Tariq Ramadan and other views on democratization in Islam.

The UW Religious Studies club sent me an announcement about a discussion responding to a discussion on The New York Times ‘Room for Debate’ Op-Ed page on their website to whether Islam is an obstacle to democracy: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/10/04/is-islam-an-obstacle-to-democracy/?ref=opinion.

Tariq Ramadan’s comment is important—and the page of responses are mostly to his article. The way it is set up, some people might miss Ramadan’s piece. I did not read all of them, but most of the short pieces in response were disappointing to me (my personal opinion). Omid Safi was the best of them. His comments about dealing with religious and ethnic minorities are well-put, and something to watch for. I think he overstates the degree to which anti-Muslim sentiment is intrinsic to American and Israeli societies, rather than a result of actual attacks. But his call to fellow Muslims to create societies that live up to their expectations is articulate, passionate and honest.  

Tariq Ramadan does not dismiss the very real considerations that have made Muslims angry at America, although to my mind, one key ingredient goes un-emphasized by him: the role of leadership in channeling anger in this way. What he does say is important: he addresses Arab/Muslim societies, and says it is time to stop blaming others, and time to act as the empowered agents they actually are.  Ramadan also reminds American readers about the deep divisions between different strands within today’s Islamic world.

Until the Arab street understands that complaining about the US is not the answer to their problems, there will be no democracy, no self-rule by the people. This is no easy street. Ramadan has something important to say, and in my humble opinion, too few of the respondents got this right.

Seth Ward

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