Thematic mapping website mapsofworld.com have released a new infographic that attempts to map the social response to democracy among predominantly or fully Islamic states. In addition to isolating countries with the highest Muslim majority, the infographic highlights ways in which the Arab Spring has affected the political landscape of the region, such as the ousting of several political leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon and ensuing governmental changes, and the incidence of protests breaking out in over a dozen other nations. More importantly, in my mind, is the use of polling data to attempt to offer a comprehensive view of the citizen’s views of democracy and Islamic law throughout the region. The inforgraphic compiles data from sources such as Pew Research Centre polls, Gallup polls, and Freedom House to ensure a breadth of scope of the piece. Of particular interest to me was the negative correlative link between the desire for democracy and the desire for a strong economy, with respondents from economically weaker nations believing that the strengthening of the economy was more important than instituting a democratic government. Offering this perspective differs from other polls by not showing the two options as an either/or binary, leading us to believe that respondents do not desire democracy; rather it shows the concerns that some citizens have of a governmental overhaul leading to an economic crisis, but still believing democracy to be desirable, although perhaps not at the present moment. Of additional interest was the polling data on freedom of speech and Shari’a law, to see where individual nations stand on the issues, and showing strong support for democratic ideals of freedom of speech, protection of minorities, and a limit to the influence Shari’a law would have on the nations constitution and judicial branches.
Of course, what this infographic is telling us is not, as it is titled, whether Islam is “pro-democracy” but whether the Islamic people are pro-democracy. By constructing an infographic that is balanced, politically neutral, and comprehensive, we can explore the relationships between democratic values and governments that are theocratic, secular, or with state religions, and most importantly, separate the rhetoric from the true opinions of those who will be influenced most by these political decisions in the coming years.