- (Photo credit: Michael Nazir Ali)
By Michael Brooks
“Democracy is never enough,” emphasized Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in a Tuesday lecture at Patrick Henry College. The retired Bishop of Rochester would know—he fled his native Pakistan to England after threats against his life. While a bishop for the Church of England, he witnessed firsthand Britain’s struggles with a growing Muslim population and a rampant secularism. Currently, he works full time on religious persecution issues, especially through the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD). Following brief introductions by both the President Graham Walker and International Policy Department head Stephen Baskerville, Nazir-Ali lectured and then answered questions in the public event. The subject was the Arab Spring, not so much its events but the underlying changes in culture and issues from which the Arab Spring emerged.
The former candidate for Archbishop of Canterbury began with a story that captured his introductory point. Some years ago, a Pakistani woman was accused and convicted of blasphemy, a conviction punishable by death. The governor of the province, however, was so outraged by the conviction that he visited her after publicly stating that blasphemy laws were man-made laws and could be changed. The next day, one of his own guards shot him over two dozen times. When the guard went to court to be charged for murder, he was showered with rose petals.
Bishop Nazir-Ali, a Pakistani and British dual-citizen who has been an influential voice on Muslim-Christian dialogue in the West and the Middle East, communicated that this story captures the frightening reality that radical Islam is no longer the ideology of a handful of individuals. Radical ideology has “permeated Muslim societies deeply.” While remarking that there remain sizable proportions of moderate Muslims and even more moderate Muslim voices, he noted that it is important to remember that radical Muslim ideology is no longer isolated to cells. He described it as a cultural “temper” that has been forming for the past 50 years. This temper is anti-West and anti-Christian. The reasons for its anti-Christian attitudes are different than the anti-Western attitudes. The anti-Western animus springs from attitudes against the perceived (or real) moral practices of the West. The anti-Christian attitude, on the other hand, stems from the fact that Islam and Christianity are the two great missionary religions of the world. They are spreading side by side in many countries.
The difference between the messages, however, are polar opposites. In general terms, Christianity relinquishes power over oneself and over others. This stands in contrast with Islamism that, in both general and specific terms, demands power. Bishop Nazir-Ali related the power relationships to the Arab Spring. He notes that the West typically views democracy as a liberator. He stresses, however, that “democracy is never enough, even in the west and certainly not in the Middle East. Democracy can simply be the tyranny of the majority. This we may be getting in Egypt and also in Syria.”
In order to safeguard against the likely tyrannies of Sharia law (what Bishop Nazir-Ali describes as a law with separate rights for the three “inequalities” of Muslim and non-Muslim, men and women in family law, and slave and free), he prescribes constitutions that mandate an equal law for all. Unfortunately, he noted that these constitutions rarely deter both law and practice on these “inequalities,” providing examples from Pakistan and Turkey, a country with a “secular” government.
When faced with these situations, he continued, Western leaders often fall prey to two misconceptions. The first is that if you make the economic situation better, then Islamic extremism would disappear. The second is that if you solve a number of particular grievances (the Israel issue, perceived slights, etc.) then radicalization will be decelerate. Bishop Nazir-Ali acknowledged the partial truths of these claims but pointed out that they do not address the real motivator behind radical recruitment.
Radical recruitment in Sunni Islam can not be solved by economic improvement or appeasement in cases of grievances. The key to Sunni radicalization is the perceived need to restore the caliphate (abolished after WWI) and greater transnational unity in the Ummah. Next, is the enforcement of Sharia as the ultimate social, legal, and financial law. This leads to dhimmitude for non-Muslims in Muslim countries, that is, inequality under the law. This can already be seen in Nigeria and even Egypt. The fourth and final driving factor for Sunni radicalization is the restoration of land lost; among these lost lands are the entire Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Israel.
Shia Islam, on the other hand, is more motivated by eschatology (beliefs on the end times). By committing acts of martyrdom and enforcing sharia, they believe that they will hasten the end times. This has been Iran’s motivation for radical Islamist ideology, clearly seen in the Iraq-Iran war when thousands upon thousands of teens were pushed out onto the front lines as cannon fodder to hasten the coming of the Imam.
These differences, Bishop Nazir-Ali stated, will be the key to the struggles within Islam over the next century. There are more Shia Muslims in the world than official statistics report. This is in part due to Shia Muslims non-identification of themselves as Shia Muslims for practical purposes as well as Sunni governments downplay of Shia numbers within their borders. Bishop Nazir-Ali warns that as the Muslim world begins to sort out Sunni and Shia issues, Christians and the West will not stand to benefit.
In conclusion, Bishop Nazir-Ali emphasized that the key to analyzing the Arab Spring lies not in the establishment of democracies, but of the ability of the democratically elected to leave once new powers are voted into office. The history of the Middle East, he decried, has been one of missed opportunities. As the Arab Spring moves forward, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities and the difficulties will be felt more and more at home within the Western Countries.
After the lecture and questions, Bishop Nazir-Ali ate lunch with professors and students in the PHC dining commons before lecturing a Comparative Politics class on the British House of Lords in which he, as a senior Bishop, is a member.