"All the beasts that roam the earth and all the birds that wing their flight are but communities like your own." (Koran 6:38)
"In reality it is the Real Who governs." - Ibn Arabi
"In the traditional societies, which changed little from one century to the next, the individual was protected by immemorial customs and by a social pattern which was thought to be inalterable. His rulers were equally bound by custom, their powers strictly limited... There was no need for 'democracy' as it is now understood..." - Gai Eaton
Few issues in the contemporary world are as crucial or as misunderstood as that of secularism and Islam. As is typical in the modern world, though, the lines that have been drawn in this important debate are false and misleading and systematically obscure the real dimensions of all that is at stake. In Western minds (and today many Muslims may have Western minds it should be remembered) the lines of division are between the ideal of the modern, secular, liberal-democractic, (and above all capitalist) state and hard core “Islamism", the reactionary imposition of a backward medieval theocracy. This division is therefore contextualized by the assumptions of the ideology of "progress", a pervasive historical theme in Western political discourse, with "secularism" as the force of progress and "Islamism" here an obstacle to it. Moreover, part of the ideology of progress is its presumed "inevitability". The historical trajectory of the West led, or seemed to lead, to the establishment of secular institutions: it is assumed that other civilizations are or should be following the same trajectory. In this view secularism was the solution that the West found to centuries of religious strife; secularists assume that it is a universal solution to a universal problem. In many quarters, the two camps are understood to be so starkly opposed that there is ultimately no choice between the two points of view: secularism is sane, Islamism is simply mad. But this assumes that "Islamism" speaks for Islam and that a state like Saudi Arabia is the alternative being offered to Western secularism. The debate takes the shape it does largely because the secularist camp constructs "Islamism" as a straw man. It is conspicuous, but historically consistent, that a cogent, intelligent, meaningful, critique of the Western secularist path and a forceful, accurate and worthy account of the Islamic alternative is never heard formulated in the West. It is simply not on the map. It is not allowed to be on the map. The West habitually stereotypes the Muslim world, only listens to the Muslim world's worst representatives, and then conducts its "debate" with those stereotypes. The purpose of the present paper, therefore, is to look beyond the false boundaries that are being drawn and to present the Muslim point of view - the traditional Muslim point of view - in simple and straightforward terms. It is hoped that this will provide both breadth and some new clarity to the debate.
In Western political theory, developing out of a quite unique history, governments make laws and weild sovereign authority. The history of the West is of powerful governments with sovereign authority to enact laws. The primordial model of this type of government is kingship, ultimately based, of course, in the notion of Divine right. Western political theory is a series of modifications and developments away from of that idea. In some cases the power of kings has been gradually restrained into constitutional monarchy in various forms, but only after great struggle and with great sacrifice. In other cases, also requiring wars and revolutions, the sovereign power of a king has been transferred to a President - the Republican model - but even this departure amounts to what is effectively an elected kingship with limited tenure. The spectacle of virtually all recent US Presidents systematically abusing the power of pardon - a royal perogative - illustrates this point. The history of the West is of absolute powers being gradually brought under the constraints of constitutional law. The Western narrative says that God gave kings the right to weild sovereign power. By extension God permits government and endows government with the right to legislate. This is what we might call the "Legislative" model of government. The main issue in Western political theory is what type of government weilds such extensive and potent authority and under what framework of "checks and balances".
But in Islamic political theory, and indeed in that of other civilizations too, government is not empowered to legislate in this way and the historical trajectory is not one of gradually restraining absolute power. Instead, there is a bedrock of Law (Shariah), itself sovereign and immutable, that is not subject to the whims of government. This body of Law protects ordinary people and their ordinary lives from government in a far more comprehensive way than the merely constitutional restraints of the Western systems. In this model, governments are merely empowered to judge, interpret and administer, but they do not enjoy sovereign power. Governments are as bound to the body of Law as are individuals and other institutions and therefore have, by definition, a more limited role than in all Western models. In some cases, such as that of Islam, this body of Law takes the form of, or more accureately has as its heart, a prophetic revelation. That is, it is received from God. More commonly, in other cases, this body of Law receives its authority from Ancestors and is then more what we understand as "custom" or "lore", but nevertheless a body of authoritative rules and social norms to which all, including governments, are subject. Of course, if we mean by "Law" something broader than formal law and include certain categories of "convention", then Western polities depend upon unwritten or implied conventions as do all societies. Yet in traditional Islamic life, in the Islamic ideal, and in other civilizations besides, the matrix of "convention" has an exalted and more defined role: it is considered inviolable in the same way that constitutions are considered inviolable in Western legal structures. Put simply, Muslims feel about the Shariah as Americans feel about the Constitution of the United States. Unlike constitutions, though, the Shariah embraces the whole of human social life within its scope, and has as its intention the shaping of Muslim social life down to its roots. It legislates on all things. It creates and sustains the common patterns of Muslim life: the removal of shoes at the door, the eating with the right hand, the prohibition of wine, the order of inheritance, the rules of divorce, and so on. It is comprehensive in its scope. Other civilizations, such as the Chinese, achieve the
same degree of cohesion and the same atmosphere of common encoded symbols more organically and by reference to tradition (ancestors). Islam entered history abruptly, and its manner has been to impose order upon chaos as Muhammad (the rasu'l = lawgiver) did to the Arab tribes, archetypally. It therefore takes a more formal structure - a developed jurisprudence that establishes a bedrock of Law governing all the patterns of life. To a large degree this bedrock of Law is, in theory, beyond the influence of government. The traditional Islamic view of government is pessimistic. Even the rule of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs at the very outset of Islam is understood as a rapid falling away from the ideal. Most government is and always has been bad. Government is an arena of manipulation. Power corrupts. Muslims pray for the salvation of their rulers because they pity them - rulership entails grave spiritual dangers for even strong souls. The best ruler rules reluctantly. In the Islamic view man is entirely given to thinking of himself as a demigod and assuming what are properly Divine powers. Traditional Islamic political doctrine is opposed in principle to royalty - and to forms of government devolved from royalty - because sovereignty resides with Allah: there is no conferring of Divine right. The Islamic notion of khalifa is not legislative. A khalif is merely "deputy" and administers for God Who is Lawmaker. In Western political and legal life we speak of an "act" of Parliament. In Islamic thought only God "acts" in the sovereign sense.
The practical difference between the two conceptions is well-illustrated by the recent controversies concerning same-sex marriage. Leaving aside the rights or wrongs of the issue, the issue makes obvious the fact that in Western political systems governments have the power to extend marriage to same-sex couples. In Islam this is unthinkable. Again, leaving aside the rights or wrongs of the issue, governments, by definition, simply do not have that power. God created and defined and legislated upon the institution of marriage - the Koran clarified the whole matter - and it is beyond the scope of government to change it.
Government may make different judgements, interpretations and administrative arrangements according to changing circumstances, - and in this there is often a great deal of leyway allowed in the name of wise government - but it cannot legislate on the issue. Consequently, in Islamic political theory it is far less important what type of government there is because the rule of Law allows only limited government. This is what is so utterly incomprehensible to the Muslim world about something like gay marriage - apart from the issue itself, it is incomprehensible (and undesireable) that government, per se, should assume that it has such a power. Can a government legislate that a Muslim can have five wives or six? This would exceed the very notion of government. Liberals in the West must appreciate that the historical response of the oppressed and downtrodden in the Muslim world, when they have been subject to despotic government, has not been to clamour for their despots to be subject to quite meager constitutional restraints but to cling to and insist upon - from "grassroots" as liberals say - the broad layer of Law that insulates most of the people from most of the governments most of the time.
As opposed to the Legislative mode of government developed as the norm in the West, and extended globally through Western colonialism and imperialism, traditional Islam proposes a model of Judicial government. The contrast is in fact a Biblical theme and has very deep roots. After the revelation of Mosaic
Law the Israelites enjoyed Judicial government - Deborah was a judge. Eventually, and inevitably, the Israelites clamoured to be like "other nations" - against God's wishes. The establishment of the kingship was morally and spiritually dangerous from the outset, and inevitably the kings grew corrupt, the prophets (as Islam notes) denouncing them. Biblically, Legislative government is a decline and a fall from Judicial government which is deemed superior. Historically, and anthropologically, most forms of government - consider the governance of Aboriginal tribal life, for instance - have been Judicial rather than Legislative. Islam has become the voice of this viewpoint because its historical mission was to globalize this viewpoint, absorbing the tribal (also nomadic) traditions into a "world" (the House of Islam) that, contrary to common Western understandings, often spread at "ground level" rather than "by the sword" from above. The spread of Islam in modern Africa is a contemporary illustration of the religion's continuing ability to absorb and integrate locally traditional and tribal structures at "ground level" through a common understanding of this broader notion of Law. This is not a role that Islam has only recently taken upon itself - this viewpoint was inherent in Islam from the outset and is integral to its most characteristic motifs and themes.
In this respect it is important to understand, further, that Islam and this viewpoint go yet deeper into the Biblical tradition, and not only in the Old Testament, for what became Islam is at its roots the prolongation of a judicial perspective in primitive Christianity, namely the so-called Ebionite or "Jewish-Christian"
point of view associated in the Christian tradition with the name of James the Righteous. The question of Law was the most primitive point of departure between the two perspectives that solidified into Christianity and Islam respectively. The Pauline settlement proposed liberation from Mosaic Law, while ironically (so it seemed to its opponents) advocating obedience to Roman law - the motif in Christianity promoted by the Protestants at the dawn of modern secularism and the theological basis of a secular order. The Jamesean point of view is that Christ mitigates the severities of Mosaic Law, but the more ancient covenants remain. This theological perspective in the Semitic religious environment was thwarted in Christianity but eventually took shape as the religion Islam. It is rarely appreciated that this divide has its basis in the primitive disputes recorded in the New Testament and in early Christian literature. There is clearly a connection between the secularizing historical outcomes of Western Christian civilization and the antinominal theological posture and rendering unto Caesar of Pauline Christianity. There is less obviously, but no less importantly, a deep connection between the Islamic advocacy of Judicial government and the Ebionitic viewpoint that opposed Paul. These issues are not superficial ones; they are expressions of fundamental, bedrock temperaments within the complex of Semitic monotheism and it is merely wishful thinking to suppose that one of them might simply go away.
The contrast between the Western Legislative notion of government and the Islamic Judicial model also exposes misconceptions underpinning the centuries-old Western critique of Islamic society: that it failed to develop a viable and enduring mode of government (unlike the Europeans, as the argument goes). Indeed, when the Islamic world was deprived of its own legal systems during colonial domination, there was no indigenous Islamic "model of legislative government" that could compete with imported European models, and there is not still. Attempts to reconstruct historical Islamic examples as proto-liberal democracies are forced and utterly unconvincing. The pristine commonwealth of the Holy Prophet was not a "government" of this type but, strictly speaking, a nomocracy. This indeed was the Prophet's political mission; not to establish a system of government but a system of Law to constrain all government. Attempts to "modernise" Islam, which here means forcing it to adopt models of Legislative government, are impoverished by the fact that the whole Islamic tradition offers no prototypes: its best historical examples are nomocratic. This is why popular resistance in Islamic countries tends to take the
form of pro-Shariah movements. It is, in the first instance, the wish that an historical disadvantage be removed. In fact, it must be admitted that most Muslims do not like or would not care to live under the severities of old-style, ossified Shariah - certainly not under the Shariah as it has been practised in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. It is not a particular application of Shariah but Shariah itself, the very idea of a layer of Law with constitutional force, that they want. And therefore an entirely different conception of government. In the first instance popular contemporary Muslim resistance to Westernization takes the
form of an urge for the Shariah. Then comes the struggle to reconfigure the principles of Koranic Law to the realities of modernity, a struggle which is and ought to be on-going in a living civilization and that cannot be avoided in any case. This would constitute a distinctly Islamic road to modernity which - as
all the evidence of what is now nearly two hundred years of violence overwhelmingly indicates - is what Muslims want - their own way, their own choice. Despite the immense pressure (backed by truly titanesque violence) the West has imposed upon the Muslim world in the modern era, the Muslim insistence on another way continues unbroken and unbeaten, persisting as if it grows out of the very soil of their lands. This is an expression of confidence in the very concept of Law. No intelligent Muslim supposes that the medieval codification of the Shariah is fully equipped to deal with the complexities of modern existence, but it remains a widespread intelligent Muslim position that the idea of Shariah itself is sufficiently rich - and flexible - to meet the challenge if it was allowed to be true to its own deepest principles. The notion of Shariah, that is, is capable of meeting the constitutional needs of the modern Islamic world.
But there is no avoiding the fact that this must entail a comprehensive legal reform in Islam itself. The contemporary reality is that, as a consequence of modern European domination and interference in Islamic society, Islamic law became ossified and literalist legalism has prevailed. The Wahabi movement (which financially dominates modern Islam) was exactly that: a complete ossification of Islamic Law in response to "modernity". Wahabism is a perverse, superstitious, calcified Islam, with an uncritical and unintelligent idolization of the Hadith literature and a fiercely anti-mystical, externalist ethos that betrays the spiritual treasures and saints of Islamic civilization. At a juncture where the Islamic world needed to reach for the wisdom of its best representatives and richest traditions, its holiest places were taken hostage by Wahabi fundamentalists gathered around a pseudo-monarchy. This type of Islam - earlier we called it "Islamism" - is not remotely what in this present paper we are calling "traditional Islam"; it should be considered a radical deviation from traditional Islam. The slogan "Islam needs a Reformation" is true in this application. Reformation is the only answer to ossification. It is necessary, for example, that those schools of jurisprudence that endorse reasoning and analogical thinking as methods of legal interpretation assert themselves in the contemporary context. This is not a gesture to Westernization - where reasoning is
plainly over-valued at the expense of more profound values - but a legitimate correction to a long period of paralysis. The paralysis cannot even be called "medieval" in the usual perjorative way. In almost all respects living medieval Islam was far better. It is most apparent in attitudes to other religions and in attitudes to women and sexuality - both cases where modern Wahabist legalism has hardened into forms far less flexible and tolerant and liberal than those that usually prevailed in medieval Islam. It is quite wrong to suppose that the Muslim world's desire to rediscover its own heritage rather than being forever a
second-rate imitation of European civilization will reinstate a vanquished barbarism. Muslims can have confidence in the humanity, wisdom and depth of their own heritage, which heritage has expressed its social and political genius throughout its whole history not in Legislative government but in Law.
Modernity, nevertheless, entails enormous dangers by its very nature. It is really the new barbarisms of technology, science, industrialization, beaurocracy, affluence, not the old agrarian barbarisms of a hungry past, that pose the greatest threats to contemporary mankind in the Muslim world as much as elsewhere. It is in this context that the whole question of "Tradition" becomes profoundly problematic. As the history of Europe in the twentieth century demonstrates, the greatest of monstrosities can be born from the idea of using the modern state as an instrument of reinstating or restoring "Tradition". The great temptation and pitfall for the modern Islamic world is the concoction of some combination of the traditional modes with the empowered nation state. This is a recipe for a type of Islamic totalitarianism, as we already know from numerous examples. We must remember that in the past the state did not have the means to oversee all of its citizens or to enforce even the holiest of laws upon all and sundry. By comparison the modern state has extraordinary policing powers and the technological and organisational means to impose a high degree of regulation. The harsh punishments and strictures of traditional Shariah codes must be understood in this context. In traditional societies, before the modern state, authorities only had the means and the will to prosecute the most flagrant and socially disruptive breaches of Law. To a large measure such traditional codes work by mutual and communal self-regulation rather than by means of an overseeing state with religious police. The religious police introduced to some modern "Islamic" states and polities to supposedly enforce "traditional" ways - some of the provinces of Malaysia, for instance - are profoundly non-traditional. In Western terms they represent the prime characteristic of "fascism", namely the use of the sovereign modern state, with all its hitherto unknown technological and beaurocratic muscle, to enforce traditional or traditional-seeming ideas. A fascist, by definition, is a "traditionalist" who fails to appreciate that the modern state is not in any way a traditional institution and so is incapable of "restoring" a traditional order - as if the imposition of "sanctity" by diabolical weaponry is not itself diabolical. Real sanctity, of course, grows and lives within a community and is largely self-regulating once the norms of Law are established. Traditional Islam, which yielded the brilliantly fertile civilization of the Middle Ages, has nothing in common with modern so-called "Muslim" states that turn the Shariah into a regime of stifling oppression. While history books are full of empires and kingdoms, in fact for most of human history most people have proven perfectly able to go about their own affairs with little or no institutional government - they were governed instead by Law. The modern Western model of government and law, in contrast, invades all dimensions of life. Increasingly, modern life in such societies is institutionalized from birth to grave. Compared to "such functions as were considered [the] proper business [of government] a century or more ago," as Gai Eaton writes, "government... in our time is omnipresent," and moreover, as he says, "it has adopted a fundamantally revolutionary role, arrogating to itself the right to change the very structure of society." This applies to all Western models, totalitarian to moderate, since what is called "government" also includes all the operations of the state on behalf of "corporations", legal entities born out of the quite sinister extension of "human rights" to so-called "corporate persons" - which (after "privatization") is quite blatently the residual function of government in the West now. Needless to say, under Shariah comes the Islamic financial and banking codes and the prohibition of - and the promise of freedom from - usury, an invasive disease against which the Muslim world offers almost the last pocket of systematic resistance.
Another historical and temperamental difference between the Islam and Western Christianity should be noted here. Put simply, religion in the Islamic world is primarily a social matter. In the West, it has become primarily an individual matter. This contrast has deep historical and theological roots as well. When the agents of the Spanish Inquisition interogated their suspects, it was not their social observance of Catholicism that was at issue - the Inquisitors wanted to know what was in the suspects' "heart of hearts". The context of this was the forced conversion of Spanish Muslims to the Catholic faith during the Reconquista. The Inquisition (the apparatus of which paved the way for many features of the modern state, by the way) was concerned to identify those "Moriscos" for whom conversion was only a show and who, while they attended Mass and baptised their children, continued to harbour Islamic sympathies in their hearts and homes. Christ said that whomsoever commits adultery in his heart commits it in fact. While this may express a spiritual truth, it is monstrous to demand such purity of heart in a social order. The Islamic tradition has taken quite a different approach to such matters. The important thing has been the maintenance of Islamic society. In general, so long as a man did nothing to upset the Islamic social order, the content of his heart was entirely between he and God. Significantly, medieval Christian sources are often scandalized by this fact. This is the source of the long-standing Christian characterization of Islam as a hypocritical body of empty praxis: if a man does his prayers, goes to mosque and governs his family well, it matters not at all what he believes. The accusation is that Islam condones works without faith. This indeed was a crucial factor in the counter-Islamic dimensions of the Protestant revolt. There are no instances in Islamic history - at least before the modern era - where Muslims were systematically interogated regarding their innermost beliefs; only actual transgressions of the social code were prosecuted and even then usually only in cases that threatened social equilibrium. There is a stark contrast between public and private life in Islam that provides, in a way, the Islamic counter-position to "secularism"; it is like an inverse "secularism" where public life is dominated by religion (Diin) but where private life is a distinct realm in which the individual and family abide unmolested by intrusive institutions. The removal of shoes at the door ritualizes this distinction, as does the veiling of women when they move beyond the veil of the private world. It is a distinction integral to Islam. It is notable that the drift of Western societies in recent times has been towards the obliteration of any such distinction. Since we have already raised the issue of "gay rights", let us note the phenomenon of "outing", for instance. A mentality has taken hold in the West whereby whatever exists in the private world must be either legitimized or eradicated by the state, depending on whether it is deemed good or bad. Any activity left "veiled" beyond the public gaze is denounced as an instance of "hypocrisy". Even where this mentality purports to be "progressive" and to be "liberalizing" and to be extending "inclusiveness" it is furthering the world-view of the Inquisition.
PART TWO (continued)
The right of a person (or a thing) is that which he deserves on the basis of his nature and in keeping with the Law. - Chittick W. C.
Turning now to even broader issues, we must first give proper acknowledgement to the fact that the Islamic World in general feels that it has been systematically excluded from the development of modern international institutions and norms. It is felt that these institutions reflect the ideology and history of
European Christian civilization and are largely a continuation of the imperialist colonialist period. This is to say nothing of the imposition of the idea of the "nation state" and "citizenship" very often, it would seem, calculated from London or Paris to obliterate other (real) allegiences at the same time as entrenching dissension among the Muslim peoples. Islam was disabled by such devices. Its whole life was strangled. As the modern world took shape the House of Islam was in a position of inferiority and subjugation - a whole third of humanity was disenfranchised. This injustice remains. If the coming century is to be more peaceful than the last, it is an injustice that must be addressed. As it stands, all acceptable norms of government in international law are Legislative. The whole tradition of Judicial Law in the Islamic world - that entire viewpoint - has been treated with outright contempt (it is demonized) and a global monoculture of Legislative government is enforced. The only exceptions seem to be "First Nations" which have some claim to their own bodies of Law but this is largely token and sentimental - aborigines can appeal to tribal law in some instances in Australian courts now, but Muslims have no right to their own legal heritage though it is indeed as sacred to them.
What, though, is this "Muslim alternative" in practice? How would the world order be different if the Muslim world was not so disenfranchised? What alternative vision is on offer? A useful example of the ideological barriers ever-present in this debate is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which one might think would be a document that is beyond dispute. While this is largely a list of uncontroversial motherhood statements with which the Islamic tradition is in wholehearted agreement, the document nevertheless does not reflect the historical, intellectual, spiritual or cultural values of the Islamic world. The first article of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that enshrined distinctly Islamic values would state that "human beings have the right to live within a system of meaningful symbols" or such, and that other rights, such as the right to nationality (a European but not at all an Islamic value), are
particular instances of this much broader and deeper principle. This need not even be a religious doctrine. This principle merely insists that man is a social animal and that an authoritative and stable system of norms (Law) is therefore a necessity for the individual's development and well-being. An Islamic drafting of such a document - quite apart from a greater insistence upon spiritual values - would stress the nurture of a meaningful and not merely utilitarian social world. And it would enshrine, as the common heritage of a great mass of humanity, a different and fuller notion of Law than what Western languages mean by the
word. In Islamic thought Law is an altogether cosmological idea. Animals have instincts. They obey laws that are built in. Human beings are largely removed from animal instinct and form social relations instead. Law (Shariah) is to man what instinct is to the honey bee, to use the Koranic analogy. To deprive man of Law is to denature him. And just as the nature of the honey bee doesn't change, nor do the deepest needs of Man and nor should his Laws. Islam specifically envisages the social world in terms of "recollection" - social institutions are not conveniences to be changed whenever governments submit to the will of armies or capital but realities that are symbols serving to nurture the total human creature. The Islamic critique of Western social life is that it is almost entirely devoted not to "recollection" but to spiritual amnesia, an endless distraction of new trivia, and that governments are bought and sold and electorates manipulated
and laws changed to accomodate it. Social institutions are not neutral. We may make them but in turn they shape us. Of course, this total human creature - homo islamicus - is understood as having a theomorphic dignity and to be inherently spiritual and religious in character, but that is not the main issue here. The
issue is a conception of "human rights" based on the fuller idea of Law, one that emphasises the need for meaningful social nurture - the right not to be raised in a society where a dehumanizing materialist wasteland is the norm - and the role of Law as an enduring shield against poor or despotic government.
The issue is simply the recognition that nomocracy is a valid way of organising a society or a civilization. Attempts to depict Muslim history as uniformly barbaric rub salt into the wound: the achievements of traditional Islamic civilization - we need only mention eight hundred years of Moorish Spain - speak for
themselves against the malodorous rabble who first called themselves Crusaders. Again, Muslims have confidence that their own history is fertile (it is also diverse, not monolithic) but its expression in modernity has been crippled and thwarted. It is a travesty that Islam has become synonymous with religious intolerance and the oppression of women. In fact, no religion has a more univeralist perspective and such a deep concern for the welfare and dignity of women than Islam. The sorry, retarded state of modern Islam is in stark contrast to its noble principles and its proud history.
One of the consequences of the right to live within a framework of meaningful symbols is that we must recognize and permit a high degree of local autonomy and often, in many lands, a high degree of social fragmentation in the wider sense. This right encompasses ethnic and linguistic symbolic orders too -
custom, blood, heritage, ancestory, traditional medicines - and so permits diversity rather than promoting global homogeneity. This, of course, has obvious dangers - although they are far less threatening than the horrors and perversities that have accompanied a global system of empowered nation states and that would surely multiply under any "World government". Properly considered, it is the role of Shariah, in traditional Islamic civilization, to form the over-arching framework that gives cohesion to a very organic array of peoples and their distinct ways. In its most prosperous periods it was also a very mobile civilization that employed devices - the most notable being the Pilgrimage to Mecca - to maintain a remarkable unity of spirit in lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The model here is one of a high degree of local diversity and local autonomy according to natural and traditional boundaries - not the bizarre boundaries of modern nation states - interwoven with a unifying body of Law - the Islamic "way of life". Government, modes of administration, are a secondary matter. This would in many cases involve the
devolution of nation states into smaller and more locally cohesive entities loosely confederated under their pan-Islamic heritage. Could there be any more graphic example of these exact issues than the modern state of Iraq? This nation-state is an entirely artificial entity, deliberately designed by European
powers to land-lock the richest of Muslim lands, binding together three distinct peoples, Kurds, Sunnis, Shia, none of whom care to be so bound together but who would rather retain their distinct identities. Only a brutal, murderous Western-style dictatorship (unrestrained Legislative government) such as that of the Western-endorsed Baathist Saddam Hussein - or an occupying US military machine weilding "shock and awe" - could possibly bind such elements together into a single three-headed monster posing as a modern European-style state. The alternative for Mesopotamia would be a confederation of three small states, each secure in their own cultural identities, with their shared religion, Islam, and the common body of Islamic Law and custom, - the Sunni/Shia divide notwithstanding - binding them together in a postive way. A neutral secularism has bound diverse elements together into meaningful nation states in some cases in European experience - actually there have been more failures than successes, and one must also take into account all the grotesque excesses of European nationalism - but it amounts to insane arrogance to suppose that this one solution to religious and ethnic strife will work everywhere. The enduring disarray of so-called "nation states" in the African and South American continents, in the Pacific and elsewhere, is on-going proof of this tragic historical folly. The very fact that the United Nations unites nations, at the expense of what are often more real and enduring identities, compounds the problem at a global, institutional level.
Finally, we cannot help but remark that secularists routinely under-play the consequences of secularism and, worse, very often have no idea of what it is that a secular society lacks. Muslims in many parts of the world still live with an aroma of sanctity, or have it within memory, while thoroughly secular societies no longer even remember what it is. In many Western societies the capitulation to the ideology of science is so far advanced that the first steps are being made towards classifying religious belief as a mental disease, an identifiable configuration of brain chemicals. The real problem here is that a secular world, even while posing as neutral, is intrinsically hostile to spirituality even where it permits "religion". Religion and spirituality are not at all the same thing. The Soviets allowed churches to operate as long as they were totally bankrupt of all genuine spirituality. Sufis in Turkey can perform their rituals and dances for the tourists, as long as they leave out the Divine invocations that give them any spiritual authority. Secularism such as we find it in Western nations is to a large extent just a more sophisticated (friendly) way of achieving the same end as the Soviets, namely emptying religion of any real spiritual content, surrounding it with social forms that make it seem silly, so that it poses no real challenge to the prevailing materialist, consumerist values and no real obstacle to social and economic atomization and the steady industrialization of man. Religion was the bogey, the enemy of human realization, in the progressive Western historical narrative; the solution was to divorce it from the State so that the State could be the vehicle of progress. Other than the half-baked ideas of anarchists and libertarians the West has conspicuously failed to form any real critique of or alternative to the Legislative state and its army of social engineers. Traditional Muslims want to live in a world, and a social order, where religious belief is still the norm and where the very concept of the human being is of a spiritual creature with fundamental spiritual needs, and where the spiritual heritage of mankind - all the People of the Book - is acknowledged as the most basic birthright of all. Western political discourse is only recently turning to so-called "meaning of life" issues, with depression and suicide and existential meaningless, modern acidia, the erosion of traditional family networks and its true cost, alienation, belatedly acknowledged as the endemic problems they are. Muslims have been pointing to and articulating such failings of the West for over a century and insist that in their scale of values such problems - spiritual in nature - are a cost that outweighs the material seductions of the Western way. This is not to say Muslims choose poverty. Islam is not an otherworldly faith indifferent to human physical needs. But the Muslim road to modernity, unlike the road taken by the West, does not entail the reduction of religion to a barren and mute sentimentality devoid of any true spiritual nourishment. The question in any given society is: what is the norm? In many, or most, parts of the Islamic world the religious mentality (which gives priority to salvation over all things) prevails and secularism can only be imposed by brutal force, as it is in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan - the list goes on. Today, the people of Islam languish under Western-style and/or Western supported secularizing regimes with corrupt and parasitic Western-educated elites. The people elect Islamic governments and secularist elites and their khakhi armies - represented as "moderate" in the West - over-turn the elections time after time. The reaction is even worse: the tragic spectacle of frustrated fanatics, Wahabi mad-dogs, behaving as a man does when he has a boot pressed into his face, speaking as the voice of the religion of the Holy Koran on the global stage.
21 septembre 2005
Dr. R. Blackhirst, Islam & Secularism: Divergent Understandings of Law, Rights and Government, (full text)
"All the beasts that roam the earth and all the birds that wing their flight are but communities like your own." (Koran 6:38)