"God Is Incompatible with Democracy."
No. Samuel Huntington foresaw a "clash of civilizations” between the free world and Islam, which, he maintained, was inherently averse to democracy. But at the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all leading Muslim intellectuals were in love with the West and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. What has alienated many Muslims from the democratic ideal is not their religion but Western governments’ support of autocratic rulers, such as the Iranian shahs, Saddam Hussein, and Hosni Mubarak, who have denied people basic human and democratic rights.
The 2007 Gallup poll shows that support for democratic freedoms and women's rights is widespread in the Muslim world, and many governments are responding -- albeit haltingly -- to pressures for more political participation. There is, however, resistance to a wholesale adoption of the Western secular model. Many want to see God reflected more clearly in public life, just as a 2006 Gallup poll revealed that 46 percent of Americans believe that God should be the source of legislation.
Nor is sharia law the rigid system that many Westerners deplore. Muslim reformers, such as Sheikh Ali Gomaa and Tariq Ramadan, argue that it must be reviewed in the light of changing social circumstances. A fatwa is not universally binding like a papal edict; rather, it simply expresses the opinion of the mufti who issues it. Muslims can choose which fatwas they adopt and thus participate in a flexible free market of religious thought, just as Americans can choose which church they attend.
Religion may not be the cause of the world’s political problems, but we still need to understand it if we are to solve them. "Whoever took religion seriously!” exclaimed an exasperated U.S. government official after the Iranian Revolution. Had policymakers bothered to research contemporary Shiism, the United States could have avoided serious blunders during that crisis. Religion should be studied with the same academic impartiality and accuracy as the economy, politics, and social customs of a region, so that we learn how religion interacts with political tension, what is counterproductive, and how to avoid giving unnecessary offense.
And study it we'd better, for God is back. And if "he" is perceived in an idolatrous, literal-minded way, we can only expect more dogmatism, rigidity, and religiously articulated violence in the decades ahead.