"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Aug 25, 2011

Libya and the prospect of post-Islamist reform and renaissance

If the events over the last months in the Middle East have been an Arab Spring then the final days of the revolution in Libya may prove to be a period of  April thunderstorms and showers - something you wouldn't want to be caught up in but a sign , nevertheless, that summer is on its way.

As popular revolutions have rolled through Arab countries, some in the West have been doom-sayers; urging us to stick with the devils we know, those crazed dictators who murdered their own people, rather than embracing the people who were rising to throw of the yoke of tin-pot tyrants.

Some of this anxiety was understandable. Extremist Islamism has been a destructive force around the world inspiring terrorism that has  casued death and destruction to Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

But one thing became clear as these revolutions sputtered into life - while people were drawing inspiration and identity from their Islamic religion they were not rising up in order to demand Islamist solutions. They have on the contrary raised calls for political freedoms that have great resonance in the democratic world.

Suddenly the old argument that Arab populations are unsuited to democratic governance started to seem a little hollow. These people were now demanding a say in running their countries and they werent it seemed demanding to be ruled by Mullahs.

The Libyan revolution has been the most bloody and posed a challenge to players on the world stage. There seems little doubt that the US led Nato intervention prevented  a massacre of the rebellious east of Libya but it has come at a cost - and not just in money.

Only a minority of NATO countries actually put their shoulder to the wheel and participated in the action in Libya and NATO as a result will soon need to be re-thought. Is there a point in having members of a military alliance who stand on the sidelines when things get tough?

The more important issue though is the revolutionary upsurge among Arab peoples across North Africa and the Middle East that has bubbled up in recent months like champagne from an uncorked bottle. The pent up frustrations of people living under dictatorial regimes finally burst out in revolutionary mass demonstrations that have profoundly shaken the former status quo. In Arab countries and in North Africa  people now know that they have the potential through mass action to assert their right to democracy and freedom in the face of autocratic regimes.

This is all still a strange experience for many in the West, not least those who viewed Islam and Arab nations in particular as being culturally incompatible with notions of democracy and freedom. They observed Islamism in action and it was almost invariably hostile, violent, intolerant and anti-democratic.

But there is now another possibility - that we are seeing the emergence of something we might call post-Islamism were people want islamically informed states but states which are not Theocracies and which are more pluralistic and tolerant than we have come to expect from many Islamic countries in that part of the world.
They may of course emerge with more restricted freedoms than we now associate with democracy but that doesnt mean that such countries could not be decent neighbours and essentially controlled by their peoples.. Many European countries have been religiously informed democracies in their past..

Equally significant changes may also take place in the way that we in the West view the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If Islamic nations in the Middle east and North Africa show themselves capable of taking a democratic path then Israel  will find less excuse for its policy of suppressing the Palestinians by controlling and annexing their land.

These recent and ongoing revolutions have shown that there is a real appetite for freedom and democracy on the arab "street" and oppressive Islamist theocracies now seem by no means the only or even the most likely alternative to oppressive dictatorships.

On that view it is possible, just possible, that we might be seeing the first twinkling of a sort of combined Arab reformation and enlightenment - a time when democracy and rationality flower , a time of renaiscance, albeit in countries which are fundamentally Islamic.

That would be a huge step forward , not only for the people in those countries but for all of us.
Much depends on Libya and the Libyan people now. If the Libyan people can overcome these final bloody days and hold their untiy through what will no doubt be very difficult months ahead then the prospects for such a benign Islamic renaissance seem good.


Looney said...

I am anxiously awaiting the future to see how this works out.

One thing I don't like is the Iraq and Afghanistan style democracy that is maintained at the cost of American lives and money. Not sure we can afford many more of this kind of democracy ... Are there desirable and undesirable democracies?

Rummuser said...

I am delighted to see you back blogging Bunc. I must however beg to differ in your conclusions. I live in a democratic country with a significant Muslim population and have seen first hand, the kind of hold that the religion and its Mullahs have on it. The kind of democracy that you wish would come, say something like the Indonesian version, is unlikely in the Arab world, right up to Iran and Afghanistan. It is possible in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but there too, it is touch and go as we see in Bangladesh. The root cause, is that the religion itself is organised around oligarchies that get cheap non unionised labour completely under the control of the Mullahs supported by the business class. You can see this happen blatantly in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. That is also the reason that the system would rather have Madrassa education for the masses and the secular education only for the elite. I wish that your kind of change would come, but despair that in my life time, it is unlikely. Time will tell.

Bunc said...

Hi guys,
I can understand the concern and anxiety about the possibility of Islamist probloems emerging in Libya but I remain hopeful of the potential for a more moderate post Islamism to emerge. Im not the only one who thinks that this now looks possible ( but by no means certain )
Check out this BBC article
Jihadists and the Libyan NTC

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