Arab-Islamic Culture versus Democracy

There are deep-rooted basic cultural blocks that prevent achieving democracy in the Arab-Muslim states.

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Prof. Paul Eidelberg, | updated: 23:52

Paul Eidelberg
Paul Eidelberg
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That Arab-Islamic culture rejects the basic principles of democracy may be demonstrated by correlating the following facts:

  • Whereas, freedom, including freedom of speech, is one of the two cardinal principles of democracy, Arab-Islamic culture is strictly authoritarian, which is why its media are state-controlled.


  • Arab-Islamic culture is strictly hierarchical. Top-down leadership is a fundamental principle of Islamic theology. Authority runs down from Allah to Muhammad and from Muhammad to the imam, the ruler of the regime.
    Unlike democracy, whose other cardinal principle is equality, Arab-Islamic culture is strictly hierarchical. Top-down leadership is a fundamental principle of Islamic theology. Authority runs down from Allah to Muhammad and from Muhammad to the imam, the ruler of the regime.

  • Democracy is based on the primacy of consent or persuasion. This adorns democratic societies with a certain easy-goingness and civility. Not only are past grievances readily swept aside, but political opponents can be friends despite their differences. Differences are resolved by mutual concessions, and agreements are usually lasting. In contrast, Arab-Islamic culture is based on the primacy of coercion. Agreements between rival factions do not really terminate animosities, which is why such agreements are so short-lived.

  • Because democracy is based on the primacy of consent, the pursuit of peace is the norm of democratic states. In contrast, because Arab-Islamic culture is based on the primacy of coercion, the foreign policy norm of Arab-Islamic states is intimidation and conquest. Jihad (holy war) is a basic Islamic principle, which is why Muslim violence will be found throughout the world.

  • Whereas democracy is based on the primacy of the individual, Arab-Islamic culture is based on the primacy of the group—be it the village or the extended family. The individual Muslim has no identity outside the group; it is to the group that he owes all his loyalty. This is one reason why internecine conflict has been endemic among Arabs throughout history.

  • Contemporary democracy is regarded as a process by which various individuals pursue their private interests and have diverse values or “lifestyles.” This is not the case in Arab-Islamic culture, which binds everyone to the set of substantive values prescribed in the Koran and in Islamic law (the sharia).

  • Whereas contemporary democracy is inclined toward moral relativism, Islam is based on absolutism. When moral relativism does not degenerate into moral inversion, contemporary democracy conduces to tolerance, whereas Islam conduces to intolerance. Admittedly, Islamic regimes tolerate non-Islamic minorities, but only as dhimmis—virtual pariahs.

  • Democratic societies are preoccupied with the present (the Now). Conversely, Arab-Islamic culture exists under the aspect of eternity. Islamic mentality is dominated by the past, which is why revenge for past injuries is a dominant motif of the Arab world. And given their group loyalty, Muslims are religiously bound to wreak vengeance against those who have slighted the honor of any Muslim.

  • The openness or publicity found in democracy stands in striking contrast to the hiddenness, secrecy, and dissimulation characteristic of Islam. As one intellectually liberated Arab sociologist writes: “Lying is a widespread habit among the Arabs, and they have a low idea of truth.”2

  • Whereas contemporary democracy is rooted in a mild secularism, Arab-Islamic culture is rooted in a harsh religion.Even Arab leaders who are not devout Muslims identify with the basic goals of Islam. The radical separation of religion and politics found in democracy is foreign to Islamic regimes.

The ten preceding considerations demonstrate that the democratic concept of national self-determination has no logical application to the Muslim Arabs self-called “Palestinians.”








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