This talk took place at the BCIU Education Centre in Reading, Pennsylvania, and also discusses the potential reasons why democracy has not gained a stronghold in the Arab world. Amaney Jamal examines the faulty assumptions many theoreticians have about democracy as a construct – namely that those who desire democracy will demand it. Jamal notes the many reasons why citizens who want democracy may not feel equipped to demand it, whether it be because of an oppressively authoritarian support, lack of democratic support nation-wide, or fear that external states on which they rely on for aid or military support will deny them this support. Using data derived from her Arab Barometer Project and her work with the Pew Research Center, she shows the practical effects these fears have on the democratization process.
She also goes into great detail about the various Islamic movements throughout the region, and the relationship these movements have with anti-American sentiment. She argues that the two are not necessarily correlative, using the example of the pro-American Hadas, also called the Islamic Constitutional Movement, in Kuwait.
Of particular value to the ongoing discussion is Jamal’s focus on the citizen’s perspectives and attitudes towards these important topics. As I have discussed before on this blog, the actual views of people living in the region towards democracy is too rarely taken into account in political or academic discussions on the issue, leading to a potentially large disparity between what people in Western nations think, and what is actually apparent in the Arab world. In a powerful moment in the speech, Jamal rails against this way of thinking, noting the self-appointed representatives of Islam that do not represent the way most Muslims think on the issue. Jamal says that by listening to these self-appointed representatives, “we’re only listening to this one segment that’s coming out of the most radical, violent, horrific circles of Islam, and say this represents Islam because this is what Fox News shows us 24/7” and that by default we are choosing to remain blind to the real issues and thoughts in the region, as “we’re not trying to learn more about this and be more responsible.” This wording struck me as one of the more important moments in the talk. If Americans, interested in this issue of democracy in the Middle East, do not choose to look beyond what media pundits tell us, and do not choose to dig deeper to try and understand the subtleties of this most complex and abstruse issue, they are betraying the academic responsibility by allowing incorrect information to be perpetrated throughout the media, and this irresponsibility may have a devastating impact on the future of Arab democracy in the years to come. Amaney Jamal is one vocal, intelligent, and fascinating academic working to turn the tide of this spread of misinformation.