An exploration of the classical Islamic logic of civility might contribute to developing a more critical assessment of globalisation, help to foster civility in its original meaning and to curb violence. In Islam, violence and civility, or war and peace, are human social phenomena that are bound by time and context, and are both envisioned as part of the development of human history, though peace is seen as a virtue and a goal. War and the resort to violence are seen as an evil but, because they are expected to occur, pre-emptive measures should be taken to manage and minimise them, with the aim of reaching a peaceful settlement. This is a major logic running through many aspects of the Sharia’a, whether ruling over personal disagreements within the family or violence erupting within the community and even in times of military conflict.

This notion that power and violence are opposites echoes similar distinctions that are to be found in both classical Islamic thought and in the ideas of the European Enlightenment. Classical Islamic thought distinguished between the realm of Islam dar al-Islam and the realm of war dar al-harb. The realm of Islam was a community characterised by a political authority, whose authority derived from the rule of law Shari’a and a social contract Bay’a. Islam was a system of values contained in the Qu’ran and the Hadith (the sayings and practises of Prophet Mohammed) and interpreted by scholars Ulama. It was based on a notion of human reason, later taken up in Enlightenment thought, which was derived from individual knowledge or awareness of God’s will that is imprinted on human consciousness. Within the realm of Islam, the use of force was condemned because violence causes instability, challenges the legacy of the elected authority and results in chaos and civil war (Bagh’ii, Fitnah). The towering Shafi’i jurist, Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi (d. 450/1058), includes among the definitions of the realm of Islam (dar al-Islam) not only legal conditions but also human and socio-political security dimensions; thus he defined the realm of Islam as any land in which a Muslim enjoys security and is able to protect himself, even if he is unable to promote the religion (Jackson 2002: 37). This is one of the definitions used by contemporary scholars to explain why Muslims in the West should be loyal to the nation states in which they live, even if those countries are not Muslim majority countries. The realm of war referred to an arena of irrationality and ignorance where there was no single political authority, and tribal conflict was endemic; and it was vis-à-vis foreign political enemies that war was permitted under certain circumstances.

In 2007, the most interesting frontline for investigating this phenomenon is what has been called the ‘global jihad’, with its dogged commitment to integrating highly professional media production, particularly on the Internet, into its core activities. The interest is both epistemological and political. Jihad media presents a basic challenge to the will-not-be-televised paradigm, and in doing so encourages reflection on what advocates of global civil society had hoped for, or expected, from a more accessible and pluralised media, whether television or the Internet.

1. Western liberal ideas

This group of ideas is pursued by Western liberals in a non-Western setting have campaigned for democratisation based on the defence of the political and civic rights. They are a small but visible minority threatened with severe persecution by their rulers. Their language is the language of democracy, rights and the rule of law. Perhaps the embodiment of this set of ideas is Aung San Suu Kyi, who has become a global symbol for a non-violent struggle for democracy and against repression in Burma, on a par with the South African leader Nelson Mandela. For most of the time since the 1990 electoral victory of her National Democratic League (NLD), which the military junta refused to recognise, Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for her beliefs. The Lady, which is how the Burmese call her in deference, describes what she is fighting for:

Genetically engineered civil society

Katherine Verdery (1996) contends that since the demise of communism, Western capitalist societies have come to believe that they have a monopoly on truth and can therefore dispense wisdom about how to build the ‘proper’ forms of democracy and capitalism. This, the critics charge, led to the promotion of a single (i.e.Western) model of civil society that ignores other traditions and understandings (Parekh 2004: 22). According to Thomas Carothers, ‘Democracy promoters pass through these countries [in Africa, Asia and the Middle East] on hurried civil society assessment missions and declare that “very little civil society exists” because they have found only a handful of Westernised NGOs devoted to non-partisan public-interest advocacy work on the national side’ (Carothers 1999: 248). Since donor-defined civil society (that is, professional NGOs) did not exist in many places or was believed to have been tainted, donors engaged in a process of building society from scratch (Mandel 2002: 282).

Challenges and obstacles to democracy promotion

Cultural barriers

In analysing why the transitions to democracy have not yielded the expected results, a common claim is that a society’s propensity or ‘fitness’ for democracy is predicated on its cultural and geographic proximity to the West (Nodia 2002; McFaul 2002). Ernest Gellner (1994), for instance, argued that the concept of civil society is inapplicable in certain contexts, including in non-Western patrimonial societies and in tribal societies (Gellner 1994). He questioned whether civil society could exist in Islamic societies. Others, such as Elie Kedourie or Serif Mardin, have also claimed civil society is a Western dream that does not translate well into Islamic society (Mardin 1995, quoted in Sajoo 2002) or that Muslims have nothing in their own political traditions that is compatible with Western notions of democracy (Kedourie 1992). Meanwhile, in the context of the post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe, ‘transitologists’ often ‘invoke “culture”, that amorphous, omnibus concept’ as an explanation for why certain Western policies or blueprints have been resisted (Burawoy and Verdery 1999: 14). For instance, in Bosnia, culture or ethnic mentality were cited as reasons for the inability to embrace civil society development and democratisation. David Chandler discusses the disparaging ways in which the Bosnian people and society were viewed by some international actors and internationally funded local NGOs. They perceived Bosnian society as ‘deeply sick’, ‘feudalistic’ or as ‘the flock’ (Chandler 2004: 240–1). He argues that this focus on the perceived incapacities of Bosnians is only one side of the story and that greater attention must be paid to the ‘failing within international democratisation practice itself’ (Chandler 2004: 228).

While the growth and presence of NGOs is undeniable, increased activism should not necessarily be seen as the result of democracy promotion programmes for two reasons. First, much of the civil society activism at the global level comes from organisations based in or operating in the global North; far fewer Southern organisations are engaged in lobbying and advocacy at the global level. It still tends to be the ‘usual suspects’ (that is, well-established, Northern-based organisations) that are engaged in global activism and included in consultations with intergovernmental organisations. For instance, only 251 of the 1,550 NGOs associated with the UN Department of Public Information come from the global South; the remainder are NGOs from the global North (Wild 2006).

While scholars continue to debate the virtues, relationship and contributions of civil society to democracy (Chandhoke 1995), in the 1990s donors began actively supporting civil society strengthening programmes, driven by the belief that the relationship between civil society and democracy is natural and inevitable (Howell and Pearce 2002: 51). Driven by policy influenced by neo-Tocquevillian thinking, it was believed that through financial and technical assistance to civil society, democracy could be built. When conducting interviews with donors in Armenia in 2002–3, I was struck by the fact that none of my respondents from donor agencies who were engaged in democracy promotion programmes ever questioned whether civil society should be strengthened as part of their democracy building efforts; the question was always how it could best be done. Indeed, as the transitions progressed in all the former socialist countries, the radical democratic ideas and visions of civil society that had emerged in the 1980s dissipated, giving way to more established and less revolutionary neo-liberal ones. Subsequently, civil society became a project that was implemented in the name of democracy building, which eventually led to the projectisation of civil society (Sampson 2002). While this approach has led to the phenomenal growth in the number of NGOs, it has not generated genuine participation or public debate. The following quote, cited by Timothy Garton Ash from an Eastern European colleague, sums up the projectisation which occurred in the 1990s: ‘We dreamed of civil society and got NGOs’ (Garton Ash 2004).

Nearly two decades have passed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and presently there is widespread acknowledgement that democracy promotion efforts in various regions, including the former Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, have failed to produce democratic regimes, and that the anticipated vibrant, independent civil societies do not exist. Even in countries where civil democracy promotion efforts are considered a success (for example, Eastern Europe) there is growing cynicism towards civil society (Hann 2004: 47). Furthermore, there is a rising backlash against democracy promotion as the euphoria and optimism that accompanied the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War have been replaced by disillusionment. In spite of the emerging pessimism and backlash, donors and policy makers describe democracy as a universal value and right (Ferrerro-Waldner 2006; McFaul 2004: 148; UN Democracy Fund [UNDEF] URL). Such is the popularity of democracy today that even ‘despots’ (Rieffer and Mercer 2005: 385) and ‘tyrants’ (McFaul 2004: 151) who are suspicious of Western-led democracy promotion, pretend to be democrats or claim they are charting an evolutionary (or revolutionary) transition to democracy.