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July 12, 2012, Thursday

All Muslims, like Turks, don’t see contradiction between democracy and Islam

In my previous article, I had suggested that Turkey prioritize democracy and spiritual values over economic development, based on the findings of a comparative survey titled “Social Quality in Europe” which the Institute for Social Development and Policy Research (ISDPR) of Seoul National University conducted in five countries -- Turkey, Germany, Italy, Greece and South Korea.

The findings of the Global Attitudes Project survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, confirmed my case. The Pew survey indicates that like Turks, other Muslim countries prioritize and demand democracy and personal freedoms.

The surveys conducted in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan and Jordan are proof that the famous questions of the 1980s and 1990s as to “whether Islam and democracy is compatible” and the dichotomies of “Islam vs. democracy” are extremely wrong and unnecessary. The survey findings indicate that it is not only Turks but also other Muslims who believe that all kinds of individual or group rights and freedoms, particularly the freedom of religion and faith, will improve in parallel with developments in democracy. Muslims’ demands for giving a greater role in political and social life to Islam do not contradict, but overlap, with their demands for democracy and freedoms, provided that religious references are seen as part of the democratic culture and are not interpreted to restrict the rights and freedoms of others. It is impossible not to see that the rising trend in the popular revolts or revolutions collectively known as the “Arab Spring,” despite the fact that they currently tend to be referred to as the “Arab Crisis,” is attributable to these basic expectations.

Based on the Pew survey’s results, we can assert that the Arab Spring-related developments stem from these demands for democracy and freedoms, and at the same time have boosted these demands. The rate of those who expressed a desire for democracy in 2012 rose to 71 percent in Turkey, up from 66 percent in 2011. This rate increased from 81 to 84 percent in Lebanon. Despite a certain decrease in the rate of those who expressed a desire for democracy, which can be attributed to the instability associated with the Arab Spring revolutions in some countries, it is still high in Egypt (67 percent in 2012 and 71 percent in 2011) and Jordan (61 percent in 2012 and 72 percent in 2011). At 42 percent, Pakistan is still a country where the democratization awareness is the lowest among these countries.

The relative decrease in a desire for freedom in some Arab countries can be easily linked to concerns for conjuncture-based chaos and stability. We can further argue that if the processes of transition to democracy can be completed successfully, as was the case with Tunisia, the demands for democracy and individual freedoms will increase, particularly in Arab countries. However, there are all the signs that the democratic transition processes in these two countries will be very problematic.

In Egypt in particular, the army and the judicial body that are under the army’s tutelage are doing everything to obstruct the democratic processes just as happened in Turkey in the past. Thus, parliament was dissolved and the powers and authorities of the constitutional commission are being rescinded while the powers and authorities of the president are trimmed. Thus, it is as though Egypt is currently experiencing a medley of Turkey’s coup of Sept. 12, 1980, the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997 and the military memorandum and judicial coup of April 27, 2007.

Turkish and Lebanese people who have benefited, albeit slightly, from democracy place a higher priority on democracy than the economy, while the people of Jordan, Tunisia and Pakistan, who are less experienced in democracy, tend to prioritize economic development, which is understandable. As I stated in my previous article, Turks know from experience that every democratization move is followed by tremendous economic growth. They have experienced in many cases how anti-democratic interventions helped nothing and undermined economic progress. The same problems apply to Lebanon. Therefore, this does not mean that Turkish and Lebanese people do not attach any importance to economic development. On the contrary, this means that they know that democracy is a sine qua non of economic growth and development. To elaborate, the rate to those who say good democracy is preferable to a strong economy is 58 percent in Turkey and 53 percent in Lebanon, where people have experienced democracy to a certain extent, while it is 48 percent in Egypt (strong economy: 49 percent), 40 percent in Tunisia (strong economy: 59 percent), 34 percent in Pakistan (strong economy: 58 percent), and 33 percent in Jordan (strong economy: 61 percent), where people do not have similar experiences.

Muslims’ demand for their religious values being taken into account in legal systems, I believe, is a democratic demand for rights. That the rate of those who say laws should strictly follow the Quran -- 17 percent in Turkey and Lebanon, 23 percent in Tunisia, 60 percent in Egypt, 72 percent in Jordan and 82 percent in Pakistan -- has parallelism to their respective level of democratic awareness. The rate of those who say laws should follow the values and principles of Islam is 44 percent in Turkey, 35 percent in Lebanon, 64 percent in Tunisia, 32 percent in Egypt, 26 percent in Jordan and 15 percent in Pakistan, and this indicates the level of adoption of the principle of secularism that keeps multicultural societies together. Similar results are visible with respect to those who say laws should not be influenced by the Quran. This rate, which can be seen as indicative of the rate of secularist or anti-religious groups, is 27 percent in Turkey, 42 percent in Lebanon, 12 percent in Tunisia, 6 percent in Egypt, 1 percent in Jordan and 0 percent in Pakistan.

And the rate of those who seek a greater role for Islam in politics is 64 percent in Turkey (69 percent in 2010), 84 percent in Tunisia, 31 percent in Jordan (35 percent in 2010), 61 percent in Lebanon (59 percent in 2010), 62 percent in Pakistan (46 percent in 2010) and 66 percent in Egypt (47 percent in 2010).

The obvious truth gleaning from the Pew survey is that Muslims no longer see Islam as contradicting or being in conflict with democracy, but, on the contrary, believe that Islamic values can be transferred to life and politics more easily thanks to democracy. I think it would be a grave error to see the demand for giving Islam a greater role in politics and social life not as a democratic demand but as an Islamist demand and to develop policies accordingly.

Previous articles of the columnist