Can Islam Be Reconciled with Liberal Democracy?

In Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid examines recent attempts to establish modern states in the Muslim Middle East and argues that, while liberal democracy and Islam may simply be incompatible, it might be possible to reach some sort of compromise. Malise Ruthven writes in his review (free registration required):

Hamid persuasively challenges the idea—advanced by the activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, among others—that Islam must undergo a reformation akin to the Christian one. As he writes, “lessons learned in Europe” are not necessarily applicable in the Middle East. There is a curious absence in his book, however: Iran, which for nearly 40 years has served as the clearest testing ground for political Islam. . . .

In Iran, which arguably boasts the world’s only Islamist government, clerical governance has led to a steep decline in religious observance; in 2011, the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance lamented that after more than 30 years of theocratic rule, only 3 percent of Iranians attend Friday prayers. (Prior to the revolution, the figure was almost 50 percent.) And yet Iranian society and governance have not liberalized in any meaningful ways. . . .

This poses a problem for Hamid’s view: put simply, the argument that political Islam can evolve into Muslim democracy would be more persuasive if the world’s most prominent Islamist country offered more impressive evidence of that possibility.

Perhaps a better way to rebut the idea that the Islamic world can follow only the European path toward modernity—that is, by way of reformation—would be to note that even Europe didn’t really follow that path, at least as it is often portrayed. The Enlightenment was the outcome not only of the Reformation but also of centuries of violent religious conflict, after which sensible people concluded that they were not improving their lots by killing one another in the name of God. That is the grim lesson that Muslims in the contemporary Middle East may yet find themselves learning from European history.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, History & Ideas, Iran, Islam, Islamism, liberal democracy, Middle East, Reformation


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law