AU professor promotes Muslim democracy
Muslim spoke at Christian conference
Muslim scholar and AU Professor Akbar Ahmed spoke at the American Jewish Council at the Washington Hilton on Sept. 10, marking the first time a Muslim spoke for the AJC.
The panel discussion, "Expanding Democracy Worldwide" touched on several turbulent topics including the possibility of democracy in Muslim countries and need for dialogue between Jews and Muslims.
According to Ahmed, it is time for people to stop reflecting on the differences between the Muslim world and the West and begin focusing on the links that connect them.
Five times a day Muslims address Abraham and his descendents in prayer and Muslims recognize Jews and Christians as the decedents of Abraham, Ahmed said, which is a remarkable point of contact.
The United States has marshaled enormous human and material resources in an effort to combat terrorism and advance democracy in the Muslim world according to panelist Carl Gershman, president of National Endowment for Democracy. Yet it appears we still do not understand the real nature of the problem, Gershman said.
Gershman discussed the possibility of democracy in the Middle East and misconceptions many people have between Arab and Muslim nations. He referred to a recent essay on democratic universalism to describe the Arabs' obsession with vengeance.
According to Gershman, Arabs are blindsided by vengeance and no longer look at building a democracy or community and instead use it as a tool to build aggressive military regimes.
The Arabs, Gershman said, can only get beyond the Arab and Israeli conflict and focus on the stages of state building.
Gershman suggested that the United States and Europe could help the Arab and Israeli conflict by liberalizing the political system, modernizing and changing the state by strengthening the authority of local governments and controlling corruption while building a productive economy that provides meaningful work and the opportunity for self-advancement.
Akbar and Gershman's opinions on democracy differed.
"In spite of the military dictators supported by the United States of America," Ahmed said. "Muslims want a democracy. When given a chance the people of South Asia voted for Mohammed Ali Jinnah."
Jinnah led the democratic movement in South Asia and created the state of Pakistan in 1947.
Ahmed commented that reports like the one used in Gershman's speech showed the lack of understanding between the West and Middle East.
"Though I did not agree with many of Gershman's points I do agree democracy must come from within and dialogue is necessary in order for that to happen," Rand Nijjar said, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business.
According to Ahmed, it's important that Muslims are educated about democracy and taught that democracy is not enforced by the West. Americans also need to be educated about the Middle East's culture and religion, to be educated about the Middle East's culture and region, according to Ahmed. This education will promote a mutual understanding between the World of Islam and the Western World. Ahmed is the author of several books including, Islam Under Siege Post 9-11.
"I am not here to allocate blame, or make commentary," Ahmed said. "I am just commenting with great sadness as a member of this Abrahamic family because to me this is a collapse, it is a moral collapse and a social collapse and it predicts a political collapse and above all as a scholar involved in the debate when I look at the ideological maps being formed this reinforces the idea of the clash of civilizations."
The only way to alleviate this clash is by re-examining our point of contact and continuing dialogue like the one held today, Ahmed said.