The Failure of Islamic Democracy, by John Owen, author of CONFRONTING POLITICAL ISLAM: Six Lessons from the West’s Past — Op-Ed Original

The Failure of Islamic Democracy
By John M. Owen IV

The recent jihadist horrors in France, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Syria have lured our attention away from political conditions in the Middle East that indirectly helped produce them. In Turkey and Egypt “Islamic democracy” failed in 2014, and that failure will likely have long and deep repercussions for the entire region.

From northwest Africa to South Asia, majorities of Muslims routinely tell pollsters that they believe their country should either adopt literal Sharia, law derived from Islam’s holy texts, or at least follow the principles of those texts. The secularism that authoritarian Muslims imposed on their peoples from the 1920s through the 1970s is simply not popular over this vast region.

At the same time, the late Arab Spring made clear that Middle Eastern Muslims want governments that are accountable to them. The only resolution for most countries in the region, then, is some kind of Islamic democracy.

The very phrase “Islamic democracy” seems incoherent the Western ear, and indeed any Islamic democracy could not be liberal, in the individualist and secularist sense that we mean by that term today.

What, then, is Islamic democracy? Since it took power in 2002, Turkey’s ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party has invited the world to watch it build just such a system (although its leaders insist on the term “conservative democracy”). The early years of AK Party government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looked promising, as the economy grew, negotiations with Kurdish separatists progressed, and Turkey even moved toward membership in the European Union. The AK Party fairly won several elections.

The unraveling began in 2013 with a crackdown on protests, and in 2014 it continued with corruption charges against Erdoğan allies, media censorship, politicization of the judiciary, and arrests of political rivals. Elected President in August after twelve years as Prime Minister, Erdoğan has made clear his determination to expand the powers of that office.

Then there is Egypt. Its stirring 2011 revolution ousted the authoritarian secular regime of Hosni Mubarak, and free elections in 2012 produced an Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and an Islamist majority in parliament. Openly admiring of the Turkish model, the new Egypt was poised to exemplify an Arab Islamic democracy.

But in November 2012 Morsi assumed extraordinary powers. Mounting public protests against Morsi’s power grab were followed by his ouster by Egypt’s military in July 2013, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In 2014 al-Sisi ran nearly unopposed for President, and while in office he has suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood and all other dissenters. Egypt appears where it was before 2011, only with a different former army general in charge.

Turkey’s Erdoğan has bested his opponents; Egypt’s Morsi was destroyed by his. But in both countries the experiment with Islamic democracy has failed. Each elected leader confronted powerful elites and large segments of the public who did not trust him to remain a democrat. Relations deteriorated, factions polarized, and both countries are settling into sultanism.

These depressing stories are not only about Turkey and Egypt. They are about the future of Islamic democracy itself. For nearly a century the entire Middle East has been passing through a legitimacy crisis, or a struggle over the best way to order society. The West and other regions have passed through legitimacy crises of their own in past centuries – most recently, the twentieth-century struggle between communism and liberal democracy. Prolonged spasms like these scramble political loyalties and generate unrest, revolution, and foreign interventions.

In the Muslims’ current crisis the original contenders in the struggle were secularism, pioneered by Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic; and Islamism, formulated by thinkers such as the Sunni Hassan al-Banna and the Shia Ruhollah Khomeini. Many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, journalists, and politicians lately have touted Islamic democracy as a hybrid solution to this long struggle.

Western history shows that long international ideological contests are played out in the policies and performances of real countries. And they end only when a large, influential state that exemplifies one contending ideology manifestly outperforms large states exemplifying the alternative ideologies.

Consider the Cold War, a struggle between the liberal democracy and communism that played out in the competition between the United States and Soviet Union. By the 1980s America’s economic, technological, and military superiority was clear. Societal elites the world over concluded that communism did not work after all. Country after country abandoned state socialism, and liberal democracy enjoyed a period of predominance over much of the globe.

In 2011 and 2012 it appeared that the Middle East was heading for a similar resolution, with Turkey showing the superiority of Islamic democracy, Egypt following its example, and elites in neighboring societies adopting this new hybrid regime as the wave of the future. As 2015 begins, things look nearly the opposite. Tunisia, which recently held fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power, provides some hope. But if history is a good guide, Tunisia is too small and peripheral to be an exemplar or inspire imitation.

We can continue to argue over whether the retreat of Islamic democracy was inevitable or caused by other factors. We can argue over whether Islamic democracy’s time has passed, or not yet arrived. What is clear is that the Middle East’s legitimacy crisis continues, with an end no longer in sight.

John M. Owen IV is Professor of Politics, and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, at the University of Virginia and author of CONFRONTING POLITICAL ISLAM.

Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood to be honored at annual conference of the American Meteorological Society

On January 7th and 8th in Phoenix, Arizona, authors Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy were recognized by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) for their books Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History and Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World, respectively.

Canfield’s account of the history and importance of oxygen won him the 2014 ASLI Choice Award and will be recognized as “a well-documented, accessible, and interesting history of this vital substance.” Wood received an honorable mention for this year’s Choice Award in History. Tambora, will be acknowledged as “a book that makes this extreme event newly accessible through connecting literature, social history, and science.” More general information on the awards can be found, here.

Congratulations to Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood!

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Oxygen:
A Four Billion Year History
Donald E. Canfield

 

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Tambora:
The Eruption That Changed the World
Gillen D’Arcy Wood

Boris likes fairy tales, too!

The Brothers Grimm can now count the Mayor of London among their growing list of fans. At a recent book signing in Oxford, Boris Johnson proclaimed that he had heard good things about The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, which came out in November and has proved a popular choice for Christmas. In fact, the Mayor of London said that he would be giving a copy of the book as a Christmas gift himself, although the identity of the lucky recipient remains a mystery!

Boris

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is the first ever full translation into English of Jacob and Wilhelm’s original versions of their famous tales. Gory, dark, disturbing and, yes, grim, the originals were first published in 1812 and 1815 and have since been overshadowed by the later versions of the stories that we know today.

How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain winner of the 2014 Robert Lowry Patten Award

Congratulations are in order for Leah Price. Her recent book, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, won the 2014 Robert Lowry Patten Award from SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900!

“The Robert Lowry Patten Award, established in 2012, is given in alternate years to either the best recent study in nineteenth-century British literary studies or the best recent study in British literary studies of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. The Patten award was created to honor the distinguished scholarly career of Bob Patten, who for more than forty years was a professor of English at Rice University, and who for nearly thirty of those years was either editor or publisher and executive editor of SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900.”

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How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
Leah Price 

 

 

Derek Sayer’s Prague, winner of 2014 George L. Mosse Prize, American Historical Association

pragueThe American Historical Association recently announced its 2014 prize winners, and congratulations are in order (again) for Derek Sayer and his book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History. 

Prague will be the recipient of the George L. Mosse Prize, an award given to “an outstanding major work of extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity, and originality in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500.” The award ceremony will be held at AHA’s Annual Meeting in New York on Friday, January 2nd.

For the full list of 2014 prize winners, click here. Again, congratulations to Derek Sayer on yet another noteworthy (and blog worthy) achievement!

Derek Sayer’s Prague receives honorable mention for the 2014 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

pragueThe Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize is awarded to the “most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences,” by The Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

This year, Derek Sayer, author of Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History, received an honorable mention for the award, along with Valerie Kivelson for her book Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Cornell University Press). Kate Brown and Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press) took home first place.

For the list of winners and honorable mentions for other ASEEES awards, click here. Congratulations to Derek Sayer on the noteworthy achievement!

Francis Fukuyama in conversation with David Runciman

Check out Francis Fukuyama’s and David Runciman’s discussion (or perhaps more accurately, debate) on “Democracy: Even the Best Ideas Fail.” This is part of the excellent programming from Intelligence Squared. The description for the event stated, “Professor Fukuyama comes to the Intelligence Squared stage where he will square up with one of Britain’s most brilliant political thinkers, David Runciman, to assess how democracy is faring in 2014.” You can watch the event below or download a podcast of the discussion here.


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The Confidence Trap
A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present
David Runciman

The Imitation Game official trailer

In THE IMITATION GAME. in theaters November 21, 2014, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. [(c) The Weinstein Company. Source: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_imitation_game/]

This major motion picture is inspired by Andrew Hodges’s widely acclaimed biography. We previously published a centenary edition of the biography in 2012, but we are releasing a completely redesigned, movie-edition of the book this November. The new edition will have a reader-friendly interior, feature a film still on the cover, and also include a new preface that brings the story up to date including the royal pardon of Turing in 2014.

Read the book, see the movie, and celebrate an unlikely hero who cracked the Enigma code and inspired modern day computing.


The book that inspired the film:

 

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Alan Turing: The Enigma:
The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game
Andrew Hodges
With a foreword by Douglas Hofstadter and a new preface by the author

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Gary Marker’s Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800 (1985)

 

Welcome to another edition of Throwback Thursday! On today’s #TBT, we’re taking a look at Gary Marker’s Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800Originally published in 1985, this book is just one of the many classics recently resurrected by the Princeton Legacy Library. Here’s a little more information about it:

Gary Marker describes the pursuit of an effective public voice by political, Church, and literary elites in Russia as synonymous with the struggle to control the printed media, showing that Russian publishing and printing evolved in a way that sharply diverged from Western experiences but that proved to be highly significant for Russian society.

We’ve hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Throwback Thursday. See you next week!

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Maria Martha Makela’s The Munich Secession: Art and Artists in Turn-of-the-Century Munich (1990)

Makela, The Munich Secession - Art and Artists

Welcome to another installment of Throwback Thursday! On this #TBT, we’re honoring Maria Martha Makela’s The Munich Secession: Art and Artists in Turn-of-the-Century Munich, another fascinating cultural study recently reissued as part of the Princeton Legacy Library series. Here’s a little bit about Makela’s book:

In April 1892 the first art Secession in the German-speaking countries came into being in Munich, Central Europe’s undisputed capital of the visual arts. Featuring the work of German painters, sculptors, and designers, as well as that of vanguard artists from around the world, the Munich Secession was a progressive force in the German art world for nearly a decade, its exhibitions regularly attended and praised by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and other modernists at the outset of their careers.

Peter Paret of The Art Bulletin called Makela’s book “the first thoroughly documented account of the Munich Secession in any language.” Anyone with an interest in turn-of-the-century European art is sure to find this study to their liking.

Until next Thursday!

Congratulations to Derek Sayer, author of Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century

Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History by Derek Sayer has received a special mention for the 2014 F. X. Šalda Prize.

This prize is awarded annually by the Institute for Czech Literature of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic, for “exceptional contribution to art history/criticism.” What is particularly notable and particularly worth celebrating is that this special mention for Prague is the first time a foreign-language book has been honored in 17 years of the award!

Congratulations, indeed!


 

bookjacket Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century:
A Surrealist History
Derek Sayer

This book was also previously selected by the Financial Times (FT.com) as one of the Best History Books of 2013

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Michael B. Miller’s The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869- 1920 (1981)

Miller, The Bon Marche

Welcome to the fourth edition of Throwback Thursday! This week’s #TBT looks at The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920, Michael B. Miller’s 1981 cultural study of the Bon Marche department store, now resurrected as part of the Princeton Legacy Library series. Here area few more details about the book:

In this comprehensive social history of the Bon Marche, the Parisian department store that was the largest in the world before 1914, Michael Miller explores the bourgeois identities, ambitions, and anxieties that the new emporia so vividly dramatized. Through an original interpretation of paternalism, public images, and family-firm relationships, he shows how this new business enterprise succeeded in reconciling traditional values with the coming of an age of mass consumption and bureaucracy.

Jean T. Joughin of the Business History Review called Miller’s work “an absorbing study that can be read with pleasure by anyone interested in modern techniques of mass selling or in French culture before World War I.”

We’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed this edition of Throwback Thursday (#TBT), and we’ll see you next week!