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Conflicting Views on the Center of Society
American emphasis upon secular governmental structures as the center of society is contrary to the culture and religion of Muslim peoples. Religious persons view their faith as the center of life, with all human endeavor ordered by religion. These competing worldviews each prescribe very different societies.
The Islamic concept of equity between all Muslim persons comes nearest to the Enlightenment ideal of individual freedom and equality, but it is certainly not close to being equivalent to it. In Muslim society, not all have the same affluence, position, role or power, but Allah regards all persons alike — making distinction only for personal piety.50 There is no place for prejudice: all are equally judged by Allah, so there are no valid distinctions of race, gender or any other category. However, with equity comes responsibility for the moral and spiritual care of the Umma. The individual’s actions directly affect the entire Umma. In contradistinction to the Islamic world, Western liberal civilization has disassociated society and the individual. Personal liberty is highly prized in the West — with predictably disastrous moral, familial and societal consequences.
Middle Eastern cultures (which are intimately tied to Islam) are structured with an endogamous family construct — meaning arranged marriages within the family. Such relationships define family within the greater tribal structure. These arrangements retain wealth and property in the family, as well as undergirding patriarchal authority. There is no concept of autonomous action, faith or morality that is somehow divorced from family and society.
In most Arab societies, everyone knows where they fit into the overall structure. Loyalty is to extended family, individual agency is weak, and the entire structure tends to resist outside influence. Religion is organic to birth and reinforces the authority of the patriarchal system. However it is the social structure, which predated Islam, that comes first. Assaults to tribe and family, real or imagined, are therefore assaults against religion, and vice versa.51
Western attempts to establish democratic government in the Western Liberal tradition are a poor fit for Islamic cultures. Inadequate American performance in the business of nation building has more to do with our unwillingness to honor indigenous belief systems than our desire to do a good work abroad.
For Western minds it is difficult to understand the union of Islam and state. In Muslim nations, official religion is subordinate52 to but inseparable from the state. However, the Islamist world-view is quite opposite — religion is primary over all things, and must direct the workings of government as well as the society. Islamist thought stresses the necessity of political control: “the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world.”53 Islamist ideology rejects all modern Muslim governments as counterfeits of the Islamic idea. The Islamist goal is to establish political unity of the worldwide Umma — a caliphate headed by a “Rightly Guided Caliph.”54
Initially, the Caliphate must be restored in the heart of the Islamic world — the Levant, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iraq. This is not a novel teaching, but dates from the thirteenth century.55 From that base of moral and political strength, the new Islamist revolution would be spread throughout the world.
American insistence upon the Rule of (Western) Law will does not resonate on the Muslim street. In fact, insistence upon establishing a secular rule of law completely misses the point. Islam is a religion of laws. The rule of Sharia is well established56 in Islamic nations. To assert Western Liberal Law as fundamentally superior explicitly denies the legitimacy of Islam and smacks of the cultural imperialism that Muslims detest.
Insisting upon inserting Western Liberal Law into Muslim cultures springs from a failure to understand the human terrain. Sharia,57 the established legal system in Muslim lands, requires religious lawyers, or jurists, to interpret that law. Four centuries after Mohammed, four standard legal schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali) became accepted as mainstream interpreters of Sunni Islam. Their legal opinions became the standard of orthodoxy, and any departure from these established legal opinions were denounced as innovation (bida). Khadduri58 notes that the Quranic law “precedes the state: it provides the basis of the state.”59 It is therefore not God, but God’s law that really governs; and, as such, the state should be called nomocracy, not theocracy.60 In the Muslim view, Allah is ineffable and therefore not tainted by human interactions. What makes Islam a nomocracy is that a human ruler enforces the perfect, divinely-given law.61 The state exists solely to enforce the divine law and if it fails in that duty, the state “obviously forfeits its raison d’etre — the believer still remained under the obligation to observe the law even in the absence of any one to enforce it.”62 Islamic law consists of obligations (faraid) illuminating the Sharia (the right path) to salvation. Sharia distinguishes between religious obligation (fard) and the religiously forbidden (haram). Between these two poles, the Muslim has the freedom to express faith positively (mandub) and to refrain from the unacceptable (makruh). There is also the category of jaiz, to which the law is indifferent and in which the believer has full freedom of action.63
Khadduri explains that there are three vital characteristics of the divine law. First, the law is permanent and applicable in all times and places. Secondly, the primary concerns of the law are the common interest of the Umma, thus the individual is protected only as long as the individual’s rights coincide with the well-being of the Islamic community. Thirdly, the law must be sincerely followed in good faith.64
One defining characteristic of Islamist ideologies is hyper-literal and stringent enforcement of Sharia. AQ brought together strands of Arab nationalism and Islamist fundamentalism as interpreted by an Egyptian philosopher, Sayyid Qutb.65 Qutb radically critiqued the settled orthodoxy that Islam had become. His work was no less than a clarion call to overthrow what he perceived as pernicious Christian domination of the entire Islamic world.66
Qutb’s purpose was to politically reunify all Muslims worldwide under a restored, rightly-guided Islamic Caliphate. His is a complete rejection of the Christian West and a reactionary view toward the progressiveness of the Islamic schools. “Qutb and the Islamists…pictured the resurrected caliphate as a theocracy, strictly enforcing Sharia, the legal code of the Koran.”67 This required a total rejection of all things non-Muslim.68 For the Islamist, Western rejection of the 1,300-year-old Sharia law and insistence upon substitution of a Western code of law verifies the “satanic” nature of the West.
A profound but unintended problem that Americans have created is that our disregard for the place of Islam effectively abandons the Muslim world to extremists. Dismissing religion as a proper basis for strategic interaction gives away the primary battlefield to our opponents. Strategically, Americans are fighting the wrong war — directly ignoring Clausewitz’s dictum. Insistence upon replacing Sharia with a western law code does two self-defeating things. First it is an affront to all Muslims because it is (rightly) interpreted as an assault upon Islam. Secondly, it allows the Islamists to paint Western efforts as anti-Islamic, irreligious, and evil.
Further, to prejudicially stereotype all Muslims as those who combine their faith with violent political extremism is counterproductive. Such an attitude alienates the majority of Muslims who practice a religion the Quran refers to as “the middle ground religion” (diin al wasata) and who consider seeking the moderate position in all affairs to be an Islamic obligation.69
Sharia does not conform to a politically-correct Western worldview — especially in its limitation upon personal freedoms. However, its expression has ordered societies around the globe for 1,300 hundred years. A moderate expression of accepted and settled law is far more effective than the prospect of inserting a foreign code of law that will take generations to implement — if that is even possible.
The multiplication of personal freedoms is seen as the greatest good in our culture. The natural American assumption is that the entire world desires our way of life — its advantages, freedoms, prosperity and worldview. This simply is not the case. Muslims look over the shoulders of strategic leaders to view a Western society which they perceive as disordered and immoral. The thought of importing this lifestyle into their lands is deeply disturbing. However, Muslims do desire Western opportunity, education, prosperity and other religiously positive aspects of our culture.
We must recognize that Islamists are scary people to most Muslims (as they are to nearly all Americans) and regarded as incredibly disruptive to their societies. Muslims don’t relish the thought of losing their already very limited freedoms. Further, Muslims resent being accused of apostasy for their particular expressions of their faith. Islamist assassinations of elders and tribal leadership causes cultural chaos; disordering established societies. Moderates also decry the extreme divisiveness that discriminates against Shi’ia and other non-conforming groups while harshly demanding conformity by all to narrow Islamist ideological and religious norms. The Umma realizes that radical ideological agendas are unlivable, and are destructive to their unique cultures. In many quarters of the Islamic world, the religiously medieval and repressive regime under Afghanistan’s Taliban is viewed as extremism run amok.
Islam is a deontological religion –— that is, the ends do not justify the means. The morality of an action is never dependent upon its consequences. This is true even if there are different recognized standards for Muslims and others. However, radical ideology usually leads to approval of terrible and forbidden actions justified solely on the basis of results. Thus we find the modern advent of the Islamic suicide bomber — whether the bomb is strapped to the person, carried in a vehicle, or loaded on an airplane. Ayman al-Zawahiri noted that “the method of martyrdom operations [is] the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and the least costly to the mujahidin in terms of casualties.”70 Traditional Muslim scholars argue that suicide is not Islamic; that it is an unpardonable sin and not a true martyrdom. “Naming a martyr is the business of Allah,” the scholar Amir Taheri reminds us, not of those “in pursuit of political goals…Muslims who implicitly condone terror know they cannot smuggle a new concept into Islamic ethics.”71
Muslim strategic leaders perceive a very limited range of options for dealing with these issues. None of their options is acceptable within their national contexts. It is a nasty dilemma for Muslim strategic leaders to be presented with an alternative between “westoxification” or Islamist totalitarianism. Strategically, we can assist Muslim allies by not forcing them into an impossible or Hobson’s choice. There must be a middle way.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 26 April 2012 16:30|