Headline Ideas & Philosophy — 14 February 2014
Azzam Tamimi and the Mirage of Democracy: A Quest towards Subversion

Ali Harfouch

If there is one thing we can learn from Azzam Tamimi’s article ‘The Quest for Democracy in the Arab World is an Islamic Cause ’ it is that the continuity of colonization in the Muslim world is primarily a self-perpetuating process sustained and legitimized by what Bertrand Badie aptly called “the importers”. Western systems, theories, and laws need not be imposed – in fact their imposition usually produces regressive results – however a far more insidious yet perceivably benign process of colonization occurs when the ‘native elites’ who claim to represent the “colonized” imitates the colonized. This process of imitation/importation however puts the mimic in a difficult situation, on one hand he must retain the ‘authenticity’ he represents (culture, religion, etc.) i.e. that of his ‘natives’ and on the other hand he incessantly and obsessively imports the unauthentic from the West. To deal with this paradox, the mimic must create a synthesis between the ‘Authentic’ and the ‘Imported’. The mimic is the polisher of chains, a grand illusionist and the greatest enemy to liberation. That explains why we have haphazardly superficial “Islamic Democratic” discourses or ambivalent notions of a “Civil State with an Islamic Reference” (only Allah, the All-Knower, seems to know what that contradiction-in-terms might mean). What is all-the-more problematic is that Tamimi is not only reifying the Eurocentric ‘Democratic’ State but he is also speaking about the quest of the Arab Spring, its trajectory and for our respected brother Tamimi it is a fixated path towards Democracy. A vision eerily similar, if not derivative of, the Western doctrine of “progress” towards “maturity” (i.e. Westernization). Essentially, even our future is determined by a Eurocentric mirage and clay idol named “Democracy”.
The situation was articulated brilliantly by Paulo Freire “The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be “hosts” of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible”. In other words, there is a two-step transformative process which involves the authentication of identity through (1) producing non-Eurocentric narratives on the pre- and post-Arab Spring (because we are in no way in a post-Arab Spring in any existential sense) instead of recycling and loathing over Western narratives i.e. a “quest towards Democracy” and (2) excluding, from our map road towards liberation the neo-imperial West and their despots who until now have acted as midwives for this process or what Tamimi referred to in albeit more benign terms “power-sharing”.
Asides for the intellectual and normative inconsistencies of universalizing and essentializing ‘Democracy’, an issue we have touched upon elsewhere, from a purely pragmatic perspective, what makes this obsessive pursuit of ‘Democracy’ all the more dumb-founding is its shallowness. Their reformist-accommodationalist methodology means that he paradoxically ends up both preserving the very power-structures which render the actualization of ‘Democracy’ impossible and continues to pursue it (Democracy) at the same time. In an age of free-market capitalist globalization and the anarchic state of the international order, the ‘Nation’ and its ‘People’ are neither sovereign nor free to determine their own trajectory and destiny as hegemonic forces external to the ‘Nation’ and its ‘People’ do so. And thus even on a pragmatic level, the ideals and material-goals of the mimic remain a mirage.
Secondly, how does ‘Democracy’ – in itself – alleviate the economic, social and political structural contradictions in the Muslim world? What is it intrinsic to ‘Democracy’ that makes it an all-encompassing and comprehensive political programme which can seemingly do away with the deep-rooted problems? History testifies to the fact that there is indeed no causal link between economic development, technological advancement and ‘Democracy’. Unless ‘Democracy’ is a masquerade for a far-reaching neo-liberal political programme, it falls nothing short of a mirage. Both ways however, ‘Democracy’ is part of the problem and not a solution of any sorts.
In the end, both ‘Democracy’ and ‘Power-sharing’ are mirages and illusions of the Modern State system. There is nothing liberating about the hegemonic Democratic theory which is now defunct in its countries of origins and (I can safely say) it goes without saying that the power-elites who dominate the Muslim world are in no way interested in “power-sharing”. Power must be taken, it is not shared nor given with power-elites who fetishize power with the Qur’an warning ““…do not obey the order of the transgressors…”. Does the Qur’anic repetition of Musa’s climatic clash with Pharaoh not teach our dear Tamimi any lessons on liberation? Or was the rejection of a dozen “power-sharing” offers by tribes to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) not an indication that power can only belong to an idea – authentic Islam – and not a disfigured distilled compromise-based reconfigured “Democratic Islam”?

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