Zawahiri’s democracy may be just what the Persian President needs.
by Raymond Ibrahim
Iran and the U.S., who may otherwise be on a collision-course, share one common goal: promoting democracy in Iraq. Just this last September Associated Press reported that Iranian president — a possible accomplice of the U.S. embassy takeover of 1979 and one who believes Israel should be “wiped off the map”—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared: “We demand democracy . . . and termination of occupation in Iraq to provide the grounds for its reconstruction and development.” The call for democracy may seem odd coming from the president of an Islamic theocracy.
But does liberal-style democracy even have a chance of taking root in Iraq or will it eventually evolve into something else, something Ahmadinejad can be proud of? To date no Arab country is democratic. Two reasons account for this: 1) historically, all Arab and Muslim countries were originally governed under Islamic law; and 2) all of the current governments in place today were not elected but are products of post-colonialism, revolutions, military takeovers, and Western nepotism — Saddam’s Iraq, particularly before the ill-omened Kuwaiti invasion, was a perfect example.
However, if Muslims are given a choice to elect their government, will it necessarily be secular and liberal, as the West apparently hopes, or will it be a means to an end to once again establishing Islamic law? The case of Algeria comes to mind. In 1991, the Islamic fundamentalist party (FIS) won the largest number of votes in the country’s first-ever parliamentary elections. As a result, the secular-military regime proceeded to cancel the general election, thereby plunging the country into a bloody civil war. Nor should we forget that the Ayatollah Khomeini, who ushered in the theocratic state of Iran, while not officially “elected” — the Shah’s Iran then being a monarchy — was brought to power by the will of people.
This begs the question: is secular democracy antithetical to Islam? Coming from a Christian background, Western nations take it for granted that democracy and monotheism can happily coexist. Christ Himself declared “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s [the corporeal] and unto God that which is God’s [the spiritual]” (Matt 22:21).
But there is no such distinction between mosque and state in Islam; rather, Islam is extremely involved with this life and how it is lived. To that end, meticulous Laws governing Muslims’ day-to-day activities have been pronounced by Allah Himself and His Prophet. How can Believers, then, establish or abolish that which has already been fixed from on high?
The following is an excerpt from a never-before translated argument by al-Qaeda’s premiere ideologue and number-two man, the pediatrician Aymin al-Zawahiri, repudiating democracy in favor of Islamic law:
“Democracy is partnership [the unforgivable sin in Islam] with Allah. The difference between democracy and theocracy is that the latter makes Allah the Legislator while democracy is rule of the people for the good of the people. . . .
“This ‘rule of the people’ is a new religion that deifies the masses by giving them the right to legislate without being shackled down to any other authority. . . .
“[I]n democracies, those legislators elected from the masses become partners worshipped in place of Allah. Whoever obeys their laws ultimately worships them. . . .
“‘Adi bin Hatim — Allah be pleased with him — a former Christian who submitted [i.e. converted to Islam], said: ‘I came to the Messenger of Allah [Muhammad] while he was reciting the verse: “They [Christians] take their priests and monks as masters beside Allah” [9:31]. ‘So I said, O Messenger of Allah, we never took them for masters.’ “Indeed!” quoth he, “do they not allow for you that which is forbidden, and you permit it, and forbid that which is allowed, and you forbid it?” ‘I said yes. He said, “Therefore you worship them.”’
“It is the prerogative of godhood to be obeyed by mankind by establishing laws for them to govern their lives. Whoever, then, claims any of these prerogatives for himself, claims the most exclusive rights of godhood. He raises himself up as a god among the people, in place of Allah. No worse corruption befalls the earth as when gods multiply in this manner — when slaves become enslaved to other slaves; when one of the slaves claims he personally has the right to be obeyed by the slaves; that he personally possesses the right to legislate for the people; that likewise he personally has the right to differentiate between the Good and the Bad.
“As for democracy’s principle of equality between the citizenry, this makes for a number of situations — all of them blasphemous. Among them are:
“No limit to apostasy, since democracies provide freedom of religion; likewise abolition of jihad against the apostates [who under Islamic law deserve death].
“Abolition of jihad in the way of Allah — that is, jihad against infidelity and blasphemy — since democracies promote freedom of religion.
“ Abolition of the jizyah [tax paid by non-Muslims] and the subordinate conditions imposed on non- Muslims — since now there is no difference between nationals, irrespective of religion.
“ Abolition of man’s domination over woman. The Most High said: “Let men have authority over women” [4: 34]. But in a democracy, women have the right to emulate the same dignity and legal rights of men. . . . . Like we said, the principals of democracy confront the commands of Islamic law in direct opposition….
“Islam is so much richer than all these blasphemous notions. The Most High said: “Today have I perfected your way of life” [5: 3]. So whoever once doubts the perfection of Islam, renouncing it in favor of one of the systems of the infidels, such a one is an infidel. Allah Most High said: “Only infidels reject our Words” [29:47].
It should be borne in mind that though these are Zawahiri’s words, his entire argument accords well with the beliefs of many traditional Muslims — Sunnis and Shias.
Perhaps this also explains why the Persian president is pushing for democracy in Iraq: he’s trusting that the will of the people will establish the Will of Allah — and therefore a powerful ally for theocratic Iran.