Liberalization without Suppressing Religion

Secularism in Turkey and Iran during the 20th century was anti-religious in actively trying to limit the extent of religion in society. This led to a backlash in Islamists coming to power. The secularization policies of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi were in this sense clearly counterproductive. However, their respective heritage remains alive in both Turkey and Iran being thoroughly secularized societies. Similar policies in the six predominantly Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union have produced similar results and a similar legacies.

During the Cold War with the Soviet Union did the United States oppose democratization in virtually all Third World countries, including throughout Islamdom, due to the pervasive fear that Communists would come to power were free and fair elections to be held. After the Cold War came the rise of Islamism and Jihadism and democratization became impossible in many Muslim countries due to the majority of the population sympatizing with the Islamists and would therefore also in an election vote for them.

What is thus necessary is a third way. A new model for secularism in Muslim countries that will thoroughly liberalize Muslim societies without suppressing Islam and that will also acknowledge that liberal democracy is not yet possible. This requires a complete and comprehensive ban on all Islamist and Jihadist organizations, Islamist front organization and Crypto-Islamist organizations. This also requires a new form of liberal guided democracy that will enable participatory democracy for those committed to open society while completely excluding totalitarians such as theocrats. This would serve as a preparation for much later introduction of liberal democracy once the lure of theocracy subsides. It is important not to provoke a counterreaction among Muslims by unnecessarily suppressing Islam but rather giving individuals choice to choose for themselves in life by liberalizing society as a whole. 

Liberal guided democracy would be defended by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution which would prosecute totalitarians and other enemies of democracy and the liberal order, oversee political parties and vet and approve political candidates. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution would be under the oversight of the Supreme Court. The Office for the Protection of Constitution would crucially be the guarantor of the liberal order. Importantly would democracy be subordinate to liberalism in liberal guided democracy.

The free world should push Muslim countries that are ready for liberal democracy to also introduce liberal democracy. Those Muslim countries that are not yet ready for liberal democracy due to the majority supporting Islamism should be strongly encouraged to gradually introduce liberal guided democracy. Saudi Arabia is a good example of liberalization in Islamdom and illustrates that liberalization can gain popular support if implemented incrementally. Egypt and other Muslim countries not yet ready for liberal democracy should similarly be encouraged to engage in gradual processes of liberalization and this should lead to the implementation of liberal guided democracy as a preparation for much later introduction of liberal democracy. 

We should not give up on democratization in Islamdom but should be realistic about its implementation.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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