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Secretary Clinton and ‘Real Democracy’ in the Middle East

July 16th, 2012 - 8:00 am

“The era of Big Government is over!”

I could not get President Bill Clinton’s famous declaration out of my mind this morning as I read the speech Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave in Egypt yesterday.

Very simply, Mrs. Clinton’s discussion of the lofty — and probably unattainable — goal of democratizing the Muslim Middle East is the best ever delivered by a senior American government official.

I can’t shake her husband’s speech, though.

Back in 1996, when he made his succinct, imperative assertion about the need to rein in Leviathan, we knew he didn’t mean a word of it. We’ve had galloping runaway government ever since. I don’t mean to suggest that that is Clinton’s doing, by the way; Democrats are worse than Republicans on this, but Big Government is very much a bipartisan disease. For present purposes, though, my point is that the Clintons, who are both extraordinarily able, have a penchant for saying exactly what needs to be said … while not meaning a word of it.

At long last, in Secretary Clinton’s telling, it has dawned on the State Department that the culture of democracy — the Western liberty culture — is by leaps and bounds more essential than democracy’s procedural elements, such as popular elections and constitution-writing. “Democracy,” Secretary Clinton proclaimed in Egypt yesterday, “is not just about reflecting the will of the majority. It is also about protecting the rights of the minority.” Even better, she added: “Real democracy means that no group or faction or leader can impose their will, their ideology, their religion, their desires on anyone else.”

Exactly. I’ve been a naysayer on the Islamic Democracy Project since the late Nineties, when the Clinton administration tried to turn Yasser Arafat into James Madison, and since circa 2003-04 when the Bush administration twisted the Bush Doctrine from a roadmap to military victory (“with us or against us”) to a Bridge to Nowhere (the “forward march of freedom”). All along, this has been precisely the point: there is no real democracy until a society accepts the Western democratic principles that Secretary Clinton so eloquently outlined. Democratic culture is the horse that has to go before the popular-election cart. The third-grade elects a class president; that doesn’t make it a democracy.

Here is the problem: Islamic culture is implacably hostile to what Mrs. Clinton correctly says real democracy means. To undo that, if it is even possible, would take decades of rolling the stone up the mountain.

When the secretary says, for example, that real democracy means no leadership in the society can impose its ideology or religion on others, that means real democracy requires a secular space in civil society where citizens — minority or not — are free to live indifferently to, or even in contradiction of, the rules and mores of the leadership’s ideology/religion.

Now consider the following statement: “Secularism can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society.”

That is not me or some other jaded “Islamophobe” talking. Nor is it a quote from Osama bin Laden, the Blind Shiekh, or some other notorious jihadist “violent extremist” who has purportedly “hijacked Islam.” The statement was actually made by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in a 2010 book he wrote about the need for Islamic societies to resist Western ideas — How the Imported Solutions Disastrously Affected Our Ummah.

Qaradawi, who holds a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence from storied al-Azhar University, is the most influential Islamic cleric in the world. Put aside, for a moment, his fatwas approving suicide bombings. Despite those and a host of other despicable preachments, Qaradawi actually is fairly “moderate” as some of these scholars go. He is the very voice of mainstream Middle Eastern Islam.

When his book came out, the sheikh published an excerpt of it for the Saudi Gazette entitled: “Why is secularism incompatible with Islam?” Here is the essence of his explanation:

As Islam is a comprehensive system of worship (Ibadah) and legislation (Shari’ah), the acceptance of secularism means abandonment of Shari’ah, a denial of the divine guidance and a rejection of Allah’s injunctions. It is indeed a false claim that Shari’ah is not proper to the requirements of the present age. The acceptance of a legislation formulated by humans means a preference of the humans’ limited knowledge and experiences to the divine guidance: “Say! Do you know better than Allah?” (Qur’an, 2:140) For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of Shari’ah is downright apostasy.

As you read that last sentence, bear in mind that Sheikh Qaradawi adheres to the classical interpretation of sharia that prescribes the death penalty for a Muslim who publicly apostatizes from Islam.

The bottom line is this: you cannot have real democracy as described by Mrs. Clinton and Islam as taught by Sheikh Qaradawi. You can have one or the other, not both.

The constitutions the State Department has been writing for “Islamic democracies” for the last decade install Islam as the state religion and enshrine sharia as a fundamental source of law (with Muslim societies naturally taking this to mean sharia is the fundamental source of law). When State is not writing the constitutions itself, it encourages Muslim countries to go ahead and write them this way.

This is worse than fraudulent. Fraud in this context would only mean we were being duped into believing secularism and Islam are compatible. But these constitutions don’t just fool us; they actually endorse Islam and its sharia system as the society’s “comprehensive system of worship and legislation,” to borrow Qaradawi’s formulation. If you have that, you cannot have real democracy.

I happen to think Mrs. Clinton is more than smart enough to know all this. So did she truly mean what she said about “real democracy” in Egypt yesterday? Well, if she did, she might have added: “Consequently, we really have to rethink our whole approach to democratization in the Middle East over the last twenty years. You simply can’t have real democracy, as I’ve described it, while enforcing Islamic law and mores on people who don’t want them.”

She did not do that. Let’s review what she did instead, shortly before giving her “real democracy” speech.

First, she met with Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose platform is full enforcement of sharia as the law of Egypt. Indeed, as previously noted here at Ordered Liberty, Morsi has just cut a deal with other Islamist parties to make clear that not just the airy “principles of sharia” but the tenets of sharia law itself will rule Egypt.

Next, she met with the general in charge of the military junta that currently rules Egypt in order to try to pressure the junta into surrendering power to the freely elected parliament and presidency — both of which are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

That is, Secretary Clinton labored mightily to elevate sharia and the mere ornaments of democracy (popular elections) over what she later perfectly described as real democracy. What she did completely undermined what she said.

The era of Big Government is over!

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