Taproot to Terrorism
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
I. Scorpions in a Bottle
Two days after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked to explain what caused it. His simple answer was that the world is full of people who are trapped in dire poverty and political oppression.
This was a natural explanation by a man who joined the Nixon Administration in 1969 by choosing to head the anti-poverty agency, the Office of Economic Opportunity. As one of his two deputies, my job was to Nixonize the OEO by replacing the paradigm of welfare and wage-slavery by a new paradigm of entrepreneurial ownership. The task was not to combat poverty, which is impossible, but to produce prosperity as the only way to overcome it.
The larger task for traditional conservatives at both the national and global levels was best exemplified by Ronald Reagan’s call for a “Second American Revolution.” In 1985, he responded to a Congressional resolution to form the Presidential Task Force on Economic Justice, in which I was chairman of the Financial Markets Committee, in order to transform the institutions of society, including the entire system of money and credit, so that they would reduce the wealth gap rather than increase it, and so that economic democracy would make possible the political democracy that the peoples of the world wanted and deserved. In his first major foreign policy address, on February 22, 1983, to celebrate the birthday of his predecessor, George Washington, President Reagan urged American policy-makers, both Republican and Democrat, to recognize, as he put it, “the central focus of politics – the minds, hearts, sympathies, fears, hopes, and aspirations not of governments, but of people – the global electorate.”
The real causes of terrorism are not poverty and oppression per se, but rather the bankruptcy of materialist ideologies, like Neo-Conservatism, which promise much but deliver little. The central doctrine of Neo-Conservatism is “democratic capitalism.” This is the ultimate oxymoron, because in practice the political pluralism that should underlie democracy cannot exist in a climate of economic plutocracy. Political monopoly and economic monopoly are two sides of the same coin, two heads of the same monster.
Despite all the claims to the contrary, the essential ideology of Neo-Conservatism is to preserve the status quo, with all of its injustices. Its public relations experts call for “freedom and democracy” without a framework of higher values. They fail to comprehend the need for a paradigm of justice and therefore are blind to what concerns most of the people in the world. This failure is the taproot of terrorism.
Terrorism has arisen as the new threat to civilization because the “terrorists” know that all the dominant paradigms of the twentieth century are bankrupt. In their hopeless rage they will not consider even the possibility of anything else, other than their own blind rampage of destruction. What they do not know is that they are creatures of this bankruptcy. They are part of the problem, not of the solution. Terrorists are products of Western cultural disintegration, even though they will die for the illusion that they are not.
The roots of terrorism predate the so-called “Islamic” phenomenon. This is brilliantly explained in Abdul Hakim Murad’s article, “Bombing without Moonlight: The Origins of Suicidal Terrorism.” In a companion article, entitled “The Mechanics of Terror,” in the Spring 2005 issue of Islamica, published in Jordan, Jibril Hambel writes: “The actual root cause is the real or imagined failure of a code of beliefs or set of social conditions, [which has produced] a moral/ethical/philosophical vacuum that self-styled reformers and modern-day prophets feel compelled to redress.”
This phenomenon can be observed during the last hundred years in a succession of failed ideologies, ranging from Communism, to Nazism, to apocalyptic Zionism and Wahhabi polytheism, to American Neo-Conservatism. The failure of movements for freedom and democracy without a higher framework of transcendent justice exposes their followers to the hollowness of their own values and to the contradictions in their own hopes. They resort to nihilistic violence in order to show commitment to the values they lack. Further failure only escalates the vicious circle.
Ignorance of the true solution taught by all the Prophets is why terrorists resort to terror and why their targets resort to terrorist counter-terrorism. They have no alternative but to destroy each other and themselves in the process, like scorpions in a bottle.
II. From Tolerance to Pluralism?
Fortunately, facts on the ground have a way of changing even the most ideological perceptions. Thomas Kuhn’s path-breaking study in 1969 introduced the concept that paradigm shifts are the motor of history. As established frameworks of thought prove their own bankruptcy, new paradigms suddenly emerge to explain reality.
The best example may be the shift in the White House’s counter-terrorism strategy almost four years after 9/11 from GWOT or Global War on Terrorism to WOE – the War on Extremism. The stated reason, according to a senior official quoted in the June 6, 2005, issue of U. S. News and World Report is that, “Terrorism is the method rather than the enemy.” In other words, a war on results can not succeed without a “war” on causes.
Also, fortunately, a great number of recent books by major American scholars are now addressing the real causes of terrorism, though the best of these do not consciously do so.
The cause perhaps least amenable to rational discussion is the hubris or arrogance of those who manage the world’s self-proclaimed sole hyper-power as a perfect model of material success and moral virtue. Arrogance almost by definition is incurable because it denies itself.
One of the best explorations of this subject, published in 2003 by Yale University Press, is William R. Hutchison’s Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal. The well-known scholar, David Hollinger of U.C. Berkeley, writes that, “This is the most ambitious book yet from the dean of historians of religion in the United States: a wonderfully discerning exploration of how Americans have variously confronted and tried to evade the challenge of religious diversity.” The conclusions of this book are directed toward America’s failings toward its own citizens, but the framework of analysis fits also America’s failings toward the rest of the world.
The thesis of Hutchison’s book is that pluralism has never been institutionalized in America, much as Americans like to pride themselves on being a model of religious freedom. In a single sentence, this book can be summarized in the assertion that America leads the world in naivete about its own superiority as a pluralistic society.
Like all seminal writers, Hutchison presents his thesis in the form of a new paradigm for analysis. This paradigm is a spectrum that runs from basic tolerance, which means, in effect, “I won’t kill you yet,” to diversity, which means “I can’t stand you, but you are here so I can’t do much about it,” to pluralism, which means “we have so much to learn from each other, because we each have so much to offer.”
Calling for “new models for understanding,” Hutchison distinguishes “between a fact or condition called diversity and an ideal or impulse for which the best term is pluralism.” Diversity is what happened to American religion in the first half of the nineteenth century. “Radical diversification” started to occur only in the last half of the twentieth century. The term pluralism was coined in the 1920s to denote “a state of society in which the members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” This reflected awareness of a new state of society and of the world or new awareness of an old state, just as other terms have, witness imperialism in the 1850s, liberalism in the 1820s, and racism in the 1930s.
The modern definition of pluralism as signifying an actual welcoming of diversity is a modern concept, which modern historians like to project back, without evidence, into American history. Hutchison writes in his introduction, “Quite obviously, many diversified societies, throughout history, have either lacked pluralist ideals entirely, or have trumpeted such ideals and failed to make good on them. But surely the United States, the champion of religious freedom and scorner of establishments, was famously not that kind of society.” Hutchison’s latest book answers this question decisively, and in the negative.
He observes that the very ideas of religious freedom and pluralism have evolved throughout American history in stages, of which the major ones in this “quietly persistent process of redefinition” are “pluralism as toleration, pluralism as inclusion, and pluralism as participation.”
Hutchison does not dwell on the colonial history of America, which was marked by people who fled the intolerance of Europe only to impose their even worse intolerance in the New World. Summing up the first century of the American Republic, he writes, “Through much of the nineteenth century, a positive response to diversity entailed legal tolerance and social tolerance – each of which could sometimes be little more than an absence of persecution. According to this definition of acceptance, a deviant person or group should be accorded the right to exist and even to thrive, but in general to do so only as an outsider to the dominant religion and culture.” He concluded that the ‘inclusionist” ideology developing during the 19th century “clearly was a move forward in any pluralist perspective,” but “rarely granted to the newly included an equal or proportional right to share in the exercise of cultural authority.” In the field of religion this meant by analogy that, “the newly included sat at the back of the bus.”
Perhaps Hutchison’s most controversial conclusion, because it results in recommendations, is that the “melting pot” ideal “operated to suppress differences far more than to respect and utilize them.” He clearly details the lack of freedom inherent in pressures for “assimilation,” which amounts to both individual and community suicide. Although he has no specific recommendations, the thrust of the entire book advocates what should be called “integration.” This term, which he does not use, means that individuals of each group in society proactively bring the wisdom of their tradition to enrich the overall society in which they live. Hutchison instead uses the term “participation.” “Pluralism by participation,” he writes, “implies a mandate for individuals and groups … to share responsibility for the forming and implementing of the society’s agenda.”
His other important definitional innovation, which is always the mark of seminal thinking, involves the dynamic nature of the very concept of religious freedom. Why have Americans always prided themselves as offering a model of religious freedom, when in fact they never have done so? When the standard was mere tolerance in the negative sense of not persecuting people who were not mainline Protestant, Americans could argue, because of their ignorance of the world outside of Europe, that they were the most tolerant in the world. Later when diversity gave rise to the concept of inclusion, he writes, “Americans could generally congratulate themselves on the society’s inclusiveness even though ‘inclusion’ involved forms of subordination that many were already viewing as patronizing and generally unacceptable.”
Perhaps the most extreme case of patronizing intolerance in the contemporary world, because it best illustrates the reversal of truth and falsehood brought out in the metaphor of the Anti-Christ, was Michael Novak’s seminal article in the April 2003 issue of America’s leading journal on religion in public life, First Things. Its founder, Bishop Richard John Neuhaus, a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, changed the environment in Washington by his enormously influential book, The Naked Public Square. This not only introduced the popular term “the public square” but used this to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of American society and later of the entire world. This first introduced the religious element into the Neo-Conservative movement and prepared the way a decade later for an alliance with the so-called Christian Right. This journal and its elite pundits are today the world’s most influential force in shaping policy toward the role of religion, including Islam.
Michael Novak’s article, entitled “The Faith of the Founding,” represents an entirely new approach to Islam, because it is based not on generalizing from the action of extremist Muslims but on denial of the basic fundamentals of Islam as a religion. The newest strategy is to single out the essential truths of Islam, deny that they exist, and assert that their absence constitutes the Islamic threat. This sophisticated strategy may be more effective over the long run than are the simplistic claims of Pat Robertson and Franklyn Graham that Muslims are bandits and are programmed by their vicious cult to kill the infidels, meaning anyone who opposes their plans of global conquest.
In this lead article of the April 2003 issue, Novak writes that all of America’s founding documents “depend for their intelligibility and their credibility upon a distinctively Jewish and Christian view of man’s relation to God that each individual conscience stands in the presence of its Creator by virtue of having been created from nothing.” His one, two, three punch then follows: “Only Judaism and Christianity among all world religions developed, and still nourish and celebrate, the three central concepts necessary to the American conception of rights. Only they hold to the doctrine that there is a Creator (and Governor of the universe); that each individual owes a personal accounting at the time of Judgment to this Creator, a Judgment that is prior to all claims of civil society or state; and that this inalienable relation between each individual and his Creator occurs in the depths of conscience and reason, and is not reached merely by external bows, bended knees, pilgrimages, or other ritual observances.
“Only Judaism and Christianity,” writes Novak, “have a doctrine of God as Spirit and Truth, Who created the world in order to invite these creatures endowed with intelligence and conscience to enter into friendship with Him. Only the Jewish and Christian God made human beings free, halts the power of Caesar at the boundaries of the human soul, and has commissioned human beings to build civilizations worthy of the liberty He has endowed in them.”
Novak contends that even though some Muslims may be good, Islam is inherently bad because it does not recognize a direct relationship of the person with God and therefore can have no conception of human rights or of government limited by recognition of the sovereignty of God. He rejects as a fraud precisely all that Muslims have always said are the central teachings of their faith. By portraying Islam thus as inimical to the very foundation of America, this scion of the Neo-Con intellectual elite casts Islam as a mortal threat to everything good in the world.
This kind of extremism is dangerous because it shows gross ignorance of the world outside of Washington and constitutes ideological aggression much worse than the simple invasion and attempted occupation of another people’s land. This is precisely the kind of aggression that stokes the fires of extremism among its targeted victims and necessarily leads the most alienated among them to respond in desperation with the tools of terrorism.
The response required of Muslims to the challenge of sophisticated disinformation about both the religion Islam and its Muslim practitioners is to internalize Hutchison’s concept of progress from mere negative tolerance to positive pluralism so that they can move from the present dominant Muslim culture of isolationism and rejectionism toward a culture of ecumenical outreach, understanding, and cooperation.
III. De-Constructing the Paradigm of Natural Law
Another seldom appreciated cause of extremism is the secularization of thought in the contemporary world. This is most virulently expressed in the abolition of natural law and, in fact, all normative law as the core of civilized society.
The importance of natural law theory is more important in Western civilization than in any others because arguably the “West” has perpetrated greater evil than any other civilization in human history. From the meta-historical perspective this has raised an almost ontological issue, “Who are we?” The repeated cataclysms of evil since the beginning of the modern era in the French Revolution have originated from the pursuit of materialist utopias, sometimes cast in the garb of religion. This is perhaps inherent in the underlying nature of the West’s three monotheistic and teleological religions, which differ from the cyclical religions of the East by foreseeing an eventual utopia on earth in the “end times.”
The question arises in Western civilization, including Islam, what happens when one abolishes belief in the transcendent as the ultimate source of normative law, whether de jure as in post-modern thought, or only de facto in the politicalization of religion. In Western culture one is left with the belief that utopia on earth can and must come now. This can become a cover for alienated individuals to express their hatred through organized violence.
Furthermore, it will not come at the behest of God but through the free will of man embodied in a leader who claims to know the laws of history or persuades others that he can create them through their own unlimited power. The purpose of man in the new secular dispensation is to conquer the world through man’s intellect in order to bring forth heaven on earth. This is the ultimate polytheism, because it amounts to the worship not only of oneself but of the human species as God. This is almost a definition of extremism both among terrorists and among their counter-terrorist “victims.”
The essence of the culture war that is now being waged in America and by extension throughout the world is the paradigmatic confrontation between three forces. These are the positivists, who believe that rationalist man is the source of truth and the measure of everything, the scriptural fundamentalists who believe that revelation without rational thought is all that matters, and the traditionalists, who believe that both reason and revelation in combination are the best source of the wisdom needed to build a society of order, justice, and freedom.
The Muslims of the classical era waged this same culture war, as represented by the Mutazillites, who claimed that reason trumps revelation, the Mutakallimun, who insisted that revelation does not require reason, and the traditionalists, like Abu Hamid al Ghazali, who contended that both are wrong because revelation and reason require each other.
Classical Islamic scholars taught that there are three sources of truth. The first is haqq al yaqin, which consists of divine revelation through prophets for humankind in public community, known as wahy, supplemented by inspiration or ilham strictly for each individual’s own private guidance. The second is ‘ain al yaqin, which is natural law evident through the study of the physical universe, including one’s own human nature. The third, ‘ilm al yaqin, which consists of both deductive reasoning from revelation and inductive reasoning from scientific study of the signs or ayat of the universe, is not strictly a source of truth but is required to understand the two primary sources.
This classical Islamic understanding is beautifully spelled out in another seminal book that can help Muslims understand the dynamics of Western culture so that they can better bring to it the wisdom of their tradition and thereby help sideline the extremists in all religious traditions. This book is Russell Hittinger’s The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World, published in 2003 by ISI Books in Wilmington, Delaware.
This 334-page book is part of the resurgence of natural law theory in America during the past two decades. Its preeminent leader is the Catholic traditionalist, Hittinger himself. Steven Long of the University of St. Thomas says, “This is one of the two or three books written in the past hundred years that every person interested in natural law - theologians, philosophers, jurisprudes, moralists - should read.” David Novak of the University of Toronto writes, “Through his great learning and philosophical perspicacity, Hittinger shows how Catholics have the most to contribute to democratic discourse when they are most faithful to their own intellectual tradition. By analogy, members of other religions, who have their own versions of natural law, can be well instructed by both the content and the logic of this excellent book.”
Evil, defined as deliberate reversal of truth and falsehood, has been endemic in Western civilization and therefore has challenged philosophers and moral theologians to address the question of our very identity. The self-centered or solipsistic and even autistic perspective is expressed benignly in John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian view that the measure of the good is increase in pleasure and decrease in pain, which was buttressed by the coeval theories of Darwin. This approach was expressed malignantly by Hobbes who claimed that man is a brute who can prosper and even survive only if controlled through an elitist institutionalization of tyranny.
The opposite perspective, taught by all the world’s religions, is that by nature every person is philanthropic, based on the Greek words philos (loving) and anthropos (man), because every person was created to know God, Who loves every person. In other words, a person does not care about and help others simply because this makes him happy, but because this is everyone’s nature, and one can be happy only when one is true to one’s own nature and purpose created by God. This approach is reflected in the Islamic concept of infaq, which is the natural inclination to give rather than take in life and is the basis of charity (sadaqa and zakah). The concepts of aqape or love in Christian moral theology and of infaq in Islam thus are meta-values, basic to all the others. Saint Augustine even argued that no-one can deliberately choose evil without justifying it by some principle in order to make it appear good.
If man is more than a brute and seeks good, can he follow his own nature without guidance from a source beyond himself? The secularists may say, like Jean Jacques Rousseau, that none is necessary because man is primordially good, or simply that none is available since there is no God, or, like the deists, that God created but does not sustain the universe. The essence of all religions, however, including that of the theists who oppose religion in organized forms, is that God is merciful and therefore does provide guidance, because otherwise it would be cruel to hold man accountable for his errors.
The question then becomes in what forms does this guidance come. The simple answer is “natural law.” The classical Islamic terms for this are the sunnatu Allahi and haqq al din. Saint Augustine called it in classical Latin the lex aeterna. But, what is and how do we access natural law? Is divine revelation natural law, or does science reveal natural law, or does man produce natural law from these first two sources. These are precisely the questions that are answered in the classical Islamic teachings on haqq al yaqin, ‘ain al yaqin, and ‘ilm al yaqin.
The beauty of Russell Hittinger’s new book, The First Grace, is that unknowingly he spells out the Islamic doctrines for people of all religions in an era when secularists have been downgrading the very concept of natural law to an atavistic and quaint survival from man’s irrelevant past.
The purpose of natural law theory, writes Hittinger, is to discover or assert the prior premises of human law. These coalesce around three foci: order in the divine mind, order in nature, and order in the human mind. Hittinger explains how “the great tradition of natural law allowed each of these foci to have its own salience, depending on the problem at hand.”
This framework gives guidance to both the legislature and the judiciary. Through this framework the “law-makers” are guided by a higher law then themselves, and through it the judges are able intelligently to apply the legislative intent.
Saint Augustine places natural law within the teleological framework of monotheistic thought, whereby everything in existence functions toward a divine end. Hittinger quotes Saint Augustine on page xxi: “Law denotes a kind of plan (ratio) directing acts toward an end.” This is a perfect summary of the great structure of purposes in Islamic normative law known as the maqasid al shari’ah, the rationale of which derives from the Qur’anic ayah, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice” (wa tamaat kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ‘adlan), Surah al An’am 6:115. In Deuteronomy 16:20, the ancient Jews were commanded, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.” Pope Paul VI declared, “If you want peace, work for justice” (Si vis pacem, laborate justitiam). Justice is none other than the Will of God for the universe.
Over the course of many centuries, building on the didactic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, the classical Islamic scholars expressed this Will in an elaborate three-tiered architectonics or code of human responsibilities and rights, which both derives from and expresses the divine mind as it is expressed in the transcendent order of reality, in the coherent order pervading the apparent chaos of created nature, and in the human genius that perceives the relation between the two.
The task of Muslims in America, as well as generally throughout the world, is to recover their classical heritage of human rights in the normative system of law known as the maqasid al shari’ah. This systemization of what in Christianity is known as moral theology is considered to be law in Islam, because the very definition of Islamic law is justice and the primary function of this law is not to enforce conformity as in Western jurisprudence but to educate and guide.
Unfortunately, this framework of normative law has gradually been deconstructed over the past century and a half in America, and even more so in Europe, so that the primordially religious nature of all law in human society has been reduced to the positivist concept that natural law is either non-existent, or irrelevant, or synonymous with human reason. This deconstruction poses a threat to the higher identity of every person and community and therefore evokes the fight or flight response of the animal whose very existence has been challenged.
In the Muslim world, the desacralization of public life is even more advanced, because the classical Islamic framework of juristic thought has been essentially dead for six hundred years, though it has survived among the Shi’a in whose credo or ‘aqida justice comes immediately after awareness of God and before even recognition of prophethood. The challenge to Muslims is to revive their classical jurisprudence of the third through sixth Muslim centuries because this is the only adequate response to those who claim that in Islam as a religion love and justice do not exist.
Success in this venture would show the commonalities and even the identity of informed and enlightened Muslims with the founders of the Great American Experiment so that together traditionalist Americans of all faiths can launch what President Ronald Reagan called a Second American Revolution to perfect the first one.
III. Political Polytheism
A third fundamental cause of extremism, and one seldom intelligently addressed, is rage and reaction against the alleged but oxymoronic pursuit of democracy in an economic order that makes this goal impossible to achieve. Several books have been written recently on this subject. The most mind-bending ones on the economic dimension are Curing World Poverty: the New Role of Property and Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen, both of which are available in paperback and also available for downloading electronically from http://www.cesj.org and associated links, especially http://www.globaljusticemovement.org and www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us.
The most instructive book on the political dimension, and specifically on its traditionalist framework, may be Russell Kirk’s Rights and Duties: Reflections on Our Conservative Constitution. This reflects the common wisdom of classical American and classical Islamic thought and presents the best solution to the political quandaries of extremists who are alienated by the failures of modernist and post-modernist thought to engage the challenges of transcendent justice.
The modernist solution to felt injustice has always been to seek power. Failure in this pursuit can turn moderates into extremists, and failure to secure justice once one has grabbed power can generate still more extremism from the victims of the political quest.
Lord Acton declared that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This generalization is too abbreviated. The quest for power corrupts more than its possession, because madness comes from the arrogance of believing that one can acquire absolute power and keep it. This applies to both political and economic power, especially when the addict pursues each form of power limitlessly in order to augment the other.
Failure in the impossible quest for absolute power redoubles the madness. Since it is in human nature to seek the absolute, the quest for material power can turn into a false god. As the utopias of the twentieth century confirm, false gods of whatever kind in the world are the primary source of evil.
The power of such polytheism, defined as the pursuit of anything as one’s highest goal other than personal awareness and submission to God, is best seen not in the dementia of extremist Neo-Conservatives in America but in the Islamist extremists who would reduce Islam de facto to a political movement, modeled perhaps unconsciously after the Bolsheviks of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, and designed oxymoronically to establish an “Islamic state.”
The fountain of such extremism is the paradigm of thought popularized by Syed Qutb. He was the Muslim Brotherhood’s equivalent of Lenin in the sense that he redirected toward absolutism the Sufi-like movement begun by his enlightened mentor, Hassan al Banna, who functioned perhaps as the equivalent of the Brotherhood’s Karl Marx. Qutb’s doctrine was embodied in his declaration that, “There is only one place on earth that can be called the House of Islam (dar al islam), and it is that place where an Islamic state is established and the shari’ah is the authority and God’s laws are observed. … The rest of the world is the House of War (dar al harb).
Modern extremists may use different words, like dar al zulm, the land of evil, or dar al kufr, the land of those who are going to hell because they deliberately reject the truth, but the substance of their war is the same, namely, to invent and instigate a clash of civilizations and to declare a holy war with the slogan “no substitute for victory.”
Syed Qutb’s openly political paradigm of thought differs little from the openly religious paradigm of the radical puritanical reformers, whether anti-establishment like the Salafis in Saudi Arabia, or pro-establishment like the fascist Wahhabis. The ultimate aim of them all is the acquisition of absolute power here on earth. The basis of right versus wrong becomes the relativistic reduction of justice to one’s own narrow self-interest in a clash with everyone else, so that blowing up Jewish babies and oneself can be easily justified and even sanctified in the pursuit of a higher cause.
Russell Kirk’s last book, Rights and Duties, was published posthumously in 1997 with a lengthy introduction by Russell Hittinger in order to expose the dangers of what had become the hot issue of “judicial usurpation.” This consisted in the growing tendency of the federal courts to reverse the meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment so that they no longer called for protection of religious freedom in the public square but rather were beginning to “speak a language of secular humanism that reminds one of nothing so much as the revolution in eighteenth-century France,” which spawned all the monstrous ideologies of the twentieth century.
In this collection of Kirk’s last writings and speeches, he marshals the evidence that America was founded as “a revolution not made but prevented.” It did not result from abolition of the sacred as in the European Enlightenment, or as a product of human contract, as taught by Locke, or from the ideological furies of the French Revolution. Rather the Great American Experiment was a bold enterprise and commitment to preserve the wisdom of the millennia that has given rise to civilizations and the absence of which causes them to fall. The model of the growing civilizational threat of the past two centuries has been the rejection of human dignity by the creation of the artificial state that has usurped all traditional authority in order to impose its own absolute power.
The concept of the “state” in modernist thought of the past three centuries is both secular and ideological. It is secular not in the sense of mere even-handedness among religions or indifference to them, but in the sense of active hostility to any role of religion in public life. The state was invented at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to end the religious wars that had wracked Europe for centuries by substituting the sovereignty of man-made governments for the sovereignty of God.
The concept of the state is ideological not in the sense of a coherent view of the world but in the sense of a closed system of thought. Any opposition to the state is heresy, just as earlier was any open rebellion against God. When Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the twentieth century invented the concept of the Muslim umma as the Islamic State, and Israel as the Jewish State, and America as a Christian state, the ideology of the state metastacized from benign to malignant and threatened both justice and peace.
The genius of the American experiment, according to Kirk, is that the Founders did not credit Americans of any period with being especially virtuous. They rejected Hobbes’ cynicism about human nature, but they rejected equally the oxymoronic dualism inherent in the “Zeitgeist deity … that decrees a world in which people will no longer crave power and property,” while it simultaneously calls for a “liberation theology” in which Jesus becomes “the junior partner in an asymmetric relationship between God and man.”
“Man and society” he writes on page 161, “are imperfect and imperfectable.” Therefore all change must be built on the accomplishments of the past to bring out its best not on utopian dreams of the future, because “Providence moves deliberately, while the devil always hurries.”
Kirk shared the Founders universal contempt for democracy, which to a man they condemned as the worst kind of government because it usurps the rights of God. The founders never used the term democracy except to condemn it, especially in its radical majoritarian form, as nothing more than the tyranny of the mob. At its very best, democracy is a useful tool of government, but can never provide a framework for human life and for peace through justice.
The founders of America stated their hope, intention, and commitment to create instead a republic, which by definition recognizes God as the ultimate truth, and the ultimate sovereignty, and the ultimate source of wisdom for all human social, economic, and political life. They all shared Jefferson’s tri-partite teaching that order, justice, and freedom require an educated public, that education consists above all in learning virtue, and that an entire people can remain virtuous only when the wisdom of higher religion pervades all personal and public life.
Kirk’s book, Rights and Duties, was prepared to counter the revisionist efforts in academia to undo the American Revolution. These were led by the fount of secular positivism at Harvard Law School, which abandoned the natural law school of Chief Justice Story in the mid-19th century in favor of the militant positivism of Austinian jurisprudence. Kirk was concerned that at the turn of the third millennium a judicial nominee had to be centrist in order to be confirmed and that in order to be centrist within the legal community one had to be secular.
The traditionalists, led by Kirk, were concerned that the public relations effort to sell America would abandon what America really had to offer and that the hollowness of repeated calls for freedom and democracy without the higher wisdom of republican governance and transcendent justice would create cynicism, which in time would metamorphise into alienation, hatred, and violence.
Throughout his entire shelf of writings over the course of half a century, Kirk emphasized the importance of the unwritten constitution, without which America’s formal constitution could never have survived. He distinguishes sharply between the conservative concept of traditional wisdom as the real American constitution and the liberal concept of an “evolving constitution” as overseen by a judicial aristocracy bent on creating an ersatz constitution reflecting the ideologies of the moment, which are in turn constitutionalized through judicial decrees. He concludes his book with the warning that America as a constitutional republic can survive only so long as people engage in politics “because they know that the alternative to a politics of elevation is a politics of degradation,” and only so long as “the unwritten constitution, the web of custom and convention, affirms an enduring moral order of obligation and personal responsibility.”
In his opening paragraph, Kirk writes that the American Constitution has succeeded in its purpose to conserve order, justice, and freedom only to the extent that it has “succeeded as a restraint upon arbitrary power, rash innovation, and what de Tocqueville called ‘the tyranny of the majority’.” Both the written and unwritten constitutions, writes Kirk, provide “restraints upon the egalitarian impulse, helping to preserve America from what [Alexis de Tocqueville] called ‘democratic despotism’.”
Americans must realize, writes Kirk, that they may build a model for the world, but, as Daniel Boorstin once put it, “The Constitution of the United States is not for export.”
The closest equivalent in classical Islamic thought is the writing of one of the half dozen greatest scholars of the Islamic tradition, Ibn Taymiya, the Hanbali jurist, who lived at the time of the Mongol invasion seven hundred years ago and developed a sophisticated understanding about the Islamic doctrine of the khilafat. Modern-day extremists, like their equivalents in Ibn Taymiya’s time, interpreted this to require Muslim conquest of the world by a single ruler. Adopting the modern language of European secular humanism, Muslim extremists now call for a global “Islamic state.”`
In the poetic language of Naveed Shaykh’s new book, The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States, extremism comes when pan-Islamists operationalize a unity of belief in a human community of monist monolithism rather than in a boundless love for all of God’s creation in a transcendent Islamic cosmopolis. Extremism comes 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, according to Naveed Sheikh, “the political scientists of the day 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 late 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, as detailed in Chapter 59, “The Scholar’s Road,” in Khalid Abou el-Fadl’s book, Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam, 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 thought 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, Ibn Taymiya rendered political unification and the caliphate redundant.
The very concept of political Islam is a prime example of Westoxification, 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 reveals a Western mindset with a totalitarian leaning, rather than a spiritual unity of believers.
This is the basic message for all the Abrahamic peoples that both Russell Kirk in the twentieth century and Ibn Taymiya many centuries earlier spent their lives trying to teach to an often uncomprehending public.
Muslims, as well as other Americans, would do well to internalize Kirk’s insight that, “It is religious faith, indeed, that has made American democracy successful; lack of religious foundation has been the ruin of other democracies.”
But, true faith in any world religion may be perverted by polytheistic extremists who attempt to hijack the power of religion for themselves. Kirk describes them on page 158: “There exists an evil substitute for religion in public affairs: fanatic ideology, which pretends to offer the people an earthly paradise, to be achieved through revolutionary politics. But all that ideology can create is an earthly hell.” “The [secular] experiment will fail” warns Russell Kirk, quoting T. S. Eliot, “but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.”
IV. Responding to the Challenges
Arguably the best book ever published on the taproot of terrorism and on the best response to it is the weighty volume, Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars, edited by Joseph E. B. Lumbard, with an introduction by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. This can hardly be reviewed in anything less than book-length, but some unique aspects of this book should be mentioned.
This book differs from most of the other books by experts on terrorism because it focuses on Islam the religion rather than on Muslims the self-proclaimed followers of its message. It lets acknowledged experts on so-called “political Islam,” like Professor John Esposito, defend the Islamists against ignorant distortions of their motivations and ambitions. Similarly, instead of exposing and attacking the violent terrorists among the puritanical Muslims and the still more violent extremists among the counter-terrorists, the authors of this book focus on the message of traditionalist Islam and its positive or cataphatic form of spirituality shared by all the world religions.
The common purpose of its eight authors, all scholars at the highest level of competence in American and English academia, is to restate the classical teachings of mainline Islam as they have developed over the centuries. These teachings are no different from those in the classical world of Christianity which borrowed heavily from them.
Thus, the “father” of Christian traditionalism, Saint John of the Cross, who lived from 1542 to 1591, reflected the entire corpus of the Islamic spiritual teachings and even borrowed from them all the terminology that went into the formation of Christian spiritual life. These teachings are perhaps best captured in the teaching of the Christian mystics that the purpose of life is not to gain heaven and avoid hell but, as Thomas Merton has phrased it, “to become the person that one is and that God intends one to become.” In 1572, Saint Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic, reflected this in her exclamation, “Lord, if it is your wish that I go to hell, please send me there, because I have no wishes other than Yours.”
The authors of the Lumbard book simply ignore both those who have a hang-up on hell and use it to gain power over their primitive followers and those with literalist hallucinations about heaven who seduce their followers with promises of heavenly hurries so they will commit mass murder while screaming “Allahu akbar.”
The Wahhabi theologues and the modernist ideologues may pose as liberators from the Great Shaitan but they can never gain power over those who can truly submit to God, because these true mu’min have already gained complete freedom in this world and therefore total independence from the lures of the Anti-Christ and from the strictures of ideological oppression.
Only two chapters deal specifically with the roots of terrorism. And only one is specifically political. This one is Waleed El-Ansary’s brilliant application of game theory, using the classical methodology of Islamic fiqh or rational thought, in his chapter entitled, “The Economics of Terrorism: How bin Laden is Changing the Rules of the Game.”
For his game-theoretic analysis El-Ansary divides American policy-makers into the “puzzled,” the “mistaken,” and the “discerning.” One interesting conclusion is that the many contradictions in Bin Laden’s statements over the years can be explained by his use of the Israeli-Palestinian issue for its multiplier effect in strengthening his many other justifications for war against America. Bin Laden has always been concerned about the economic injustices of the wealth gap, about political oppression, especially in Saudi Arabia, and about the secular onslaught of American culture, but he uses the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the best means to gain support and leverage among Muslims who may not share his larger concerns.
If the U.S. strategy is to turn up the heat in order to promote regime change in rogue nations, Bin Laden’s strategy is to promote regime change in America by exposing the illusion that war is peace. Furthermore, by forcing the United States to buy into his strategy of tit-for-tat terrorism, despite the asymmetry in capabilities for defense, Bin Laden provides the “moral” justification for his rejection of the entire corpus of classical Islamic thought.
El-Ansari urges global strategists to address Bin Laden’s real concerns, and, in order to reverse the leverage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, El-Ansary recommends a solution based on the spiritual wisdom of the Abrahamic religions. This is to depoliticize Jerusalem by elevating it beyond either Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty into a spiritually sovereign entity mandated by the traditional representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths.
The other chapter that deals directly with terrorism is T.J. Winter’s magisterial essay, entitled “The Poverty of Fanaticism.” He postulates that the entire world is going through the most “entropic” stage of its history when civilizational energies are dying out in general disintegration and chaos. As part of this process he says that the “Islamic world,” by which he means the “Muslim world,” is passing through a most devastating period of transition. In the worldwide attempt to revivify Islam, the middle ground has become enfeebled, and the ultras, who once formed only a tiny wart on the face of the Muslim world, are effecting a facelift to reveal the evil potential of human beings and hide the soul of traditional Islam. The authentic summons to cultural and spiritual renewal is being deformed by a “splintered array of maniacal forms.”
The task of marshaling the mental resources to invigorate a spiritual revival “must be grounded in an act of collective muhasaba, of self-examination, in terms that transcend the ideologized neo-Islam of the revivalists [which is his polite term for fundamentalists] and return to a more classical and indigenously Muslim dialectic.” He notes that the failure of the Muslim ideologists to revive Islam would seem to suggest that God is not lending them His support.
He expresses horror at the increasingly common phenomenon of religious conversion whereby the young person lost in the secular desert of radical modernity “one morning picks up a copy of the fundamentalist writer Sayyid Qutb from a newsstand and is ‘born-again’ on the spot.” Within days he is recruited to regard war as holy and to wage holy war. Winter asks, “What attracts young Muslims to this type of ephemeral but ferocious activism?”
Islamic conversion, he says, traditionally has been “a process of intellectual maturation, triggered by the presence of a very holy person or place. Repentance (tawba), in its traditional form, yields an outlook of joy, contentment, and a deep affection for others. The modern form of tawba however, born of insecurity, often makes Muslims narrow, intolerant, and exclusivist. Even more noticeably, it produces people whose faith is, despite its apparent intensity, liable to vanish as suddenly as it came. Deprived of real nourishment, the activist’s soul can only grow hungry and emaciated, until at last it dies.”
The entire rest of this book is devoted to the nature of traditional Islam and to its revival. More details on this book may be found in my article, “New Frontiers in Conflict Management: A ‘Grand Strategy’ to Wage Jihad against Terrorist Muslims who would Hijack Islam”. This will never be a popular book, because it is too profound. But, those who are looking for the taproot to terrorism and for the only adequate answer to it will find it in Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition.
T. J. Winter’s final paragraph on page 294, which also concludes the book, is perhaps the best summary. He writes, “At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the ‘middle way,’ defined by the sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But, it can be retrieved only when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill them with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance, and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity and decency in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonizing, failure.”