Islam in Civic Culture Perspective (Part 1)

Written By Dinda Revolusi on Minggu, 20 Februari 2011 | 02.35

A global tendency in the post-cold war period is the increase in the number of democratic or democratizing regimes. However, this tendency does not occur in most predominantly Muslim states (Freedom House 2002, Lipset 1994, Huntington 1997, 1991). On the basis of Freedom House’s Index of Political Rights and Civil Liberty in the last three decades, Muslim states have generally failed to establish democratic politics. In that period, only one Muslim country has established a full democracy for more than five years, i.e. Mali in Africa. There are twelve semi-democratic countries, defined as partly free. The rest (35 states) are authoritarian (fully not free). Moreover, eight of the fifteen most repressive regimes in the world in the last decade are found in Muslim states.

This is a significant finding. In virtually every region of the world—Asia, Africa, Latin America, the former USSR, and Eastern Europe—the democratic tendency is strong. Authoritarian politics has been declining in non-Muslim states, while in Muslim states it has been relatively constant.

Moreover, the collapse of the USSR was followed by the rise of new nationstates, six of which have Muslim majorities: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Within these Muslim countries, based on the Freedom House index, authoritarian regimes have emerged, while within their non-Muslim counterparts in the former USSR democratic regimes have been the norm. Cyprus is also an interesting case. The country is divided into Greek and Turkish Cyprus, and their democraticness varies. The Greek side is more democratic.

One aspect of the third wave of democratization, to quote Huntington (1991), is the rise of democratic regimes in Eastern Europe. However, two predominantly Muslim countries, Albania and Bosnia, have been the least democratic in the region.

Students of Islam commonly acknowledge that the Arab World or the Middle East is the heart of Islamic culture and civilization. Islam has been almost identical with the Arab world. Muslim elites, activists, or intellectuals from this region, compared to other regions, are the most willing to articulate their Islamic identity, solidarity, and brotherhood as reactions against non-Muslim culture and politics. Unfortunately, most regimes of the region are authoritarian.

The question is: why is democracy rare in Muslim states, even in the current period of global democratization? If democracy is introduced to a Muslim state, why is it likely to be unstable or unconsolidated? Is this phenomenon associated with Islam?

Some students of Muslim society and of political science believe that Islam is responsible for the absence of democracy in the Muslim world (Huntington 1997 1991, 1984; Kedourie 1994, 1992, Lipset 1994, Lewis 2002, 1993, Gellner 1994, Mardin 1995). However, this claim has rarely been tested through systematic observation on the basis of measures of the two critical concepts, i.e. Islam and democracy, and how the two may be systematically associated. This study intends to fill this gap through elaboration and testing of the arguments of the scholars who have preceded me.

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