Jonathan Zimmerman: Why the Islamic Right Should Act Like the Christian Right





[Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”]

Can democracy and religious fundamentalism co-exist?

That’s the question of the moment in the Middle East. In Egypt, the ouster of Hosni Mubarak has raised Western fears of an Islamist takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood. Similar worries surround protest movements in Yemen, Bahrain, and Algeria: Would the fall of secular dictatorships spell the rise of religious ones?

Skeptics point to Gaza and Iran, where popular uprisings empowered decidedly undemocratic regimes. Optimists invoke Turkey and Indonesia, where religious parties have competed peacefully in elections and have abided by the rule of law.

But Americans don’t have to look to the Middle East to see how fundamentalism can mesh with democracy. Instead, we need only look in the mirror. Over the past four decades, fundamentalist Christians have surged into United States politics. And, in the process, they have enriched – not constricted – our democracy.
Religious right more liberal than liberals

Anyone who thinks otherwise should read Jon Shields’ terrific 2009 book, “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” A political scientist at Claremont McKenna College, Mr. Shields spent several years observing anti-abortion activists at rallies, protests, and conventions.

What he found might surprise American liberals. When orthodox Christians enter the public arena, they demonstrate all the virtues of, well, classical liberalism: reason, tolerance, and mutual respect. In this sense, they are often more liberal than their opponents on the Left....


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