The Many-Faced Ideology of Political Islam and Its Challenge to Liberal Democracy
For the first time since the end of the Cold War Western liberal democracy is facing an ideological challenge. It is a challenge posed by a religious absolutist ideology of political Islam, also known as Islamism, a phenomenon more complex, elusive and insidious than the communist threat ever was. It is an ideology which regards Islam not simply as a faith system concerned primarily with man’s spirituality, but an all-encompassing system of a divine law which must be applied to every aspect of human existence, including public and political sphere. Its claim to universal domination is driven by the nostalgia for Islam’s past glory and a deep-rooted contempt for the Western civilization, perceived as spiritually inferior, decadent, degraded, and on its way to either self-destruction, or Islamic conquest. In particular, it viciously attacks the Western-originated nation-state system of international relations, with all its underpinning institutions, norms and values, such as democracy and popular sovereignty, secularism, human rights, gender equality, and liberal freedoms. After its emergence in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, the contemporary Islamist movement was initially focused on Muslim lands where it launched activities aimed at “de-Westernization”. However, as a by-product of Muslim immigration it has also firmly established itself in the West, and particularly in Europe. Western public and policy makers tend to be preoccupied with Muslim terrorism, but less emphasis is given to the ideology which is a driving force behind it. An attitude towards violence is usually the main, if not the only evaluation criterion of Islamist groups. And although Islamism includes the jihadist component, it is by no means limited to it. What often escapes public attention is that the Islamist ideology is very diverse and contains a wide spectrum of movements, brands, branches and organizations applying different forms of modus operandi. The challenge it poses to liberal democracies is twofold. On one hand, it obstructs Muslim integration, which in the long run may lead to weakened social cohesion and to fragmentation of societies with significant Muslim minorities. On the other, it is a great security threat, as it creates a fertile ground for radicalization, including its most extreme manifestation in the form of terrorism. In the face of these threats, there is an urgent need for a deeper understanding of Islamist ideology and what it strives for. Terrorism-related issues are usually accredited to non-ideological factors, such as Western foreign policy, lack of education, unemployment, or racism. However, there seems to be a general lack of recognition of the ideological confrontation currently taking place between the liberal democratic outlook, and Islamist religious absolutism.