Yesterday was a very enjoyable debate on the topic of ‘Islam or Democracy: Which has better solutions for Global peace?’. Not only did I get to go back to one of my favourite english speaking countries, Ireland, but I attended my first ever debate specifically on the topic of ‘Democracy’ (by which I mean here: Secular Liberal Democracy).
My opposing interlocutor was Martin Okolikj, a lecturer at the University College Dublin, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe). He is not only a PhD candidate in Political Science, but the primary focus of his research interests are ‘the fields of Political Methodology and Comparative Politics, with a particular focus on Elections, Voting Behaviour, Quality of Government, Spatial Econometric Models and Time Series Analysis’. A more qualified and relevant speaker on Democracy could not have been wished for!
The most important factor in good debates, is an opposing speaker who could truly do justice to the topic, and provide a robust defence of their position, and an incisive critique of one’s own position. I view debates as collaborative ‘trials’ for ideas. A good debate is one where both speakers ‘help’ each other to provide the best overview of the topic being discussed to the audience. This then facilitates the main objective of the debate – for the audience to make an informed decision about the ideas in question.
Martin Okolikj’s opening presentation was factual, objective and demonstrated his specialist knowledge. Although I had come prepared to present well known academic studies to show that ‘Democracy’ is not necessary for good economic prosperity or even long term stability, Mr Okolikj made those same points in his speech. He was balanced and objective. He conceded that while Democracy isn’t necessarily materially beneficial for a country, he believed it was simply his preferred system because he believes it gives people a choice in government.
My presentation essentially re-iterated his points about whether Democracies provide any material benefit or stability. However, I added in addition to this, that Democracies have been repetitively failing worldwide, and that there are many types of government that can, and do work. The opposing speaker actually agreed with me on this.
I clarified that while Islam is mentioned in the title of this debate, it is actually the ruling system of Islam (i.e. Caliphate) that is being compared with Democracy, not Islam in tota (which is obviously much broader). I made clear that Islam is against totalitarian states, autocracies and fascist regimes. I also clarified that the Islamic concept of Caliphate is not a utopia, because utopias are an impossibility (due to the imperfection of humans).
First off, ELECTIONS CAN BE USED IN ISLAM TO SELECT A RULER. I also mentioned that NO RULER IS LEGITIMATE WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY BEING GIVEN TO IT BY THE PEOPLE (through the pledge of allegiance, ‘Bayah’). However, I argued that this is where the similarity between Caliphate and Democracy ends. I then argued a number of features of a Caliphate that would be an improvement on Democracy, and that modern Western Secular Democracy doesn’t actually give people a real choice. These improvements included: candidates for Caliph can’t self-promote, campaign or ask for the position of Caliph. Caliphs are in office for as long as they are serving the needs of the people, being just and competent. This eliminates the need to lie, deceive or shut down others every four years to get re-elected (in a bid to maintain power). The supreme court can impeach and remove bad performing Caliphs (this happened a number of times during the Ottomans).
I also argued against the biggest myth of all and made a point that people need to be reminded of, namely: Democracy (where the people vote on every law, policy, and even court case) doesn’t exist anywhere today. After the Ancient Greeks (Athenians) and some puritanical Protestant cities during the medieval period, no other state has ever adopted ‘Democracy’ as its system. Western governments simply don’t trust the people to directly rule themselves. The system that is currently implemented is more correctly called ‘Republicanism’ (after the Roman model, where leaders are elected to ‘represent’ the people, and ‘think on their behalf’ [Edmund Burke]). Of course, the roles of the media and well funded lobby groups effectively destroys any real ‘choice’ a people could make in a modern Democracy.
I then finished by pointing out that ‘Democracy’ is a Western phenomenon that emerged out of its own culture and history, and the Muslim world, while it was under Islamic government, saw better stability and justice, which were much better maintained then the exact same regions after ‘Democracy’ was implemented.
The Q/A and back and forth between my opponent and myself was civil, but very stimulating and interesting. He didn’t disagree with my citations from studies, or criticisms of Democracy. He only argued that Democracy ‘may be an imperfect system, but we should focus on fixing it’. He did, though, make a few rhetorical arguments: ‘We need modern solutions not prehistoric systems’. To which I pointed out that ‘democracy’ is 1000 years older than Islam, and (literally) ancient. By contrast, Islam is actually more ‘modern’ than ‘Democracy.’
I haven’t cited here everything (or even most) of what was said (which was much more), nor the interesting Q/As from the audience – as I want to leave that for you to explore in the video when it is uploaded.
Suffice to say, anyone who wants to know more about Democracy, its viability (based upon academic studies) and how an Islamic Caliphate would compare – please watch the video (when it comes out).
Thank you to the UCD Islamic Society for their hospitality, of which I stake great praise upon, and the UCD Philosophy Society for co-hosting this great debate. I also like to thank Martin Okolikj for attending, and make contributing his masterful expertise to making this debate educational and a great overview for people to explore the topic further.
Video will be released soon Inshallah (and a link also put here in an update).