Can Muslims be kept away from living by Islam through supporting tyrannical regimes, spreading confusion and promoting collaborator after collaborator in Muslim countries? Today, this might be the single most pressing question for American foreign policy.
But more than a decade ago, before Jihad became the central theme of the Western propaganda, before the most senior voices in the U.S. government began to speculate about defeating Islam, struggle for Muslim self-rule had a trial run in an Arab state outside the international spotlight.
What happened there set the course for the U.S. policies that are now being re-forged under the cover of the war on terror. It is there that the story of the encounter between America and the Muslims' will to live by Islam 3/4 independent of any foreign intervention and dictatorship imposed and supported from outside 3/4 begins.
In 1989, that year of revolutions, unglamorous Algeria was an unlikely candidate for a peaceful, democratic change that could give Muslims a chance to free themselves from the shackles of secularism. Perched on the rim of North Africa, far from the upheavals of Eastern Europe, Algeria had been home to a romantic liberation movement that had evicted the French after a hard-fought guerrilla war.
Yet the liberation movement had morphed - by way of a 1965 coup - into an autocratic, quasi-military, socialist regime. The sole political party, the Front de Liberation National (FLN), had neither permitted real elections since shortly after independence, nor the Algerians had an opportunity to start living by Islam.
Starting in late 1988, young Algerians began a series of protests that led to a new constitution promising fundamental rights and political parties other than the FLN. In June 1989, Algeria held the first local elections under the new constitution. A newly formed Islamic party, the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), came more or less from nowhere to win 62% of the votes cast. The FLN, which could boast that it had liberated Algeria from the French, came in at 28 per cent.
One could almost hear the whispered soul-searching starting in Western foreign ministries. The common questions that come to the mind of a Western analysts or casual observers are: If elections were going to replace dictators in the Arab and Muslim worlds, as they seemed to be doing in the Eastern bloc and beyond, would Islamic parties do this well everywhere?
Would democratically elected Islamic governments be good or bad for Western interests? Although democracy seemed like the desirable result of victory in the Cold War, the Algerian election suggested otherwise: Could democracy be an unalloyed good if Muslim states chose leaders who believe in living by Islam?
Instead, the real question to ask was: Can we let Muslims to live by Islam and establish a model that runs parallel to the capitalist, corporate democracy with its own principles of social justice.
These were still just local elections. Unlike political parties, Islam itself had never been illegal, so Muslim who were working for making the overall environment conducive for living by the basic principles of Islam could use mosques as centers for organization and information dissemination, which is one of the basic objective of Islam behind the emphasis on praying five times a day in congregation. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this, except that the secularists opted not to take advantage of such opportunities.
Western governments' knee jerk reaction to the FIS initial success didn't consider it for a moment that perhaps Algerians who were not deeply sympathetic to "fundamentalist" Islam had voted against the old-guard FLN as a protest against dictatorship. To them, it was the end of the world and the beginning of the establishment of an Islamic government. They didn't even entertain the thought for a moment that in national elections, with more at stake, people might vote more moderately.
Views of the commentators, who believe in Muslim's right to self-determination, are not an exception due to the so widespread misconceptions by others. They, for example, argue that no one had ever run a democratic Islamic government before, and the FIS leaders were not of one mind about the relationship between Islam and democracy. These commentators ignore that democracy is a fraction of the total, encompassing Islamic world view. There is no need to be over-sensitive to this simple relationship.
The relationship between democracy and Islam is as simple as this: just as the will of the majority is acceptable to the US and its allies as long as they do not choose to living by Islam; in Islam the will of the majority is acceptable as long as it doesn't violate the basics of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Coming back to the Algerian saga, even before the December 1991 national elections, FLN put the two most prominent FIS leaders in jail. This deterrent failed - and the FIS went on to win more seats than any other party: 188 out of a total of 429. The FLN got just 15 seats. The constitution called for a second round of elections, if the votes remained steady, the FIS was headed for a national victory.
Now the success of the anti-secularists became the stuff of high-level policy-making. Washington jumped into the fry and some Islamophobic experts suggested that if the "Islamists" took office, they might abolish elections. So better abolish "Islamists" before they presumably abolish the system that perpetuates imposed dictators and un-Islamic systems for sustaining remote control colonialism.
Ignoring the United States' role in the Shah of Iran's oppression before the revolution, many commentators focused on the strategic interests of the United States. The example of Iran was interpreted as any state run by "Islamists" would be terribly anti-American and might export terror.
These Islamophobes ignored that the US has close friendship with the Saudi ruling family despite the fact that it is implementing all basic Islamic laws. Living by Islam is far more than mere implementing its laws. The Islamophobes are not scared of the Islamic laws, they are scared of the just socio-political and economic order that Islam promises and which directly undermines the unjust and exploitative capitalist system and the convoluted form of democracy.
With the backing of Islamophobes at many levels from abroad and at the insistence of the Algerian generals, the FLN canceled the second round of elections. It retroactively called off the first round - and, in effect, the municipal elections, too.
It banned the FIS and jailed the rest of its leaders. The champions of democracy remained silent. Its party banned, its leaders jailed and many of its activists arrested, the FIS split in two - and turned to armed resistance.
The French and its allies, worried about the establishment of an Islamic model and the influence that this model might have on the rest of the Muslim world, encouraged a preemptive coup d'etat against the almost-elected FIS.
If democracy is living by the people's will, then it favors Muslims everywhere. But in 21st century democracy means living by the US and its allies will. If you don't live by that will, you are not entitled to participate in the democratic process. In a speech that has cast long shadows over subsequent U.S. policy, then-Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian explained that while the United States favored democracy, it opposed elections that would provide for "one person, one vote, one time." By implication, elections won by those who want to make living by Islam feasible were elections that would lead not to more democracy but to less.
Algeria was plunged into a bloody civil war that has since killed at least 100,000 people. The experiment with making living by Islam possible through the democratic process and according to the will of the majority was over before it could get started. American policy was now firmly on the side of the secular autocrats - against Muslims who wanted to live by Islam through using the positive aspects 3/4 which do not negate the Qur'an and the Sunnah 3/4 of the modern governing system.
There, in a nutshell, is the US and its allies' problem with the Muslim world. Almost certainly, living by the will of the majority in a real democratic fashion would produce real gains for those who want to transform the current, unjust, exploitative and secular systems in the medium and long term.
Those who are labeled as Islamists are steadfast in challenging the tyrannies which are imposed and protected by the US and its allies. Interestingly the House of Saud, which is implementing all the Islamic laws which caused the Taliban their rule, are not called "Islamists." Opponents of the Saud family's tyranny are called "fundamentalists" and "Islamists."
In fact, the "Islamists" speak the language of the people. Common man does not perceive them as opportunist collaborators - and they draw on powerful ideals of justice and authenticity. In a truly democratic system, there is no way they can be kept out of the governance mechanism.
The worst misconception of the Islamophobes is that a governance mechanism and a society living by Islam would be undemocratic, oppressive and anti-Western. Absolutely not. There is no need to judge Islamic principle by the words and deeds of the Taliban or the Saudis or anyone else. Islam doesn't call its followers to be anti-West or East. It doesn't call its followers to impose Islam on others and kill them wherever you see them without any reason at all. This is nonsense, not Islam.
Another misconception is that Islamic governments might call off democratic elections, or leave elections in place but pass laws that oppress women or non-Muslims or political opponents. All these are conjectures without any basis in the real teachings of Islam. All rights, roles and responsibilities of Muslim men and women are according to the basic teachings of Islam. No one can add or subtract from it just because one or another individual or group is in the position of power. The outsiders' focus should be on Islamic teachings, not on the practice of Muslims who may not be true models of Islam
The alternative to US supported tyrannies and secular democracy in the Muslim world is Muslim self-rule which by no means is another autocracy. If there is to be any way out of the impasse, it will have to come from accepting some kind of Islamic form of governance that does not force them to live by secular laws and engage in other practices that violate the basic tenants of the Qur'an and Sunnah.
A governance mechanism of Muslims with Islamic content need not be run by Mullah and Talib. Nevertheless, it must be governed exclusively by Islamic guidelines and law. It is far more likely to draw on Islam's values and ideals, while simultaneously incorporating all those democratic principles, legal protections and institutions that do not violate the Qur'an and Sunnah.
If Muslims claim to believe in Allah and His Book and His Last Prophet, there must be no question and ifs and buts about following the Qur'an and Sunnah. It is only the outside world that is surely not ready to allow Muslims to truly follow Islam. If Muslims claim to believe in what is required of them but then refuse to live by what they proclaim to be believing, it would simply be hypocrisy, not Islam.
An Islamic governance system - if the Islamophobes allow themselves to imagine - would definitely have many advantages over the tyrannies they love to see in place in the Muslim world today.
Under an Islamic system, of course, the leaders would have to govern solely by Islamic law, but they would also be responsible to an electorate and accountable equally before the law. And the rule of law would definitely be enforced more consistently than it is by the unelected tyrants imposed and protected by the US and its allies across the Muslim world today.
 The present world order is in fact the Zionist world order which will ultimately turn into just (Islamic) word order. Zionist world order is aimed at economic exploitation where as the just order means just economic system. Other areas of human life, the political and social, are being exploited for the exploitation of economy. It is the economy that always mattered for equality and justice, whether it was Islam or not.
Abid Ullah Jan is author of The End of Democracy and A War on Islam. His book, challenging legitimacy of Afghan occupation will be released soon.
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