The IEAs Islamic Foundations of a Free Society

Islamic World, Middle East, and Market Economy

Nouh El Harmouzi and Linda Whetstone, eds. “Islamic Foundations of a Free Society”. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs. 2016.

Book review by Devrim Ozkan*

“Islamic Foundations of a Free Society” provides a detailed overview of the political and economic ties surrounding Islam. In this book, Editors aim to construct a more detailed study of Islamic foundations of a free society. The Middle East and Islamic world got into a new era with the social and political developments started after the Arab Spring in Tunis on 17 December 2010 and the coup held by Abdulfettah el-Sisi in Egypt on 3 July 2013. When the “Western” governments that have promoted a democratic transition in the region since the Gulf War connived at the coup in Egypt, they have led many social, economic and political consequences that have supported illiberal developments in the region. Among these consequences, the crucial ones are the decrease of the faith in liberal and democratic values in Islamic communities and the rise of the radical political movements as a result of a vacuum of authority.

The popular and also academic prejudgements that assert democracy and the market economy cannot be developed in the Islamic geography are increasingly supported by Islamophobia. The universal and liberating vision of democracy has turned into a rationalization weapon to force the Middle Easterners to authoritarian governments. That is why the intellectual initiatives which might help to develop an understanding of a liberal state and an idea of pluralist society are undermined by Islamophobic prejudgements. Liberal ideals in relation to the Middle East generally create no more than xenophobic connotations.

The possibility of the dissemination of the liberal ideas in Islamic World is threatened by a distorted vision of liberalism. The distorted vision of liberalism depends on two basic mistakes concerning liberalism. The first mistake is the claim that liberal values are only specific to the Western culture, and the Muslims cannot abandon some of their aggressive cultural practices. This claim reduces liberalism to a kind of life-style and betrays the real success of the liberal initiative. The second mistake is related to the liberal criticisms of the Islamic governments. Pointing out the elected prime ministers of the Islamic countries, where none of the political institutions of the modern state has not sufficiently developed, as the omnipotent political leaders and expecting them to meet the Western political standards is a very bad version of Orientalism. Showing some of the illiberal politics of the Muhammed Mursi as a legitimization for the approval of the Western governments for the coup in Egypt is one of the biggest strikes to the liberal ideas in the Middle East.

It is partially possible to explain the international pressure on the Turkish government, which is accepted so quickly by the Western public opinion, developed during and after the “Gezi Parki Events” by this distorted vision of liberalism. The governments in developing countries more or less just the visible part of the state organizations which are controlled by many different organized groups. It is no good in picturing those governments as the biggest enemy of the rule of law and the separation of power which does not exist in the first place.

Unfortunately, central Western governments believed that they could build democratic liberal developments through changing political leaders and making legal regulations in some countries during the course of the Cold War. All the operations that were made by this belief failed to achieve their goals, as happened in the Gulf Wars. While Libya is occupied by the terrorist groups, Iraq is more and more becoming the playground of Iran. The inconsistencies of the foreign policies of the countries which are effective in the Middle East, especially the USA, increase the chaos and conflicts.

Western governments seem to like defending normative liberal principles, but it appears that they prefer to support the authoritarian governments which are more useful for the “national interest” of the Western governments. The massive immigrations and intensive terror events proved that the question of the Middle East cannot be detained in the Middle East. If the liberal theory cannot develop powerful explanations and policy offers concerning the developments in the Middle East, liberalism may lose not just in the Middle East but also in the lands where it had grown.


This book is an attractive book with many great views. The threat and the solutions concerning the liberal theory in respect to the Islamic World will be held on two main subject topics in this book. The first is the role of the rich and pluralistic Islamic civilisations with regard to the peaceful political change in the Islamic World. The second is the role of the free trade/market economy to develop a liberal political system. After witnessing the developments in the last decade, it is now clear that changing the political leaders are not the way to support liberal values in those countries. It should be obvious that a democratic and liberal political system cannot emerge through legislation.

This book will be particularly useful for researchers seeking to understand Islam in the context of free society. In this regard, we should believe that researches on the peaceful political power change through elections in the Middle East are very important without using the arguments of majoritarian dictatorship in democracies. We also believe that the best way to limit the political power in accordance with the liberal ideals is to promote free trade in developing countries. Market economy creates economic growth by enabling individuals to use their productive powers through production processes while improving private property and rule of law. Therefore, Western governments should accept the Middle Easterners as their equals by developing policies to improve their productive potentials, instead of planning external interventions.

(*) Devrim Özkan has been an associate professor at Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, İzmir Katip Çelebi University. He holds his Ph.D. in the field of Radio, Television, and Cinema from Ege University. He followed his studies with the post-doctoral studies on political science at the University of Buckingham. He still Works as a faculty staff at İzmir Katip Çelebi University and is interested in the subjects including sociology of art, identity problem, anthropological aspects of communication and history of thought.