by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
Human Rights in Islam from the Political Perspective
In addressing human rights in Islam from the political perspective, one must distinguish between theory and practice. The two human rights most emphasized today from the political perspective are political freedom and religious freedom, with gender equity a close third. Religious freedom has been respected in practice historically better in Islamdom than it has in Christendom, but the opposite has been true in recent centuries for political freedom in the sense of institutionalizing representative government.
The universal principle of political freedom, known as haqq al hurriya in Islamic jurisprudence, has always been understood as a call for self-determination by individual persons and by the communities in which they find their social identities. The secondary level of hajjiyat calls first of all for khilafa. This provides that the highest responsibility both of those who govern and those who are governed is to God. The idea is that people should be governed by people who are governed by God. This is basic to Thomas Jefferson’s teaching that a people can remain free only if they are educated, that education consists primarily in learning virtue, and that a people can remain virtuous only if both their private and their public lives are infused with awareness of God.
The next of the second-level principles of haqq al hurriya or political freedom is shura, which calls for responsive governance and for political institutions to assure that the government is a servant of the people rather than the reverse.
The third requirement is known as ijma, which is the duty of every citizen and especially of the opinion leaders to seek consensus on a preferred political agenda and to reach compromises on the means to pursue this agenda in specific policies and courses of action.
Institutionalizing these three second-level requirements of political freedom is important because self-determination as the framework of haqq al hurriya is based on the principle known in Western moral theology as “subsidiarity.”
This provides that all problems should be resolved at the lowest political levels, with resort to higher levels only when resolution is otherwise impossible. The concept of subsidiarity comes from two of the other primary principles in the Islamic code of human rights. The first of these two is haqq al haya, which provides that the highest level of human sovereignty, subject only to the Sovereignty of God, is the human person. This, in turn, gives rise to the correlative principle of haqq al nasl, which provides for the derivative sovereignty of the human community in ascending levels all the way to entire civilizations and even to the human species.
Imposing the ideology of modernism in the form of centralizing secular fundamentalism has been the principal barrier to both political and economic development in traditionalist societies. This was the key thesis of my fifty-page position paper on development economics that Richard Nixon asked me to write for the 1968 presidential campaign, later published under the title “New Directions for American Foreign Policy: Some Thoughts for Macromodeling,” in the Summer 1969 issue of Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs, and republished in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org. This was one of five such position papers that he asked me to write on what we agreed were the major issues based on the two criteria that they presented both maximum threat and maximum opportunity and that they could be effectively addressed only through paradigmatic revolution. Gerald Ford wrote a foreword for publication of the set of five under the title Inescapable Rendezvous: Premises, Problems, and Prospects for American Foreign Policy and used its basic conclusion in his speech celebrating the bicentennial of America’s birth on July 4, 1976, namely, that the purpose of America is not power but justice.
The key paragraph of this position paper on Third World political dynamics, in the section entitled “Developing a New World Vision,” reads as follows:
“The imposition of centralized secular power as a method of modernization without the concept of community-based coherence and responsibility behind it, the propagation of atomistic individualism as a means to societal transformation without a moral recognition of the value of the individual person, and the accompanying attempt to impose an omnivorous collectivity without an appreciation of the responsibility and value of free community, all combine to create a crisis in identity and authority that has profoundly unsettled the Afro-Asian peoples. The efforts of the mobilizing state to monopolize personal and group loyalties at a single level of the political spectrum, and to diffuse legitimacy downward from the corporate state rather than to permit loyalty and legitimacy to spread upward from the families and communities of individual persons, have tended to cause a radical contraction of the individual away from nature and from other persons into the material boundaries of the calculating ego. The primordial loyalties of communal nationalism in the first instance have become a fulcrum for a passive longing not to belong to any other group or for the blind aggression of defensive self-assertion. Recently, the primordial instincts of literally billions of people have brought them to awareness of a higher reality and created a willingness to live for this reality, as well as even to die for it.”
Such respect for both personal and community-based sovereignty is the root of the Islamic concept of ittihad, which refers to the unity that can result from the decentralization of political power through federalism or the looser concept of confederalism. Since political power follows the economic power of ownership, in Iraq, for example, decentralized political legitimacy might be operationalized best by de-monopolizing ownership of Iraqi oil in equal shares of lifetime inalienable voting stock to the ultimate level of sovereignty, namely, to every person resident in an Iraqi federation.
Such pulverization of concentrated economic power would support American efforts to help the people of Iraq develop a free, democratic society. Unfortunately, current policies of top-down centralization and modernization have forced tradition-based communities into competition with each other either to control the American-imposed central government or to destroy it.
The same intractable problem has been created in Afghanistan, according to Selig Harrison, who was the long-time South Asia bureau chief at the Washington Post and is now Director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. In his column of January 30, 2007, entitled “Discarding an Afghan Opportunity,” Harrison laments that the U.S.-backed Karzai government has been “rushing to create a centralized regime instead of keying the process [of unification] to the gradual development of a national economic infrastructure” in which every person has a personal stake.
The real problem is that the concentration of economic and political power at the behest of foreign interests is considered by both Iraqis and Afghanis and by most of the rest of the world as a denial of justice.
Even in the Holy Land we see a strategy to create two centralized governments in what may become two ghetto states rather than to promote a decentralized economy of mutual advantage as the means to develop a regional Abraham Federation based on acknowledgement that for more than a thousand years Muslims and Jews were each other’s most reliable friends and could be again. This option has been advanced and detailed by the Center for Economic and Social Justice now for almost a quarter century.
Such initiatives, including an extensive position paper on rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina, are fully developed in several books and on the web site of the Center for Economic and Social Justice. This interfaith think-tank was founded in 1984. One of its first projects was to create and carry through to publication what President Ronald Reagan inaugurated as the Presidential Task Force on Economic Justice in order to introduce into national discussion a new approach to both politics and economics.
What is now known as the Just Third Way paradigm for economic prosperity is not new, having been first developed by Louis Kelso and America’s greatest philosopher, Mortimer Adler, half a century ago, in their misleadingly entitled book, The Capitalist Manifesto. During the 1990s, several books developed this further, including Every Worker an Owner: A Revolutionary Free Enterprise Challenge to Marxism, Dawn K. Brohawn, ed., Center for Economic and Social Justice, Arlington, Virginia, which was presented in 1992 to Pope John Paul II. Another seminal book is Curing World Poverty: The New Role of Property, which was jointly published in 1994 with the Social Justice Review. A basic text may be found in the book by Robert Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare, Binary Economics: The New Paradigm, published in 1999. A more recent text introducing many new ideas was published in 2004 by the Center for Economic and Social Justice under the title Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen to spell out what Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan had in mind in their revolutionary new approaches to maximizing economic growth through economic justice.
This new paradigm has been built on the insights of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who see that a strategy of “more of the same” must have catastrophic consequences for world civilization and that their own traditions provide the framework for peace through justice as the best solution. The regnant strategy today of peace through power has already claimed numerous victims even among its principal supporters.
Ironically, one of the principal victims of such a strategy of centralized global management is British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who provided his own epitaph after his talk at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 28th, 2007. According to David Ignatius’s column, “The Blair He Could Have Been,” in the Washington Post of January 31, 2007, Blair lamented, “The West’s fine talk of democracy and freedom has little meaning if it is not anchored in a sense of justice. Without such bedrock values, the grand goals of the Atlantic Alliance are empty.”
Political Freedom in Muslim Practice
Unfortunately, the praxis or political reality of human rights in the Muslim world is a mirror image of Prime Minister Blair’s swan song about the practice of human rights by the West. This sad note introduces the practical aspects of political freedom and more generally of human rights in Islamdom.
The major issue in contemporary Muslim thought is the role of the state. Like human rights, the concept of the state is a relatively recent Western construct. It arose as a means to end the Thirty Years War at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 by accepting human power rather than God as the highest authority in human affairs. The state is a secular construct that recognizes the corporate or collectivist identity of its citizens as the basis of legitimate power. As I learned in the introductory course on international law at Harvard Law School, the state by definition has a monopoly of coercion, and its geographical jurisdiction extends as far as it can control more than fifty percent of the population in a given territory. This legitimizes the political principle of “might makes right,” which would seem to be inevitable once one rejects justice as a restraining principle.
What happens when radicals in any religion begin to talk about creating a religious state? In effect they are talking about substituting themselves for God. Whether this is to be a so-called Islamic State, or a Jewish State, or a Christian or Hindu state, makes no difference. The inevitable result must be the denial of human rights.
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.
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 greedy quest for material power to the disadvantage of others 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 economic and political 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.
Terrorism has arisen as the newest existential 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 the more extreme forms of tribalistic 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.
Deconstructing Pax Islamica
When President George W. Bush first took office, he called for a global Pax America, but was cautioned to replace this with Pax Universalis. Later he followed Henry Kissinger’s advice to avoid such utopian terms altogether until the world correlation of forces had prepared the way for a new international law conducive to such a goal. In his op ed position paper on August 12th, 2002, in the Washington Post, Kissinger abandoned his usual real politik by calling for an immediate invasion of Iraq specifically to introduce such a new international law.
Many Islamists in recent decades have called for an Islamic state, but they are referring to the so-called Islamization of specific states, not to the Islamization of the entire world. The most radical of all the Muslims, however, have never had any qualms about their call for a global Pax Islamica, which they call the khilafat. Most of them are former socialists and they are familiar with the Marxist doctrine that the dialectical forces of history will bring about the victory of the proletariat and the end of history. As converts to their unique sect among those who want to politicize Islam, these utopian extremists, most notably Osama bin Laden, believe that Allah has commissioned them to bring about the end of history through the imposition of a global Caliphate. Adopting the modern language of European secular humanism, Pan-Islamist extremists now call for a global “Islamic state” to be created through Muslim conquest of the world by a single ruler.
This issue of a global caliphate is not new in Islamdom. In fact, as a contentious issue it has never disappeared since it first surfaced more than a thousand years ago. The major issue is not whether there should be a universal or global caliphate but what it should be.
Ironically, the extremists’ chosen source for much of their extremism is Ibn Taymiya, the Hanbali jurist, who lived at the time of the Mongol invasion seven hundred years ago. He developed a sophisticated understanding about the Islamic doctrine of the khilafat that demolishes the extremists of his day and of ours. As a Sufi who opposed the extremism then spreading among the Sufis of his day, Ibn Taymiya was a political theorist who died in prison for opposing the extremism both of tyrants and of their opponents. He was in fact a model of those who both understand the sources of extremism and the means to counter it. His mission was to deconstruct extremist teachings doctrinally in order to marginalize their adherents.
One of his modern students, Naveed Shaykh, in his book The New Politics of Islam, writes rather poetically that 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 and are far removed from any political process.
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 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 by Khalid Abou el-Fadl in his Conference of the Books, the greatest scholars throughout Muslim history were imprisoned, some for years and decades. This is precisely why Muslims traditionally have considered them to be great.
Ibn Taymiya, completed the process of deconstructing the ontological fatalism of caliphatic thought by restricting the role of the caliphate to what probably the greatest Islamic thinker of all time, 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 an Islamic State and even of political Islam is a prime example of Westoxification, especially in its 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 higher religion into the public square. The very concept of political Islam reveals a Western mindset with a totalitarian leaning based on a level of tolerance that denies the very concept of human rights.
20. Crane, Robert Dickson, “The Vision of Communitarian Pluralism: The Conflict between State and Nation, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, March 4, 2006. See also “Federalism: The Missing Arrow in the American Quiver,” February 13, 2006.
21. Withdrawn from publication in January 1969 when Nixon appointed Crane as Deputy Director of the National Security Council for Planning under Henry Kissinger.
22. See http://www.cesj.org/thirdway/paradigmpapers/iraq-nationbuilding.htm.
23. Kurland, Norman G., The Abraham Federation: A New Framework for Peace in the Middle East, originally published in December 1978, updated and republished in Arab-American Affairs (now Middle East Policy), a publication of the Middle East Policy Council. Again updated and republished in Spring 1991, http://www.cesj.org/homestead/strategies/regional-global/abrahamfederation-nk.html.
24. Kelso, ibid, footnote 15 supra.
25. Curing World Poverty: The New Role of Property, John H. Miller, ed., Social Justice Review, St. Louis, MO., 1994, a compendium of articles from The Center for Economic and Social Justice, P. O. Box 40711, Washington, D.C. 20016, http://www.cesj.org.
26. Ashford, Robert and Shakespeare, Rodney, Binary Economics: The New Paradigm, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 1999.
27. Kurland, Capital Homesteading, ibid, footnote 19 supra.
28. Sheikh, Naveed S., The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States, Routledge Curzon, London, 2002, 224 pages, reviewed by Crane in a review article of six related books under the title, “Taproot to Terrorism: The Loss of Transcendent Law in America and the Muslim World,” The Muslim World Book Review, Summer 2005, vol. 25, no. 4, pages 6-21.
29. El-Fadl, Khalid Abou, The Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam, University Press of America, Lanham, Md., 2001, see Chapter 59, “The Scholar’s Road.”
Source: The American Muslim at www.theamericanmuslim.org posted June 13, 2007