November 19, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 816

Egyptian Progressive: 'Why Can't We [Arabs] See Things as the Rest of the World Sees Them?'

November 19, 2004
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 816

The progressive Egyptian intellectual Dr. Amr Isma'il whose articles are regularly published on the secular Arab website, wrote an article condemning the Arabs' lack of self-criticism and the Islamists' abuse of the term "democracy." The following are excerpts from the article, which appeared on the progressive Arabic website [1]

'Why Do We Talk by Means of Bullets, and Hasten to Make Sweeping Accusations of Unbelief?'

"Why can't we see things as the rest of the world sees them? Why do we always feel that someone is conspiring against us, and that he is the cause of our problems and our cultural and economic backwardness?… Why are we not able to criticize ourselves and [why do] we view anyone who tries to do so as an enemy of the nation and of its principles, and other things of this kind that make some people afraid to think?…

"Why do we talk among ourselves by means of bullets, bombs, and car bombs, and when we disagree we hasten to accuse [our interlocutor] of unbelief and of being dragged after the West and the East? Why don't we recognize that nobody among us has the answer to all the questions and whoever pretends to have the absolute truth is nothing but a pretender? Have we heard that in any respectable country the parties and political streams talk by means of bullets, as sometimes happens between the various factions in Gaza and as is happening now in Iraq?…"

'We Kill, Blow Up Cars, and Slit Throats in the Name of Allah, Yet Protest When Others Depict Muslims as Terrorists'

"Why are we the only nations in the world that still use religion, Islam, and the name of Allah in everything – in politics, economics, science, art, and literature. We kill in the name of Allah, blow up cars in the name of Allah, and slit throats in the name of Allah and Islam, and then we protest when others depict the Muslims as terrorists. We indiscriminately kill doctors who went to provide medical care to Afghans, and then we protest when the world describes these acts as acts of terror. We blow up embassies and trains [and consequently] children, women, and citizens with no connection to our cause are killed, and then we protest when the world describes these extremists, who view themselves as Muslims, as terrorists.

"We do not ask ourselves why no other religious group perpetrates these acts of atrocity, and when a terrorist country like Israel does so, it does not say it is killing in the name of the Lord or in the name of Allah, but claims it is doing so out of self-defense. Why Allah is [held responsible] for our bad deeds and for our desire for revenge... Why don't we act like [Israel] and say that these acts are for self-defense or for defense of the homeland, without bringing Allah and Islam into it? Why don't we ever ask ourselves what are the roots of extremist thinking and why don't we try to deal with it? When other countries demand that we deal with these roots and reconsider them, we scream that they are intervening in our internal affairs and that they are the enemies of Islam. Why don't we ask ourselves whether anyone had demanded that we reconsider our curricula before we blew up the [World] Trade towers and killed thousands, and before we blew up the trains in Madrid and killed hundreds, and before we kidnapped hostages and slaughtered them on the TV screens, so that the entire world would see our ugly face?"

'Democracy is the Best Regime, and has Brought Progress and Prosperity to Those Countries that Have Adopted It'

"Why can our brain not understand that democracy has proven itself to be the best regime and that it has brought progress and prosperity to those countries that have adopted it? Why can our brain not understand that democracy is not just the election ballots, but is an entire framework, the most important [aspect] of which is freedom of choice, in religion, in belief, in attire, and in the freedom to express political and cultural opinions, even if they differ from what is accepted, as long as they do not incite to violence. Why don't we understand that democracy is complete equality between people, regardless of sex, color, or religion…

"We have reached a crossroads. If we want Islam as a political solution, not as a religion … we must be strong and admit honestly that Islam – according to the belief of groups of political Islam that follow bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri's organization – stands in utter contradiction to democracy in its true meaning… Let all the political Islamic groups, and first and foremost the 'Muslim Brotherhood,' cease their policy of concealing [their real opinions] and show their true faces [and reveal] that they are trying [to bring] an Islamic rule that at best will be no different from Iran, and at worst, [no different] from the Taliban…

"However, if we want a democracy, we cannot avoid agreeing that religion must not [be mixed up] with politics, which is the expression of the people. Since most of our peoples are Muslims, they will not legislate laws that contradict the principles and spirit of Islam, and they do not need parties that claim to speak in the name of religion, [while in actual fact] they are appropriating it in the name of their political and mundane interests.

"Democracy has only one meaning: No party or political trend has [the right] to claim that it absolutely and everlastingly represents the people. Governing is a ball that we pass between ourselves… Citizenship, and its attendant rights and obligations, belongs to all those who live in the homeland, regardless of sex, color, or religion. The most basic civil right is the right to vote and the right to present candidacy to any public office, including the presidential office, whether man or woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, as long as they uphold the constitution and pledge not to change it, except through the means of change determined in the constitution itself, and to which the people have agreed.

"This is democracy. If we want a different regime, let us call it by any other name except democracy. Otherwise we will be using the tools of democracy in order to destroy it, just as those who conceal [their true opinions] in our world – and these are, regretfully, many."

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