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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Self-criticism and reconsideration - ii
By Rashid al-Ghannushi

Self-criticism and reconsideration - I

There shouldn't be institutions exclusively for Islamists. It's better to have nationwide institutions where everyone competes for their leadership. It is a waste of time to have a leftist student organization, an Islamic student organization, etc. The Islamic movement should not be an excuse to divide the people. All are Muslims, but the Islam of some needs a little rejuvenation. Even the idea of Islamic parties should be given up. While the word "Islamic" usually is prohibited for political reasons from being in the name of Islamic parties, that might actually be a blessing. Any party that the Islamists participate in must be an open, national party.

The fourth comment is on the current conflict between the Islamic movement and the secular state. The movement is being subjected to horrific amounts of violence and suppression. The question is: how should the movement respond to oppression by the secular state? Is state violence a justification for popular violence? There are many religious replies to this question; most do not condone violence against a government that calls itself Islamic. Pragmatically speaking, however, all of the episodes where Islamists responded violently to state violence have been negative. Popular violence, whether Islamic or otherwise, has not been able to damage any regime's standing. Leftists and Islamists have carried out violence, and it has led to nothing but disaster, as in Syria.

The Islamic movement must abide by peaceful methods. It must refuse all forms of military activity. This is the lesson we can learn from the Rafah Party in Turkey. The achievements of the Islamic movement were confiscated more than once by the military. Had the Islamists called for revolt against the army, it would have been utter stupidity and it would have been a catastrophe. 

The Islamic movement must abide by peaceful methods. It must refuse all forms of military activity. This is the lesson we can learn from the Rafah Party in Turkey. The achievements of the Islamic movement were confiscated more than once by the military. Had the Islamists called for revolt against the army, it would have been utter stupidity and it would have been a catastrophe. Today the Islamic movement in Egypt suffers from hard times, but its leaders refuse to be misled into violence. These regimes want the Islamists to enter the fighting arena, because the government has more resources. Violence is what these regimes specialize in, and they are rather creative at it. The arena of the Islamists is thought, and that is where the rulers are bankrupt. We should not be pulled into a field where they will surely win.

The fifth comment deals with democracy. Many Islamists associate democracy with foreign intervention and non-belief. But democracy is a set of mechanisms to guarantee freedom of thought and assembly and peaceful competition for governmental authority through ballot boxes. The Islamic movement's negative attitude toward democracy is holding it back. We have no modern experience in Islamic activity that can replace democracy. The Islamization of democracy is the closest thing to implementing Shura (consultation). Those who reject this thought have not produced anything different than the one-party system of rule. 

The Islamists have two examples: Iran and Sudan. Both are searching for identity, searching for a modern Islamic form of government. We have no modern example for implementing Islamic government. The uneducated think that the Islamic program is a ready-made entity: stick it on the ground and implement it. I don't see any choice before us but to adopt the democratic idea. It might even be dangerous to ignore democracy. Even more dangerous is for the Islamic movement to reach a state where either it remains in power or it dissipates. The movement's options must be open to guarantee its existence. The ones who can gain the most from democracy are the Muslims; they should be most keen for it. They might come to power whenever free elections are held. The secularists are in the minority these days. They are the ones who have problems with democracy. They are preventing democracy in the Islamic world, because they would lose.

The Islamists have two examples: Iran and Sudan. Both are searching for identity, searching for a modern Islamic form of government. We have no modern example for implementing Islamic government. The uneducated think that the Islamic program is a ready-made entity: stick it on the ground and implement it. I don't see any choice before us but to adopt the democratic idea. It might even be dangerous to ignore democracy. 

The Islamic mind must adjust until it sees things in their real light. America, the Zionists, and the secularists are the ones afraid of democracy in the Islamic world. So why do you, brother in Islam, share this fear with them? Why are you helping them destroy this beautiful thought?

The Islamists must realize that, despite the achievements of the Islamic movement, the balance of power is simply not in their favor. The balance is in the secularists' favor. Governance might be something the Islamic movement cannot do alone. Maybe the better option is to participate in government as long as the balance of power is what it is. This would maintain the achievements that the movement has gained over time. Governing single-handedly would put the Islamists in the spotlight, and then isolation. Rather, they must open up to all the political forces and forge alliances with all national parties. Islam is facing the threat of Zionism. The Islamists must be looking for common ground to establish a dialogue with the national forces, even Western non-xenophobic streams of thought, to face the Zionist threat together. The Zionist threat is endangering the Islamic nation and the world, and is a threat to values, family and religion. It aims to get rid of everything good about humanity. 

We must work to lessen the conflicts between the Islamic trend and other political trends in the Muslim world. May God help us. 

"If anyone fears God, He will find him a way out for him that he never thought possible. If one trusts God, He will be enough for him." (Talaq: 2-3). Such promises must remain in our souls, and in the souls of the generations to come. The sun of Islam will shine the world over. 

But we must affirm the need to educate ourselves in Islam, fear God, observe the prayers, read Qur'an, and find time to feel God in our everyday lives. We must believe that, without God's presence, we cannot change any balance of power. "And God will have His way, but most people do not believe." (Yusuf: 21). 

One of the most important Islamic thinkers today, Shaikh Rashid Ghannushi is head of the Al-Nahda Islamic movement of Tunis. He now lives in exile in London. He supports coexistence and cooperation among cultures.
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