2004 August 01 Sunday
Rod Liddle: Islam And Democracy Not Compatible

Writing in the UK Spectator Rod Liddle argues Islam and democracy are obviously not compatible. (requires free registration - and it is a site worth registering for)

It is far too early to say that Indonesia is working. Growling Muslim extremists including the loathsome Jemaah Islamiyah, the boys who brought you the Bali bomb gained nearly 40 per cent of the vote in the spring elections. The madrasahs continue to spew out their bilge every day, indoctrinating a new generation of Indonesians with monotheistic authoritarianism. Right now, the government is sort of secular. How long will that last?


Malaysia is the only Muslim country in the world with a tradition of democracy, albeit democracy of a somewhat paternalistic kind. However, it is a democracy in spite of Islam rather than because of it. The country has been economically dependent upon the 35 per cent of its population which is not Muslim notably the Chinese and the Indians and, to a lesser extent, the Christians of Sarawak and so there are safeguards and concessions to protect this sizeable and vital minority. It is largely these safeguards and, it has to be said, strong and clever leadership from Mahathir Mohamad until last November that have preserved democracy in Kuala Lumpur against every stone-age impulse from the mullahs. Neither of these qualifying conditions exist in the Middle East: there are neither the talented political leaders, nor the moderating influence of a large non-Muslim population.

Some would argue that Turkey has a stronger tradition of democracy than Malaysia. Though in Turkey the military has been playing the role of guard rails that keep the politicians from going too far toward Islamization. If the Turkish attempt to get into the European Union continues to weaken the power of the military then those guard rails will continue to decay and Islamists may eventually push the Turkish government in a far more religious direction.

Liddle relates the recent story of 4 Malays who announced they were no longer Muslims and who were arrested and thrown in jail for not acting like proper Muslims. If you are curious to know more about their case here are some links about their case. These ex-Muslims tried to argue that since they were no longer Muslims the Muslim Syariah court could no longer exercise jurisdiction over them as Muslims. The Federal Court was not amused.

The Federal Court this morning dismissed an appeal by four individuals who had renounced Islam in 1998, for a declaration that they have absolute right and freedom to practise the religion of their choice.

The four - Daud Mamat, 62, Kamariah Ali, 51, her husband, Mohamad Ya, 57 (now deceased) and Mad Yacob Ismail, 62 - had also wanted the court to declare that the Syariah Court had no jurisdiction over them in view of the fact that they had renounced Islam.

For an account of how these people were treated after renouncing Islam see this article.

In Malaysia the ruling party is feeding the trend toward more Islamization in order to compete against a more Islamic PAS.

In some areas, such as Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur, one can find mosques next to churches next to Indian and Buddhist temples. But non-Muslims still live in a country whose new Islamic-themed administrative capital houses a prominent mosque but no other house of worship; a country that since the early 1980s has become increasingly Islamized - inspired first by the Iranian Revolution and Mahathir's former charismatic deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who founded ABIM and joined Malaysia's most powerful political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in the 1980s; and then by government attempts to out-Islamize the hardline Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS).

There is not an Islamic government in the world that has a democracy that looks solid.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 01 02:29 AM  Civilizations Clash Of

Eric Lien said at August 2, 2004 5:01 PM:

I think you're being a bit pessimistic on the state of Islam in Malaysia. PAS (the Islamist party) got destroyed in recent elections and the Malaysian government has a new residency visa program which is attracting quite a bit of interest from mainland China, while at the same time strengthening immigration enforcement, which results in the deportation of lots of poor Bangladeshis, Indonesians, and Filipinos, who are a lot more radical than almost any Malays. Rural Malays can be intolerant and certainly increasingly anti-American, but they're not gonna vote for syariah, especially not women (who were really pissed about PAS' attempt to impose hudud laws in two northern states). Mainly, they believe in their own chances of getting rich in this life.

Pak Lah (the new PM) may seem like an ineffectual guy, but he is shrewd enough to keep Islam dependent on the state rather than let the state be dependent on Islam. You may see some of the same institutions as in Arab countries, like a state-run religious police and courts, but there's a very different culture and administration underlying them (despite their occasional excesses). As long as he can minimize foreign competition in the religious marketplace (e.g. by establishing government scholarships for a few Malay students to go to Saudi Arabia to study, instead of letting independently-funded Saudi imams come over to M'sia to teach), we should be fine. I highly doubt it's his intent, but in my more optimistic moments I'm picturing something like the trajectory of Lutheranism in Sweden.

Anwar was probably one of the bigger dangers over the past two decades, but he had the breaker thrown on all his power plays by Dr. M. Then, of course, the political party which Anwar's wife started in the aftermath of all that ended up as a coalition vehicle for the nuts in PAS to gain power, but as indicated above, this also came to an end. (Of course, the Western response to Mahathir's disposal of Anwar was singularly unhelpful. I found it especially ironic that the homosexual advocacy groups were complaining about the use of a sodomy charge to put Anwar in jail.)

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2004 5:59 PM:


But it has taken Dr. Mahathir's continued manuevering to neutralize the Islamists as a political force in Malaysia. Meanwhile is the average Muslim in Malaysia becoming more or less fundamentalist? Also, once he is gone from the political scene then what will happen?

Eric Lien said at August 2, 2004 6:48 PM:

Meanwhile is the average Muslim in Malaysia becoming more or less fundamentalist? Also, once he is gone from the political scene then what will happen?
Temporarily? Less. In the long term? Don't know. But the worst case scenario isn't gonna involve religion per se. No matter how fundamentalist Malaysia gets, you're not gonna see an Afghanistan or even an Iran. The real big worry is that the income distribution goes to hell now that Pak Lah is getting serious about implementing Dr. M's end to affirmative action in university admissions.

To be honest, mainland Chinese immigration could be a complicating factor as much as a helping factor. Chinese capital and talents will boost the economy (I'm thinking mostly capital; the immigrants themselves skew kinda old). On the other hand, their attitudes and habits are gonna increase racial tensions (for example, I highly doubt mainland Chinese immigrants are gonna bother to pressure their kids to learn to speak good Malay, only Chinese and English).

M.robinson said at July 22, 2005 7:08 AM:

Now i malaysia made Malay the compulsory language in all schools from nursery(kindergarten) to college years, would that be considered good or bad?

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