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Religious Democrats: Democratic Culture and Muslim Political Participation in Post-Suharto Indonesia

Oleh Dr. Saiful Mujani

Dissertation Summary :

A global tendency in the post-cold war period is the increase in the number of democratic or democratizing regimes. However, this tendency does not occur in most predominantly Muslim states (Freedom House 2002, Lipset 1994, Huntington 1997, 1991). On the basis of Freedom House’s Index of Political Rights and Civil Liberty in the last three decades, Muslim states have generally failed to establish democratic politics. In that period, only one Muslim country has established a full democracy for more than five years, i.e. Mali in Africa. There are twelve semi-democratic countries, defined as partly free. The rest (35 states) are authoritarian (fully not free). Moreover, eight of the fifteen most repressive regimes in the world in the last decade are found in Muslim states.

This is a significant finding. In virtually every region of the world—Asia, Africa, Latin America, the former USSR, and Eastern Europe—the democratic tendency is strong. Authoritarian politics has been declining in non-Muslim states, while in Muslim states it has been relatively constant. Moreover, the collapse of the USSR was followed by the rise of new nationstates, six of which have Muslim majorities: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgistan,Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Within these Muslim countries, based on the Freedom House index, authoritarian regimes have emerged, while within their non- Muslim counterparts in the former USSR democratic regimes have been the norm.

Cyprus is also an interesting case. The country is divided into Greek and Turkish Cyprus, and their democraticness varies. The Greek side is more democratic. One aspect of the third wave of democratization, to quote Huntington (1991), is the rise of democratic regimes in Eastern Europe. However, two predominantly Muslim countries, Albania and Bosnia, have been the least democratic in the region.

Students of Islam commonly acknowledge that the Arab World or the Middle East is the heart of Islamic culture and civilization. Islam has been almost identical with the Arab world. Muslim elites, activists, or intellectuals from this region, compared to other regions, are the most willing to articulate their Islamic identity, solidarity, and brotherhood as reactions against non-Muslim culture and politics. Unfortunately, most regimes of the region are authoritarian. The question is: why is democracy rare in Muslim states, even in the current period of global democratization? If democracy is introduced to a Muslim state, why is it likely to be unstable or unconsolidated? Is this phenomenon associated with Islam? Some students of Muslim society and of political science believe that Islam is responsible for the absence of democracy in the Muslim world (Huntington 1997 1991, 1984; Kedourie 1994, 1992, Lipset 1994, Lewis 2002, 1993, Gellner 1994, Mardin 1995).

However, this claim has rarely been tested through systematic observation on the basis ofmeasures of the two critical concepts, i.e. Islam and democracy, and how the two may be systematically associated. This study intends to fill this gap through elaboration and testing of the arguments of the scholars who have preceded me. The claim that Islam is responsible for the lack of democracy or for unstable democracy in predominantly Muslim states must be evaluated as a problem of political culture in which political behavior, institutions, and performance are shaped by culture.

The political culture approach is necessary to assess the core arguments and the logic underlying the analysis of Huntington and other critics of Islamic democracy. At the same time, Huntington and the others are not systematic in the way in which they construct their argument, nor do they provide satsifactory evidence to support their claim. This study is designed to approach the issue more systematically by deploying the civic culture perspective laid out initially by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963). In its focus on attitudes, beliefs, and orientations, this perspective is the closest to Huntington, while being scientifically more persuasive.

Almond and Verba’s Civic Culture is the first work which addresses systematically the problem of democracy from the political culture perspective. They define political culture as psychological orientation toward social objects, or as attitudes toward the political system and toward the self as a political actor (Almond and Verba 1963). This orientation includes individual knowledge or belief, feelings or affection, and evaluation or judgment of the political system in general, political inputs and outputs, and one’s own role within the political system. Variation in these orientations and attitudes are believed to shape political participation and to effect democratic stability.

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