Mustafa Akyol: Can Islamists Be Liberals?





Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish journalist, is the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”

FOR years, foreign policy discussions have focused on the question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy. But this is becoming passé. In Tunisia and Egypt, Islamists, who were long perceived as opponents of the democratic system, are now promoting and joyfully participating in it. Even the ultra-Orthodox Salafis now have deputies sitting in the Egyptian Parliament, thanks to the ballots that they, until very recently, denounced as heresy....

But there is another reason for concern: What if elected Islamist parties impose laws that curb individual freedoms — like banning alcohol or executing converts — all with popular support? What if democracy does not serve liberty?

This question is seldom asked in the West, where democracy is often seen as synonymous with liberalism. However, as Fareed Zakaria warned in his 2003 book “The Future of Freedom,” there are illiberal democracies, too, where the majority’s power isn’t checked by constitutional liberalism, and the rights and freedoms of all citizens are not secured. This is a risk for the post-Arab Spring countries, and even for post-Kemalist Turkey. The real debate, therefore, is whether Islam is compatible with liberalism....



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