Islam and Democracy: The Practice—and the Theory

January 10, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Economist

“TURKEY sets a fantastic example for nations around the world to see where it's possible to have a democracy coexist with a great religion like Islam.” Those were George Bush's words of welcome, this week, to Turkey's President Abdullah Gul.

In decades past, a Turkish leader might have been received at the White House with cordial remarks about his country's growing prosperity or its contribution to NATO. But it would have been strange, perhaps, not to mention religion when hosting a head of state who had just set a precedent that was watched with fascination by politically active Muslims in many parts of the world. When he became president, Mr Gul proved that it was possible for a pious Muslim with a headscarved wife to be made head of state, by a perfectly democratic procedure, in a country where the army is an ever-vigilant guardian against theocracy. For those who insist (whether their arguments are theological, or empirical, or both) that Islam and liberal democracy are quite compatible, Mr Gul's election (and Mr Bush's exuberant reaction to it) was a badly needed nugget of hope in a year when that cause has seen quite a lot of setbacks.