The Brexit victory in the EU referendum and the subsequent frenzy caused by Remainers has highlighted the fallacy of liberal democracy, writes Abdullah al Andalusi.
Some people have found it difficult to criticise the philosophical underpinnings of Democracy in the past. However, after the Brexit vote, suddenly, criticising Democracy has become all the rage – with non-Muslims speaking the loudest about its flaws.
The Brexit was campaigned for vociferously from the rising movements for nationalism in the UK. However, this nationalism, led notably by demagogues, did not allow many of the UK public to see the full diplomatic and economic impact of their decision. Indeed, scaremongering stories of ‘European immigrants taking over the UK’ did not match reality of statistics or economics. However, due to rising pressure, the UK government had to concede to a referendum, and the result of a (slight) majority vote for UK’s exit of the European Union has produced significant political consequences. These consequences have led many of the pro-Brexit public to request another referendum, as they apologetically argued that they voted without thought, or that they were lied to by their demagogues. Furthermore, the resurgent UK nationalism whipped up by the Brexit vote had led to the confidence in many xenophobes to publicly declare their racism and hatred, leading to many attacks on perceived immigrants.
The Brexit vote has led many to question the wisdom of allowing the general public to decide matters of politics – leading many to openly criticise Western Democracy.
Of course, the modern system of elections in the West is not Democracy. Democracy was better epitomised by the Athenian system of Ancient Greece, where the citizens were allowed to vote on any law and any policy, all the time.
There were no leaders. Some may imagine that total chaos – and racist/xenophobic induced oppression of minorities – might result, and indeed it did (unless the minorities in question were slaves serving the majority). In fact, most of the founding fathers of the Western ‘Enlightenment’ age (Burke, Jefferson, and Madison etc) were completely against Democracy for their political systems. Instead, they argued for a system called Republicanism (i.e. elected officials who will rule and think on the public’s behalf), or a ‘mixed constitution’. During the 19th century, Republicanism was re-labelled ‘Democracy’, and has gone by that name ever since.
In fact, so untrusting of the ‘mentality of the mob’ where the founding fathers and other influentials, which almost the entire system of Western government is, designed specifically to prevent ‘rule of the mob’. In the U.S., the constitution acts to prevent minority rights being taken away. In France, the constitution does the same, and a constitutional council (formed of ex-presidents and unelected appointees) were created to safe-guard it. In the U.S. the Supreme Court safeguards the constitution, and uses unelected judges appointed by the President (but must be confirmed by the Senate). In the UK, there is no constitution, but there is what’s called an ‘unwritten constitution’ which consists of the legal traditions, understandings and values that have been developed and preserved since at least the ‘enlightenment’ era of European history. This ‘constitution’ is safe-guarded by the House of Lords, but primarily by the Supreme Court, whose members are unelected judges appointed by the unelected UK monarch. Of course, this appointment is usually determined ‘on the advice’ of ultimately a selection committee.
In the UK, the House of Lords are unelected (and include members of the Anglican Clergy), who perform the same function. In France and America, members of the Senate are not directly elected by people, but by other elected officials.
In France, the President is elected directly, but this is separate from general elections. In America, the President isn’t directly elected, but elected by other elected officials. Whereas in the UK, the Prime Minister is never elected (he/she is elected within their own party – if it is the leading majority in British Parliament).
All these systems are designed to prevent laws and policies being directly controlled by the will, or whim, of the people. Even the Brexit referendum is non-binding (it will require the House of Commons to vote on it).
Of course, the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the UK House of Commons, and the French National Assembly are directly elected. However, this process is not without some means of control. Well funded political parties have access to resources that can promote a candidate to their regional electorate, make them well known, and supply them with experienced image advice, research and propaganda that give the partisan candidate a marked advantage over any local independent candidate. Political candidates then have to pretend to please as much of their electorate as possible, by in essence ‘saying yes’ to every contradictory demand. This rightfully has produced a perception that politicians are liars. However, once parties have chosen candidates to be elected in each area, upon election, these candidates have to ‘toe the party line’ in order to continue receiving funds for their next election in their area.
However, there is a key problem in such a system, Parties have particular agendas and ideological goals, but all generally require donations and contributions to fund their business of candidate promotion.
Businesses and wealthy elites can make deals with parties to produce advantageous legislation and policies in return for their ‘financial investment’.
Businesses and other wealthy interests fund political parties, and therefore influence policy. In fact, businesses and elites generally create multi-million dollar/pound/euro lobbying industries, which pressure the elected candidates and ensure they live up to their side of the deal. Lobbies are the most influential groups in Western ‘Democracies’, which has led many critics to notice the financial elite-centric nature of many governments.
All in all, Democracy as the Athenians would understand it, doesn’t exist. Western ‘Democracies’ are just labels to manage the people, because the people were never trusted by the enlightenment thinkers to rule themselves. One wonders what they would’ve made of the Brexit. However, if Western governments were ruled PURELY based upon ideals and principles, that wouldn’t be much of a problem – but it is the elite lobby groups motivated by Capitalism (another product of the Enlightenment) that perverts what would’ve been a well intentioned system. One need only look at the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, a renowned principled leader of the current UK Labour party (which is opposing the current majority party). Labour’s ties to businesses and lobbies have caused endless opposition to arise against Corbyn from within his own party – making his job of helping Britain’s worst off, much harder. All this is despite the fact that Corbyn has always stuck to his principles and won the election to lead his party.
All these bring food for thought for Muslims and others. Although the political systems of Western states are ingeniously designed, without guidance and purpose, there is no escape from partisan interests or self-interest endlessly controlling the direction of government policies to the detriment of the workers, weak, poor and minorities. In an Islamic system, officials are elected too, but based upon record and trustworthiness, not election promises.
In contrast, in Islam, people cannot ask for power, so election candidates can only be nominated and cannot self-promote themselves for political power. The ‘constitution’ of an Islamic government includes the totality of the Shariah, which unlike Western constitutions, is very wide in scope. Like in the West, the people are generally not consulted on the laws over them, and never make the laws. The law is determined independently by jurists. However, unlike many Western systems, Islam urges that people are consulted on their needs and requirements (e.g. housing, health care etc), and government policy can be determined by such consultations (shura).
The Islamic political system allows people to elect a Caliph. Once elected, the Caliph is in power for as long as they are just and competent at their job.
Once they fall below this, they can be removed by an Islamic high court (Mahkamah al Madhalim). A number of Ottoman Caliphs were removed in such a manner.
The Islamic system therefore cannot be controlled by business interests, elites or oppress minorities due to mob rule.
What need would a Caliph have of bribes for his future election campaigns, when he is office for life (or until he becomes unjust and incompetent)?
How would the mob force a Caliph to deny minorities rights, if they have no way to get fascist parties into power?
How could Fascism even get into power, when the Shariah prohibits it even if there was a scenario where 90% of Muslims were in favour? The problem in the West is that they confused the concept of political power structure with the criterion of justice. Whereas in Islam, the power structure exists purely to serve Islam’s criteria of justice.
If Muslims could establish such a system in Muslim lands, it would be an amazing example for the world to consider.
Abdullah al Andalusi is the founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative. He is an international lecturer, thinker, speaker and debater on Islamic and Muslim issues.