John M. Owen IV, author of Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past, and Ambassador Henry J. Taylor and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, recently discussed what history says about the prospects for Islamic democracy on the Washington Post’s blog, The Monkey Cage. According to Owen, “Liberal democracy, once viewed as self-evidently impossible, is now broadly seen as normal, unexceptional and desirable.” From his piece:
Can Islamic democracy also come to seem normal and natural? The tension here is similar but different: What if the majority wants a law that contradicts sharia? In principle, institutions could do for Islamic democracy what they do for liberal democracy by empowering jurists (clergy), or interpreters of sharia, at some expense to the majority. Suppose an Islamic democracy had a freely elected legislature and a high court of Islamic jurists, with a majority of parliament wanting to relax divorce laws but a majority of the court believing that would violate sharia. The two bodies would need to have rules, tacit or explicit, designed to produce an outcome that would maintain the regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of citizens. Each generation would need to agree to these rules or renegotiate them. In this way, the supposed contradictions between religion and democracy could be managed, just as they are for liberalism and democracy.
Read the rest of his piece in The Washington Post here.
Don’t forget to explore the rest of John M. Owen‘s work. You can read the introduction to his latest book here.