Extremists breed extremism. Extremism feeds on fear of destruction, and such fear after 9/11 became universal in the international hall of mirrors. Supporters of Osama bin Laden conjured up a lethal threat from globalization under the aegis of pagan America. The impending apocalypse was exploited by political establishments in some Muslim countries to justify the counter-productive elimination or repression of all perceived enemies. Scholars, pundits, and grand strategists in America and England developed a profession of threat mongering to warn against Western vulnerability to everything from ontological identity displacement to bombs in the basement. The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense reacted to the new world of threat by advocating the ?elimination of entire states.?
The dynamics of threat, counter-threat, and counter-counter-threat in the new era of asymmetrical power, where the weak can attack the strong, poses a challenge to civilization.
Ground zero in the holocaust of charge and counter-charges is the fact that self-proclaimed Muslims launched the attack on September 11th, 2001. That was not an effect but a cause. Therefore Muslims have the primary responsibility to respond, to put their own house in order before they start blaming others.
Many Muslims justify violence against civilians as self-defense. In response to 9/11 their only response was a defensive ?Don?t blame us!? The time has come for Muslims to do precisely this, to blame themselves. If religious extremism, regardless of its causes, can claim justification for incinerating and crushing thousands of innocent Americans in the name of Islam, then the silent majority of Muslims have an unmet responsibility to reclaim the wisdom of their Islamic heritage as a constructive force in global affairs. This must be the primary response to the challenge of 9/11.
The specific challenge of such a response is how to organize in a positive way to promote more enlightened understanding of Islam, particularly by Muslims among Muslims.
Domestically in America this has been undertaken by all the establishment institutions and by new centers of concern, such as the American Muslim Network, which has revived The American Muslim magazine, initially on line at www.theamericanmuslim.org, and the Center for Understanding Islam, whose website is still under construction at www.cuii.org
Globally and internationally, the effort must be undertaken by such organizations as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which consists of the foreign ministers of 57 countries, most of them with majority Muslim populations. The potential role of this organization is analyzed by Dr. Naveed Sheikh in his forthcoming book, The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States.
The OIC demonstrates that religion is both ?subject? as an active force in real politik and ?object? as an instrument to stabilize, legitimize, and secure the governments of individual states.
The challenge to Muslims is whether the OIC can help lead the way for the ?silent majority? of Muslims to recapture their religion from the tentacles of the extremists so that the original revelation from God through all the world religions can inform public discourse and public action on behalf of peace through justice.
PART ONE: THE CHALLENGE
1. Fear of Destruction
When the prophet David attacked the heavily armed giant, Goliath, a few thousand years ago, with a simple sling-shot, he was waging asymmetric warfare. Their overt power was unequal or asymmetrical, but David used the commitment of the weak to defeat the arrogance of the strong. In a good cause, this was the Will of God.
In the modern world, asymmetric warfare can also be waged by individual persons against an entire system of states, including the global strongman. The modern era of asymmetric power began officially on September 11, 2001, when a small band of desperate and hate-filled individuals used the conventional technology of the West against its creators in the form of fuel-laden airliners to produce the poor-man?s weapons of mass destruction. For the first time since the War of 1812, Americans felt vulnerable to the ?outside world.? In the era of globalization, which has not yet become a ?global village,? everyone is inside.
None of the experts on terrorism were surprised, because for years they had warned that the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons against the homeland of America was inevitable, given the obvious trends in the diffusion of both advanced technology and the mounting alienation of both the poor and the rich around the world, and given the nature of suicidal terrorists who can not be deterred. Only a few of the experts warned, however, against conventional technology creatively applied to produce what are now called ?weapons of mass effect.?
The response in the American ?White House? was immediate. A few hours after the attack, what is now called the ?war cabinet? met in the underground bunker of the White House, built to withstand a nuclear attack. The head of the CIA, George Tenet, claimed almost conclusive intelligence that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qa?ida network, based in Afghanistan, had declared war on America and had launched Phase One of a concerted attack.
President Bush on a secure phone line, announced that the United States as of that moment was also at war. The immediate question was against whom? Tenet told the group that Al Qa?ida was worldwide and that ?we have a sixty country problem.? According to the Washington Post of January 27th, 2002, Bush replied, ?Let?s pick them off one at a time.?
President Bush told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that ?the ball is now in your court to punish whoever harbors terrorists, not just the perpetrators.? Rumsfeld asked, ?Do we include American allies in military strikes?? Others asked about the military objectives. When asked the next day, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who was the number-one neo-conservative in the Bush Administration, lashed out with a call for all-out war in a battle against evil to ?to eliminate entire states.? Although this rhetoric was not repeated, the American military launched a decisive attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan to eliminate the Afghani government. The major question in all capitals of the world then was, ?Who is next in Phase Two.?
This was the overriding concern in the Muslim world, because President Bush?s disclaimer that the war was not against Islam did not disclaim a war against Muslims, either in America or abroad. Concerned American Muslims sent a delegation to an emergency meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). This delegation was headed by Dr. Jamal Barzinji, Director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and a board member of what the U.S. government considers to be the official representative of Muslims in America, the American Muslim Council. The following is his message, delivered on November 10th, 2001, and published in the January/February issue, 2002, of Islamic Horizons, which is the official journal of the only other officially recognized Muslim organization, the Islamic Society of North America:
The Muslim world represents a major cultural, civilizational, and religious unit with a shared history, values, and beliefs. The new world order that has emerged is presently a survival of the fittest. Fifty-seven Muslim countries ? members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) ? are gathered in Doha, Qatar, for mutually assured survival in a conference unlike any gathering in the world.
Each realizes ? a realization that grows sharper and clearer every day ? that no member state is absolutely secure in its sovereign identity and boundaries. Instead, each one is challenged constantly by other cultural, economic, and political units. It is no exaggeration to declare that OIC members are uniting for their very survival.
What was he referring to? He may not have been clear on this even to himself. Was he referring to the survival of Islam as a divinely inspired paradigm of thought in competition with another universal paradigm inherent in a Pax Americana or what the first President Bush referred to as ?the new world order?? Or was he referring to the very concept of the sovereign state, or merely to specific governments that claim to embody such sovereignty?
In an era of diffuse, generic threat embodied in the personal phenomenon of Osama bin Laden, was he referring to America or to Osama as the threat to his audience?s ?very survival.? The answer is important, because extremism feeds on fear of destruction, and such fear after 9/11 is universal.
2 The Spectrum of Public Response
The original ?Islamic threat? appeared full-blown in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini overnight transformed the ancient empire of Persia from the world?s most ?pragmatic? country into the world?s most ?irrational.? The response ever since has been divided between the threat maximizers and the threat minimizers.
Oddly, some of the minimizers at that time are maximizers today. An explanation for this dynamic was proposed in a review article published under my Muslim name, Faruq ?Abd al Haqq, in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Middle East Affairs Journal, of which, as Robert D. Crane, I was the Managing Editor. The leading professional flip-flop from minimizer to maximizer was the scholar Daniel Pipes, who completed his magnum opus, In the Name of God, after he was transferred from the National Security Council in the White House to my office in the Department of State in order to assure that nothing I wrote would ever see the light of day.
At that time, Pipes contended that the importance of Islam was a function of oil money and that when Middle Eastern oil was exhausted, which then seemed possible within a single generation, Islam would go away. The original rationale for his about-face was that oil has not gone away, and so neither has Islam.
The minimizers were led prior to 9/11 by the Center for Strategic Studies, and especially by the CSIS?s Shireen Hunter, and by one of its leading scholars, Ambassador Robert Neuman. At the German Embassy in September, 1997, Ambassador Neuman confided to me that Islam is gradually disappearing as a factor in world affairs. He concluded that therefore the United States should continue to push Israel in ?peace negotiations,? but not too hard, and that all countries should support the efforts by the Egyptian and Algerian governments to smash all organized Muslim opposition.
The bottom lines of the two groups, the maximizers and the minimizers, as I pointed out in my article, ?are similar, their main difference being that one appeals to fear of Islam to advance its agenda and the other to disdain. ? One deliberately, and the other unknowingly, are working to produce a clash of civilizations.”
The dynamic changed radically on September 11, 2001, when an unknown and un-imaginable Darth Vader from outer space attacked the American homeland and deliberately incinerated and crushed thousands of innocent Americans in the name of Islam.
There were still threat minimizers, but they were mainly Muslims. Their psychological reaction was denial. One rationale was the absurd theory that the American government on behalf of Israel had attacked itself.
The field was left wide open for the threat-maximizers, who thrived on President Bush?s initial declaration about a crusade against terrorism and his announcement that from now on the world is divided between good and bad. ?You are either for us or against us.? There was no longer room to question why the Muslim threat existed or how to address its causes, because in the heat of anger and in the middle of a declared war any questions were tantamount to treason.
The threat monger most visible to Muslims is the veteran Daniel Pipes who has led a popular campaign of atavism or regression to the Cold War between Communism and the Free World. Daniel Pipes has applied all his scholarly erudition to show that Islam has succeeded Communism as the major threat to civilization. An objective understanding would show that terrorism does not come from Islam, but it certainly does come from Muslims. Especially after 9/11 no one can deny that Muslims are indeed a major and perhaps growing source of threat to the world as we know it. This has raised anti-Islamic threat-mongering to the level of a new profession.
Another threat, also growing, however, is the threat of the non-professional threat-mongers, especially the growing number of opinion leaders in what is known as the ?ideas industry? who have revived Samuel Huntington?s response to Muslims? political exploitation of Islam by positing a generic ?clash of civilizations.? Among the policy advisers who shape paradigms of thought in Washington and in America generally, probably the most influential warner about the Muslim threat is not Daniel Pipes but Father Richard John Neuhaus, who edits the elite magazine, First Things. Almost no Muslims have ever heard of him, because most of them live in their own intellectual ghetto, but every well-informed person in Washington has to be concerned about what Neuhaus says. He invented the term ?religion in the public square? and labors mightily to bring back the wisdom of non-sectarian Christianity into public policy.
As a key contributor to a year-end symposium in the Christian Science Monitor of December 28th, 2001, Father Neuhaus wrote: ?The raison d?etre of American influence ? political, diplomatic, military ? is now redefined in terms of the contest with terrorism, which, willy nilly, is a conflict of civilizations. The implications of this are as major as the reconfigurations of world politics around the two World Wars and the Cold War of the 20th century.?
In the world of popular opinion, which ultimately does shape policy in America, the most important influence may be Pat Buchanan and his latest book The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigration Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization, St. Martin?s Press. This response to 9/11 was published in January, 2002, and is available in all major book stores and at Amazon.com.
Buchanan, who ran unsuccessfully in Republican primaries for three presidential elections, concludes that, ?The reason the West is dying is that people who carry the Western tradition in their hearts and souls are simply dying off ? and new immigrants, especially Muslims, are no longer adopting American values.? By the Year 2050, he warns, the West will find itself occupied by cultures that are at loggerheads with our traditional Judeo-Christian culture. We used to be able to assimilate people so easily because we shared the same values, a different ethnic interpretation of those values to be sure, but the same values at the end of the day. Now, says Pat Buchanan, ?We are no longer one people or ?One Nation Under God?.?
This book is being widely reviewed. One of the first reviewers was Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and perhaps the principal leader of the conservative movement in America, now that Pat Robertson has retired. Weyrich?s review, distributed on January 16th, 2002, concludes: ?This is one of the most thought-provoking books in decades. I?ll bet it is headed for the New York Times best-seller list, as well it should. But let?s hope that people do more than read this book; let?s hope they decide to talk about it and even to take action to have our nation and its citizens regain our sense of moral purpose.?
This may sound bizarre for enlightened Muslims who recognize that the classical or traditionalist thought that gave rise to the American Revolution is almost identical to the classical thought of the great Islamic scholars, every one of whom served time in prison for practicing what the Prophet Muhammad ( ) called the ?jihad of telling the truth to tyrants.?
In the middle of the spectrum of response to 9/11 are those who want to address causes and cures. They warn that oversimplification by extremists merely compounds the threat. The leader here is the Council on Foreign Relations, which used to be known as the brains behind the ?Eastern Establishment? before Ronald Reagan moved the center of American politics westward. This to some extent is a front for what may be the world?s most influential think-tank, the little known Aspen Institute. According to the regular Washington Post section, entitled ?The Ideas Industry,? six weeks after 9/11, the new head of the CFR, Leslie Gelb, announced that, ?The Council has reorganized 60 percent of its work to focus on the crisis at hand. ? I?ve raised several hundred thousand bucks very quickly just to cover this new stuff.? His greatest concern was the wartime juggernaut to stifle consideration of alternative intelligence estimates and policy recommendations. Gelb cautioned: ?That?s understandable, but it?s also a mistake. Everyone wishes the President well. But patriotism for a think tank ? is asking hard questions that are unlikely to be asked by political leaders or by journalists. That?s our job. And for us, it?s the highest form of patriotism.?
A week after this interview with Gelb, the famous Rand Corporation, which started as a captive think tank of the U.S. Air Force, announced on November 5th, 2001, that it had just received the largest individual donation in its history - $5 million ? to create a center ?to explore trends and potential developments in our world 35 to 200 years from now.? This Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition is the brainchild of Frederick S. Pardee, who worked at Rand thirty-five years ago when I was considered to be a maverick for commuting monthly between Washington, D.C. and Rand to promote awareness of psycho-strategic warfare as well as the role of ideas and religion in shaping the future of the world.
The issue then as now is the role of transcendent vision in shaping the intellectual agenda, and the role of agenda formation in controlling policy-making in a world of real politik. This is the subject of Dr. Naveed S. Sheikh?s magnum opus on The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States.
3. Legitimating Unilateral Action by the Sovereign State
The immediate question in the new era of asymmetric material power is whether the forces of globalism, including the monist radicalism of religious zealots, will elevate the transcendent authority of religion above the exigencies of real politik in international relations. An equally important question is whether awareness of such transcendence will promote cooperation among communities and between communities and states, or whether such transcendence will be invoked as a tool of power politics in what Jamal Barzinji calls the new world order of the survival of the fittest.
What could become a rationale for the latter was proposed in the Washington Post of January 26, 2002, by President Reagan?s Secretary of State, George P. Shultz, in a position paper entitled ?Terror and the States.? The unstated backdrop for this essay was a bitter battle within the Bush Administration between those, reputedly based in the Pentagon, who advocate unilateralism in American foreign policy in order to be more cost-effective in Phase Two and Three and Four in the war to root out evil, and those, reputedly based in the U.S. Department of State, who advocate multilateralism by relying more on international institutions, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to orchestrate the war on terrorism. Secretary Schultz writes:
The monstrous acts of Al Qa?ida have now made the principle of state accountability the law of nations. This emphasis on the sovereign state dramatizes a shift of concept in international relations perceptively underway today. ? We live in an international system of states, a system that originated more than 300 years ago. The idea of the state won out over other ideas about how to organize political life because it provided a framework for individual freedom and economic progress, and because states over time proved able to cooperate with each other for peace and mutual benefit. The state has made its way in the world by beating back one challenge after another.
?The war,? he asserts, ?to hold states accountable for acts of terror that originate within their borders compels us to look closely at the foundation of order and progress in the world.? He is concluding that the attack on 9/11 further reinforces the American emphasis on security as the goal of its foreign policy, with as much justice as is compatible with it. Schultz warns:
In our time, the state has been challenged by global currents that have eroded its authority. ? As states have appeared weaker, terrorists have moved in on them. Many states in response, and in the false hope of buying time or protection, have taken damaging actions that only further diminish their authority. States in every part of the world have avoided accountability when it comes to terrorism, and now we are paying a heavy price.
Some states pump out huge volumes of propaganda against other states in order to direct terrorists within their borders toward external targets. Some have tolerated, subsidized, and facilitated home-grown terrorist groups on the understanding that they will not attempt to overthrow national leaders, creating a kind of grotesque protection racket. Some states, in a desperate search for legitimacy, have invited religions that foster terrorists to take over substantial sectors of governmental activity on condition that some functions, like foreign affairs and defense policy, will be left alone.
And some states secretly, but undeniably, support terrorism directly as a matter of state policy.
Every one of these deals between states and terrorists is an abdication of state accountability to its citizens. If these deals are not reversed, the states that make them ? and ultimately the international system of states ? will not survive. That is why the war on terrorism is of unsurpassed importance. ? So, if the pendulum has swung against the sovereign state in past decades, it is time to swing it back. ? For make no mistake: Terrorism is the enemy of the state, out to destroy the state and to commandeer it for evil purposes.
One may speculate about the specific states that Secretary Schultz has in mind. The major message, however, is designed for internal debate to validate American unilateral action, with or without allies, instead of continuing to rely on Muslim governments, like Saudi Arabia, when such reliance may constrict American freedom of action in pursuit of what the U.S. government, in response perhaps to special interest groups, perceives to be its vital interests.
PART TWO: THE RESPONSE
4. Immanence versus Transcendence
The phenomenon known as ?political Islam? may be as important as the hegemonic discourse and actions by the ?political Other? in the form of the ?world?s sole super-power.? Are either the One or the Other or both exclusively immanent in the world as idols in the form of objects of self-worship, or do they share a common transcendent core projecting a higher meta-law as the basis for a common axiological or moral framework? Are the concepts of ?political Islam? and America as the super-power of the universe blatant oxy-morans as modern deviations from classical Islamic and classical American thought, or do they form the ultimate ontology of existence and therefore the only real game in town?
Civilizations can conflict as cultural subjectivities superimposed on their transcendent source, but can there be essential conflict among the world religions themselves? The answer to this question and even awareness of the issue could spell the difference between world-wide clash and global cooperation.
In his pioneering work on The New Politics of Islam, Dr. Naveed Sheikh explores this issue by examining within the context of the OIC whether and to what extent Islam is a subject that can influence real politik or an object for manipulation by real politik, or both. An important issue for Muslims is whether the OIC can help lead the way for the ?silent majority? of Muslims to overcome extremism in their midst by reviving and renewing the Qur?anic message.
America was founded as an ?exceptionalist? experiment in the interactive pursuit of order, justice, and freedom. The Founders of America represented an extension to the New World of the ?traditionalist movement? founded in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which opposed sectarian religion and posited a universal, higher law, which we might today call meta-law, accessible to all of humankind through both divine revelation and natural law. The great scholars of Islam labored for centuries to develop this meta-law, which they called the maqasid al shari?ah or the kulliyat al shari?ah. These are the universal purposes of the divine paradigm, which is both transcendent for and imminent in the universe.
The unity and near identity of the classical American and the classical Islamic ontology (concept of ultimate being or reality), epistemology (optics or perspective on knowledge and truth), and axiology (moral guidelines) are spelled out in two monographs of the Center for Policy Research, The Grand Strategy of Justice, 83 pages, and Meta-Law: An Islamic Policy Paradigm, 49 pages, which I published as Policy Papers nos. 3 and 4, April and May, 2000. Both of these forces in world culture, the American and the classical Islamic were efforts to draw on the tradition or wisdom of the past in order to create a better future.
Subsequent centuries have seen the transcendent vision of the classical mentors of American and Muslim thought bawdrylized or prostituted to the pursuit of the false gods of power, prestige, privilege, and plutocracy. Instead of recognizing the original American mission to be a moral model for the world, many American intellectuals serve as mentors to policymakers in transforming American exceptionalism into a mandate for cultural imperialism as a tool to ensconce themselves as the epicenter of the political cosmos. In the name of progress and freedom, as Naveed Sheikh puts it, they ?demand either cultural retreat or military defeat.?
This politicization of reality reflected the positivism of America?s leading law school at Harvard University, which has staffed America?s governing institutions, both public and private, with modernists committed to the elimination of the divine paradigm from education as a first step in what a leader of the contemporary traditionalist movement, George A. Panichas, calls the militant desacralization of life.
The inevitable result of denying even the possibility of absolute truth either beyond or in the universe, was the elevation of subjective truth and its creators into a new ultimacy. Stability replaced justice in the political lexicon. The new ultimate purpose was to maintain the economic and political status quo, with all of its injustices, through the imposition of a ?minimum world public order? secured initially through the orchestration of a balance of power in a bi-polar world, and, after the ?end of history,? unilaterally under the guise of multilateral cooperation.
Reaction against the monopolization of norms or politically correct values and standards by secularists, especially during the ?last colonial war of the West? in Vietnam, produced a new version of modernity. Jurgen Habermas stated that this ?modernity lives on in the experience of rebelling against all that is normative.? In fact, he was describing the first phase of post-modernity.
This first phase of post-modernity gave rise to its own counter-forces. The first was the authoritarian assertion that justice not only exists as a set of objective norms but must be defined, not too specifically, and imposed by a self-appointed elite on a hostile world. This, in turn, gave rise both directly and indirectly to the radical monism of Osama bin Laden.
The second, concurrent phase in response to the anomie and malaise of early post-modernity was the search for wisdom in all of the world religions by a return to what some call traditionalism and others call renewal. The task of Muslims and of peoples of all faiths is to conduct this search, both within their own religions and afterwards in mutual cooperation.
Two questions present themselves at this juncture in history. First, is Islam inherently a fraud, as many confused Muslims and confused non-Muslims have begun to ask after 9/11? This is the sub-rosa subject of Naveed Sheikh?s analysis of vision and agenda, thought and action, in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. If Islam is a fraud, can Americans or anyone else continue to live in the same world with Muslims.
Second, is America inherently a fraud? Can Muslims continue to live in the same world with Americans, or is the world too small for both of them?
Muslims, especially in America, can and must influence the answer to both questions, and they must do so both in thought and action.
5. Tawhid versus Duality
Secularists, even the moderates who accept the utility of religion in one?s private life, consider Muslims dangerous because they do not accept the division of life into Church and State either in theory or practice.
Particularly dangerous, according to the secularists, are the Islamists who follow an ideology known as political Islam. Many Muslims support this concept of political Islam without awareness that it is rooted in a denial of tawhid, which is the coherence of diversity in reality that derives from the Oneness of the universal Creator. Political Islam, or political religion generally, is a Western construct that is utterly meaningless in either classical Islamic or classical American thought.
Prior to the American Civil War, few Americans could even conceive of a society not informed by awareness of the transcendent. Their very awareness of the infinite love, mercy, and justice of God, which is beyond human comprehension, was precisely what motivated the Founders of America in the First Amendment to forbid the establishment of any sectarian religion. His enemies called Thomas Jefferson an atheist because he insisted that subordinating public life to sectarian religious authority would deny freedom of religion and make political unity impossible. His most bitter enemies considered that religion was co-terminous with Christianity and promotion of it was a political responsibility. This was exactly what Jefferson opposed. Despite his personal hypocrisy in owning slaves, he was undoubtedly one of the spiritually most devout persons in America.
For President Jefferson the sacred nature of reality rendered absurd the dichotomy of politics controlling religion or religion controlling politics, because submission to what he called Divine Providence was the very essence of all human life. One must separate Church, as organized religion, from State, as politics, but never religion from public life, because to do so would destroy the mission and very identity of America.
Secular dogmatism in its radical form of opposition not merely to clerical authoritarianism but to religion itself is a twentieth-century phenomenon that strikes at the heart not only of America but of all civilizations everywhere, especially the Islamo-Judeo-Christian with its emphasis on the ultimate as transcending both existence and being.
The genius of America is its self-definition not as a geographically circumscribed territory, or as an ethnically unique or pure people, or even as a social, economic, and political community of citizens, but as a paradigm of thought and aspiration. This makes it unique in the world, though some Jews in Israel and many Muslims in Pakistan may claim that their countries were created for a similar purpose.
Those who would politicize America or politicize Islam as opposites may claim to be fundamentalists in the sense of emphasizing fundamentals, but, in fact, they are what Naveed Sheikh calls peripheralists. Juxtaposing America and Islam as rival claimants to universality contradicts what this universality is all about. It contradicts the common genius of both as mutually reinforcing expressions and pillars of a single epistemic community.
Extremism comes from failure to distinguish the ontology or oneness of origin from the epistemology or plurality of manifestation. There can be no oneness or tawhid without diversity and pluralism, because the very diversity of Creation exists to manifest in its coherence the existence of the One. The Qur?an states that God designed human beings to have different colors, languages, and even religions, in order to get to know each other as distinct communities and as signs of God.
Extremism comes when cultic Sufis objectify Ibn Arabi?s concept of wahdat al wujud or unity of existence as reality rather than as subjective experience, and claim exclusive, gnostic knowledge of the true trans-Islamic umma, a spiritual elite that excludes those not in the know, especially those of other world religions.
Extremism comes when pan-Islamists operationalize a unity of belief in a human community of what Naveed Shaykh calls monist monolithism rather than in a boundless love for all of God?s creation in what he refers to as a transcendent Islamic cosmopolis.
Extremism comes especially when people substitute a political institution for themselves as the highest instrument and agent of God in the world, when they call for a return of the Caliphate in its imperial form embodied in the Ottoman dispensation. It comes when they call for what Shah Wali Allah of India in the 18th century called the khilafat dhahira or external and exoteric caliphate in place of the khilafat batina or esoteric caliphate formed by the spiritual heirs of the prophets, who are the sages, saints, and righteous scholars.
In the late Abbasid period of classical Islam, the political scientists of the day, in Naveed Sheikh?s words, ?delegitimized both institutional exclusivism and, critically, centralization of political power ? by disallowing the theophanic descent of celestial sovereignty into any human institution.? In other words, they denied the ultimate sovereignty claimed by modern states since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years War over religion. This watershed in European and world history elevated states to the ultimate level of sovereignty, in place of the divine, thereby relegating religion to the periphery of public life or excluding it and with it morality altogether.
The Abbasid scholars, faced with a gradual process of creeping despotism, denied the divine right not only of kings, but of every human institution, and they condemned the worship of power and privilege that had brought corruption upon the earth. For insisting on this foundation principle of Islam, all of the greatest scholars throughout Muslim history were imprisoned, some for years and decades, but this is precisely why Muslims traditionally have considered them to be great.
The Hanbali scholar, Ibn Taymiya, completed the process of deconstructing the ontological fatalism of caliphatic thought by restricting the role of the caliphate to what Abu Hamid al Ghazali had called an ummatic umbrella functioning only to protect the functional integrity of Islamic law rather than to govern politically. Ibn Taymiya asserted that the unity of the Muslim community depended not on any symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on any caliphal political authority, but on ?confessional solidarity of each autonomous entity within an Islamic whole.? In other words, the Muslim umma or global community is a body of purpose based on worship of God. By contending that the monopoly of coercion that resides in political governance is not philosophically constituted, according to Naveed Sheikh, Ibn Taymiya rendered political unification and the caliphate redundant.
This tradition of untold centuries, which warns urgently against investing any human institutions with sovereignty, explains why the modern concept of the ?Islamic state? joins ?political Islam? as twin mothers of all oxymorans. The Western concept of the state by definition elevates man to the level of God, beyond which there is no power on earth or in heaven, which is the ultimate shirk or idolatry.
There may be legitimate governance in a Muslim country, based on the universal principle of haqq al hurriya or the duty to respect every person?s and every community?s and nation?s right to self-determination. This, in turn, is based at the secondary level of hajjiyat on the four subsidiary principles of khilafa (the ultimate responsibility of governors and the governed equally to God), shura (the responsiveness of the rulers to the ruled in some form of parliamentary procedure), ijma (the duty of the opinion makers to agree on the common interests of society and present them to the rulers), and shari?ah in the form of an independent judiciary. And there may be, and usually is, illegitimate governance to one degree or another. But the way to promote the good and oppose the bad is not to claim a divine right to power.
The very concept of political Islam is a prime example of Westoxification, to use Imam Khomeini?s phrase, especially in its Islamist or jihadic incarnation as the pursuit of justice through power and the pursuit of power eventually as an end in itself. By drawing religion into the pursuit of power such political Muslims preempt those who would bring the wisdom of religion into the public square. The very concept of political Islam, as Naveed Sheikh explains it, ?reveals a Western mindset with a totalitarian leaning,? rather than ?a spiritual and shari?ite unity of believers.?
All Muslims, and indeed all people of whatever religion, are morally bound to be just in their personal dealings and to promote justice by helping to reform any institutions of society that perpetuate injustice. But, there should be no such thing as a political Muslim. There are no hyphenated Muslims any more than there is a hyphenated Islam. A Muslim is anyone who submits to Allah by recognizing the existence of a supreme being and divine revelation and one?s accountability to do good and avoid evil. Muslims can be good and can be bad, and individual Muslims can be variously progressive, liberal, moderate, conservative, and libertarian. There are even some socialists and fascists. But there is no liberal Islam and no moderate Islam; only loving submission to one?s Creator because God deserves no less.
There is no duality in the Islamic episteme, because duality is the invention of secular fundamentalism. In reality, as revealed through all the prophets, there is only the tawhidian interconnectedness of all being, which was decreed and created at the beginning of time.
6. Can Normative Islam Become Real Politik
All the studies on Muslim cooperation fi sabil Allah to implement the vision of Islam for peace through justice have concluded that the primary institution designed for that purpose, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has been used primarily as a cover for nationalistic or even tribalistic real politik.
The pioneering study by Dr. Naveed Sheikh on pan-Islamic foreign policy in a world of states analyzes in great detail the extent to which the three leading states of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan have used pan-Islamic verbiage, the ?aspirationality of pan-Islamic imperatives,? to promote overriding agendas of synthetic state-centrism (etatism) and nationalistic self-service.
The resemblance of Saudi, Persian, and Pakistani foreign policy to the unilateral multilateralism employed by non-Muslim states must be unsettling to all but what he calls the ?ideational determinists.? These are the utopians, such as those who deny that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center, who insist, against all evidence, that doctrinal Islam is the same as Muslim praxis and that thought and action by Muslims should and therefore must coincide.
The question now after 9/11 is whether the theology of politics, wherein politics is the ultimate reality, can or should return to the pre-Westphalian era when the overriding concerns were the politics of theology, i.e. how to secure and promote competing views of ultimate reality either for their own sake or in defense of cultural identities. Differently put, will the system of competing states be replaced by a system of equally competing civilizations, and, more importantly, can political corporations, the states of today, and their component nation or nations, rise to the challenge of civilizational renewal and cooperation?
The conclusion of Dr. Naveed Sheikh is that the uniquely paradigmatic rationale of the OIC as an Islamic transnational entity, perhaps resurrecting or replacing the Islamic Caliphate, has been effectively deconstructed into an arena for a cold war among Muslim states, but that it can be reconstructed as an interplay of both functions. The question is not either/or but both. And the further question, we must ask, is whether after 9/11 the real politik of Muslims and Muslim states can afford to differ from their common dream.
Can Muslims understand that they have been brain-washed by rampant secularism in Western universities when, as Dr. Naveed Sheikh puts it, they accept the ?double distortion manifest in the twin substitutions: qaum [state] for umma [community], dawla for din, therefore institutionalizing both nationalism and secularism and defining citizenship in terms of adherence to this twin pathogenesis, rather than in terms of communal bonding (wahdaniyya) and celestial bondage (?ubudiyya)??
Can Muslims rise above the rigid politicization of religious dogma by welcoming the inverse process of spiritualizing public life? Can they realize, as Dr. Naveed Sheikh puts it, that the default setting for public policy is not entrenched etatism but the actual substance of Islam as the ?final vocabulary? or software needed to run the system; and that the only option to overcome the arrogance of power inherent in etatism or state sovereignty is not the counter-etatism of Osama bin Laden?s ideological monism, otherwise known as the totalitarian mind.
Can Muslims overcome the cultural essentialism so unrefined in Huntington?s clash of civilizations that it amounts to cultural determinism, whereby persons and communities and entire nations and groups of nations are caught in webs of past thoughts and actions that make it impossible to rise above them?
Can Muslims overcome their knee-jerk acceptance of the war between the East and the Beast as a mirror image of the alleged war between the West and the Rest? Is the international political lexicon exhausted by the concepts of Dar al Islam versus Dar al Harb, the totally non-Qur?anic concepts of the realm of Islam versus the realm of the Enemy, or Dar al Islam versus Dar al Zulm, the land of evil, or versus Dar al Kufr, the land of those who are going to hell because they deliberately reject the truth? Are there more benign dichotomies, such as dar al ijaba, the land of those who have accepted Islam, versus dar al da?wa, the land of those who need Muslim missionaries; or, still better, dar al taqwa, the land of those who stand in loving awe of Allah, versus dar al ahd, the land of those with whom one has treaties of friendship and cooperation? The scholarly literature is full of such discussion or was a few hundred years ago before the decline and fall of the classical Islamic civilization.
Can Muslims today still understand that political unity, let alone political unification into what Dr. Naveed Sheikh calls a ?prototypal Islamic condominium? is not the logical corollary to a supranational identity of Islam? Political unification, the dream of modern secularists, in fact could be the greatest enemy of Islam because pluralism is the warp and woof of all creation, and because there can never be unity if the goal is uniformity in anything other than the equality of every person in human rights. Can Muslims understand that pan-Islam is pan-humanism, not in the sense of secular humanism, which denies the sacredness of the human person, but in the sense of respect for the ultimate sovereignty of the individual person, subject only to the Sovereignty of God, from which all value in community flows.
Can Muslims, including the foreign ministers who make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference, see that the paradigm of the highest Islamocentricity is not the exclusivism of individual ego and tribal pride, which generate hatred and extremism, but the heuristics or open-ended seeking for universal axiologies, for what perhaps the greatest Christian theologian, Hans Kung, calls a global ethic?
Can they understand and accept that respect for tradition, especially in Islam and America, is to welcome a world in flux, and that traditions are, as Naveed Sheikh puts it, far from perennial but continually evolving hermeneutics, whereby the interpretation of sacred texts accounts for evolving contexts in a divinely purposeful world, and the coherence of reality includes the essential coherence of divine revelation itself.
The question boils down to the simple question, who will lead the battle against extremism. Do Muslims have to abdicate the responsibility to the American military? Material power is patently inadequate to the job because there is no military solution to the real problems of the world, especially those that originate in the human heart, which is the seat of both love and hatred.
Americans must learn, as David Cortright writes in the November-December, 2001, issue of Sojourners, in reference to the terrorists of 9/11, ?We can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image.? Bill Wylie-Kellerman, in his article in the same issue, entitled ?A Word of Hope in the Rubble, queries, ?What is the real source of our vulnerability? Is it inadequate security machinery and inadequate military power, or is it inadequate justice?” William H. Willimon, in his essay, ?Let There Be Light,? ruminates that, ?Maybe our feelings of vulnerability and fragility are the closest we?ve come to rationality in a long time. Maybe it was madness to assume ? that decades of injustice and poverty, of escalating violence could be kept over there and never here.?
And all must learn, as John Paul Lederach puts it in this issue of Sojourners, that a new ?web of ethics ? must create a capacity for each religious tradition to internally engage the sources of its own violence and mobilize resources for peace.? The Jesuit theologian, Michael Amaladoss, sums it all up in the December 10th, 2001, issue of America, ?The crisis we are living in these days and months is a challenge to think of a new world order based on principles of freedom, justice, and community inspired by the different religions in dialogue. The flushing out and bringing to justice of a network of terrorists is not going to bring peace. It is not even the first step. ? In short, we need a conversion.?