Executive Summary




Islam and Democracy: Collision or Co-Existence?

(16 June 2003)


·        This one day conference was held to address the central question of whether Islam and democracy are compatible with each other.  The three featured speakers felt that accommodation was possible, but made heavy qualifications.  A summary of the key points and highlights of the conference appear below.


·        The keynote speaker, Professor Amin Saikal, Director of Middle Eastern Studies, Australian National University, spoke to the topic of “Making Sense of 9/11 in the Context of Islam’s Relations with the West”.  Saikal opened by noting that despite declarations by President Bush (and others) that Islam is not the enemy in the war on terrorism, and a stated wish to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis once and for all, that there was still a large amount of suspicion within the Muslim world about the intentions of the West (and in particular, the U.S.). 


·        Equally, many in the west are also suspicious of the Muslim world, and Saikal stated that there are three views that have emanated from the west:  (i) the view espoused by Bush and Blair that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam, seeking to stress the non-religious, non-ethnic, non-racist aspects of the anti-terror campaign; (ii) the view put forward by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that the west is culturally superior to the Muslim world; and (iii) the opinion that Islam itself is the creator of terrorism (ref. Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberston, and Representative Tom Lantos). 


·        Saikal also explained reactions in the Muslim world to the west, and established a typology of groups that are antithetical to the west: moderate Islamists, radical Islamists (namely those that advocate violence, such as bin Laden), Conservative Neo-fundamentalists, and “grassroots” opinion which merges an Islamic identity with a nationalist concern over western domination.