From Olivier Roy’s article:
The longstanding debate over whether Islam and democracy can coexist has
reached a stunning turning point. Since the Arab uprisings began in late
2010, political Islam and democracy have become increasingly
interdependent. The debate over whether they are compatible is now
virtually obsolete. Neither can now survive without the other.
Olivier Roy’s ideas have been much discussed here. I read his Globalized Islam, the Search for a new Ummah, back in 2006. His name comes up often because he is among the most optimistic of the experts on Islam. He is probably the most famous of the optimistic commentators.
Also, Francis Fukuyama in his America at the Crossroads invoked Roy as representing his personal view about the condition of Islam, Islamism, etc. This isn’t surprising, although most people would place Fukuyama on the Right because Fukuyama argued in his The End of History that Liberal Democracy had defeated its rivals Communism and Fascism and there was nothing else out there but dibs and drabs that would be swept up by Liberal Democracy in the course of time. His The End of History was written in 1992 and at the time he saw no reason to take the Islamist threat seriously.
Of course if Fukuyama did take the Islamist threat seriously he would have to revise his “end of history” thesis and move a bit closer to the theory (Clash of Civilizations) of his mentor Samuel P. Huntington.
The “Islamism is a threat” versus the “Islamism is not a threat” debate does not break down cleanly into Left and Right camps. Olivier Roy and Francis Fukuyama argue that Islamism is not a (strategic) threat, but notice that they are both concluding that Islamism is not a threat to Liberal Democracy.
If we were to construct a spectrum of the views regarding Islamism, we would put “threat” at one end, quantified let us say as 10 and “not a threat” at the other, quantified let us say as “0.” Many earlier commentators (close to the “0” wing) wanted to see Islamists as just another “wretched of the earth” group, i.e., to view it in Marxist’s terms. Others thought that while it isn’t a serious threat, Liberal Democracy deserves some abuse for all the evil it did to its opponents over the years.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who believe we are in a life and death struggle. There is an international conspiracy involving dedicated groups bent upon the destruction of the West. Oriana Fallaci and Bat Ye’or are examples of that extreme.
In my own case I have fluctuated between, perhaps, 5 and 7, arguing that Roy and Fukuyama may be right but it is too soon to tell. Also, it is never prudent to assume that a declared enemy is in reality either benign or inept. Prudence demands that a nation’s leaders take declared threats seriously.
In Roy’s article we see “liberal” indications in the Islamic world, e.g., the advancement of women’s rights, but notice that he also says that the Xenophobia against the West has not abated. Throughout the Islamic world, hatred against the West, especially the U.S. and Israel has not diminished. So there is no reason to believe quite yet that a cornerstone of the Liberal part of Liberal Democracy, “tolerance,” is under construction. After all, the Soviets marshaled their women as did the Fascists. Granting equal rights for women does not necessarily make a nation more liberal.