In This Review

Islam and Democracy
Islam and Democracy
By John L. Esposito and John O. Voll
Oxford University Press, 1996, 232 pp

By broadening the discussion of Islam and democracy beyond the Middle East to include Pakistan and Malaysia, the authors are able to point to Islamic movements that have been successfully incorporated into a pluralistic political process. (Turkey might also have been included in this category.) The more familiar cases of Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, and Iran are less promising, although the authors go to great lengths to show that Islam per se is not the problem. If there is a central theme here, it is that regimes get the kinds of opposition they deserve. If they treat Islamists harshly, they will get radical movements; if they are more accommodating, moderates will prevail. This contention might be more convincing if not for the discussion of Hassan Turabi of Sudan, which tries to show that Turabi and his followers are trying to create a nonsectarian, populist, and federalist politics that would be compatible with democracy if only the civil war could be brought to an end. The authors suggest, in other words, that the concept of democracy is so contested that there is no need to exclude Turabi and his ilk from the fraternity just because they are trying to impose their will on non-Muslim southerners. This perspective pushes cultural relativism close to apologetics and, at a time of religious resurgence in much of the Muslim world, detracts from an otherwise sensible discussion of reform in failing political systems.