WILLIAMSBURG -- The World Forum on the Future of Democracy that takes place in a few days will focus on Jamestown's contribution to democracy and the prospects for expansion abroad. Hundreds of delegates from around the world are expected to participate in a free and unfettered debate, presenting democracy in action.
Mitchell Reiss, vice president for International Affairs at the College of William & Mary, noted that the forum will probe how democracy "may have changed over time, what it means today to different peoples and cultures, and how best its blessings can take root and flourish in the future." To gain insight on a diversity of views that will be presented, retired Adm. James Loy, the former deputy secretary of Homeland Security, and Ingrid Mattson, the Canadian-born president of the Islamic Society of North America, agreed to interviews.
Loy was asked what kind of security measures would safeguard democracy from fanatical terrorists.
"I am convinced that 9/11 was one of those seminal events that has changed everything," he said. "Measures that we could count on even during the Cold War, such as diplomatic and economic engagement, are not in play anymore. It was a nation-state versus nation-state relationship, competing about who could outspend or out-survive each other.
The question was, Who would prevail, democratic capitalism or communist dictatorship?" He sees a brand new challenge of a confrontation between dramatically different ideas. Ours is based on values of liberty, freedom, democracy and life itself, while the other side rejects everything we hold dear.
"It is not a military challenge we are facing," Loy insisted. "What we need to do is to reaffirm the ideas embodied in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. We must also realize that our enemies are using the religion of Islam as a false pretense. The vast majority of Muslims around the world, from Morocco to Indonesia, uphold the same values about the sanctity of life as we do."
Loy reiterated that most of the tools we used in the struggle against the Soviet Union would not be effective in the fight against Islamic extremists.
"We have to develop an intellectual concept that will allow us to prove, day by day, that we do live up to the principles we believe in," he said. "The civilized world must act together and demonstrate that it is not willing to put up with the establishment of a terrorist-based caliphate from one corner of the world to the other. It is just unacceptable, and we must be in the business of selling the reasons why we found it unacceptable. We can do it by revalidating the ideas that were articulated by Madison, Jefferson and Lincoln. Ideas we, as a nation, try to live by."
Mattson, professor of Islamic Studies at the Hartford Seminary and the first woman elected president of the Islamic Society of North America, expressed similar views.
"My message is that Islam is perfectly consistent with democracy and that Muslim nations can coexist peacefully and productively in the modern world," she said.
She pointed out that since the early 19th century, Muslim scholars and reformers were able to draw upon the rich legacy of classical Islamic jurisprudence and political thoughts. They have developed new applications for general principles of responsible governance and religious freedom. She posed two questions: Why have so many Muslim nations not put those principles into practice, and why did so many political movements embrace religious identity that rejects these principles?
"Clearly, social and political progress was interrupted by many events, colonialism, economic imperialism, outside intervention and support for non-democratic leaders," she said. Mattson urges America to learn from our mistakes.
"We have to acknowledge the damage done to the democratic hopes of the Muslim people for short-term interest. At the same time, Muslim elites need to take responsibility for their societies."
The organization she leads, the Islamic Society of North America, is engaged in confronting Islamist extremist groups on three levels. On the political level her organization advocates democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and ethical relations between nations. On the social level, the fostering of compassionate societies, because extremism is fostered when individuals and groups feel alienated from the mainstream.
On the ideological level, she said, "We have addressed the sad reality that there are Muslims who advocate an interpretation of Islam that is anti-democratic, misogynistic, intolerant, violent and hegemonic. We have responded, confidently and authoritatively, by rejecting these interpretations. We have published fatwas and position papers on terrorism and extremism. We have developed programs for imams and other religious leaders to help them respond to the arguments and tactics of the extremists."
She intends to address as well the question of what the U.S. government must do to win the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world.
"Our actions need to be consistent with our rhetoric. We need to show that we value the lives of Muslims as much as we value the lives of other people. More than anything, if we are going to use moral or ethical language, our actions have to stand up to scrutiny. The Qur'an describes moral hypocrisy as the most vile of behavior.
The sad reality is that many Muslims see the U.S. government as hypocritical. We need to rebuild trust with actions that show our integrity."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times