Alfred Stepan, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Tolerance and Religion at Columbia University, told an Indonesian audience the myth that democracy and Muslim religion being incompatible is just that– a myth. He pointed out there is a significant difference between the practice of democracy in Arab nations with other nations in which Muslims are in the majority. “So if you focus on Arab countries, you’ll get a total misconception.” He argued that Americans tend to equate Arab nations with their notion as to what is the Muslim religion and this leads to misunderstanding about the nature of Muslim life in the world even though Arabs make up only 22% of Muslims. In reality, half of all the world’s Muslims, 600 million people, live in democratic, near-democratic or intermittent democratic states. He pointed out to his Indonesian audience, “In Indonesia, Muslim identities are often moderate, syncretic and pluralist.”
Americans frequently fail to recognize the fight for democracy has been an ongoing process for hundreds of years and only recently has it become commonly accepted as the norm in such regions as Europe. The myth of Muslims being unable to accept democracy serves the Bush administration well because it wants to demonize its opponents by attempting to convey the image they are terrorists because of religion rather than for other reasons.