There is no democracy “à la carte”

It is an admirable idea that of Hamza Piccardo, former head of the UCOII (the leading Italian Islamic organization), to give his world “a democratic representation that can interact with institutions, the media and the whole of civil society.”

It’s therefore understandable that the idea, as he says, is “to vote online for an Islamic constituent assembly”. Sure, online. That thing, which seems democratic, but isn’t. The Five Star Movement’s model has paid offin directly mustering discontentand cultural distance from a confused and at times fearful political class, and this can lead to excellent political gains as we have seen. Yes, a “constituency,” which is scattered and diversified, yet in reach with a single computer.

However, the principal form of democracy, i.e. the party, isn’tenough, just as elections are not enough (“a remedy that certain societies must take in teaspoons,” as the great Middle East historian Bernard Lewis said), because a choice will result in the greatest glory of democracy itself.

This did not happen in many cases: for example with Erdogan in Turkey, a dictator who with the power of a partyhas won three times and this has certainly not led to democracy, or with the Egyptian Mursi, who was brought to power with the vote of the Muslim Brotherhood, which subsequently collapsed due to discontent.

It is the content, program and political credo of a party that can guarantee whether it isor is not part of the democratic spectrum, of what its expression will be and the context in which it will be placed. Therefore, the question is: would an Islamic party today have the necessary characteristics for promoting our concept of pluralism and democracy, andthe debate of ideas? The honest answer is that it seems very problematic: leaving aside questions such whether or not an organized Islamic presence can hide in its midst terrorists who ride on the waves of immigration, Islam is assertive when Europe is doubtful, it expands when the West shrinks, and proposes its doctrines as we are timid about our own.

Our growth rate is miserable as much as theirs is vertical, numerical growth has brought them within four years to 40 million people, six million in Germany, five million in France, three million in the UK and closely behind comes Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium… Christian Europe no longer has children whereas municipalities like Molenbeek increase – places where dissatisfaction has not only social origins,but if anything has led to a social development which remains rooted in oppressive cultural traditions. An extremist Belgian organization, Sharia4Belgium, wrote in its program,

“We have saved Europe from the dark ages… we have the right solution for all crises and this is the observance of the divine law, namely Sharia.”Now, according to all those famous Pew surveys, the most reliable, a prevailing majority of the Islamic world believes in Sharia Law, and this is abundantly clear.

It is the religion that inspires it. But don’t accuse us of Islamophobia because it has nothing to do with that, when we say that an Islamic group wants to establish itself in Italy as a party we must be clear on this: no Islamic courts as in the UK, no polygamy because it is against the law, no veil that hides the face and no oppressive behaviors. In other words, we need to uphold our Western values when it comes to women and campaigns against honor killings, domestic violence, contempt for other religions, anti-Semitism, and decisively defeat terrorism.

Can it be done? It seems difficult at the moment: there are many signs that adherence to Islam sometimes has a political, as well as a religious character.

Thirty-two percent of Turks in Germany said they “yearn to live in a society similar to the times of the Prophet Mohammed,” a third said they would “justify violence if it is provoked by the West,” anda fourth believe that “Muslims shouldn’t shake the hand of a female.”This past May a leading Islamic charityin London asserted its presence by renting hundreds of advertising spaces on buses in order to proclaim “Glory to Allah.” A third of Muslim adults said that they don’t feel a sense of belonging to British culture and 47 percent declared that Islam is the most important part of their identity. It is their right. However, can they belong to a Western democracy? Yes or not?

Is this important when we think about an Islamic party? It is if we don’t appear to be willingto accept some of the cornerstones of our civilization, such as equality between men and women. And don’t tell us that the veil isn’t also a political symbol… it is when we imagine our confused, nonsensical and endlessly retreatingactions: ready to overlook polygamy, to confuse freedom of expression with incitement and religious ostracism, and evenhatred against infidels…

In short, with all the caution in relation to the proposal of a new party, it is good that there is someone asking these questions, given that neither the UN nor the EU, or even mainstream media have ever had the courage to say it clearly: Islam has never been democratic.

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (7 August, 2016)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.