

So, yes, in a way it violates the tradition. The unfortunate effect is that for roughly the last 30 years it was the only movement it seemed--intellectual and political movement within the Islamic world that had any serious vitality. That it seems to me was a function partially of what we have been discussing here today: the lack of opportunities for political participation, lack of democracy in most Muslim countries meant that the only thing that could develop any real head of steam, any real vitality, was something that quite clearly opposed autocratic regimes or, at least, the existing autocratic regimes, and there was no space for anything else.

One very important potential benefit and consequence of a democratization within the Muslim world would be the decline in vitality of the fundamentalists, both because at this point it is relatively clear to a lot of people that no matter how they feel about things, it is increasingly a dead end. It has not managed to found Islamic states, excepting in Iran and Sudan--and Sudan is over as an Islamic state more or less, and Iran is very shaky. So there is a sense in the world that whatever vitality it had has brought no positive benefit. But in order for an alternative to develop, there really has to be greater freedom--freedom in the political sense, freedom in the sense of discourse and discussion of the sort that would produce on the part of people like Asma and Abdul and Maysam, an alternative vision of Islam that, alas, has not been present for a very long time.

MR. KRONEMER:  Dr. Faruqi, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are going to have the last word. The bad news is we only have about 2 minutes left. So if you could say your last word, but briefly.

DR. AL-FARUQI:  Well, okay. I was going to very quickly address the issue of fundamentalism in Iran. It might be a bit surprising to you, but if you think about it a little bit more in depth, you find that the Shiia state of Iran is actually the closest to the American style of democracy. You wouldn't exactly have that in a Sunni state in which basically you have a prime minister that is elected and that has the right to do what he wants within the bounds of Islamic law, but you have a president that basically represents a certain religious council that makes sure that his policies are in agreement with Islamic law. This is what we have here in the United States where an executive government is basically elected and carries policies, but is certainly held back by a Supreme Court that makes sure that it is in agreement with the Constitution, which all Americans have agreed to live by.

And, again, that Iran does have abuses. Again, American society did have abuses. So it's not the system itself; it is basically the practice of the system that ought to be cleaned up.

I would conclude simply by saying, you know, there are a billion and a half Muslims in the world, and this billion and a half are people who are exactly like all other people. They want a safe life. They want to live a happy life. They want to have children. They want their children to be successful, exactly like everyone else. There is no point in demonizing other human beings. They are human beings exactly like everyone else.

And, certainly, as far as the issues and the problems and the political issues that arise, I would remind you also that Islam was there well before, say, the United States of America, well before the state of Israel, well before the state of Afghanistan, well before the state of Saudi Arabia, and will be here well after all of these have disappeared. So is the case with Christianity and so is the case with Judaism. These are religions, and they address religions. And what we have is problems between people that are political problems rather than actually religious problems. If we fix the political problems--and we can fix the political problems--then all those issues become moot. In fact, we have the foundation of having people be able to live with each other.

So what we really need to do, what the Muslim world I guess is asking us to do is to have coherence in the American discourse, and foreign policies that would actually be consistent and be consistent with American ideals—not, for instance, double standards such as saying you can't have an Islamic state but you can have a Jewish state based on the Jewish majority. We have to be consistent in what we say. We have to be consistent in our ideals. And we have to make sure that American democracy does function along the lines of democratic ideals set by the American people. Thank you.

MR. KRONEMER:  Thank you.

Well, first of all, I want to thank all of the panelists for beginning this conversation. (Applause.) The one major takeaway that I am going to have, having listened to all of you, is to keep in mind--I mean, what I've learned is that perhaps the discussion is, is Islam compatible with democracy?--and so forth is not the right conversation, but really the notion that events are in our control. I mean, I thought your comments about how people reinterpreting things, and perhaps we need to be involved in that debate. History is now being written on this subject, and it isn't already written by something that was determined 1,400 years ago, but it is being written by what we are doing today. So I want to thank all of you again.

I apologize to those of you--I have in front of me about 100 cards. I know we didn't get to most of your questions, but we tried to select what would seem to be the majority questions and where the energy of the room was. So thank you again. This is democracy in action. This is a chance for policymakers and people in the public to come together and join in a discussion of great importance. So I thank you for sharing your lunch hour and your time, and I will give the microphone back to Mr. Keppler.

MR. KEPPLER:  Alex, thank you. In addition, I want to thank the panelists. I also want to thank Alex for doing a great job of moderating this program. (Applause.)

Just so you don't think your time and effort was wasted on the questions, and so you don't think we tried to exclude anybody, all the questions that we received, I am going to prepare a written summary and provide it to each of our panelists for their future consideration before other public forums. And also, too, I hope to do a follow-on program. Once again we will try to consolidate the questions into the general categories so that they automatically will be raised next. So, once again, all your questions, every single one, will be given to our panelists for their future consideration.

I want to thank you all for joining us today. I think it was a very intriguing program. I think we addressed a lot of issues. Obviously, we couldn't cover them all. But, I think, one of the things that came out for me is this notion of Islam--Islam is not some monolithic universal religion with universal beliefs. Just like the great religions of the world, there are different belief sects. Therefore, to cast any specific notions about Islam or Muslim people and try to make generalizations would be a great disservice both to the religion and also to the discourse and the consideration of foreign policy issues which will be brought into this notion of trying to merge democracy with Islamic nations and people.

So I want to thank you all for coming. I look forward to seeing you again. The upcoming program next week is the impact of the Internet on authoritarian regimes. We have Shanthi Kalathil from the Carnegie Endowment who will be with us next Wednesday.

And for those of you who wrote about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, our program on July 2 will address specifically that issue. We have Aaron Miller coming in. He is the President of Seeds of Peace. We was a negotiator for the State Department for over 10 years on the specific Arab-Israeli issue. And now he's with the Seeds of Peace. He's going to be talking about a supplement to the diplomatic initiative in the conduct of diplomacy.

Thank you all for coming. Look forward to seeing you again. Have a good day. (Applause.)


Released on July 2, 2003

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