Is Islamism compatible with democracy?

by James Jeffrey and Soner Cagaptay
September 5, 2014

The Aug. 10 election of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the nation’s first directly elected president provides significant new fodder for the Washington debate that started following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Soon after Iran fell under autocratic and ideological rule by Islamists, Middle East observers launched a debate to examine one hypothetical alternative: Islamist parties coming to power democratically, and more importantly, governing democratically, once elected……

…….Islamism is not a form of the Muslim faith. Rather, it is a political ideology that strives to derive legitimacy from Islam. Islamist political parties are a subset of ideologically driven political movements. Democracy, on the other hand, is based on the integrity and free choice of the individual. That free choice is manifest in the democratic act of voting, but is also characteristic of the empowerment of the individual to “seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” More philosophically, the democratic experience places the state at the service of the individual.

Any ideological approach to governance, be it religious or philosophical, such as Marxism, is incompatible with the idea of the state working to serve a pluralistic and ever-changing populace. Under Islamism, the government necessarily becomes a “tool” for the ideological movement to enforce creed, manifest in Islam with the prohibition on renouncing religion in any form. In such a cause-based construct, the role of the individual, rather like that of a soldier in the military, is to serve the greater, transcendental cause……


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