Editor's note: The September issue carried an article by John O. Voll and John L. Esposito on "Islam's Democratic Essence," followed by four critiques. Now Professors Voll and Esposito close this issue with their response:
It would be wonderful if the world were cleanly divided into the forces of good and those of evil. It is just such a world that the four respondents to "Islam's Democratic Essence" (our article in volume 1, number 3) portray and in that world, policy choices are as simple as they were for an earlier "Gang of Four." In that world, if a government can be defined as an ally, a state like Saudi Arabia, which continues to deny women even the right to drive a car, can be viewed as "moderate" (Barry Rubin). However, if the government or a movement is defined as "radical fundamentalist," then it is on the other side, regardless of what its leaders might say or do.
In general terms, our Gang of Four is tough on visibly committed believers in major religious traditions. Secularists, whether they are "Muslim democrats" or military dictators, come off much better. Patrick Clawson, for example, says that he does not "mean to suggest that Islamists are uniquely pernicious," but the other evil-doers mentioned are "evangelical Protestants, intolerant Hinduism, or the Catholicism of the Inquisition." There is no mention of the massacre of thousands by the secularist Asad in his suppression of Islamists in Syria, the limitations on freedom of speech imposed by nonreligious dictatorships in sub-Saharan Africa, or the murder of Catholic priests by nonfundamentalist dictatorships in Central America. We also are not suggesting that Islamists are uniquely pernicious, or uniquely virtuous. What we suggest is that some, who are identified as Islamic fundamentalists in the "either-or" world of Clawson et al., are not extreme militants, and that it is in the interests of democratization and of the United States that those groups not be treated as if they were on the violent fringes of society rather than representing the views of a significant portion of many Muslim societies. If, as Clawson asserts, liberty is the concern rather than democracy, and if "the fundamental political problem of the modern world" is "excessive power in the hands of the state," then we would assume that Clawson's demand that the United States uphold one set of values worldwide would mean that he opposes dictatorial regimes whether they were secular or religious, and that he supports the freedom of speech of `Abd as-Salam Yasin, the Moroccan Islamist who has been detained for years, as strongly as he does Salman Rushdie's freedom. There is little in his riposte to indicate that Clawson in fact does this.
In the clear world of our four respondents, democracy as practiced in certain Western states is just about perfection. Joshua Muravchik asks, "Why, just when democracy enjoys its widest consensus of definition . . . should it now need reconceptualization?" One can only speculate that in the "fool's paradise" (Muravchik's words) inside the Washington beltways, no contact has ever been made with a supporter of Ross Perot. However, Voll, as a dweller in the political real world of New Hampshire, wants to assure Muravchik that there are many people who think that some significant reconceptualization of democracy, even as it operates in the United States, is necessary. We are asked, "To what end do we advocate reconceptualizing democracy?" Our answer is that since we are not at the end of history and the United States has not yet solved all of the problems of survival in a heterogeneous world, it is as important for us to continually adapt to changing conditions as it is for Muslims.
Rubin suggests that we are similar to those who, forty years ago, advocated supporting "radical Arab nationalists" as "authentic" and "progressive." Voll and Esposito are old enough to plead guilty, and are still unrepentant enough to suggest that Nasser was better for Egypt than Faruq. Rubin seems to think that one can choose between what actually exists and perfection, but this is never the choice. Actually, viewing Rubin's list of earlier Satans, it is worth asking why Rubin is so enthusiastic about the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, or so opposed to "participatory association," which can take the form of a kibbutz or a New England town meeting as well as Mao's China.
Rubin's fears of dictatorships based on some imagined popular will are well founded but inconsistently applied. He observes, "When all citizens should unite behind the rightly guided ones to struggle against enemies at home and abroad, the inevitable outcome of this approach . . . is to bar political parties, free speech, and even a peaceful change in government." It is, however, to be regretted that Rubin only sees this happening in religious fundamentalist states and does not seem to recognize that uniting behind the rightly guided ones to struggle against enemies at home and abroad also resulted in the barring of peaceful change of government in Algeria by the rightly guided secularists who knew better than the majority. In a world where there is "no inevitable connection between a democratic government and freedom" (Clawson), the expressed views of the majority can and often must be ignored in favor of the views of those who are "rightly guided."
In the continuing efforts to protect and expand the realms of freedom and democracy, it is dangerous to stop the search for improvements. If it is "an act of towering condescension" (Robert Satloff) to suggest that contemporary humans, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, can benefit from the teachings and historic experience of Muslims, it is an act of even more towering arrogance to imply, as Satloff does, that there is nothing for supporters of democracy to learn from Islam (or Judaism and Christianity, for that matter) and that millions of "Muslim democrats" are sitting around waiting for the Western crusade to succeed in its efforts to "proselytize" the rest of the world. The real and clear disagreement between us and our reviewers is that we think that what Satloff derisively refers to as "some sort of pluralistic global vision" is the most effective basis for policy making and human survival in a pluralistic world. The "either-or" monolithic global vision of our four critics is as unrealistic now as it was for the original Gang of Four.