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The Politics of Islam

Course Description

What is the role of Islam in the fight for democracy? This course will look at four Muslim-majority countries - Indonesia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt - and create a frame for understanding the complex interplay of religion and politics in the successes and failures of democratization. The class will discuss the work and ideas of democratic activists from the Islamic world, place those activists in the narrative of democracy and religion-state relations, and examine their opponents from both the secular and religious camps. The course will build on a foundation of the basics of Islam, democratization theory and social movement theory. And as we move from Indonesia to the Middle East, we will also examine the role of geopolitics in the crushing of democratic movements.

In Indonesia, a student-led uprising in 1998 ended Suharto's 32 years of jackboot rule. The nation's rocky path of democratization would not have been possible without the crucial contribution of Muslims promoting conceptions of Islam that are compatible with democratic values. In Turkey, the Justice and Development Party has evolved from its Islamist roots to embracing democracy as the ruling party, despite a backlash from Turkey's wary secularists and the ruling party’s dwindling commitment to democratic values. From our look at the role of Islam in furthering democratic politics in Indonesia and Turkey, the class will examine the opposite in Iran. We will look at the destruction of the Green Movement in the name of a theocratic Islamic state. These successes and failures will frame the ongoing drama in Egypt, where pro-democracy activists triggered Hosni Mubarak's ouster, only to see their aspirations wiped out in a military coup. We will explore what has happened in Egypt against the backdrop of a region consumed by civil wars, geopolitical rivalries, an anti-democratic backlash and fighters bent on creating an Islamic state. This course is part of the new Public Policy Major.