Revisiting "Islam and Democracy"

Once again, the theories of mainstream political scientists are blown away by the sobering force of reality.

Any sort of attempt to link the prevalence of Islam in a nation to that nation's likelihood of desiring or attaining democracy, in my opinion, is not only invalid, but disgraceful. I discussed in my post Everywhere is Luxembourg that last semester, in my Comparative Political Systems course, such ideas - that there might be some underlying negative correlation between democracy and Islam - were prominent in one of our lecture topics, with the professor even favoring them in argument with my sensible and awesomely-principled TA.

But as recent and ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt show - along with a plethora of other realities, of course - a people's dominant faith has nothing to do with how they understand a concept like democracy. What my CPS readings for that lecture taught me was that people in the Arab world generally do favor democracy, but their most prominent grievances with government often involve economic concerns. (One could say the same thing for many people across the globe.) These exact grievances and desires have come to the fore in the past month, fueling popular revolution, first in Tunisia and now throughout the Arab world, Egypt in particular.

I believe my thoughts regarding political scientists' and others' attempts to broadly theorize about government boil down to this: The human experience is not the natural world. Humans are part of nature, of course, but the ways in which we interact are not governed by laws, like a planet's movement is governed by gravity. Aluminum will always be aluminum, with its specific elemental make-up, but could an idea like "democracy," or "nation-state," or even "warfare" ever be perfectly defined, boiled down to an absolute, incontestable concept? It's impossible.

A scientist dealing with the natural world gathers data and may well discover more of nature's laws. If there is such a thing as social "science," however, I believe that the social scientist should simply gather data. The human experience can't be governed by laws; it's still being written, humanity is still changing, and - as far as I can guess - as long as there are people calling themselves social scientists, it always will be.

For the moment, though, academic argument is not what is most important. Let us all hope that the success of the Tunisian people in throwing out dictatorship brings them proper fruit. Let us hope, too, that the Egyptians fighting bravely at this moment achieve their goals as well, and that all the people of the world might know justice.