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Can Democracy Be Imposed? Not in Muslim countries.

by Alamgir Hossain

06 Dec, 2006

In the post-9/11 era, the Bush administration's new project of spreading freedom and democracy in the dictators-ruled countries became one of the most discussed and closely followed topics in the media and at all levels of the society. As the world gets increasing plagued by violence, unleashed by the Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist groups, a way to turn the tide of violence towards peace was indeed a desirable idea to the peace and freedom-loving people in the world. Although many doubted the means Bush administration undertook to spread democracy around the world, yet there was hardly any disagreement to the fact that freedom and democracy can usher in peace and prosperity. Believing in this fundamental premise, many in the US and around the world supported the Bush administration's aggressive policy of instituting democracy by overthrowing the authoritarian Governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the adventure of spreading democracy itself did not succeed in those two countries until now. All indications suggest that it is neither going to be successful in the end. And what we witness today is that the Bush administration's policy of spreading democracy in the hope making those countries a more hopeful and peaceful place has failed as things stand now. Not only that, these countries have, instead, become massive breeding grounds for the terrorists and the world is at its worst, as far as the threats from such violent groups are concerned.

As it appears now, the skeptics of the Bush administration's policy of exporting democracy, who had argued that democracy cannot be exported or imposed on a people from outside, might have been right. They have argued that freedom and democracy have to evolve from within. So we can safely say that these skeptics were right and the Bush administration's war architects were utterly wrong. Upfront, I want to assert that both the skeptics of Bush formula as well as its supporters are only partially right and partially wrong.

Can democracy be imposed from without? It is a stale analysis to go into given that innumerable commentaries have been written on this topic in the last few years. I will try to be brief. If we look back into the 1930s and 40s, we see clearly that the world's most incorrigible dictators of that era? the imperialists dictators of Japan, the brutal expansionist Nazis of Germany and the deadly fascists of Italy? have been replaced by the fine democratic governments imposed by direct or indirect intervention of the allied forces in the post-WW II period.

The skeptics may argue that the rule of the game has changed now and it does not work anymore. Afghanistan and Iraq are the most obvious examples in their favor. They probably would appear correct. Let us consider the intervention in mainly Christian Bosnia-Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. After the downfall of the dictatorial communism, these regions ran into a disastrous civil war as a result of religio-ethnic fighting between the minority Muslims and the majority Christians. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, intervention quickly brought the fighting and violence under control. Since then, reconciliation, reconstruction and democratic processes have made steady progress. All indications suggest that secular democracy and peace will continue to strengthen and be lasting. However, there is one concern. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise amongst the Muslim populace and the al-Qaeda and other like-minded Islamist groups are spreading their tentacles to that region. Hence, the future of a lasting peace and democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina will solely depend on how the Muslims behave in the coming years and decades?

Similarly, the United States' forced ouster of Charles Taylor of Liberia and Aristride of Haiti, both Christian countries have so far held in good stead. More pressing interventions in Muslim countries, namely in Somalia and Afghanistan, have miserably failed during the same period. Instead of bringing democracy and peace, interventions in these countries have made the world a much more dangerous place by inspiring Muslims at far corners of the world to form new terrorist groups and strengthening the already existing ones. On the other hand, there are no indications that interventions in Christian countries, namely Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, have inspired any Christian group in far places, say in Nigeria, Philippines, Australia, USA, Canada or South America, to create terrorist groups and to unleash violence of any sort.

Those who argue that democracy and rule of law cannot be imposed by outside interventions are obviously wrong if considered the interventions in Japan, Italy and Germany in post-WW II era. All indications from the more recent but unfinished interventions in the Balkan, in Liberia and Haiti also prove them wrong. However they are right, while the Bush administration and their cheer-leaders are wrong, when considered the intervention in Somalia in 1993 and more recent ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In order to understand this intriguing disparity in success of outside interventions in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, one must grasp the basic understanding of the fundamental precepts of Islam, which is the common ideological denominator that binds them together. Islamic scholars over the centuries have divided the world into two domains. The first being the Dar-ul-Islam (house of peace), which constitute the domains dominated and ruled by the Muslims according to the Islamic laws. The other is the Dar al-Harb (house of war), which is dominated and ruled by the non-Muslims and Muslims must wage a ceaseless war (so it called 'house of war') against it in order to bring it into the domain of Dar al-Islam, thereby fulfilling the wishes of the almighty creator.

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) is a towering Islamic thinker, historian and philosopher. According to  famous contemporary Islamic thinker Prof. Tariq Ramadan, whom Time Magazine voted to be one of the world's 100 greatest thinkers and scientists in 2004, considers Ibn Khaldun as giant Muslim contributor to the Greek rationalism, philosophy and science that were later transmitted to the Europeans prior to the advent of Enlightenment in Europe [Roots of Rationality, Guardian 22 Sept, 2006].

In affirming this principle of Islam, Ibn Khaldun wrote of the Christians in his greatest treatise, 'The Muqaddimah': "We do not think that we should blacken the pages of this book [Muqaddimah] with discussion of their [Christian] dogmas of unbelief. In general, they are well known. All of them are unbelief. This is clearly stated in the noble Koran. To discuss or argue those things with them is not up to us. It is for them to choose between conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death." [For more affirmation, see Koran: 9:29]

In affirmation of the Koranic edict of fighting the infidels (non-Muslims) until religion is Allah's (Islam) alone [Koran 8:39], he furthered wrote of the Dar-ul-Harb in 'The Muqaddimah' : "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty because of the universalism of the mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense." [Quoted in State and Governance in Medieval Islam, Ann Lambton (1981), Oxford University Press, New York, p201]

In today's violence and terrorism stricken world, those involved in the desperate search for peace, should understand the basic Islamic principles and thoughts. Dar al-Islam (Islamic world), with whatsoever there-in, is the perfect abode of peace and prosperity, which is achievable only by the institution of the divine laws of the only true God, Allah. Islam is the complete and perfect code of life for governing perfectly all aspects of human life: social, moral, spiritual, religious, political, economic and everything else. Extra-Islamic doctrines, such as democracy, are inferior to the divine Islamic codes of governance. Outside interventions and democracy in Islamic countries are, thus, not necessary; neither do Muslims accept it.

On the other hand, Dar al-Harb, which does not hold such perfect code of governance, has scope of improvement. Hence, the imposition of democracy and freedom were quickly accepted in countries like Japan, Germany and Italy etc. The international policy-makers who might be at a fix over their repeated failures to achieve those goals in Muslim countries which are easily achievable elsewhere, must understand these fundamental distinctions between Islamic and the non-Islamic countries.   [Hit Counter]