Western 'democratic' hypocrisyWritten by Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made an important point recently with regard to democracy promotion in the Middle East. He did not mince his words, saying that democracy in the Middle East cannot be promoted over the dead bodies of Yemenis, Syrians and Iraqis.
Most citizens in the developing world are aware that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, liberal democracy and market capitalism are being actively promoted by the West to all corners of the globe as a package to utopia.
What is hypocritical about democracy promotion by the West is that their policymakers find it convenient to ignore that it took more than a century for democracy to consolidate there. What is more, many Western countries still fail to protect the rights of minorities in their society. Even though the patron saint of democracy in the West, the late Harvard professor, Samuel P. Huntington, had cautioned that democratic consolidation required cultural requisites, Western leaders still insist on exporting democracy to fragmented societies.
There is no doubt that constitutional government with the maximum participation of as many citizens as possible is the political objective at which we ought to aim, but the world today needs such drastic political and social changes urgently.
The discussion of democracy promotion by the West must include debates on Islamophobia and the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. A coterie of experts on Islam has been assembled by the West and their main task, it seems, is to assert that “traditional” Islam is incompatible with democracy. This is a revival of the orientalist discourse, where the othering of the political system in Islamic and non-white societies is taken as an accurate representation of what is known as oriental despotism.
What is less known is that discussion on Islamophobia is premised upon epistemic racism and its derivative Eurocentric fundamentalism. Western social theories’ discussions on human rights and democracy seem to suggest that non-Western traditions have nothing of value to the human rights and democratic discourses.
Non-Western epistemologies that define human rights and dignity in different terms than the West are considered inferior and are excluded from global conversations about these questions. If Islamic philosophy and thought are portrayed as inferior by Eurocentric thinkers and classical social theory, then the logical consequence is that they have nothing to contribute to democracy and human rights and should be not only excluded from global conversation, but repressed as well.
The underlying Western-centric view is that Muslims can be part of the discussion as long as they stop thinking as Muslims and take the hegemonic Eurocentric liberal definition of democracy and human rights. Any Muslim who attempts to address these questions from within the Islamic tradition attracts suspicions of fundamentalism.
Western social sciences propose that Muslims are irrational and fatalistic and therefore, no knowledge can come from them. What is the epistemology that underlies the latter proposition? The orientalists’ epistemic Islamophobia often repeats the German sociologist Max Weber verdict on Islam in that it is only Christian tradition that gives rise to economic rationalism and thus, to Western modern capitalism. Islam cannot compare to the superiority of Western values in that it lacks individuality, rationality and science.
Rational science and its derivative rational technology are, according to Weber, unknown to oriental civilisations. These statements are problematic because historical facts have shown the influence of scientific development in the Islamic world.
Rationality was a central tenet of Islamic civilisation. While Europe was in obscurantist feudal superstition during the Middle Ages, the school of Baghdad was the world centre of intellectual and scientific productivity and creativity. Weber’s and the orientalist’s view of Islam reproduce Islamophobia, where Muslims are seen as incapable of producing science and of having rationality.
The incompatibility of Islam and democracy has, at its foundation, the epistemic inferiorisation of the Muslim world views. Today an artillery of experts in the West talks with authority on Islam with no knowledge of the Islamic tradition. The lies repeated over and over again in Western press end up like in Goebbels’ Nazi theory of propaganda, being believed as truth. The circulation of these stereotypes contributes to the portrayal of Muslims as inferior, violent creatures, thus its association with terrorism.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 3 March 2019