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Jean Bethke Elshtain


interest. I am also able to draw upon my years of experience in dialogue with intellectuals from the Arab Muslim world.

The empirical data are sobering: There is clearly a democratic deficit in the world’s Muslim-majority countries. That said, there is also tremendous political ferment. Much of it revolves around the question of democratic possibilities and how the Muslim faith can fit within them. There is no consensus on the future outlook for democracy in the Muslim world. A scan of the ever-growing mountain of literature on this topic shows that views are divided roughly along three lines: the optimistic, the hopeful, and the dubious or disillusioned.

Those who belong to the optimistic group claim that:

Classical, medieval, and modern Islamic thought, whether jurispru- dence, theology, philosophy, or other disciplines of Islamic knowledge, contain[s] concepts comparable to modern Western doctrines of democ- racy, pluralism, and human rights. While originally inspired by the law of natural rights, these doctrines are Islamicly based on textual authorities that derived from the Qur’an and the Sunna, and that lend themselves to arguments favoring democratic forms of government, pluralistic societies, and guarantees of human rights.10

Optimists minimize the difficulties—the roadblocks to democracy— by arguing that the divine texts can be interpreted to offer a clear path toward combining the “absoluteness of divine governance” with “the divine legitimacy of human shura,” and that “the honest observance of the former requires adherence to the latter. Modern interpretations of shura normally absorb democracy within a religious context.”11 The optimist finds ordinary Muslims clamoring for human rights and democracy, and avers that there are Koranic arguments which support this view. To this way of thinking, it follows that moderate Muslims will adopt “liberal democracy in an Islamic fashion,” while radicals will “[adopt] popular democracy in an authoritarian fashion,” but the edge is given to the moderates.12

Egyptian human-rights activist and 2006 Lipset lecturer Saad Eddin Ibrahim sees democratic imperatives emerging from the use of mosques as public spaces within which challenges can be mounted against authoritar- ian regimes—although, as his own life and career tell us, democrats must sometimes pay a heavy price, as they are often subject to state repression and crackdowns. Ibrahim, too, identifies shura as the basis for “principles of rotation in public office via competitive elections and respect for basic rights and freedoms.”13

Let us now turn to the next category: the hopeful. In contrast to the optimists, the hopeful recognize that the transition to democracy in Muslim-majority countries will be rough, as the commingling of Islam in its several varieties with democracy is by no means inevitable and cer- tainly no simple matter. The hopeful point out that during the twentieth

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