CRB: Arab winter

“When we heard Mohammed Morsi chanting ‘The sharia, then the sharia, and finally, the sharia,’ we should have been worried.” Hope springs eternal, but anyone familiar with the work of a couple of Andrews — C. McCarthy and G. Bostom — would surely know enough to temper youthful exuberance with some old-fashioned prudence when it came to the much ballyhooed Arab Spring. Or one could simply listen to the words of those who benefited most in said season: “The sharia, then the sharia, and finally, the sharia” was not, after all, a paean to the latest dance craze sweeping Cairo.

American Foreign Policy Council senior fellow Robert R. Reilly provides the quotation above. Reilly is the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis and a deft guide through the political pathologies of the Muslim world. In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here) Reilly reviews the latest books by McCarthy and Bostom. Reilly’s review is “Arab Winter.”

McCarthy’s Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy provides us with an alternative way of thinking about the Arab Spring — alternate, that is, to those who would praise it for its democratic potential. Quite the contrary, writes Reilly: McCarthy shows that “[t]hat phenomenon…is not democratization, but rather Islamization with the desire for sharia rule at its heart.” McCarthy, incidentally, wrote about the book for us this past September here.

Focusing on the pre-Arab Spring transition in Turkey and the erstwhile success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, McCarthy argues that, had we understood properly the election and governance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, we could have anticipated the current turmoil in Egypt. As it is, we failed at both. For despite his democratic credentials (he has increased his party’s plurality in the last three presidential elections) Erdogan has overseen a de-secularization and de-democratization project in the name of democracy. As Erdogan himself has proclaimed, “democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination” — the Islamicization of Turkey.

Similarly, winning an election in Egypt was not to make good democrats out of Morsi and his supporters. Andrew Bostom’s collection of essays in Sharia versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism shows the relatively static nature of political Islam, arguing, as Reilly puts it, that “what we are experiencing regarding Islam today is a resurgence of something from the past.” Islamists might well participate in and win elections, but they will never thereby be democrats — so long as they remain Islamists. The problem lies at the heart of Islamic law.

Reilly observes: “Bostom amply and repeatedly demonstrates throughout the book [that] sharia is inimical to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, equality before the law, and just about all the other elements that undergird democratic constitutional rule. It codifies the inequality of men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, free and slave….The essential problem is that Islam has reduced itself to sharia. It did this by extirpating philosophy and delegitimizing moral reasoning apart from the sources of revelation. By becoming a form of divine legal positivism, Sunni Islam placed itself in a theological prison.”

Reilly’s review is one of four pieces making up the “Islamapalooza!” package advertised on the cover of this issue of the CRB. The review joins pieces by Hillel Fradkin, Douglas Kries and Stanley Kurtz that explore different aspects of Islam’s self-understanding and challenge to the West.


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