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Journal of Democracy

Muslim immigrants is, for Fukuyama, a ticking time bomb that has already exploded in repeated acts of terrorist violence.

Can Western liberalism incorporate “Muslim difference”? This is an open and contested question, and its answer hinges on the extent to which devout Muslims are prepared to let go of the full public enactment of religious faith (especially in regard to group rights and exemptions) in a religiously pluralistic society. The relinquishment demanded in Europe is more severe than in the United States. It is unsurprising, then, that the tensions across that continent have been so much worse.

To sum up, the optimists paint too sunny a picture of how Islam and liberalism can come together; the hopeful believe that in the long run a rapprochement between Islam and democracy is not only possible but likely, although they anticipate conflict along the way; and the despairing and the dubious, given the historical intransigence of certain features of Islam, see nearly insuperable barriers to the achievement of constitutional democracy in most of the Islamic world, if democracy is understood in a robust sense. Some in this last camp lament the gloomy outlook, while others are cheerleaders for separating Islam from democracy, which they equate with Western godlessness and decadence.

What Makes Democracy?

There is one more topic that we need to address—namely, what sort of “democracy” do we have in mind when raising the questions of the relationship between religion and democracy. If we were to ask people the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the term “democracy,” the overwhelming majority would likely say “the vote.” As I finished writing this lecture on Election Day 2008 in my own country, the United States, I was deeply moved by the scenes of citizens waiting patiently for hours in long lines in order to exercise their right to vote. My thoughts also turned to the first election in post-Saddam Iraq, and the stunning images of men and women who, after braving intimidation and the risk of death, proudly displayed their purple fingers to show that they had voted.

One particular newspaper photograph from that day still stays with me: an infirm and elderly mother being carried in the arms of one of her sons to the polling station. The two had traveled for hours that way so that they could cast the first votes of their lives. Only the cold-hearted could be impervious to such sights. And yet I would argue that the vote, although necessary, is not sufficient if one’s vision is of a “thick” democracy. Without additional features of democratic civic life, popular suffrage and the nonviolent turnover of those who govern constitute merely a “thin” democracy.

In a thin democracy, one expects to find the vote, regular alterna- tion of power, and at least minimal civic decency. That is, even in a democracy that is thin, a regime cannot egregiously and methodically violate fundamental human rights. It cannot, for example, systematically

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