Political Instrumentalization of Islam and the Risk of Obscurantist Deadlock
Summary The empirical literature has established a strong link between being a Muslim country and indicators of political performance and democracy. The idea of the "clash of civilizations" put forward by Samuel Huntington and applied to Islam by Bernard Lewis and others points to unique aspects of the Islamic religion and culture that make the advent of democracy especially difficult. In this paper, I show that there is a systematic misconception about the true nature of the relationship between Islam and politics: far from being fused into the religious realm, politics tends to dominate religion. Because of some characteristics, namely the lack of a centralized religious authority structure and the great variability of interpretations of the Islamic law, there is a risk of an "obscurantist deadlock" in the form of a vicious process whereby both the ruler and his political opponents try to outbid each other by using the religious idiom. This risk looms particularly large in crisis situations accentuated by international factors such as witnessed during the second half of the 20th century. From a short comparative analysis, it is however hard to conclude that unique aspects of the Islamic faith are ultimately responsible for the persistent autocratic feature of Muslim polities.
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