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The conflict between Islam and democracy: the United Nations Charter

Talking about the conflict between Islam and democracy, it is needed to compare the main sources: the Qur’an for Islam and the Charter of the UN (a “superlaw”) for democratic nations, which was signed by the majority of Muslim states. Therefore they found themselves ruled by two contradictory laws
-> Charter of the UN (based on freedom of thought) v. shari’a (based on ta’a, obedience).

Haguza, in the stories for children, is a monster you hear about but no one has ever yet seen it. It is the paradigm of everything people don’t know and is at the same time frightening. The UN Charter, for most Muslims, is like Haguza: even if it was signed, it has never entered the public schools and still remains an “invisible object”, unknown for the majority of people and in some way feared.

The UN Charter (signed in San Francisco in 1945) had many Muslim countries as its original members, while others became part of it after their national independence, accepting the obligations of the Charter, including its superiority to all local laws.
The adoption (in 1948) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could have been the occasion to initiate a debate on freedom of thought and religion. However, most Muslim countries decided to “hide” these general laws and to renounce to promote the secularization of the state. There was no public explanation of the principles of participatory democracy, and this allowed many Presidents to stay in charge for an indeterminate period (like Kings).
This was (and still is) the approach of fundamentalists, who think that Islam needs a “totalitarian” system of control to be successful, as if it had nothing to offer to modern people. On the contrary, as Judaism and Christianity, it has to flourish in a secular state through the principle of tolerance.

Many Muslim states used amendments and reservations to the UN Charter (and following conventions) to avoid that citizens could ask for freedom or equality: they wanted their religious rules not to be called into question, creating a lot of confusion about the real meaning of the text. This shows Arab states’ radical rejection of the principle of equality. They needed to sign the Chart, but they couldn’t admit that shari’a was inconsistent with it. So they tried a formal balance through reservations, but it is only a masquerade to reaffirm the principles of ta’a (obedience) and ra’y (personal opinion).

Television might have been an ideal instrument for explaining the content of the Charter (also because American films are very diffused in the Middle East), but it wasn’t so. Only at the end of the 1980s it was possible to learn about human rights and freedom of opinion thanks to the efforts of intellectuals and university students. Ignorance is the main enemy of development: it is one of the consequences of “government fundamentalism”, i.e. the official culture that serves as a barrier against democratic education. This attitude, combined with the numerous religious TV programmes, led Arab countries to confusion and intolerance.


For Arabic people, words as ra’is (head) or malik (king) are traditional words. However, they are not used to ra’is al-jumhuriyya (president of the republic).
Jumhuriyya makes reference to the majority of people and to a wide consensus by a collectivity, but it says nothing about the limits of the power -> the focus is on the head of state (differently from the Latin meaning of res publica), which is vertically superior, a “master of the people”, and not on the limits of his power. Such an interpretation definitively erases any reference to plurality and democracy, going away from the real meaning of “republic”.

di Luca Porcella
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