The Future of Islamic Theocracy & Political Liberalism
I argue that there isn't a future for Islamic Theocracy. This was the first essay I wrote on the old blog (Jan. 22, 2006). I have modified it.
Political liberalism in the West is a byproduct of a process which has digested and evaluated the claims of Judeo-Christian theocratic politics. As such it represents an incredible way of evaluating what can happen to political religion in the face of reason, or in interaction with reason. In the Judeo-Christian political tradition, political religion has been, for want of a better term: secularized — at least the aims of politics are secularized. The government is no longer concerned with providing for the salvation of individuals’ after life. It is concerned only with providing for temporal fulfillment: economic and material. However, this doesn’t mean that what happened in the West was that political Christianity become destroyed. No, it changed and became something else. At bottom, though, the liberal political tradition is connected to Christianity.
The question I presented myself is whether this change will occur in Islam. The answer is yes. Political Islam will be secularized (if it hasn’t already). However, the tone and tenor will be different. Pessimists are usually only those who know little about Islam.
Some preliminary thoughts on political liberalism are in order. It is the byproduct of a dialectic between religion and reason. As such, it can never claim to be set up as the antithesis of reason, nor can reason claim that it is the antithesis of religion. The two have been symbiotic.
For now let’s talk about the relationship between political liberalism and Islam. Given that Islam did not participate in the philosophic discussions of the past five hundred years, is it to be considered a nemesis of modern political liberalism by virtue of the mere fact that it pre-dates and exists outside of the framework in which political liberalism exists? My answer is that it doesn’t matter. Islam did not need to have participated in the earlier discussion as long as it participates in it now. In fact, I would like to propose the radical idea that political Islam is going to be secularized far more swiftly than Christianity ever was. Some fundamental structural components of Islam, again, to be explored later, make it amenable for such. The most significant element is that even a politically liberal Islam could still be called Islam, and as such, its reformers have an easier task than those European reformers who often had to choose between Athens and Jerusalem.
At the heart of modern political liberalism and modernity itself, rests the fundamental idea of individuality, or autonomy. The notion that each man is a private entity. The credit for the presence of this fact goes to Christianity, which, by creating a system revolving around the love between One God and One Man, paved the door for private sin, and individuality in general.
What initially for many hundreds of years kept Christianity from allowing its private individuals from immediately declaring their own independence, was the institution of the church. It was a check on private sin. It was an institution which forcibly collectivized people by positing that the individual’s salvation, though independently his, required the intercession and mediation of the church. You were each individually loved, each independently suffered, but you needed more than yourself to be free. But no matter what the strictures of the church, the individuality of one man was established.
The enlightenment took that notion of individuality, divorced it from the church, and made people “autonomous.” Made us floating individualities. It is no surprise that most people do not credit Nietzsche as the father of modern individualism even though he was the first true narcissist. Rather, credit goes to Kant who established that each man was “autonomous” due to each individual possessing individual rational faculties. As a consequence of the rise of autonomy, democracy, republicanism, and the modern nation state came to be. I reiterate, all of which arose on a Christian idea: individual sin. Christians today often like to chest thump and say that because the Enlightenment was a Christian act, this is a Christian country. I’m sorry, no. The Enlightenment was not based on Christian morality (i.e. anti-abortionism, anti-homosexuality, anti-semitism); it was based on the Judeo-Christian notion of individuality.
The only way that Islam and political liberalism are not consistent is if you allege that there is no individuality in Islam — that you are tied to the brotherhood, or to some greater social cohesiveness. The problem is that you cannot in good faith make this claim (you can only do it as the point of a gun, and that is exactly what is happening today). At the end of the day the absence of a clergy, the absence of a centralized institution, the idea of individual judgment, even variances in the form of the prayer, not to mention the existence of a personal relationship between man and God, and private sin, all suggest that individuality has always been alive and well in Islam — and has been a part of Islam since the beginning. The Ummah has always existed but even in its alleged golden age there was not one Caliph but numerous competing caliphal factions. In fact, one can make the argument that Muhammad was the first Muslim to recognize the tremendous space that Christianity had opened to individual men. He himself was a loner, opting to sit in a cave instead of hobnobbing with the political elite, going so far as to rejecting an invitation to sit at the ruling table in Mecca. I have no difficulty believing that he realized the value of the Christian idea.
The objection Muslims have with this compatibility between Islam and political liberalism is that they believe that if they concede to allowing Islam to be equated with political liberalism, then they will lose out on 1) God, and 2) rules made under the authority of God.
Such conclusions are childish.
1) Under the anglo-saxon version of political liberalism the monotheist God does not die. You are free to worship Him as you like. The same will be true under the Islamic version of political liberalism
2) In Islam, the “laws of God” cannot be effectuated except through mutual consultation with all the people. This mean that the Will of God is manifested through the collective will of the people who reach a consensus on what that Will is. This is how legislation works. In other words, I can’t really see how the “laws of God” would disappear unless the entire collective of Muslims decided such laws were no longer necessary. The more salient question is not to ask whether a law that is legislated is “religious” but whether the people who made it have the freedom to bring their religious viewpoint to the table.
Muslims like to convince themselves that the laws of God are actually figured out by jurists. I haven’t rejected that. The jurist is responsible for deducing the laws of God, but who effectuates those laws? It is the state. Who runs the state? It isn’t the jurist. It is the citizen. The citizen votes. The citizen electes representatives. Muslims around the world know this because in every country where they are not allowed to effectuate the jurist made laws, they agitate for democracy. In Egypt, in Bangladesh, in Iran. Even in Pakistan, every time a dictator stays too long, the populace begins agitation to remove him (although Musharraf has been permitting democracy at the local level since he first came to power). Point is that there is nothing inconsistent with saying that the laws of God are determined by jurists and put into effect by people.
So, three conclusions.
a) the Islam of the future is not a theocratic state. For that to occur, individuality, one of the main tenets of Islam would have to be eliminated. I don’t foresee that happening. Everywhere I look I see more and more Muslims agitating for their own autonomy. Professor Devji has argued that even al-Qaeda represents a “democratization” (albeit violent) because even the militants concede the basis point of political liberalism: they want an individualized religiosity (granted their version is violent)
b) the Islam of the future will look very similar to today’s political liberalism because political liberalism is, at its heart, a particular description of Christianity, which forms the bases of Islam.
c) the Islam of the future will not be called Islamic political liberalism. It’ll probably just be called Islam. If one looks through the history of the Islam, it has often “adopted” the dominant mode of political governance without actually calling it by another name. When the Arabs expanded to Persia, and the Abbassids came to power, they immediately borrowed the Persian model of the rule of the Sultan. Yet they didn’t call it the Persian Model of Politics. They just called it Islam.
I felt I needed to talk about the philosophical bases of what is happening in the Muslim world today because we at Eteraz take the above facts for granted and get right to the work we do. However, most other people aren't even aware of them.
Related: A Poll About Secularism and Islam (Please do not vote as the poll is supposed to be closed, just click on results).
Tags: islam, philosophy, liberalism (all tags)
The Future of Islamic Theocracy & Political Liberalism | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)
The Future of Islamic Theocracy & Political Liberalism | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)