How should democracy be built

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Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria: We discuss the same things at every occasion; Muslims and democracy and the need for democracy to be strengthened in Islamic lands that have been wrestling with problems for around 100 years is evident. The important thing is how it is to be done.

Let us set aside the debate over the sincerity of some Westerners claiming to be building democracy in Muslim countries and those who insist on perpetuating the lie that democracy is incompatible with Islam, and see what we can do:

If the West, and particularly the United State, wishes to build democracy in this region;

It must abandon top-down methods. It must not make plans that ignore the wishes of the peoples involved.

It must see that weak structures set up by encouraging internal conflicts in the region are not as easy to manage as it thought.

It must not fall into the error of evaluating its policy toward the Middle East independently of the “human” element. It must remember that it is not dealing with a mass of people to be “looked down on”, but with people who are the heirs to a major civilization with a historical and cultural heritage.

It must see that education is the only way to neutralize radicalism.

It must realize that the most effective way of resolving all the potential risks and threats to its security and interests is for Islamic territories to establish a joint decision-making mechanism. In this way, it will be able to deal with a single center and develop joint policies, rather than trying to establish balances one by one with tens of sects/tribes/groups.

It must see that by providing the necessary support  the Islamic world can establish and enjoy a powerful union; this is perhaps  the most rational “exit strategy”  for the West in the region.

There is no doubt that the building of such a  democratic and secular union of love,  one  that values human rights and espouses the rights of all groups in Islamic territories on an equal basis, will make everything easier for the West.

Let us move on to Islamic territories;

It is an undeniable fact that this region has been oppressed and subjected to endless injustices; but the time has now come to ask where we went wrong, rather than complaining and blaming others.

Very well, the West is prejudiced on this subject, but Muslims also have to stop encouraging that prejudice. The time has long since come for extremism packed with nonsense to be abandoned and for people to live by the democratic Islam described in the Qur’an, that is full of love, libertarian ideas, that values women, that is loving and compassionate and protects human rights.

Muslims must not forget that if their intentions of Islam taking its rightful place across the world instead wish to  build a world in which they interfere in people’s lives, place limitations on art, kill off music , fail to encourage science and leave beauty to wither, then Allah will not allow this.

It is essential for the Islamic world to pay more attention to women’s rights and the demands of young people. We are talking about an Islamic world in which there are almost no women, not even in conferences and projects   designed to describe the great value that Islam places on women: This is most disturbing. Muslim countries must be countries in which women are present in all spheres of life and able to act freely.

Muslims with an atrophied appreciation of art and science cannot sign up to almost any scientific breakthroughs. The Islamic world must see that valuing art and science is an essential requirement, not a luxury.

And, most important of all, being united: If the Islamic world does not wish to be a place where “order” and “democracy” are constantly shaped and imposed by others, then it must find a way of resolving its own problems. It can only do that by abandoning sectarian, communal and group divisions   and uniting around common values, remembering that “…all Muslims are brothers.”

There is no doubt that the democratization of the Islamic world is essential, not only for those lands, but also for the stability and security of the West; but democracy cannot be built by impositions and ignoring its peoples. The foundation of democracy lies in a change of mindset and a change of mindset can only come about through education.

Thanks to the teachings of Islam, Muslims are not all that distant from democracy. On the contrary, they are removed from a democracy because they distance themselves from the essence of Islam.

It is not Islam that conflicts with democracy, but the nonsense put forward in the name of Islam. It is not Muslims who do not desire democracy, but extremists who draw strength from nonsensical and dangerously radical ideologies that present themselves as “Islamic”. Therefore, if the aim is to build democracy in the region, it is not sincere believers and Islam that need to be opposed, but extremists and the radical ideas they propagate.

If the West can free itself from the  prejudicial and aggressive attitudes of the enemies of Islam and can see these realities, and if the Islamic world can abandon its own helplessness and adopt an approach in favor of art and science, then the world can escape this vicious circle and attain the civilization it desires. – October 25, 2013.

* Meltem Arikan is a news editor for a Turkish TV channel and a columnist for various Turkish news sites. She can be followed on Twitter via @arikan_meltem.

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