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As one Muslim state after another erupts into bloodshed the West stands horrified and perplexed. Why these countries can’t become peaceful democracies like ours? The explanation is a tangled mix of history, culture and religion, and this intelligent book expertly separates the strands.
We in the West regard democracy as the natural form of government, but it is not. For proof we have only to look east, where much of the Islamic world remains in the grip of despotic rulers (some masquerading as democratically-elected) who are shored up by ethnic and tribal loyalties and a rigid religious code that seems unwilling or unable to adapt to the modern world.
In his thought-provoking new book, Middle East expert Dr. Michael Nimier examines why this is so, and objectively evaluates the prospects for change. Nation Building in Islamic Societies is a provocative and long overdue analysis of the reasons why nation building in Islamic societies has failed and why, in the author’s view, it will continue to do so for a considerable time yet. The raison d’être of all Arab states that came into existence after the First World War was to promote the ambitions of the individual rulers and their families, be they kings, emirs or soldiers of fortune who usurped power through coups d’état.
In the author’s opinion western liberals, orientalists and leaders who call for “elections” as a prelude to stable and democratic societies are politically myopic and ignorant of sixth–century Islam’s historical grip on these societies. Democracy is the end result of a lengthy historical process culminating in the deliverance of the individual and the emancipation of the family, the building bloc of a nation, and will not miraculously come into existence via the ballot box.
The region, in its current Islamic year of 1434 AH Hijri, is on the eve of the very same convulsions and seismic changes that began to sweep the West in and around the year 1434 AD.
“Nation building in the Arab world has always been a contradiction in terms. In the Middle East, a mosaic of heterogeneous populations, loyalty was never seriously channelled towards a common allegiance to the nation. ( Kemal Ataturk’s experiment in Turkey was the exception, but his Islamist- minded followers, in power today, are working hard to return to the status quo ante by surreptetously doing all in their power to re-Islamize the state ) Allegiance in all Arab and Islamic states continues to lie in the family, the sect, the tribe and above all in the Sharia as it is interpreted by those in “your group” It follows therefore that allegiance to the higher ideal of a nation was never attempted as it would have inevitably resulted in challenging the political legitimacy of the ruler which came directly from Allah.
Nationhood in its secular meaning presupposes a separation between state and religion where the state applies one set of laws equally to all citizens regardless of their tribal, religious, ethnic, gender and sexual affiliations. . This ideal is alien to the Muslim psyche as Islam considers itself to be both a Din (a religion) and a Dawla (a state) in one, and the two cannot be separated.
A cohesive nation necessarily is a democratic nation. Democracy is not to be confused with rituals such as periodic voting at elections, (the outcome of all elections in the so called Arab Spring states has resulted in the replacement of one dictatorship, that of the Rais, -the leader- with another, that of the Muslim fundamentalist parties). Syria, in the throes of a destructive civil war, appears to be the next candidate to join the Islamic fundamentalist camp.
True democracy is the end result of a lengthy historical process culminating in the emergence of viable institutions, an independent judiciary, a free press, a neutral civil service, emancipation and protection of minorities, freedom of all religions and most importantly freedom from religion, and the unconditional respect for the rule of law. As professor Vernon Bogdanor of King’s College London has put it recently “For democracy to survive, power needs to lie not with the people, nor with the legislature but with the constitution.”
To all Muslims of the fundamentalist and literalist schools (well over half of the total populations) their undisputed constitution already exists; it is the Quran which in their view addresses and regulates all aspects of their life and as such there is no need to update it.
By the 4th century AD, the “constitution” of the early Judeo-Christian era, the Old Testament was deemed irrelevant to the “modern” times and was set aside in favour of a benign and less invasive version, the New Testament., thought to be more likely to appeal to the vast majority of adherents. Over the following centuries this new version was in turn assigned to the spiritual domain only.
Will the Quran, a text of the 6th century with striking similarity in content and tone to the Old Testament, ever be updated to a New Quran to reflect the march of time and the monumental changes in Islamic societies in the 21st century? Highly unlikely, not only because the Quran is “the word of Allah which cannot be altered”, but also because of the absence of a higher Islamic authority- a church- that speaks for Islam. In fact, everyone and no one speaks for Islam.
Since its 6th century the West on the other hand has produced a Magna Carta, undergone a Renaissance, a Reformation, a Scientific Revolution, an Enlightenment, and a number of popular uprisings and upheavals leading to the emancipation of all its citizens and their subsequent participation in nation building.
The mind set of Islamists, literalists and their sympathisers is rooted in the sixth century. Democracy starts with the deliverance of the individual and its foundation lies in the family, the building bloc of the nation. Here the West has succeeded in vanquishing the scourge of patriarchy and the medieval culture of machismo and established equality between men and women, a far cry from today’s reality in the Islamic world where the culture of AAR & EIB (shame) SHARAF (honour as related to females’ sexual conduct) and HARAM (as forbidden by Allah), reigns supreme.
The Middle East is centuries away from this ideal. Armed with the West’s blueprint, can the Islamic world leapfrog a lengthy historical process and achieve in a few decades what the West took centuries to accomplish. All indications point to the contrary.
The region, in its current Islamic year of 1434 AH Hijri, is on the eve of the very same convulsions and seismic changes that began to sweep the West in and before the same year of 1434 AD.”
At age 17 Michael Nimier was awarded a bursary by the OPUS DEI in Rome to study Pharmacy at the Universita’ di Roma- Italy. He subsequently gave up Pharmacy to pursue his passion in political science at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was awarded an MA in Area Studies (Middle East) in 1973 and a PhD in Politics, 1977. His doctoral adviser was the late Prof P J Vatikiotis.
Dr Nimier has been involved in international education as a teacher, administrator, writer (and more recently blogger) for over forty years. He has had a numerous articles published in journals and newspapers around the world. He has lived and worked extensively in the Middle East and is a fluent speaker in Arabic.
His recent book “Nation Building in Islamic Societies” was published in 2014. His next book on “Islam: Salafism, Terror and Mass Psychosis” will be published in February 2017.
In 2010, Nimier published his first highly acclaimed book “The Maskmaker”, a fictional novel described as “engaging, frank, sensitive and even heart-breaking, the Maskmaker’s tale is compulsive reading”. The book has received numerous favorable reviews