Democratization and the Islamist Challenge in the Arab World
by Najib Ghadbian
Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997. 171 pp. $50.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Does Islamism encourage democracy or not? Ghadbian (a researcher at the dynamic new Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi) argues that Islamism contains two strains, one favoring democracy and the other against it. The former he associates with moderates, the latter with radicals. Holding that moderates are far more numerous and powerful than radicals, he rues that we in the West seem blind to this fact: "the antidemocracy view has come to be seen as the Islamist norm while the views of the majority of Islamists appear exceptional." He includes in the moderate camp such figures as the Egyptians Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.
It's a neat and alluring distinction, but unfortunately one without validity. Ghadbian draws a pleasant picture of "moderates" that has no connection to reality. For example, he states that their having suffered miserably at the hands of despots, "has made resistance to authoritarianism a strong component of the Islamist subculture. . . . Those who suffered prison terms became especially aware of the dangers of human rights abuses." Sounds good, but tell that to the thousands of political prisoners currently languishing in Iranian jails. Ghadbian mentions Hasan at-Turabi, Sudan's strongman, as someone who speaks of "the congruity between Islamic principles and democracy." But what good does this do when his regime rules barbarically6 and has only the trappings of democracy? No, there are no "moderate" Islamists, only deluded analysts who try to convince us of their existence.
Related Topics: Democracy and Islam | Daniel Pipes | September 1997 MEQ
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