I Told You So! You Don’t Want Islam Running the Department of Waste Management

In February of 2011, over two years ago, I posted a blog with the title “Do You Really Want Islam Running the Department of Waste Management?” With the rise and now fall of Morsi in Egypt we had a chance to watch what happens when the Muslim Brotherhood or Islam is governing. It wasn’t pretty. Morsi was dumped by the Egyptian military for his autocratic and incompetent governance. Local Egyptians have been “put off” by the shortfall in fuel, electricity, and a crumbling economy. Human Rights Watch said that Morsi continued the abusive practices of Mubarak, and any number of journalists and political activists have been prosecuted unfairly.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies reported on July 9, 2013 that apparently a document proving six-figure payments to top Muslim Brotherhood officials has surfaced. This document is important because as Islamists the Brotherhood claimed that they were more religious and had higher morals and were less subject to corruption. Morsi had apparently replaced hundreds of judges and officials with Muslim Brotherhood figures and was assumed to have adopted the political corruption of his predecessors.

It’s just possible that Morsi failures signal the end of religious politics in Egypt. Much of the population is unhappy with the Muslim Brotherhood’s politicization of religion and unfair treatment of the opposition. The Egyptian Constitution is wise with respect to its principles of separation of religion and politics. Religious parties are illegal because they could not maintain the respect for the differences between religion and politics. The Muslim Brotherhood has failed to respect this principle which is crucial for democracy.

Democracy through its persistent debate and contest maintains a check and balances system that is constantly responding to needs and threats posed by different groups in society. Different religious, ethical, and political groups need to have their rights met but also achieve a degree of unity. Such unity will not be found in a comprehensive political or religious system; that is, a system of fixed ideas about the universe and preference for only those who hold such ideas. In that case the political entity would be governed by a single group with the regular maximization of differences and inequality. The most successful form of unity tying pluralistic groups together is broad but not necessarily very deep. It represents a political conception of justice that is capable of including multiple groups.

Hence, the logic of the European liberal experience has demonstrated that tolerance cannot be separated from liberalism. And, continuing the logic, tolerance cannot be separated from a loss of certainty. Tolerance results in a loss of faith and in the experience of at least unfreezing one’s attitudes. This is why religious groups – whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jewish – who are highly Orthodox in their beliefs and unwavering often isolate themselves from others. They fear contamination in the form of exposure to unwanted influences. Tolerance is firmly rooted in a communication process, governed by conditions of civility and debate, which sets into motion political activity that questions one’s own certainty. One of the difficulties for the liberal state is for its members to subscribe to a shared point of view about justice and recede from religious justifications, but subscribe to this shared morality on the basis of their own religion and point of view. The key point here is that the result of discovering this common point of view or common morality is justified on moral grounds acceptable to both competing parties. As Rawls (1993) maintains, this sort of overlapping morality can only emerge from the public sphere on the basis of public reasoning.

Such conditions are very alien to the religious Muslim. Not that this is required because there are ways to think about and interpret Islam in a somewhat more accommodating manner. But such is not the case for the Brotherhood.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on July 25, 2013, in Democracy, Political Conflict and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on I Told You So! You Don’t Want Islam Running the Department of Waste Management.

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