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Derridean Europe from Pakistan

Ruminations of Jacques Derrida (on Europe) understood by a Pakistani

Derrida, Democracy and Islam

“Islam or a certain kind of Islam,” might show resistance to the idea of democracy. While surveying the texts of Islamic political thought specifically of thinkers like Al Farabi and Ibn Ruchd, Derrida found a certain pattern. He saw that although these two thinkers incorporated the Greek philosophy of Philosopher King from Plato’s Republic and Nicomachean Ethics in their oeuvre of Islamic political thought, they entirely skipped the ideals of democracy.

He also added that a reference to democracy in a Muslim State never comes without bringing a certain amount of turmoil.

Although Derrida stated this possible incoherence in Islam and democracy, he believed otherwise. Democracy and Islam are perceived to be in opposition with each other, for Derrida a dialogue can be ensued to use Islam for betterment of a democracy to come.

He assigned a political duty to anyone who wants to see democracy flourish to help people of the Islamic world who are trying to bring a secular in the political for the re-emergence of laic subjectivity. And especially help to bring forth and re-establish the “democratic virtualities” inherent in Quran.

But the relationship of Islam and Democracy is a difficult one, to make a point; Derrida mentioned the elections of 1992 Algeria.

As happened in Algeria in 1992 the elected party leader (Islamic Front) had to step down by intervention of army because army wanted a better democratic process and their victory was deemed hazardous for democracy by army. Earlier President Chadli of Algeria had started democratic processes and through 1989 constitution enabled a free press, power to constitute political parties and education of masses for a democratic pole. In this consequence the Front Islamique Salut party won in the first round of elections in 1991 “taking 47.54% of 59% turnout.” This was also a precursor that Algeria might get rid of the ruling elite which were the Army and Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) party. These two had the authority soon after Algeria’s Independence from France. But Army overthrew Chadli’s government and put a state of emergency for a better development of democracy. Although that was all in the name of democracy what was to follow in Algeria was extreme fear, abductions, abuse and crackdown not only on the Islamists but common people.

Derrida opined that democracy suffered through the slogan of better democracy. The authority sabotages the electoral system in the name of democracy itself. This according to Derrida is the auto-destructive quality democracy is inherent with.

The example of Algerian elections shows this confrontation of Islam against democracy but also show how democratic powers are adamant of anything Islamic. It signals to the aporia related to democracy itself, it is when non-democratic forces suspend the democratic process in the name of democracy. Secondly it is the supposed tension between Islam and democracy, commonly perceived that that each entity is bad for another.

The dilemma of the elections of Algeria was that although the electoral process was fair but as the result an Islamic party gained majority, and that faction that took away their authority claimed that the Islamists might eliminate the very democratic system they came from. But the result of taking away Islamists electoral right came as a tumultuous blow on the people of Algeria.

Derrida mentioned that some of the people he was in contact with in Algeria were of the opinion that Army takeover was the right choice as democratically elected Islamic government might have been bad for democracy. Here is the example of biased Derrida, that certain people think that Islamist might have been bad for democracy. And this is also a negative point we can attribute to Derrida because despite of his claims of alterity and knowing that by clear democratic process FIS would have won he acknowledged some of his friend’s opinion that ousting of Islamic government was right.

But Derrida compensated his bias by asking for a dialogue between Islam and democracy. He emphasized that if we plainly assume Islamist will be bad for democracy, it will obscure the picture of the other side. If Islam is resistant to certain kind democracy on the outset, it also shows that westernized sections claiming to be democratic are adamant to assimilate Muslims in democracy.

Jacques Derrida also highlighted that it is not that simple matter of right and wrong and the two parties in Algeria simply do not stand against one concrete opponent. The westernized sections are afraid or against a certain kind of Islamists and Islamists only loathe democracy because they know a certain version of it. These two have to be receptive to the diversity of the other side.

The events of January 1992 Algeria show a suicidal quality of democracy; that it can democratically throw democracy out of itself, or it is not hospitable to other even though other was elected democratically. On one hand Derrida mentioned that a certain kind of Islam is hostile to democracy and on the other hand he demanded openness from the part of democracy to other kinds of Islam. Deconstruction should be able to extend democracy to the horizon of unfamiliar.

Here we have to see that Algeria had been in the influence of FLN and Army which was seen as the extension of westernization while as Algeria has been a Muslim country the FIS marketed itself as the Islamic alternative. So both of these viewpoints of FIS as Islamic revival and Army/FLN as savior of democracy/westernization were merely political tools and creating binaries of Islam/democracy, Arab world/Europe or East/West would be a naïve step.

The case of Egypt is completely similar to what happened in Algeria, in the relation between Islam and Democracy. The revolution of Tahrir Square ousted Hosni Mubarak and later electoral system was established to elect a ruling party democratically. Muslim Brotherhood won the elections of 2011 with a clear margin and its leader became the country’s premiere. But soon the Algerian history was repeated on Egyptian soil; army took over for the sake of democracy, crackdown on all the elected leaders and executed most of them. The persecution and torture and abductions of civilians, journalists and anyone not considered their own is still going on. Here again democracy was done badly in the name of democracy with the help of western powers.

For these matters, Derrida’s project for a dialogue with Islam is important. Although Derrida showed a little bias that Algeria was better off without that democratically elected Islamist party, he nevertheless emphasized that Democracy should be open to other religions. Derrida encouraged a dialogue with Islam and within Islam.

It is noteworthy to point out here that there are scores of Muslim thinkers who have worked on an Islamic reasoning of the concept of democracy. The same Muslims Derrida urged the philosophers of time to assist.  Syed Abul’ala Maudodi, an Islamic thinker of the South Asia believed that democracy is not in any contradiction from Islamic rule only if we accept that religion and worldly affairs should go hand in hand. He dubbed such rule as Theo-democracy but adds that only Muslims should be able to elect a ruler, have a say in legislature and consultation in government matters. He emphasized on consultation and authority should be in hands of ordinary Muslims which is indeed democratic.

Fetuhullah Gulen, an influential figure of Turkey and Central Asia, believed very much like Derrida that democracy has been going through changes and it will evolve and improve in the future. But to attain its perfection Islam is the political system that can help it. He stressed that Quran assigns similar duties to its citizen as has been entrusted by modern democratic entities.

Sadek Jawad Suleiman, thought democracy and Islamic Shura to be similar in essence. Ali Abdul Raziq, an Egyptian scholar, emphasized that democracy in relation to Caliphate “can not only be conciliated with Islam but is the one most according to its dogma.”

Derrida as mentioned earlier urged the scholars of the West to help those in the Islamic world who are trying to unmask the virtualities of Quran that has been shadowed by layers of traditions and interpretations. And there are scores of such Muslim thinkers who have been working on such a level. Derrida’s project for democracy can be beneficial for both democracy’s revival and political Islam’s survival.

On Derrida’s proposed idea of cohesion of Islam and democracy; Alex Thomson said that if Islam according to Derrida has political importance for future democracy and their collision can result in something different, then we should acknowledge these facts seriously.

On the course democracy might take, it might not be identifiable as democracy. The marriage of Islam and democracy might lead to something new and different.

On the discussion of openness towards Islam, Slavoj Zizek also converges with Derrida, although his theoretical and political aspirations are very much different from Derrida. Zizek said that despite seeing Islam resilient towards modernization and lamenting about it we should see Islam as an undecidable, open for a socialist project. The reason on focus of Islam is that although it retains the most severe possibility to turn into fascist project it also can be the site for the best. Islam is unlike other religions it has more powerful social linkages, it can counter any possibility to be assimilated into the world capitalism, so Zizek outlined the duty to use the equivocal qualities of Islam politically.

Derrida, aware of the importance Islam and its followers might be able to assert, wanted to use it for democracy’s own good. Scholars like Zizek also took Islam as a site for betterment and development.

Europe needs to peacefully engage in a dialogue with Islam and Muslims. With the ongoing terrorist situations engulfing Europe it might seem as a strategic mistake to not to react and keep negotiating a possibility for common ground between the other (Islam particularly) and democracy (the European ideal); but it may be perhaps a good option for Europe’s future.

Derrida did not simply wanted democracy taken as it is present and neither wanted Islam to be taken as is. What he envisioned will be a new horizon for both democracy and political Islam. For such unison, Derrida’s persistence for overcoming patriarchy that is found both in western democracy and Islamic political system will be of great help.



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