The September 11th terrorist attacks unleashed unimaginable devastation upon the United States and subsequently upon the Arab-Islamic world. While the government of the United States scrambled jets and prepared soldiers for war, there was another battle, arguably more important than the war the United States was preparing to wage. This battle was waged not on battlefields but in classrooms, between scholars who struggled to define and rectify the democratic deficit in the Muslim world. Theories have been offered ranging from Islam and democracy being diametrically opposed, all the way to Islam considering democracy, or democratic principles, as essential. Lurking in the midst of these two extreme theories are the more moderate and demonstrable theories.
Extreme viewpoints fail to accurately assess and address the true situation. A more accurate theory is that which perceives Islam and democracy as being neither innately hostile toward each other, nor inextricably linked. Rather, an accurate theory proposes that Islam and democracy share principles essential to both. This theory is substantiated by evidence that current Muslim hostility can be explained by the history of Western intervention in the region and that within the sacred texts (Qur’an and Sunna) the presence of modern democratic principles provides strong textual confirmation of inherent compatibilities with Islam.
The contemporary Islam-democracy dichotomy can be best understood as the result of historical intervention in the region by Western democratic powers, which triggered serious conflict between the West and the Islamic world. The list of historical intervention by Western powers is long, but some cases are more historically significant than others. In 1917 the British supported the Zionist cause with the Balfour Declaration calling for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. After WWI, Great Britain and France dissected the Ottoman Empire and arbitrarily authored new national boundaries. In 1953, the British and the United States, in a concerted effort, overthrew the democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddeq because he sought to nationalize Iranian oil; a direct threat to American and British interests. In March of 2003 the United States contravened the wishes of the international community by invading the sovereign Arab state of Iraq. Thousands of American troops remain there as an occupying force. These actions by Western democratic powers marginalized the communities in which they intervened and engendered those same societies with a false view of democracy which remains prevalent today.
Furthermore, the West in general and the United States in particular, has been accused of, and rightly so, holding the Arab-Islamic world to a double standard. Historically and contemporarily the United States has supported repressive regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, and Pakistan under Zia ul-Haq, when doing so was in its...