Could uprisings in Egypt and the Arab world produce a 'Muslim Gandhi'?
Far from being utopian, the Gandhian emphasis on an ethical politics based on nonviolence and mutual respect may be the most practical path to achieve democracy in a region exhausted from the seemingly endless repression and bloodshed that has resulted from the belief that violence is the real source of power.
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This does not mean that Muslim societies are somehow averse to democracy, pluralism, and nonviolence. It only means democracy and modernization must arrive organically, from the grass roots up, not the top down. Indeed, under the rule of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, we have seen how dynamic a society can be when faith and democracy are not shut out by authoritarian modernization.Skip to next paragraph
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The nonviolent campaigns erupting across the Muslim world today, largely based among the middle class, clearly indicate the practical success of an ethical commitment to norms of transparency, negotiation, compromise, and mutual respect. Their links to the networks of global civil society, tied together by information technologies from Facebook to YouTube, reinforce a universal ethic, as Gandhi preached, which transcends religious and cultural particularities even as it is channeled through local grass-roots movements.
This is where the Gandhian spiritual approach to politics can be distinguished from the fundamentalist approaches to religion. Far from being utopian, the Gandhian emphasis on an ethical politics based on nonviolence and mutual respect may be the most practical path to achieve democracy in a region exhausted from the seemingly endless repression and bloodshed that has resulted from the belief that violence is the real source of power.
“Even the most despotic government cannot stand except for the consent of the governed, which consent is often forcibly procured by the despot,” Gandhi wrote. “When the subject ceases to fear the despotic force, the power is immediately gone.”
What we have seen in Tunisia, and what we are seeing on the streets of Cairo today, suggests that Gandhi understood power better than the autocrats and ayatollahs who are now trying to hang on.
Ramin Jahanbegloo, one of Iran’s best-known dissidents, headed the contemporary studies department of the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran until his arrest in April 2006. He was released that August and now lives in exile in Canada, where he teaches at the University of Toronto.