Political Instrumentalization of Islam and the Riskof Obscurantist Deadlock
Centre of Research for Development Economics (CRED), University of Namur, Belgium
The empirical literature has established a strong link between being a Muslim country and indicators of political perfor-mance and democracy. The idea of the
clash of civilizations
put forward by Samuel Huntington and applied to Islam by BernardLewis and others points to unique aspects of the Islamic religion and culture that make the advent of democracy especially diﬃcult.In this paper, I show that there is a systematic misconception about the true nature of the relationship between Islam and politics:far from being fused into the religious realm, politics tends to dominate religion. Because of some characteristics, namely the lack of a centralized religious authority structure and the great variability of interpretations of the Islamic law, there is a risk of an
in the form of a vicious process whereby both the ruler and his political opponents try to outbid each other by using the reli-gious idiom. This risk looms particularly large in crisis situations accentuated by international factors such as witnessed during the sec-ond half of the 20th century. From a short comparative analysis, it is however hard to conclude that unique aspects of the Islamic faithare ultimately responsible for the persistent autocratic feature of Muslim polities.
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— religion, political economy, despotism, instrumentalization, Islam
A rapid overview of the quantitative literature
Cross-country regressions that attempt to explain diﬀerencesin economic growth and political performances among coun-tries of the world have become a familiar exploration tool toinvestigate the inﬂuence of particular factors, such as physicaland human capital, institutions, abundance of natural re-sources, initial conditions. The role of religion has also beenexplored in this manner, and since the Muslim world has re-cently attracted much attention due to the widespread inﬂu-ence of radical Islamist movements, the disproportionaterepresentation of Islam in religious civil wars from 1940 to2000 (Duﬀy Toft, 2007, pp. 97, 98), and the perceived stateof crisis in many of its parts, the possible adverse eﬀects of Is-lam on economic and political achievements have been underparticular scrutiny. The central lessons from these eﬀorts canbe summarized as follows.To begin with, no clear conclusion emerges from the study of the impact of Islam on economic growth and development. Forexample, LaPorta, Lopez-de-Silanes, Shleifer, and Vishny(1997) found that countries in which allegedly more dominanthierarchical religions (Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity,and Islam clubbed together) dominate are less eﬃcient in termsofa numberof politicaland economicindicators (pp. 336, 337).Barro and McCleary (2003) only partly agree since they foundthat Hinduism, Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestant-ism arenegatively associatedwith
income growth rel-ative to Catholicism. As for Sala-i-Martin, Doppelhofer, andMiller(2004),whousealargersample,theyproposeadiametri-callyoppositeresultinthesensethatIslamnowappearsasapo-sitive rather than a negative factor for growth.This is conﬁrmed by Noland (2005, 2008) for whom the no-tion that Islam is inimical to growth is not supported by hisdata. If anything, the eﬀect is positive rather than negative(at least when the sample consists only of developing coun-tries). As for Pryor (2006), he reaches the conclusion that nospecial Islamic economic system can be isolated on the basisof a cluster analysis and data on 44 economic institutions usedto deﬁne economic systems. Moreover, the share of Muslimsin the population is unrelated to the presence or absence of most particular economic institutions and, when the sampleis limited to developing countries from which Muslim coun-tries that are too small or too rich (from oil resources) are ex-cluded, it does not explain variations in economic growthperformances.The inﬂuence of Islam seems to be much clearer on politicsthan on economics. Indeed, the available evidence convergesto suggest that Islam is negatively related to political perfor-manceasmeasuredbysomeindexofdemocracy.Thus,whetherdemocracyismeasuredbythePolityIVindex,
or the Freedom House index,
it appears tobesigniﬁcantlylessdevelopedinMuslim-dominatedcountries.
ItbearsemphasisthatscoresofdemocracyarenotonlylowerinMuslim than in non-Muslim countries, but also in Arab than innon-Arab countries.Thus, the so-called MENA Development Report of theWorld Bank focuses on comparisons between the Middle East
*This paper has been commissioned by the European Commission asbackground material for the European Report Development (ERD) de-voted to fragile states (it is accessible on the ERD website). It was ﬁrstpresented at the Conference on
Rethinking Ethnicity and Ethnic Strife
(Central European University, Budapest, 25–27 September 2008), andthen, under a slightly diﬀerent version, at the ERD conference (Barcelona,May 7–8, 2009). Thanks are due to Gani Aldashev, Franklin Allen, Jean-Paul Azam, Pranab Bardhan, Abhijit Banerjee, Sam Bowles, Erwin Bulte,Michael Castanheira, Hadi Salehi Esfahani, Shailaja Fennell, AhmedGalal, Najib Harabi, Taher Kanaan, Stephan Klasen, Timur Kuran,David Laitin, Samir Makdisi, Dilip Mookherjee, Mustapha Nabli, JamesRobinson, Andre´ Sapir, Norman Schoﬁeld, Rohini Somanathan,Anthony Venables, Thierry Verdier, and Karim Zouaoui, for their rem-arks and suggestions on previous versions of this paper. We are also highlyindebted to anonymous referees from this Journal whose comments andsuggestions led to the present version. Final revision accepted: November12, 2009.
Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 243–260, 2011
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