Pragmatism, decentralization, and pluralism are typically associated with modern democracies. Yet these are also the attributes that make Islam a widely accessible political-cultural resource. Indeed, such attributes allow for multiple activisms while sparing activists the macro-coordination challenges that often hamper growing movements, and the inertia that can seize vertical organizations. But while Islamists across the spectrum have increasingly deployed this resource, secularists of various stripes have mostly eschewed it. The aggregate effect has been to amplify the voices and to raise the profiles of Islamist groups at the expense of self-described moderns and their secular ideologies. I call this Islamism's reverberation effect.
Deliberate integration of Islamic tradition with democratic thought
and action holds substantial promise. Pro-democratic Muslims, backed by
Islam's renovated classical principles and practices, can better
counter supremacist claims as they arise in the plural contestations that
Islam itself helps generate. They can also realistically seek a firm
consensus on the inviolable status of Islamic tolerance, which in turn can
serve as a functional equivalent to the central authority that Islam
lacks. Most importantly, by reconsidering the modernist ideational
boundary that separates religion and politics, pro-democratic Muslims can
begin to reclaim the transformative power of tradition.
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