Is islam an obstacle to democracy in the Middle East?

Democracy and Islam: Implications for Civilizational Conflict and the Democratic Peace
This article takes more of a statistical, rather than historical, approach to the problem of whether democracy and Islam are “mutually exclusive.” Rather than studying philosophers and historians, author Manus I. Midlarsky studies measurable variables such as a political rights index to obtain data that is then open to interpretation. He places Islam as a variable within a societal context, and attempts to frame the relationship between Islam and democracy, not as a “single bivariate test…, but in a multivariate examination” of the different forms Islamic democracy has taken.

Midlarsky describes three dependant variables of analysis relating to democracy: political rights in the form of freedom of election, using the Gastil Index; a synthesis of three dimensions of liberal democracy by Bollen; and the institutions of democracy using Polity III. He related these to the independent variable of Islam, contrasting the results with various cultural, environmental, societal, and economic variables. The aim of this study was to confirm or refute the prediction that Islam would be negatively related to democracy.

The results of this study are, unsurprisingly, complex. While Islam proved to be an insignificant variable to any other using the Gastil Index, using the liberal democracy index or the Polity III led to a strong trend in the “strong cultural dependence of liberal democracy and democratic institutions.” This leads one to believe that while a Western-style democratic government has, in the past, not been symbiotic with the Islamic religion, democratic methods and Islam are emphatically not mutually exclusive. By using statistical methods, we can easily cut through the rhetoric of opposing opinions on the issue, and use historical data to gain a more accurate vision of the practical effects of Islam on a democratic system. The results of this paper show that democracy has in the past and can again be compatible with Islam, but that it is the “culture of Islamic society that will be determinative” in establishing an “authentically Islamic democratic system.”


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