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Islam and Pluralism (31 May 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Political Islamism is the battle for Pluralism


By Marwan Muasher

26 May 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president of Egypt has moved on to the second round of voting. As fear mounts over the rise of Islamists, nostalgia for the old Arab world is stirring among many inside and outside the region. Some are starting to push the argument that former regimes restricted personal freedoms and stifled economic development but at least we all knew who we were dealing with and where we stood. And chaos was held in check.

Today, a glance at headlines around the globe leads one to believe that Islamism is pitted against secularism in the battle for control over the new Arab world. This rise of Islamists clearly stokes fear in the West and leaves many clamouring for the good ol’ days when the good ol’ boys were in charge.

Don’t buy the hype.

This thinking ignores reality. It whitewashes the problems of the past, reflects unrealistic expectations for instant political transformations in the wake of revolutions and mislabels the battle being waged in the Arab world.

This is not a clash between Islam and the rest — this is a battle for pluralism. It pits the believers in pluralism from both secular and Islamist camps against those who cling to outdated notions of exclusion or superiority and insist on disenfranchising others.

For this battle to be won, we can’t ignore three critical lessons emerging from the ashes of the old Arab world.

First, constituent politics are unavoidable and necessary. Reforms imposed from above are not enough to achieve political maturity. All groups and parties need to shift gears and participate in politics on the ground to fulfil society’s wants and needs.

This is perhaps the most important lesson, and Islamists seemed to figure it out decades ago. One need only point out the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Some secularists, on the other hand, alternated between elitist political theorizing and smearing partisan politics. This thinking left many of them out of touch and lacking sufficient networks on the ground to be successful. In the short term, this is good news for Islamists, but constituent politics is the only way to defend individual liberties and protect political rights.

Second, the reliance of certain groups or minorities on dictatorial regimes to safeguard their rights and guarantee their way of life — while usurping the rights of their fellow citizens — is simply untenable. For example, Tunisia’s former regime defended women’s rights but ignored the rights of many others. Many Syrian Christians have supported the government of Bashar al-Assad, which has killed thousands over the past year, purely because Assad’s Alawite regime protected their religious rights when alternative rulers might not.

These are unacceptable, unsustainable bargains. Instead of ignoring the mistreatment of others, groups should fight for the rights of all, regardless of affiliation. This is the only way they can be seen as fellow citizens rather than as minorities.

Third, Islamists lost their holiness the moment they entered politics. Whether religious or secular, conservative or radical, in or out of government, all those who enter the political fray can no longer adopt a holier-than-thou approach. Electorates across the Arab world will now view all who aspire to lead them equally.

The field in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and elsewhere is now open to all, and the people alone are the true source of authority. Society has claimed the right to bring in or remove anyone from power. Religious parties can’t hide behind religion or indulge in pretensions of sainthood — slogans such as “Islam is the solution” won’t fly without being accompanied by actions. And secularists can’t ban Islamists from politics under the pretext that the latter are uncommitted to pluralism, particularly because secular forces were often the ones curtailing open politics in the past. Both parties’ “holiness” is over.

Groups will be held accountable if their programs succeed or fail in meeting citizens’ needs. Rhetoric and slogans will ring hollow if they are not matched with their promises — concrete programs that create jobs and defend rights. This is what will end up being the main criteria for political parties’ success or failure in the Arab world — the ability to deliver rather than to pontificate.

This means that all must work together to defend basic rights and transition to true democracies. Policies of exclusion must give way to inclusion. Only a coalition of pluralists can succeed in building a democratic society where the majority rules, where minority rights are respected, and where individual rights are safe and the rule of law applies to all, without favouritism.

The battle for pluralism has begun.

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was foreign minister of Jordan from 2002 to 2004 and deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2005.


URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/marwan-muasher/political-islamism-is-the-battle-for-pluralism/d/7495



  • It’s about democracy dear. Pluralism etc are jargons which make for impressive writing and interesting reading.Earlier I might have had some doubts. However, after invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the Gang (of democratic countries) against the will of their peoples, I have understood the true nature of democracy as practiced in the West. And with the disregard shown by professional and hereditary politicians of India to the people of India on the issues of corruption, no further questions need be asked about the present state of democracy in the world.

    There is similarly no guarantee that Muslims may be able to establish true democracy in their countries. Rather there is a guarantee that if democratic Muslim leaders continue to copy the Western themes of greed, grandeur, exhibitionism, indiscriminate sex, consumerism, profit chasing, and corrupt dealings (All anathema to Islam), then the Muslim democracies will be almost as exactly anti-people. The only course left for the masses to test their leaders’ mettle is on the anvil of Islamic values.

     The day masses learn to challenge their leaders to pass this agni-pariksha of Islam or else vanish as the representatives of the Satan, that day chance of a better democracy is possible where the will of the masses will prevail not only on national issues but on international issues as well. Sounds idealistic isn’t it? However, this is the only ideal that exists for the masses of the world today.

    By Manzoorul Haque - 6/5/2012 1:50:21 PM

  • excellent evaluation of what is needed in the Arab world today.
    By adis - 6/5/2012 3:46:00 AM

  • Islam already projects and administers pluralism and secularims for its followers, no discrimination is allowed to be practised against the minority or anyone else.
    By Raihan Nezami - 6/4/2012 11:08:26 PM

  • The writer says "Only a coalition of pluralists can succeed in building a democratic society where the majority rules, where minority rights are respected, and where individual rights are safe and the rule of law applies to all" but the thing is most want the majority to dominate, the minority to be ruled, individual rights go to the dogs and there be no rule at all. The world needs to fight this kindof thinking. He is right the battle for pluralism has just begun.
    By Aiman Reyaz - 6/4/2012 7:51:48 PM

  • “Policies of exclusion must give way to inclusion”In the theme of the article as enunciated above, the message to the Muslim world is clear and precise. 
    The problem remains however that once the word Muslim is introduced, it becomes imperative that those who, like the Muslim Brotherhood and its off shoot Hisbut Tahreer etc want to enter into politics, that they adopt the religious and holy “pretensions of sainthood” and that then brings with it the ever present spectre of ‘Sharia’ in the name of Islam thus derailing any hope of secular and pluralistic construction of polity in the country; as there is no such thing as a singular definition of it and since every faction, religious or otherwise has a vested interest to safeguard its own ‘imperatives’ and rights at the exclusion of all others! 
    The “exclusion” is also a significant imperative and that is very strange.This appears to be strange to a student of Quran on which Islam is believed to be based by every group. Strange because on the very first page of the beginning of the main message of the Book, chapter 2-4, among the conditions given to the Believer is that they believe in the then present Messenger- Muhammad, and those who have preceded him.Since the book also maintains that a messenger had been sent to every nation before, and that they are ‘people of the Book’ would imply that all those nations are people of the book, including they themselves; despite the fact known to it that they ‘differed later’ 10-19.It therefore must be concluded that ‘Pluralism and Secularism’ is a condition laid down for people calling themselves as ‘Muslims’ and as such is not some sort of a new progressive fad to brag about!
    By Rashid - 5/31/2012 10:23:12 PM

  • While pluralism is a good goal, it can best be delivered by secularist governments. Islamists may pay lip service to pluralism, but their promises should be taken with a grain of salt.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 5/31/2012 11:46:17 AM

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