Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Voting For More Islam

During the recent Afghan elections, most Western media outlets focused on allegations of electoral fraud. But considerably less attention was paid to the reasons that people voted in the first place. Naive and simplistic journalists in the West have expressed hope that voters turned out in defiance of the Taliban, or that the voting represents the successful "democratisation" of Afghanistan.

Now, a new report from the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit shows that these conclusions do not take into account the whole picture.

As the report makes clear, Afghan voters had a number of reasons for turning out, one of the key ones being Islamic identity. A common view of voters was, “We vote for a candidate who is first a Muslim, second an Afghan and finally, someone who can serve his people.”

This placing of religious identity above national and societal values exemplifies the way that, for many Muslims, their being a Muslim is more important to them than anything else, even their own nationality. Under such a worldview, there can never be hope for a secular outlook towards morality and law - religious principles always come first. Such tendencies are expressed even by supposedly secular Muslim "reformers" such as Tariq Ramadan, who has said: “I accept the law, provided it does not force me to do something in contradiction with my religion.” And: “If, to be a good citizen, you must be a bad Muslim, the answer is no.”

This religious fanaticism is also evident in the fact that, according to the report, "among older, more rural voters, democracy was condemned as embracing western values and moving away from tradition, reflecting more widespread concerns with the meaning of democracy in Afghanistan." Now, I thought it was only greasy Islamophobes who said that democracy is incompatible with Islam!

Actually, that's an important point. As, once again, the report notes, "Participation in elections does not necessary mean a wholehearted endorsement of democracy or democratisation in Afghanistan." A true democratic state would require the jettisoning of Islamic sharia law, which denies individual freedom and human rights to women and non-Muslims, and amounts to a theocratic, totalitarian regime akin to the Taliban's.

Polls in the Islamic world, most notably this one, have shown that the majority of Muslims actually support the implementation of strict sharia law in all Islamic countries. Afghanistan is not likely to be an exception. That means that whatever the Afghan people have been voting for, it certainly isn't real freedom.

And that's ultimately the reason why the US-led war in Afghanistan has, from the start, been so misguided. This is not to say, of course, that the Taliban should not have been ousted from power; but Bush and company never understood that their democratisation project in the country was doomed to fail, because they made no attempt to deal with the fundamental Islamic identity and values that would serve as barriers to such a project. Had they known what they were doing, they would not have allowed the Afghans to put in place a Constitution which states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." The practical implications of this were the fact that Abdul Rahman was put on trial for apostasy after converting to Christianity and, more recently, a law was passed making it legal for men to starve their wives if they refuse to have sex with them.

Any attempt to transform an Islamic country into a Westernised democracy must begin with a confrontation of Islamic law and values, and a thorough re-education of the people. It is a shame that neither Bush nor, now, Obama understand this. The price for their ignorance has been the pointless blood of our soldiers fighting the wrong enemy.

It's not the Taliban; it's Islam.

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