Exclusive: The Muslim World Needs Advocates for Freedom, Not Democracy
Author: M. Zuhdi Jasser
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: October 1, 2007
Democracy is not a solution, but rather is another weapon in the arsenal of militant Islamists. FSM Contributing Editor M. Zuhdi Jasser revisits the sheer brilliance of America’s founders and why and how they protected American citizens from unlimited democracy. Can the same be done in the Middle East?
The Muslim World Needs Advocates for Freedom, Not Democracy
By M. Zuhdi Jasser
This week’s freak show at the United Nations and Columbia University featuring the fascist Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brought with it a flurry of valid criticism from Americans, who value freedom and the dignity of our nation, and were aghast at the disgrace that welcoming such a thug exemplifies. One couldn’t help but wonder where our nation’s collective bearings were, in tolerating the exploitation of our media and political bandwidth – not to mention Columbia’s students – by the Iranian propagandist and thug-in-chief.
History has shown that lying dictators never respond to debate or reason, and only become more emboldened by “leaders” who refuse to see or challenge self-evident lies.
Family Security Matters carried the only panel in the media that included Americans of Middle Eastern descent who were willing to strongly condemn the invitation granted to the Iranian despot. There are actually droves of such individuals who choose not to live in the world of apologia and appeasement, in stark contrast to the perception that is constantly being put forth by Islamist (Political Islam) organizations in America, and by the American left.
Many columnists this week have touched on the plethora of lies and abominable assertions that Mr. Ahmadinejad put forth, including his denials of the Holocaust, his overtly hostile militant threat to America and Israel, and his government’s fascist oppression of Iranian citizens whether female, gay, journalists, or students. The fact that merely one day before arriving in New York, Iran held a parade that featured huge banners reading “Death To America” in Farsi (but which read “Down With America” in English, below) escaped the scrutiny of Ahmadinejad’s hosts, and the entire mainstream news media.
Furthermore, to hear that top tier media figures had dinner with Ahmadinejad after all this – and yet didn’t challenge his most egregious lies, or the clear and present dangers that Iran’s words and actions so clearly demonstrate – gives pause to the concept of responsible journalism, not to mention a modicum of patriotism.
Up to this point, however, little if any attention has been paid to Ahmadinejad’s hypocritical embrace of “democracy.”
As an American Muslim, it was painful to listen to Ahmadinejad’s hateful rantings. I have been struck by how comfortable this dictator is in citing “democracy,” and referring to it as justification for his maintaining his power. In fact, in 2005 he came to power after winning what appeared to the world to be a “democratic” election over the reform candidate, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and 6 other candidates. He came in second in the first round, and then received over 60 percent of the vote in the second round against Rafsanjani. Ahmadinejad won on the populist campaign slogan, “It’s possible, and we can do it”.
Ahmadinejad is a quintessential Islamist, parroting the Iranian Revolution’s “mullahtocracy,” which came to power in 1979 amidst a furor of “revolution.” He maintains power under the illusion of elections and “democracy.” What the West is missing, is that the word “democracy” carries with it many meanings, according to who is using it, and in what context. For example, the U.S. State Department seems to believe it includes minority rights, due process, pluralism, and the rule of law. Yet this definition is actually describing a constitutional republic, which, by law, limits the reach of government, defends the rights of minorities against the government and oppression by the majority, and thrives in federalism. Democracy is merely a mechanism by which citizens, in such a society, choose their leaders. But to Islamists like Ahmadinejad, and to many in the Western world, “democracy” means unlimited majority rule, in which 50 percent +1 of any electorate can vote for anything it wants, up to and including to enslave itself.
We have to be careful what we wish for in the Middle East. Simply pushing for “democracy,” without a clear objective definition, is only going to facilitate a greater global division between freedom-loving Western nations and Islamist “democracies.” Democracy embodied in a government that entertains free elections can result in freedom – or, as was recently demonstrated via the elections of HAMAS in the Palestinian territories, and Ahmadinejad’s mullohtocracy in Iran, are prime examples of the dangers of unrestrained populist Islamism. The result in both cases was the ascendancy of murderous, brutal rule of Islamists, all under the “democratic” process. Need we even discuss that Adolph Hitler – whose manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” is now a top-seller in the Middle East – was also “democratically” elected?
In his similarly ridiculous 2005 speech to the U.N., Ahmadinejad stated,
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a symbol of true democracy. All officials including the Leader, President, members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, city and village councils are elected through the vote of the citizens. The Islamic Republic of Iran has held 27 national elections in 27 years.
America’s founding documents repeatedly describe our nation as a “republic.” They do not mention “democracy” once – not a single time. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution describe the U.S. as a constitutional republic. Simply put, in a constitutional republic, the power lies with the people, and not with government, whose powers should remain limited. This stands in stark contrast to an unrestrained majority, which is often seen in “democracies” that are unchecked by a document similar to our Bill of Rights. And as has been demonstrated throughout history, “democracy” can become a mobocracy when a simple 51 percent majority is not legally constrained with a separation and balance of powers, and protection of minority rights, free speech, assembly, and religion. And although they were emphatic about the right of the people to govern themselves, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and our the other framers of our Constitution were equally emphatic about the fact that our republic was designed to be a refuge from unlimited “democracy” – not to become one itself.
Most importantly, as we consider the type of societal reformation that would be most effective within the Islamic world, to stand against Islamism, we must relearn what it is about America that has inoculated us against majority mobocracy. Specifically, it is our Bill of Rights – and the “establishment” clause within the First Amendment – that prevent the government’s ability to establish one “official” religion. This is, to me, as a proud American Muslim, the single most potent global ideological weapon against the alarming metastases of Islamism.
Devout Muslims can embrace such an ideology if it is presented with moral conviction and clarity. They cannot and will not do so if it is misrepresented as “democracy,” in which a momentarily-powerful simple majority can “vote” to do anything it wants to a minority – or itself – whenever it wants.
The separation of religion and state that is so engrained into our American natural law, is an anathema to Islamists, who insist upon law derived from the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed), and which are written, translated and interpreted by clerics as sharia (Islamic jurisprudence).
The Iranian government, currently one of the worlds’ worst offenders of human rights, stones women and forces them to cover, murders homosexuals, imprisons journalists, and suffocates free-thinking students. Yet, according to contemporary definition, they could actually call themselves a “democracy,” since they have elections. So when a despotic Islamist like Ahmadinejad uses this term to justify such measures, while claiming to swooning audiences, intellectuals and diplomats that Iran cherishes “freedom” and “human rights” is an insult to these terms that should merit outrage and challenge. Yet as was evidenced at Columbia University and the U.N. he was given a global stage upon which to turn these concepts on their heads. And with the deafening silence of those who provided him this platform, he was able to get away with it.
It’s time to change the primary terms used in our war of ideas with the Muslim world. International engagement with countries like Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and the UAE, among many others, should be a constant reminder of the humanitarian need of their citizens to live in republics enjoying universal individual freedoms, in contrast to a simple “democracy,” in which the majority rules by mobocracy. As history has shown – and the blood of hundreds of millions of victims are testament to –lunatics like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can and do come to rule in “democracies,” and exert fascistic control when in the majority. But they cannot rule under a government that is chartered and controlled by laws that respect individual liberty, and the rights of the minority.
Instead of their endless appeals for “democracy” – while ignoring the fact that the election process alone can and does lead to victories for despots like Ahmadinejad – America’s diplomats, news media and educators should seek out and cultivate relationships in the Middle East with those who will champion the concept and virtue of the constitutionally-limited representative republic. As Thomas Jefferson so ably pointed out:
173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.
America is losing “the war of ideas,” in no small part because we – and particularly, our young people – are unaware of the results of unlimited democracy, as contrasted to the results of free people whose natural rights are protected, under a government whose powers are clearly defined and vigorously enforced. As William Dalrymple pointed out in a recent column for the Guardian Limited, “Democracy, not terror, is the engine of political Islam.” Our forward Middle East Initiative, which focuses only on elections and democratization, feeds into the hands of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and across the Middle East. The Arabic Muslim Brotherhood will always embrace a society of elections democratiya (Arabic for democracy) – but not one based on Hurriya (Arabic for universal freedom)
The battle against the Islamists from within the Muslim community is just beginning, and will need not only assistance – but moral sanction and visibility – if the West is to gain traction against the forces bolstering the Islamists across the globe. Terror is a means for the militant Islamists. Savvy leading advocates of political Islam, like the Muslim Brotherhood, who are trying to mainstream themselves with ignorant Westerners, have conveniently sworn off violence all the while they provide apologetics for the root causes of terror. Meanwhile, militant Islamists like President Ahmadinejad maintain power, and receive the tacit acceptance of the West, while pretending to honor “democracy” and simultaneously assaulting individual liberty.
It is toxically misguided for the U.S. simply to advocate “democracy,” rather than constitutional republics based in the separation of powers, and the separation of religion and government. If we allow our short-sightedness to usher in Islamists in the Middle East, without an ideological counter from within the Muslim consciousness, we only delay an inevitable clash between our constitutional republics, which are based in universal religious freedom – and Islamist theocracies, which are based in “democratic” rule, with no laws to protect the smallest minority from the oppression of the majority.
The real work in this ‘long war’ will be done only by those who can create forums that fundamentally redefine and reshape shape our mission, and target Islamism as a political ideology. If we seek to change hearts and minds in the Muslim world, we cannot buy into “democracy” as a panacea that will liberate people wherever it is tried. Rather, as America’s founders did, we must proudly embrace and articulate freedom as the only option that will prevent the clash of cultures that is surely to come, if we continue to avoid doing so.
Enabling, encouraging and emboldening “democratically-elected” theocratical despots like Ahmadinejad – as was done by our intellectual and media elite this week – will only result in more tragedy and human suffering. If Ahmadinejad’s government and his fascism show us anything, it is that “democracy” is not a solution, but rather is another weapon in the arsenal of militant Islamists. John Adams warned our young nation:
Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself! There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.
James Madison admonished against democracy in the Federalist Papers:
Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
America and the Western world need to create, and morally fuel, a movement for liberty over “democracy;” we cannot settle for democratization instead of real liberation. For if we do, we are doomed to a future conflict with Islamist regimes that, if united under a caliphate, would head us toward a larger global conflict.
Despite the spectacles at Columbia and the U.N. this week, the virtues of liberty and freedom – and the facts of history - are on our side. I pray that most Muslims, when they understand the purity of personal devotion free of government coercion, will choose freedom over Islamist “democracy.”
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist.
He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org
read full author bio here