Examining Democracy’s Lure

by Robert Maynard

A previous article posted on True North explored the battle of visions between the Jihadis on one hand, and the west in general and the U.S. in particular on the other hand. One theme explored was that some high level Jihadi leadership are worried about the lure of Democracy:

… this battle is more one of values and ideas than a military conflict. As French author Victor Hugo once remarked: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Al Qaeda understands this much better than our leaders do. In a NEW YORK POST September 4, 2003 piece entitled: “AL QAEDA’S AGENDA FOR IRAQ,” Amir Taheri quotes extensively from a book entitled: “The Future of Iraq and The Arabian Peninsula After The Fall of Baghdad” by Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates since the early ’90s. In the book, al-Ayyeri makes the claim that: “It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy.” When we look further, we note that he sees democracy as a form of “unbelief” which is more threatening to Islam than all the other forms combined. The reason for this is that: ‘This form of “unbelief” persuades the people that they are in charge of their destiny and that, using their collective reasoning, they can shape policies and pass laws as they see fit. That leads them into ignoring the “unalterable laws” promulgated by God for the whole of mankind, and codified in the Islamic Shari’ah (jurisprudence) until the end of time.’ This is what he sees as at stake in Iraq: “In Iraq today, there are only two sides,” Al-Ayyeri asserts. “Here we have a clash of two visions of the world and the future of mankind. The side prepared to accept more sacrifices will win.”

The question we must ask is what happened to that attraction? In the 19th Century, young western educated Muslims were inspired by the American ideal of freedom and our history of gaining our liberty from a colonial power. That ideal, shared with the rest of the world through our Declaration of Independence, inspired movements of national independence, as well as a global abolitionist movement. Today, young western educated Muslims are becoming Jihadi leaders and are more likely to see America as a sinister, imperial force than as a beacon of freedom. What is the attraction that they are finding in Jihadism that their 19th Century counterparts found in the ideals enshrined in our Declaration of Independence?

According to a New York City Police Department intelligence report on the problem of home grown terrorism:

The trans-national phenomenon of radicalization in the West is largely a function of the people and the environment they live in. …. the transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge, or desperation. Rather, it is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is looking for an identity and a cause and unfortunately often finds them in the extremist Islam.

Modern secular societies of the west have long neglected to importance that a sense of moral meaning and purpose has to human development. Fortunately, some sectors of our society are starting remedy that oversight. A scholarly study by the YMCA of USA, Dartmouth Medical School and the Institute for American Values entitled “Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Community” has found that human beings are biologically “hardwired” to connect to a transcendent source of moral meaning and purpose, as well as to an “authoritative” community that serves as an authority on a transcendent sense of moral meaning and purpose. Given the type of secularism that has come to define modern western society, is it any wonder that young people are now finding their sense of identity in radical Islam?

The solution to the problem is not to merge Church and State, but to return to the kind of secularism that was presented to the world in our Declaration of Independence. This is a secularism that is non-sectarian, but respectful of the sense of transcendent meaning and value that a religious vision offers us. Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Muslim, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. From Syria. He is also the founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization that  works to integrate the principles of our Declaration of Independence with his Muslim faith. In November of 2005, after witnessing the riots in the “French” Muslim communities, he co-authored an article entitled “American secularism offers lesson to France.” Here is his insight into why Europe is having a harder time integrating its Muslim community than America is:

Many have been quick to compare America’s challenges with its own Muslim population to Europe’s, but there is a central difference. America is a place where all spirituals paths are supported. It is a country where God is freely talked about in its founding documents. This gives great support to all faiths, especially those in the minority. It gives all people of faith a sense that they belong here.

This language reaffirming man’s spiritual nature is what is sorely missing in Europe. If one takes away that foundation, one is left with a cold secularism that, in turn, becomes the most attractive breeding ground for religious fanatics.

In that anti-religious environment, where is the truly devotional to turn? On one side there is the “God is dead” people, and on the other is the “Your God is dead” people. To someone who simply is trying to practice his faith, this is a toxic environment indeed.

How long will American keep that advantage over Europe when it comes to assimilating people from traditional societies, where religion is taken very seriously? Our cultural leaders seem to be on a quest to follow the European model instead of offering them the American model the way we did in the 19th Century.