Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Mirage of Islamic Democracy

I just finished reading a series of articles about Iraq in various conservative magazines, and the good news is undeniable: the Surge is working. Al Qaeda has been routed in the last six months or so, and the Sunni tribes which had been implacably hostile to the United States have now turned around and allied with us in their own self-interest.

An inescapable conclusion about the recent success is that it had nothing to do with Iraqi democracy. One hopes for the success of democracy in Iraq, but it was not democracy that brought down Al Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, it wasn’t even good governance that did the job. Chaos, corruption, and gridlock are still the order of the day within the Iraqi government.

What brought success in Iraq was recognizing and building on the existing tribal structures.

The Sunni tribes have no love for the “foreigners” in Al Qaeda, who bring violence, intimidation, and a challenge to their traditional ways. Realizing this, the U.S. Military did the smart thing: it worked hard at understanding these tribal systems, and partnered with them to uphold their time-honored customs and defeat the interlopers. That was what succeeded against the “insurgency”.

Needless to say, this was a quintessentially conservative strategy. But its success had nothing to do with democracy. In fact, insisting on a working democracy would almost certainly have guaranteed our failure.

This is a hard lesson to learn. However much a people yearns to be free, the removal of a tyrant does not guarantee the emergence of a peaceful liberal democracy.

Whenever the United States pulls out of Iraq, the best we can hope for is to leave behind a stable authoritarian government that is only moderately repressive and brutal towards its own people.

The dream is over.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Nicholas NickelbyAmerica is famous for its short attention span. We want to get in, get the job done, and then get out and go back home to watch TV. With this kind of mindset, it’s hard to look at the big picture, which may be a panorama that spans decades or centuries.

Unfortunately for us, the formation of a working democracy is a process that takes centuries.

First of all, there must be a long tradition of the rule of law. If a people has no experience of law except when enforced by the sword of a tyrant, then democracy is unlikely to develop. Organizing an election and persuading people to vote does not create a democracy. In order for the democratic process to succeed, the populace must already trust and respect an order which transcends the whim of the current thug in power.

The United States had experienced centuries of the rule of law — that is, the well-defined and constitutionally limited powers of the King of England and the Parliament — before it could successfully form a constitutional republic.
- - - - - - - - -
Another required condition for democracy to flourish is civil society, a plurality of legally recognized and independent institutions. People who are used to governing themselves within smaller bodies — churches, civic organizations, commercial associations, sporting clubs, etc. — will find it relatively easy to extend the same principles to the entire polity.

The United States had experienced centuries of civil society — the guilds, local councils, universities, etc. in England, supplemented by religious pluralism and well-regulated militias within the colonies — before it could successfully form a constitutional republic.

A third prerequisite for democracy is the availability of a good general education. Not all of the populace has to be educated — the United States and various European democracies were founded by and flourished with a relatively small educated class — but the pool of potential rulers and legislators must be well-educated if the mechanics of democratic government are to be implemented effectively.

The United States had experienced several generations of successfully educating the sons of the landowners and the merchant class before it could successfully form a constitutional republic.

Unfortunately, none of these necessary prerequisites listed above is present in Iraq, or indeed in any Muslim country. With the partial exception of Turkey, for centuries the Islamic countries have known nothing but the rule of the strongman, a unitary society under Islam, and massive illiteracy. The conditions in which democracy might flourish simply do not exist.

Midwifing a democracy in Germany under Allied occupation after World War Two was possible because the necessary prerequisites had existed for centuries in Europe. Expecting the same thing in Iraq is futile. We can maintain a semblance of “democracy” as long as American troops are present, but after they leave the country will inevitably revert to what it has always known.

To create something different, we would have to do what the British did in India: control the civil administration in the country, enforce the use of our own language, and make success for the local administrators dependent upon abiding by our own rules — and we would have to do it for more than two hundred years.

Even if we did have imperial ambitions, we Americans would be unable to wait that long. So, sooner or later, we will get out of Iraq and call what we leave behind “democracy”. After that Iraq will return to something more or less familiar.

It’s like chopping down all the trees in the woods and then scattering a few seeds among the stumps. Why are we inevitably surprised when the resulting garden contains nothing but second-growth pines and weeds?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

This is not to say that promoting democracy is a bad idea. Since we are much less likely to be threatened by a democracy than we are by a brutal tyranny, a prudent foreign policy requires that we encourage the emergence of democracies.

But first the necessary conditions for democracy must exist. Since we are unwilling to go the imperial route and force democracy down the throats of our unwilling subjects, what other course might we take?

The first step in solving the problem would be to acknowledge the elephant in the room: democracy does not flourish under Islam. The wishful thinking of George W. Bush does not change this unfortunate fact. Islam is an obstacle to democracy.

The U.S. military successfully co-opted the tribal culture to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, but that tribal culture is not conducive to the development of democracy. The traditional tribal systems in the Middle East can function effectively under a strongman, a regional Sheikh constrained by the local tribal traditions. This is the best we can hope for under current conditions.

And it’s important to realize that these conditions are maintained in stasis by Islam. The tenets of Islamic law do not allow for the development of anything else. The reason why atavistic tribal structures are the norm throughout the Islamic world is that the words of the Prophet have artificially preserved into the third millennium the social and political structures of antiquity.

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to construct a society based on the rule of law.

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to create the plural institutions necessary for a civil society.

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to educate men in non-Koranic subjects, and to educate women at all.

Without a systematic and concerted long-term effort to counter Islam directly, any attempt to promote democracy in Muslim countries is unlikely to succeed. Our goals should include undermining the attraction of Islamic ideas by highlighting and distributing alternative information. Much of Western culture is disturbing and repellent to the Muslim world, but — as is often the case with such things — much of it is also very attractive.

We can be successful, provided that we are unabashed in pursuit of our goal. Islam has been on artificial life-support for the last seventy years thanks to petroleum. It would have withered away by now had it not been for that little gift from Allah.

If it weren’t for the petrodollars, one little push would bring the whole tottering edifice crashing down.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Dictatorship, poverty, brutality, and backwardness are the norm across the Muslim world, and Islam is systemically designed to keep the situation this way. Despotism and violence are the order of the day from Algeria and Libya across Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, branching off in one direction across South Asia and India to the archipelagos of the Indian Ocean, and into Equatorial Africa in the other.

How likely is it that democracy will emerge in these places?

The opposite is much more likely; namely, that the gradual Islamization of Europe and other parts of the West will erode the existing Western democracies. If we mount no resistance to it, an imperceptible but steady reduction of liberty will prepare our people for the inevitable merger of the Islamic method of governance with our own. Eventually the term “democracy” will become an empty tool of the propagandists, with no more meaning than the word “republic” in the People’s Republic of China.

A cold-eyed empirical evaluation points towards the containment, isolation, and quarantine of the existing Islamic states.

Only after that will a focus on democratization become a luxury that we can afford.


RKV said...


South Korea.

And quit repeating the bit about Americans having a short attention span. It just is not true. The two countries named above were not democracies before US intervention over 50 years ago. Neither had a particularly good education system by world standards prior to that, nor were their civil societies particularly developed. Japan did have rule of law - and imposed it on their colony, South Korea.

ziontruth said...

Interesting, informative post, Baron.

Now for a few comments:

You wrote:

"Our goals should include undermining the attraction of Islamic ideas by highlighting and distributing alternative information. Much of Western culture is disturbing and repellent to the Muslim world, but--as is often the case with such things--much of it is also very attractive."

Here too we need to learn from past mistakes. Basically: all those who think McDonalds and footballs given to the Muslims would wean them from Islam are in the wrong. They would be for them, much as they were for Sayyid Qutb, a confirmation of the spiritual emptiness of the West. Alternatives to Islam can only be at least as spiritually deep in their eyes as Islam is to them now. Modernity has not (contrary to so many 19th-century "visionaries") done away with religion; quite the opposite, the new uncertainties of modern life have only made religion more relevant, all the world over. The fact that some people have exchanged the astrology chart for an Excel spreadsheet is a change of form, not of substance.

You wrote:

"We can. be successful, provided that we are unabashed in pursuit of our goal. Islam has been on artificial life-support for the last seventy years thanks to petroleum. It would have withered away by now had it not been for that little gift from Allah." [Emphasis original. --ZY]

If you say the petrodollars are the sustainers of Islamic expansionism into non-Islamic states, then I fully agree. But in the heartlands of Islam, in the places where it has been the religion for hundreds of years, petrodollars are not what keeps Islam going, and the running out of petrol won't cause people to leave Islam. Islam goes on in, say, Egypt because it's ingrained, because there is no alternative and because--most importantly--it is self-sustained by a climate of fear. Fear of the consequences of leaving.

In the end of things, I can only reiterate the point I have made here quite a few times: taking post-9/11 the offensive to the Islamic world was premature. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are a waste of people and resources.

On December 25, 2006, The American Thinker had a short story by Kyle-Anne Shiver, on how the mother of a soldier going off to Iraq came to make peace with his decision to go. In the second-last paragraph, the son says, half-jokingly: "Anyway Mom, principles aside, I'm really doing this for you. I just don't think your lofty feminism would look all that great in a burka." It's a right-headed sentiment, but it fails to see the reality. The reality is that the specter of a burka-clad future does not come from terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan, but from their coreligionists living in our non-Muslim countries, subverting our cultural and political systems with the aid of their Marxist fellow travelers.

The occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not "immoral" (to quote the Marxists). They are wasteful and distracting. The rush to fill the American Man's Burden to bring democracy to the Muslim world has drawn all resources away from the pressing duty to counter the Islamic Man's Burden to bring all the world under shariah law.

Anonymous said...

Democratizing Germany and Japan was made easier by the fact that they were the centers of Nazi and Shinto-Bushido thought that was totally crushed by their respective defeats. Meanwhile, the center of Islamic thinking is alive, well and rich as Creosus and able to permeate Iraq and the rest of the Muslim coutries.

Anonymous said...

The US did succesfully rule the Phillipenes and turn it into a somewhat functioning democracy over a period of almost 60 years. So sometimes the US can muster patience.

ziontruth said...


It's like the first-generation peer-to-peer filesharing systems and the ones of today: the former were centered on a single server, while the latter operate serverless, with each node (user) acting as a server for all the others.

Nazism and Shinto-Bushido relied on their central "servers" of Germany and Japan, respectively. Islam, on the other hand, is based on every single Muslim community. The state-oriented paradigm can no longer be applied. This is one of the major reasons why I'm such a fervent advocate of mass deportation.

God bless.

Epaminondas said...

"If in 50 this nation has a functioning democracy and a vibrant economy, then this occupation can be said to be a success"

Dwight Eisenhower, 1945
from the Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss

Ethelred said...

The Baron and ZionistYoungster are saying things that add up to what I have been saying recently.

Islam is totally alien to Western thought and principles down to the essence of what it means to live.

Muslims in Islamic lands will have to work out their problems for themselves. When we find alternatives to petroleum, their 'economies' collapse. Islam in the past was parasitic and ultimately destroyed the host.

We cannot allow Islam, meaning Muslims into the West AND at the same time NOT demand that THEY adapt, not US.

I simply do not understand Lex and his "moderate Muslim" attitude. Islam is not moderate.

Sooner or later, the critical mass of Muslims will exist and out pops a jihadi, which is really just the true Muslim. It only takes one to blow up a bus, train or plane.

Deportation? Yes! However, that is the end of a long road that begins with defining Islam as dangerous, deviant, treasonous, etc and then closing the mosques and then being prepared for the backlash.

Once it is clear that it is ISLAM we will not permit to thrive or even be, then Muslims will not venture to our lands in the hope of welfare and the demographic jihad.

RISE_UP said...

There will never be democracy in Iraq. That word together with islam does not exist. The worst thing that ever happened in Iraq was when Saddam became too dangerous to leave be. He controled the ghouls. Like it or not. And his type of control is all they will ever abide by.As soon as we leave Iraq, it will go back to hell. Sad but true. We must stop the flow of these incompatiable peoples to our lands and develop an alternative to oil. Once that is done, they will go back to what they were..and no threat to us. They went to bed one night with a camel in their yard and woke up with a mercedes in their garage.Santa Oil. But their mental state did not advance to the mercedes. Stayed back there with the camel and they apparently like it that way and want all infidels to like the same.

Anonymous said...

We have just had an 'honor killing' in Toronto, our largest city. So, it's not just Iraq that one has to worry about, it's right here at home. Muslim beliefs are not compatible -- as you have so correctly said -- with Western liberal democracy.

The only solution is a complete ban on Muslim immigration to the west and a re-education of those already here that the rule of law is their rule too.

X said...

Japan and South Korea already had some semblence of the rul of law in place prior to their democratisation. Certain Korea several historical periods of relatively representative government. Japan was a highly stratified society but it had consistent, if rather brutal codes of justice that could be applied to just about anyone apart from the Emperor through a system of courts that were relatively even-handed.

In such systems it doesn't take too much to instill an idea of democracy. They were fertile ground. Islam, unevolved for most of its history, is not fertile ground but with work it could be made fertile. We're talking about a century of education though. A reformation which, unlike the Christian reformation, would require a repudiation of the core tenets of Islam. It may even be possible without that but it would still require a fundamental shift in the very nature of Islamic thinking, away from the tribe and toward the nation. I don't believe Japan and Korea are really comparable to that.

X said...

Sorry, "nation" should be "individual and nation". Whoops.

Also I forgot to add that the arab concept of honour also needs to go. It's about as opposite to western ideals of honour as it can be.

Sodra Djavul said...

If it weren’t for the petrodollars, one little push would bring the whole tottering edifice crashing down.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how this Global Warming "denier" finally "went green."

Until we have a direct plan to battle their economic supply lines, the best one could hope for in confrontation is simple containment.

For me, I view abandoning petroleum of long-term strategic importance, not because of drowning polar bears and aging pop stars, but rather due to who and what specifically benefits from the petroleum trade.

Energy demand will always be there, and will only increase into the foreseeable future. What must be shifted is the source of that energy.

Oddly enough, it does involve the future of the planet.

Oh dear god! Quick, someone adopt me an African baby...

- Sodra

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Democracy and a republic are worlds apart. A republic is mixed government, like the Spartan Republic, the Roman Republic and the British Commonwealth. Machiavelli changed the definition of a republic.

Furthermore, NOONE in Classical Antiquity favored "democracy" except the Athenians. Even the Intelligentisia of Athens, Socrates, Plato, etc, looked to the Cretan and Spartan Republics. Democracy is the worst form of govenment; always has been. The Founding Fathers of America created a "psuedo-republic" which in 1913, America did become a "democracy". For more info on the CORRECT definition of a republic, please see The Classical Definition of a Republic.

PRCalDude said...

"If in 50 this nation has a functioning democracy and a vibrant economy, then this occupation can be said to be a success"

Dwight Eisenhower, 1945
from the Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss

I suppose we could democratize them, we just need to
get rid of Islam in those countries. I defy anyone to show that Japan and Korea had a system like Shari'ah built into their religious presuppositions before we took over. Japan still isn't free in the sense that we understand it.

Baron Bodissey said...

Mr. Wheeler --

I am well aware of the distinction between a republic and a democracy. That's why I specified that this country was founded as a constitutional republic (which, as you correctlt stated, it is no longer).

But most people conflate democracies and republics, and the exercise of separating them would have been beyond the scope of this post.

Sometimes simplification is unavoidable.

Profitsbeard said...

Rule by the majority (even softened through a "republic"), if it is based on a system of theocratic irrationalism, can only breed a nightmare State.

Islam, if allowed to reign, inevitably brings about paralysis, -spiritually, psychologically, intellectually and philosophically.

And as long as Muslims do not remove the Koran from being a literal force for earthly lawmaking, and governing, Islam will be opposed by every other belief system on Earth.

Out of a sheer sense of survival.

It will either reform.

Or it join every other defunct dogma, from Tezcatlipoca to Moloch, gathering dust in the basements of archeological museums.

The human mind will not be caged by any one man's vision.

Conservative Swede said...


Your comparison between single server systems and serverless systems is very good. Two friends of mine, a Catholic and a Muslim, were discussing, and the Catholic was amazed of non-hierarchical Islam was. Islam sounded so open and free to her, compared to the Catholic Church, with it's strongly hierarchical organization. But this is only so if the "celestial" sphere is ignore. Islam is strongly hierarchical, it's leader is Allah. Christianity is so unclear and the Christian God so weak -- in comparison with Allah -- that the Catholics needed to add a political hierarchy to their religion, with the Pope as the leader. For Islam monotheism suffices: god is the leader.

A computer nerd, however, would not acknowledge the existence of Allah. He would rather say that Islam does not have a single server, but that it is the very same software that has been distributed to 1.2 billion machines.

Actually is more like many small clusters of machine, where one has got the software installed (the local imam) and this machine works as a server for the other machines in the cluster (which only got a simpler version of the software installed).

But even if the Muslims do not need an earthly central server for receiving their political commands, they need one for other purposes. Their central sever is in Mecca. It's time to pull the plug there. This would indeed be an act of mercy (especially to the Muslims themselves).

This is not a War on Terrorism. neither is it a War on Islamism. But also the term War on Islam is a strange concept. I believe the proper term should be War on the Islamic empire. The Islamic empire has been running uninterruptedly for 1,400 year. It's time to properly defeat it and put it at the historical dust bin.

Marian - CZ said...

Islam is definitely incompatible with democracy - yes.

On the other hand, Iraq is no Saudi Arabia. There is a fair share of secular-minded people in Baghdad and religious minorities. And even in the conservative Sunni areas of Anbar, the tribes are fed up with AK-47-toting militancy. Iraqis who flirted with the idea of an islamic state got a rough awakening in the last years.

A year ago, I read about an opinion poll in Iraq, which noted that support for islamic state among Sunnis fell from 36% to some 9% in the period 2004-2006. Al-Q seemed to be particularly effective in losing popular support there. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link now.

It is possible that political Islam will be discredited in Iraq for a long time: and this may give us a less-islamic, more-secular state in the middle east. However, this also depends on the attitude of the Shiite population.

Snouck said...


great article! It is not enough to defeat an enemy by violence, force must be used with a political settlement in mind. The political settlement depends on the social and cultural organisation of the groups that live in the area that is occupied.

Great insight too that the tribal approach is Conservative.

Now that the US has found a way to deal with some Middle Easterner societies it is time to step back and orient on the big picture. What was the original problem to which the invasion of Iraq was supposed to be a solution?

The original problem was Al-Qaida's attack on New York. Al-Qaida is the "Champion" or "Lion" of Islam.

Does the settlement in Iraq, a country of less than 20 million Muslims bring the US closer to defeating Al-Qaida and the 1,3 Billion Muslims it represents?

Can the US afford any more invasions of Islamic societies?

If the answer is "no" then the US and its allies still have to find a way to deal with Islam and its elusive champion.

We got to trap and kill that Lion!

Great comment by ZY on the differences between Japan / Germany on the one hand and the distributed nature of Islam on the other hand. God bless you, man!

You guys made my day!



. said...

The Baron says:

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to construct a society based on the rule of law.

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to create the plural institutions necessary for a civil society.

It is illegal and blasphemous under Islam to educate men in non-Koranic subjects, and to educate women at all.

I would be interested in cites that justify these statements.

I would also point out that Turkey is a Muslim country. It is currently being ruled by a democratically elected Islamic party that has actually greatly improved upon the nation in terms of the rule of law and improvement of an already existing modern civil society.

I would also point out that Indonesia, a nation that is 90% Muslim, has over the past decade instituted a democratically elected state and is rapidly adopting western principles of the rule of law and creation of a modern civil society.

ziontruth said...


I beg to differ that Allah is the leader in Islam. Allah in Islamic theology is doctrinally held to be non-imitable, much like the Greek gods were. Judaism says, "As He is merciful, so be you too merciful"--imitatio Dei is at the heart of Jewish life. But in Islam, Allah is held to be totally incomparable to anything else. Therefore, the Muslims have to imitate the life of their so-called "Perfect Man", Mohammed. The leader in Islam is not Allah but Mohammed, or more accurately the example and model he is believed to have set.

If Islam reformed into a live-and-let-live religion, then I'd call off all fighting it. In fact, one of the end-times scenarios of Judaism has it that the Muslims will all repent, meaning reform their religion away from its current state, the state of being the vehicle of Arab imperialism.


Anytime! That analogy struck me quite a long time ago, after Napster went down in legal flames and its servers were shut down, and then decentralized systems such as Gnutella took over.

God bless.

Alexis said...

Baron B.:

Although I recognize that transplanting democracy into Islam is more difficult than it is for many other religions, I do not regard it as impossible.

Does democracy exist in Utah? When Deseret was settled by Mormons, their government was a prophet-led theocracy. And no civil society existed outside of the Mormon church; the first non-Mormon school in Utah was established after the American Civil War. Moreover, Mormonism was unabashedly polygamous until the twentieth century; polygamy today, while illegal, is tolerated.

The only prerequisite you cited for democracy that Utah had when entering statehood was a good educational system.

In all honesty, I think there is a democratic model that would work in Islam -- Utah. That is, if Utah is a democracy. A democratic regime would work particularly well in Shi'ite Islam. As long as the religious leaders believe in democracy, a theocratic state would be better served through the organs of democracy than through the police states of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Alexis said...

I think it is widely acknowledged that the turning point of World War II was June 6, 1944. Yet, this was not merely because of the D-Day landings, but also because that was the day of the liberation of Rome.

Before 6 June 1944, the sword of Caesar tilted in favor of authoritarian and fascist government. After 6 June 1944, the sword of Caesar tilted in favor of liberal democracy, which buttressed the ecclesiastical power of liberal Catholic theologians (who are now in power in the Vatican).

The is a saying in Islam – “Paradise is to be found under the shade of swords”. Historically speaking, leadership in Islam follows the sword. It would be unlikely for Islam to be reformed unless and until a sword other than the present one gives shade over the streets of Mecca. Wahhabism derives its prestige from its control over Mecca, and the Theocratic Republic in Iran derives its prestige from threatening Wahhabi control over Mecca.

Some Muslim scholars do regard the rule of law, civil society, and liberal education to be antithetical to Islam. They hold sway because they hold the swords. Were those Muslim scholars who proclaim that the rule of law, civil society, and liberal education are obligatory in Islam to hold the swords, the ideals of liberal democracy would become popular in Islam. The popularity of an idea in Islam depends on who holds the swords.

Islam is not merely a religion, but a gigantic city state whose calendar dates from the establishment of a Muslim government in exile.

Even if the neoconservative thesis were true that the infusion of liberal democracy into Islam would end our problems with al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, a liberal democratic Islam would not necessarily be any less imperialistic than Islam as it presently exists. The infusion of liberal democracy into Islam would turn our strength into their strength, and make Islamic states much stronger than ever before.

Autocracy kept the United Arab Republic from becoming anything more than a Nasserite dream; democracy is a means to create unions and federations more lasting. Democracy creates a mechanism for Muslim states to form federations from Morocco to Indonesia, a dream at odds with the personal egos of authoritarian rulers. Given the conditions of modernity, no real caliphate is possible without democracy.

I think the principal objection to infusing liberal democracy into Islam is not that it cannot be done, but that the result would make Islam stronger than it has been for over a millennium. As such, it may very well be in the interest of western civilization for one to assert that free democracy is antithetical to Islam. Besides, unless and until Mecca is redeemed from its present reign of tyranny, your assertion that free democracy can only exist despite Islam is correct.