The other day I commented on Shadi Hamid, who wants the United States to engage with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Hamid’s views have been well received at the centrist Democrat, Progressive Policy Institute, which may have substantial influence on a prospective Clinton administration.
When I first heard Hamid present his ideas, he offered an interesting argument. Although Hamid said that the folks at National Review—and their readers—are a bunch of illiberal bigots, he still thinks Republicans ought to be allowed to participate in America’s democratic process. Given the illiberal nature of America’s Republicans (and the generous willingness of authentic democrats like Hamid to allow Republicans to continue to field candidates), why should we worry about including the admittedly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood in the democratic process in Egypt? At the time, I thought Hamid had to be joking, but it’s now apparent that he actually puts stock in this argument. In his latest reply to me, Hamid says the following:
The Muslim Brotherhood is not an ideal ally. They are far from liberal, something which I’ve noted in nearly every piece I’ve written on this topic. (It’s a different issue, but I don’t think the Republican party is liberal either, as they refuse to ban torture, have little respect for separation of powers, have stacked our bureaucracy with people who put party over country, and believe in something called the “unitary executive” which is more frightening than anything I’ve seen the [Muslim Brotherhood] put out in their election programs).
So Hamid actually seems to believe that American Republicans are no better adapted for participation in a liberal democratic polity than the mother of all Islamist organizations, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. This does seem to explain why Hamid is incapable of even recognizing, much less engaging, the cultural argument against his views that I’ve offered. Hamid wants me to comment further on his various writings, yet he can’t see the broader objection to his approach that I’ve already raised. After all, from Hamid’s point of view, if American Republicans and Egyptian Islamists are equally handicapped when it comes to the classic liberal values that democracy depends on, how could there even be a cultural argument against Islamist democracy?
I don’t think Hamid is remotely close to recognizing, much less making sense of, the gulf between us. I suppose he could read some of my pieces on democratization and/or Muslim cousin marriage, but I wonder if the points would register. So let me put the problem another way: During Hamid’s lecture at the Progressive Policy Institute, someone seconded Hamid’s argument by citing polling data showing that ordinary Muslims rank religion relatively low on a list of why they vote for one candidate over another. According to the polls, kinship ties influence Muslim voting behavior even more strongly than religion, and more than almost any other issue. Supposedly, this poll result proves that we have little to fear from Islamist participation in elections. In fact, it shows that, in a fundamentally illiberal society, electoral democracy can function as a mere veneer.
To see the degree to which the battles between American liberals and conservatives are actually battles within
an overarching classically liberal sensibility, Hamid might want to read “Giving Liberalism It’s Due
,” by Peter Berkowitz. At any rate, until the day a Gallup poll finds American voters rating a candidate’s patrilineage and clan alliance as top campaign issues, Hamid’s comparison of American Republicans and Egyptian Islamists doesn’t have much validity.