Islam and Democracy

Take Malaysia, for example

It is fashionable in certain circles to argue that Islam and democracy are incompatible, citing the examples of monarchs, autocrats and presidents-for-life that weild power across much of the Muslim world. The exceptions are a handful – Bangladesh, Malaysia, Turkey, Senegal and now Indonesia.

Given its ethnic and religious diversity, Malaysia has done a great job in avoiding much of the retrogressive fundamentalism that plagues the Islamic world and instead firmly signaled its intention to move towards a progressive, modern, though Islamic and Malay-dominated, society. The Islamic fundamentalist opposition that gained electoral weight largely due to the political dominance of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed was roundly beaten in the latest elections.

It would seem that the Pakistani cabinet would have had much to learn from Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed when he gave them a lecture on democracy a few weeks ago. Not so, according to Rajan Rishyakaran, a Malaysian blogger. From a Malaysian’s own perspective, it appears, Malaysia is still far from being a liberal democracy, consequently disqualifying Mahathir from giving anyone any lectures on democracy. The rest of the discussion is on Rajan’s very interesting blog.

Regardless of whether or not Mahathir was the right teacher, he ended up teaching the wrong students. The chaps who really need a lecture in democracy are the men in khaki at the Army GHQ in Rawalpindi.

19 thoughts on “Islam and Democracy”

  1. Nitin,
    Truth never really goes out of fashion (woe on us if it does). Its not just fashionable to wonder whether islam and democracy are comptabile, its imperative we do so.
    It seems to me that no country has really been able to achieve meaningful democracy without suppressing islam in public life (much like turkey had done cnder kemalist and later military pressure) and achieved some sort of state-church separation in islamic terms. The clergy in islam commands wide power and authority to sway political currents. Democracy is greatbecause it gives minorities a legiytimate voice and brute majoritarianism cannot overrunh minority interests. My concern is with minorities in moslem countries. How many have been given rights equal to that of non-muslims? Its a known fact that muslims are the champions of secularism and democracy whenever they’re in aminority but witness what they do their minorities once they come into a majority (It’s not pretty).
    In the end, one can only hope that moslems will ignore their prophet’s words in the hadith that explicitly obliges moslems not to mix with non-muslims or consider them their friends.

  2. Has any country really been able to achieve meaningful democracy without suppressing “religion” in public life ?
    examples would be duly appreciated.

  3. where ever religion permeates into politics democracy seems to be held hostage. This is more so in Islamic countries perhaps because the religion seems to permeate into all aspect of public life.
    Also unlike other religions islam has a stronger connection crossing national borders. Therefore trouble on any issue in one Islamic country engulfs others as well (the same cannot be said of reforms – sadly reforms in one country does not easily spread to another).

  4. The interesting thing about your list is that the exceptions are all outside the Arab world, and what some observers claim is that the democratic deficit is less specifically a Muslim problem than an Arab one. This is obviously a simplification but it captures one of the major divides.

    There are tow further factors worth bearing in mind. Firstly, I don’t think we recognise just how rare democracy is in most of the developing or post-colonial world. Having an un-interrupted democratic government is the exception rather than the rule; ironically no one asks why there are a lack of stable democracies in Sub-Saharan African states that are mostly Christian (the only exception being ZA) and why democratic governments in Lating America periodically are overthrown and replaced by military ones. Never mind the slow and painful move to democracy in many East Asian countries. However, I have rarely if ever heard this put down to the anti-democratic tendencies of Christianity, Buddhism or Confucianism. Secondly, what kind of democracy are we talking about here; most of us have a concept of liberal democracy which has several highly particular features beyond just having representatively elected governments with adult universal suffrage. Iran by most counts could be described as a democracy, though it isn’t by any means a liberal one and the same could be said for Malaysia.

    I don’t have a lot of time for Mahathir or UMNO; yes they have done a good job in securing economic progress for their country but personally I hold democratic government and civil liberties to be more important than just increasing the size of the economic cake and they haven’t done well here at all. There is also the problem of nation-building; I think the bhumipatra policy and the way non-Malay minorities have been treated in Malaysia is flawed and will cause problems for the future; it is certainly no basis for what I would call a pluralist and really democratic state. There is a strong strain of racist thinking that permeates the minds of individuals like Mahathir and it has found its home in sections of UMNO as we..

  5. The most commonly used defination of liberal democracy is a representative democracy, with strong protections of freedom of speech, assembly, religion, as weel as a strong protection of private property, as well as equality before the law and due process.

    Using that defination, Bangladesh is definately out of the picture, as does Malaysia. The same goes for Turkey and Indonesia, though I have little doubt that soon, one day, they can call themselves liberal democracies. Which leaves Senegal alone.

    But I’m still with the opinion that liberal democracy is not only compatible with Islam, it is beneficial with Islam. Liberal democracies allow the free expression of ideas, which provides fertile ground for Islamic reformation (take for example the militantly pro-Israel and pro-West AMI Muslim organization in Italy – the biggest there, BTW).

    Multiparty elections itself doesn’t necessarily mean that country is a democracy. Sudan just a few years ago held multiparty elections. Sudan is not even remotely close to being democratic.

  6. “The Islamic fundamentalist opposition that gained electoral weight largely due to the political dominance of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed was roundly beaten in the latest elections.”

    Mahathir Mohammed didn’t run in the last elections, held in the beginning of this year. And, while PAS increase their popular vote to 15.8% from 15.0% in 1999, the number of Parliamentary and State Assembly seats dropped drastically. Barisan Nasional is unlikely to win any election with today policies in Malaysia with a fairer political system (for example, the electoral districts is oh-so-clearly gerrymandered; PAS stronghold Kedah has far less seats than UMNO stronghold Johore, even with relatively the same population)

  7. The most commonly used defination of liberal democracy is a representative democracy, with strong protections of freedom of speech, assembly, religion, as weel as a strong protection of private property, as well as equality before the law and due process.

    I think this is a heavily restricted definition that seems primarily to stem from an American example. Many Latin American countries can said to have fulfilled these criteria, but what there really was behind a democratic and liberal façade was rule by a essentially a narrow clique despite the formal change in governments. Equality before the law is also another element open to interpretation as some states that are often counted as liberal democracies such as Israel and Sri Lanka have not implemented this in practise or otherwise different treatments to separate categories of citizens enshrined in their legal systems.

    Using that defination, Bangladesh is definately out of the picture, as does Malaysia. The same goes for Turkey and Indonesia, though I have little doubt that soon, one day, they can call themselves liberal democracies. Which leaves Senegal alone.

    This is somewhat flawed, Malaysia’s exclusion makes sense but Turkey’s and Indonesia’s doesn’t and Bangladesh’s is debatable. Even if one takes the restrictive definition of liberal democracies being cited; the main problem with these countries isn’t the lack of such formal provisions but how well they are enforced and the potential stability of the regime. This is hardly unusual for liberal democracies in the early stages of their history as in their infancy they are all exposed to this kind of turbulence. The only question is how resistant these incipient states are to such pressures and how well they can go through with expanding democratic rights and liberal conceptions of citizenship.

  8. Coincidentally, this week’s Economist discusses some of these issues in the context of Turkey’s admission into the EU.

    Which leaves the fourth and biggest worry of all: Islam. The European Union is not a Christian club. Already as many as 12m EU citizens are Muslim, and the Union’s founding articles include respect for religious freedom. The religious argument against admitting Turkey rests on two other propositions. One is that Islam is, by its very nature, incompatible with a secular, liberal democracy. The other is that Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in the Muslim world, including Turkey. This is not a case of equating Islam with support for Osama bin Laden. But the two propositions still make many Europeans hostile to Turkey’s plan to join their Union.

    Yet ever since Ataturk, successive Turkish governments have been fiercely secular. The only other European country that is as rigorous over enforcing a separation of church and state is France; not coincidentally, these are the only two countries that ban the Islamic headscarf in public schools. As for Turkey’s democratic credentials, although they may have been tarnished in the past, they now look stronger than those of some countries that have just joined the EU. The media are free and lively; parliament has noisy and open debates; Mr Erdogan’s party was elected by a thumping majority in 2002, and is expected to be re-elected in two years’ time.

    There is no denying that the party has Islamist roots, however. Mr Erdogan himself was once imprisoned for reciting an Islamist poem in public, an act deemed to incite religious hatred. His government has also promoted some Islamist measures, including its failed attempt to relax restrictions on religious schools, and now its abortive plan to criminalise adultery. The EU is right to fret about these. But such measures themselves are mild compared, say, with the condition of Ireland when it joined in the 1970s. The Catholic Church then held sway over most of Irish public life, keeping such things as contraception, abortion and divorce all illegal.

    It is impossible to demonstrate a priori that Islam is compatible with liberal democracy. But Turkey is as good a test-case as any with which to prove the point. Indeed, it is precisely in order to encourage Turks (and other Muslims) to buy into liberal democracy that Turkey must be given the benefit of the doubt, and offered EU membership talks. If the Turks move backwards, whether on human rights or on religious fundamentalism, they can always be shown the door again.

    The ramifications stretch far beyond Turkey. America and its allies are seeking to foster liberal democracy in the Middle East. In the post-September 11th world, a no to Turkey could have catastrophic consequences. If the EU were to turn its back on Turkey now, not only might Turkey’s own reforms be under threat, but it would be widely interpreted in the Muslim world as a blow against all Islam. Conversely, if Turkey becomes part of the European club, it would serve as a beacon to other Muslim countries that are treading, ever so warily, down the path to freedom and democracy. [Economist]

  9. Conrad Barwa: Equality before the law is also another element open to interpretation as some states that are often counted as liberal democracies such as Israel and Sri Lanka have not implemented this in practise or otherwise different treatments to separate categories of citizens enshrined in their legal systems.

    In both countries mentioned, the personal/family law is different for different groups (in Israel, there are basicly four main laws, one for Jews, one for Sunni Arabs, one for Bedouin Arabs that loath other Arabs, and one for Druzes). Other than that, access to welfare is different communally (e.g. the difference in difficulty for Sinhalese and Tamils to enter into education institutes in Sri Lanka). But this happens in every other country that fits under the scope of “liberal democracy” – Canada, for example, has more welfare for native Indians, as well as family laws for Jews and, soon to be, Muslims.

    The difference with, say, Malaysia? It isn’t in what you have mentioned, rather the lack of civil liberties and political rights, as well as minimal, yet official segregation, that is keeping Malaysia from being called a “liberal democracy”.

    This is somewhat flawed, Malaysia’s exclusion makes sense but Turkey’s and Indonesia’s doesn’t and Bangladesh’s is debatable.

    In both Indonesia and Turkey, the militaries are strong and too independent of the elected government – becoming a political force. While in liberal democracies, the use of the military may become an election issue, the current presidential run-off elections in Indonesia shows the ability to control the military as an election issue is proof of such influence.

    As for Bangladesh, read this: http://freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2003/countryratings/bangladesh.htm

  10. Rajen R:

    In both countries mentioned, the personal/family law is different for different groups (in Israel, there are basicly four main laws, one for Jews, one for Sunni Arabs, one for Bedouin Arabs that loath other Arabs, and one for Druzes).

    Actually, no this is incorrect. There are several forms of discrimination against Arabs in Israel whereby they are treated differently from Israeli Jewish citizens: the most prominent being the restricted access to land as the main landowning institution in the state, the Jewish Agency and other such bodies are not obliged to treat all citizens equally and restrict ownership and access to land to Jewish citizens. Despite the enactment of the Basic Laws and the Katzir ruling of the Supreme Court this hasn’t changed substantially and it effectively denies the ability to own land to one sub-section of citizens. Accompanied by the gradual alienation of land for ‘security’ reasons from Arab citizens this is skewing control of land in favour of one ethnic group. One could argue that land restrictions operate in India on a similar basis most notably in Kashmir and adivasi-dominated regions but these are there to protect a minoirty not a majority and are applicable only to certain limited administrative regions of the country as opposed to across the whole state. There are other forms of discrimination that revolve around the differential allocation of zoning regulations and subsidies, municipal funds and other sources of local government finance; whereby Arab settlements and towns are given much less by way of resources than their Jewish counterparts; several government commissions have inquired and substantiated this assertion such as the Jerisi Commission in the 1970s. Denial of building permission even to accomadate natural growth in the population means that many Arab dwellings and residential contructions are formally illegal and liable to demolition, still a sensitive issue with the Israeli Arab community. The situation is improving but is nowhere near equitable or equivalent in its treatment of different groups of citizens. A similar story exists wrt military service which excludes Arabs (except for the Druze minoirty) and from which many state-related benefits and welfare payments flow and which are a major source of economic dispartity between the two groups. Few other liberal democracies formally bar recruitment into the military for any of their ethnic minority citizens.

    Other than that, access to welfare is different communally (e.g. the difference in difficulty for Sinhalese and Tamils to enter into education institutes in Sri Lanka).

    I think the main difference here is that Liberal Democracies don’t seek – or at least are not meant to seek- to manipulate their social makeup nor restrict their nationalism to just that of one single ethnic group. The differential treatment given to the Tamil minority, including the repeated violations between majority Sinhalese parties and the TULF, as well as the refusal to settle the citizenship issue of ‘plantation Tamils’ and the special role accorded to Buddhism and Sinhala ethnic identity within the constitution make Sri Lanka an ethno-cratic democracy as opposed to a liberal democracy.

    But this happens in every other country that fits under the scope of “liberal democracy” – Canada, for example, has more welfare for native Indians, as well as family laws for Jews and, soon to be, Muslims.

    Yeah, right; the different treatment given to Arabs in Israel and Tamils in Sri Lanka were really aimed at increasing their welfare!!?! There is a big difference between the protection of minority rights and national communities that are indigenous or religious minorities and discrimination against a minority grouping. Differential treatment in itself is not enough to make the concept of Liberalism redundant, as many theorists of Liberalism are the first to acknowledge the protection of minority rights is an important part of how Liberalism seeks to integrate and manage inter-communal relations between different groups in the polity.

    The difference with, say, Malaysia? It isn’t in what you have mentioned, rather the lack of civil liberties and political rights, as well as minimal, yet official segregation, that is keeping Malaysia from being called a “liberal democracy”.

    Actually, I am unsure as to whether you have understood me properly. My point was that Malaysia is (a) undemocratic because of the way it restricts civil liberties and political opposition and deals with its opponents and (b) is not a Liberal-democratic state because of its discriminatory policies towards minorities, use of racialist-nationalist discourse as opposed to civic nationalism and restrictive identity of nationalism which puts forward a particularistic-ethnocratic interpretation of Malaysian identity. Malaysia can become democratic by removing the restrictions under (a) which is what I think Nitin was driving at, my point is that while it still maintains the discriminatory policies or ethnic nationalism that accompanies (b) it will be an ethnocratic democracy like Israel and Sri Lanka. For you, I assume this is acceptable, which is a value judgement but I think it is incorrect to label the latter as ‘Liberal Democracies’.

    While in liberal democracies, the use of the military may become an election issue, the current presidential run-off elections in Indonesia shows the ability to control the military as an election issue is proof of such influence.

    My reading of the Indonesian elections is somewhat different; if Wiranto was in the run-off I would agree with you but Yudhyono is a different matter. I don’t doubt that his background is a militarist one or where his instincts lie, but this doesn’t make him a dictator in waiting nor does it mean that the military lobby controls his every move. He stands for the more conservative authoritarian wing of Indonesian nationalism this is true, but this is a choice that has to be made by the voters; in the same way that Putin’s KGB background represents a traditional authoritarian and ‘Greater Russian’ type of nationalism but doesn’t mean that the old days of Stalinism are back, though it does mark a more rightwing shift in the political spectrum. The one thing that has been overlooked is the formal role of the military in its allocation of seats in the legislature, which is an extra-parliamentary measure that really is incompatible with liberal democracy. However, I don’t think either Megawait or Yudhyono if he wins will be unable to control the military – of course for her own reasons, Megawati chose not to and instead use it, as will most likely the next president; but this is a voluntary decision not a coerced one.

    As for Bangladesh, read this: http://freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2003/countryratings/bangladesh.htm

    Yeah, I am sorry but I remain unimpressed by this. I grew up in Bihar and spent most of my time in UP, so how this is different than what goes on in these states is unclear to me. In many parts of northern India there is more or less a continual proxy war between different political groups, the state machinery is completely compromised and the legal system is a bad joke. I still remember going to the high court in Allahbad along with a friend who was taking care of come family property emeshed in a legal dispute with his tenant. Everyone one else who owned land in the neighbourhood thought him a complete fool for going to the courts, since they simply employed the political muscle of whoever was in power to evict any tenant they found troublesome. In the court, both sides and their lawyers were called by the judge who said he didn’t want to waste his time or theirs and whoever could make the best offer to him personally would win, on our way out of the building we had to hit the floor as gun-fighting broke out between police and some goodas whose dada was in court for sentencing, after the firefight ended we had trouble getting out of the lot as the police detained our driver saying that he didn’t have the requisite paperwork to drive the car and demanding a ‘small gift’ to let him go unmolested. This isn’t exactly untypical in UP or many other northern states; as for elections, there is a reason why entire battalions of CRPF are mobilised to calm things down when the losing side doesn’t want to accept the electoral outcome. Never mind the continual hartals and gheraos engaged in by political party workers and unions. I am not even going to talk about the communal rioting and the breakdown of law and order, as well as the economic boycott and isolation of the Muslim community in Gujarat post-Godhra.

    The difference here, as I pointed earlier, is between democracies that are in the early stages of their history and consequently which have only formally fulfilled their mandates as fully functioning democracies as opposed to some ‘ideal type’. A possible analogy might be that we still refer to China and Vietnam as Communist countries, even though they don’t practise anything like a communist economic policy, it still states their formal ideology and political systems. One could argue they won’t be communist states much longer but this is a separate issue. In other words, I think we need to distinguish between a liberal or a democratic state, and a liberal/democratic society. I have no problem in accepting that we don’t have the latter in India, or the other examples cited; but this is a mistake from this to jump to saying that the former is absent. It isn’t, it might be weak and in a conflictual relationship with societal pressures, it might also collapse under such strains (a real danger) but it still exists, no matter how wanly and this is an important, though qualified, distinction to make.

  11. Conrad Barwa: There are several forms of discrimination against Arabs in Israel whereby they are treated differently from Israeli Jewish citizens: the most prominent being the restricted access to land as the main landowning institution in the state, the Jewish Agency and other such bodies are not obliged to treat all citizens equally and restrict ownership and access to land to Jewish citizens.

    In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot allocate land based on religion or ethnicity, and may not prevent Arab citizens from living wherever they choose. That ruling, by extension, applies to organizations being funded by the government, including the Jewish Agency, as well as the Jewish National Fund. That’s why Hadash and Balad dropped land issues as its main political line (currently, it is apparently inequality in fundings for Israeli public schools and Arab schools).

    Yeah, right; the different treatment given to Arabs in Israel and Tamils in Sri Lanka were really aimed at increasing their welfare!!?!

    My point is not the similarities in the reason of discrimination in the handing out of welfare. My point is that there is discrimination. Even in the US, under the name of affirmitive action (racial-based positive discrimination is still racial-based discrimination).

    My point was that Malaysia is (a) undemocratic because of the way it restricts civil liberties and political opposition and deals with its opponents and (b) is not a Liberal-democratic state because of its discriminatory policies towards minorities, use of racialist-nationalist discourse as opposed to civic nationalism and restrictive identity of nationalism which puts forward a particularistic-ethnocratic interpretation of Malaysian identity.

    I agree that Malaysia being divided into different nationalities (bangsa), my point is that Malaysia isn’t a liberal democracy simply because of what you have mentioned in a), as well as the differences between legal protection of Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia (e.g. in Malaysia, a Muslim unmarried couple having sex can be hauled off and trialed if JAKIM officers catch them in the act, while non-Muslims can enjoy any amount of promiscuity).

    Not the affirmitive action plan Tun Razak came up with. In Israel and in Sri Lanka, one can openly oppose such discrimination without the threat of being hauled off (in Malaysia, there is even a constitutional amendment forbiding discussion on Bumiputera privilegdes).

    Ethno-nationalism isn’t the opposite of liberal democracies. While America, Canada, Australia, etc. are good examples of racially-blind liberal democracies, Scandinavian countries commonly called liberal democracies are very much ethno-nationalist based.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a libertarian. I oppose such discriminations. But under the defination you seem to be pushing, no nation can claim to be a liberal democracy.

    My reading of the Indonesian elections is somewhat different; if Wiranto was in the run-off I would agree with you but Yudhyono is a different matter.[…]

    If you read the mostly-Malay Indonesian press, you would see support one of the calls of support for SBY is that he is more able to control the nation’s military and push it out of the nation’s civil and political life (currently, the army has a number of seats in MPR’s Senate or DPD). If Indonesia is already a liberal democracy, the debate would be what SBY would use the armed forces for, not how to control it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Indonesia, though matter who wins this month in the presidential run-off, is on the road of being a liberal democracy. It isn’t just there yet.

    Yeah, I am sorry but I remain unimpressed by this.[…]

    You would see one of the mentioned characteristics of a liberal democracy is rule of law. And that is practically absent in modern-day Bangladesh. And the frequent parliamentary boycotts isn’t helping the situation, as is the prevelent corruption and the high degree of coercion, via criminal means, political parties has on the press.

  12. Oh, when I said land issues isn’t the main political line in the two main Israeli Arab parties, I don’t mean that to them it isn’t an issue anymore. They just realize it isn’t their main one. Their opposition was raised, for example, when the Jewish Agency started building settlements encircling Bedouin settlements, cutting off areas for natural growth – without consulting the Bedouins.

  13. In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot allocate land based on religion or ethnicity, and may not prevent Arab citizens from living wherever they choose. That ruling, by extension, applies to organizations being funded by the government, including the Jewish Agency, as well as the Jewish National Fund.

    This was the outcome of the Qa’adan ruling of the Supreme Court and was adopted by many Knesset members. However, it hasn’t really made much of a difference on the ground; as several legal observers has noted, with the attendant foot-dragging and alternative restrictions used to prevent ownership being granted to Qa’adan. By extension this is the case in how the JNF and JA operate, since most of the land is controlled by them or other para-statal organisations and since an important part of state-ideology is to preserve the land as the communal inheritance of the Jewish people trans-historically I can’t see land being sold to non-Jewish proprietors. It is more pertinent to examine what the actual outcome of govt policy here, and the repeated attempts to introduce legislation to circumvent this in the Knesset by successive govts doesn’t reassure me and is indicative that a way around this will be found, while nothing will change in the interim. Meanwhile, the initial point I made stands, no other democracy I can think of restricts land ownership across the board based on ethnicity or religion at the national level. Something you seem to glide over.

    My point is not the similarities in the reason of discrimination in the handing out of welfare. My point is that there is discrimination. Even in the US, under the name of affirmitive action (racial-based positive discrimination is still racial-based discrimination).

    I think if you read below the excerpts of mine you cited you will understand why I reject your analysis; differential treatment for minorities is an important aspect of modern liberal theory and a way of reconciling Classical Liberalism with the democratic demands of minorities within a broader nation-building project. I don’t see these as cases of discrimination as you do, this is to my mind a generally conservative argument, or a non-liberal one. I assume this stems less from your inference of what liberalism actually stands for, than your ideological position of Libertarianism which incorporates aspects of conservative thought into its ideology. My point is the reverse, in a liberal democracy, for any heterogeneous nation with minorities, the latter do need to see their rights protected and this is very much a liberal, as well as leftist position.

    my point is that Malaysia isn’t a liberal democracy simply because of what you have mentioned in a), as well as the differences between legal protection of Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia (e.g. in Malaysia, a Muslim unmarried couple having sex can be hauled off and trialed if JAKIM officers catch them in the act, while non-Muslims can enjoy any amount of promiscuity).

    I am not sure I follow your reasoning here. It seems to me this kind of action taken by JAKIM officers very much violates civil liberties which comes under my proposition (a) making Malaysia undemocratic.

    In Israel and in Sri Lanka, one can openly oppose such discrimination without the threat of being hauled off (in Malaysia, there is even a constitutional amendment forbiding discussion on Bumiputera privilegdes).

    Of course, in Malaysia the ethno-cratic regime is institutionalised and isn’t in a conflict; so its interests is to sediment and freeze existing status quo relations, regarding any challenge to them as a threat. While Israel and Sri Lanka are bogged down in violent open conflicts with opposing nationalist forces, therefore they need to be more flexible in incorporating the demands of their minorities to stave off unrest and co-opt them into political competition. The one thing that will land you in trouble in Israel and Sri Lanka is straying outside the nationalist-consensus on security issues; which is why activists and peace campaigners tend to get locked up when they stray too far. The main difference is the specific form of nationalism adopted and its role in the continuing conflict in Israel/Sri Lanka on one side and Malaysia on the other.

    Ethno-nationalism isn’t the opposite of liberal democracies. While America, Canada, Australia, etc. are good examples of racially-blind liberal democracies, Scandinavian countries commonly called liberal democracies are very much ethno-nationalist based.

    I never said that ethno-nationalism was the opposite of liberal democracies; merely that they were different and incompatible in some of their core features. All nation-states, have an element of ethno-nationalist roots in them, due to their history; that many have adopted state structures which are multicultural and/or liberal-democratic is a different matter. The neo-Europes are as rooted in a nationalism that has a strong ethnic and cultural component as older European nation-states are; the difference is the addition of a concept of civic nationalism and a state structure that doesn’t formally institutionalise such differences. So I don’t accept your description of either the White commonwealth countries + the US or the Scandinavian countries.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a libertarian. I oppose such discriminations. But under the defination you seem to be pushing, no nation can claim to be a liberal democracy.

    Reasonable enough, I should be honest and say I don’t agree much with Libertarianism as an ideology; I think it doesn’t amount to much more than a socially liberal form of conservatism, with an extreme pro-market economic position occasionally tacked on; but it isn’t an ideology that I am very familiar with. Re my definitions, what I am saying is that there is no ideal type of ‘liberal democracy’ there are states that are some variant of this model and who implement it in different way with differing levels of success. Many nation-states can decide to be liberal democracies and then struggle to complete the transition; the extension of the vote to hitherto excluded groups and full equality was a very, very, late introduction to modern conceptions of liberal democracy and was brought about in the main as the outcome of total mobilisation for war and violent conflict. I don’t think it is unreasonable to describe states in the post-colonial world today, who are just starting on this transition or who have yet to fulfil all the standards as not being so, simply because they haven’t had 200 years of history to play around with such political evolutionary changes.

    The point I am making, I suppose, is that many states can claim to be a liberal democracy; but how well they fulfil this claim is open to dispute. We need to distinguish between differences of kind and differences of degree. It is in these differences of definition that the gaps between our positions become apparent.

    If Indonesia is already a liberal democracy, the debate would be what SBY would use the armed forces for, not how to control it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Indonesia, though matter who wins this month in the presidential run-off, is on the road of being a liberal democracy. It isn’t just there yet.

    Fair point, on the latter prediction; but I disagree with you about the presidency. I don’t think the armed forces can mount a critical challenge to the post now; but I do agree with you in that the formal allocation of seats and the role they have in political decision-making is not healthy for a liberal democratic state. I think Indonesia is a democracy, although a weak and not very robustly stable one.

    You would see one of the mentioned characteristics of a liberal democracy is rule of law. And that is practically absent in modern-day Bangladesh. And the frequent parliamentary boycotts isn’t helping the situation, as is the prevelent corruption and the high degree of coercion, via criminal means, political parties has on the press.

    If you go to many states in India, this rule of law is absent as well in the countryside. In regions where martial regulations prevail and have done so for extended lengths of time such as Kashmir and the NE, it doesn’t really exist as there is Order but certainly no non-arbitrary rule of Law. The conditions in many of the peri-urban and slums in the metropolitan centres is the same if not worse. Sure for the urban middle class and dominant groups in the countryside there is rule of law but this is only talking about 20% of the population. The legal system in India is a nightmare; it works but only erratically and after an excruciating period of time; in many political and sensitive public issues however, it has effectively been foiled already. As I said earlier, this is why economists like Gunnar Myrdal, have always referred to India as a ‘soft state’ it enacts impressive legislation on paper only for it to be violated in practise. You want to talk about criminalisation, have you looked at the composition of some of the vidhan sabhas and even the Lok Sabha recently; pretty much every political party has its share of bhaiyyas and needs them to win elections. Why else were the reforms that were meant to be introduced in the People’s Representation Act, sabotaged by all major political parties.

    Oh, when I said land issues isn’t the main political line in the two main Israeli Arab parties, I don’t mean that to them it isn’t an issue anymore. They just realize it isn’t their main one. Their opposition was raised, for example, when the Jewish Agency started building settlements encircling Bedouin settlements, cutting off areas for natural growth – without consulting the Bedouins.

    Well, it is an important issue for the Arab Israeli community as a whole, as the commemoration of Land Day every year shows. Besides, since 90% of land is now outside their control/ownership and there is little chance of getting it back, it is more realistic to concentrate on other areas. The Bedouin issue is slightly different, since they have traditionally been closer to the Jewish majority and more aligned with the prevailing nationalism hence their recruitment into the army etc. This is why the more recent building activity was seen as a betrayal of past co-operation and a failure of inclusion; it isn’t unprecedented as many communities in the Negev were relocated decades ago ‘temporarily’; relocations which later became permanent and entrepreneurs and municipal authorities suffer from similar discrimination in the allocations of permits and funds to open new businesses and provide local services. Recent activity has included allegations of aerial spraying of some Bedouin fields with herbicides to destroy the harvests and crops so as to encourage a voluntary migration; and the status of many constructions since the 1970s still haven’t been regularised leaving them in legal limbo. I don’t think agitation will go very far but it provides a touchstone issue for the marginal parties like Balad and Hadash to let people know they are still alive. The latter by the way, I would describe as a non-Zionist far left party, rather than an Arab one as it doesn’t base its ideology on Arab chauvinism but on neo-Marxist and hard-left thinking.

  14. Pingback: Simon World
  15. Pingback: Simon World
  16. Pingback: Simon World

Comments are closed.