My new book, Religious Freedom In Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today, argues that the Muslim-majority world is not religiously free in the aggregate but that it does contain some religious freedom and that where religious freedom is lacking, Islam is not always the reason for its absence. Does Islam carry the potential for expanding religious freedom?
At 11:30 in the morning of December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a produce vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire in front of the local government headquarters in order to protest governmental corruption and in so doing provoked a historic wave of demonstrations and uprisings across the entire Arab world.
Did the Arab Uprisings succeed?
In the last two posts, I have argued that Islam is not hardwired for violence, but even a casual consumer of contemporary news in the West is likely to ask: What about the shootings by an Islamist in the nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016? Or the violence that Islamists have perpetrated in Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin, Fort Hood, Ottawa, Boston, and so many other places? Or the Islamic State? Or the attacks of September 11, 2001? A more informed observer might add this: What about the many Muslims around the world who have been victims of Muslim terrorism? These phenomena did not appear motivated by the rationales of religious freedom or secular repression, the political theologies that I have argued govern other patterns of Muslim-majority states. No, this violence appears motivated by the Islamic faith.
The secular repressive pattern in Islam follows the French Revolution and is a rival to the Iranian Revolution in its low levels of religious freedom. Most practitioners of the secular repressive pattern have been authoritarian rulers: Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Syria’s Assads. It is often through brutal force, including torture, that they restrict religion—and necessarily so because their populations are far more religious than they are.
From a satellite view, the Muslim world does not look religiously free. The picture seems to favor the view that I have called “Islamoskepticism.” Of 47 Muslim-majority states, 36, or almost three-quarters, have “high” or “very high” levels of religious repression according to the standards of the Pew Research Center.
When we zoom in closer, however, the picture is more diverse and does not so easily favor the Islamoskeptics.