Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Government of the people

An excellent post on Comment is free by Asim Siddiqui, who discusses some of the ideas in Who needs an Islamic State, by the Sudanese, Abdelwahab el-Affendi. That author asks the question

Why is it that Muslims can only be 'good Muslims' under a dictatorship? Surely submission to Islam must be voluntary and come from the heart, not [be] imposed by political force.
A question that the Catholic Church had to face, first answered one way and only recently changed its mind. Siddiqui ends his article by claiming that the 21st Century will see more attempts at Islamic government, more failures and recourse eventually made to Western political models, which he dares to call "universal".

I was reminded of the Catholic Church because its accession to political power occurred mostly through the absence of an alternative. Despite Constantine's adoption of Christianity in the early 4th Century, it was really only in the dreadful years after Rome's decline that the Church became the only true political centre of Western Europe. There was to be little else for several centuries to come.

Siddiqui doesn't mention the fact that Western political models have already been tried in much of the Middle East, and signally failed. The rise of political Islam is, in fact, a reaction to a previous costly failure to modernise. As in Western Europe after the fall of Rome, there seems to be no alternative. I agree with him that Islamic governance will not succeed either, at least as it is envisaged by its more militant adherents. Nonetheless, whatever form of government does manage to do the trick, I would guess that Islam, in one form or another, will have to play some part. Surrey on the Tigris is just not a realistic prospect.

I found this article via Harry's Place. The post there quotes a reply comment by Asim Siddiqui that is a splendid example of the sort of thinking necessary in times like this. A commenter has pointed out that
... the Prophet Muhammad was an 'Islamist'. After all, he was a statesman as well as a religious leader, he negotiated peace treaties and conducted wars. He established a state based on Islamic laws. Did he 'politicise Islam' or was Islam from the outset political?
Siddiqui's reply is a wonderful 'Yes, but ...'
Our Beloved Prophet was both a temporal political leader and a recipient of revelation. There were numerous occasions when he would be asked by his companions if an opinion he had was from revelation or from his own judgement - where it was the latter the companions would be free (and did) to challenge him and suggest alternatives. There were also occasions when 'political' decisions were made guided by revelation.

However, revelation ended with him. No subsequent leader can claim divine guidance or an insight into God's mind on any political decision they make. Hence, my point is that all leaders must be accountable to the people, not claim they are accountable to God (which in reality means accountability to no one and allows them to get away with murder, literally).
[My emphasis]
A model of damage limitation. Well, that may be a little cynical on my part, but, you see, I'm with the Grand Inquisitor (a bit): organised religion is a necessary protection against enthusiasts like Jesus and Mohammad. They promise too much; they demand too much.


Riri said...

Well, to be honest, the Islamists have evolved a lot, but they still do not make sense when it comes to the knitty gritty of how to manage an Islamic State like they call it. Even between them there is fundamental disagreement, even so the people seem supportive of them, mainly because they're sick of current regimes. Sooner or later, Muslim countries will have to get Islamism out of their system by voting them in and seeing what'll happen. I'd be interested to see how they cope, but I hope it won't happen where am living, not until they get their act together in a convincing way anyway.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Parallel to this, however, will be the Muslim challenge to present ideas emanating from the west as not un-Islamic but rather universal - a job in the past made difficult by colonialism and now by the west's "war on terror".

THis is at the heart of the whole thing. I wish these ideas were "universal" but they are not. As long as they remain Western property nothing will change in our quarters. We have to feel they are ours and are not imposed! How?

Riri about getting Islamists into power. Without some checks ad balances it will be hard to get them out without much bloodshed. Once in power, most extrmely radical of them, for example, will initiate some carnage and will be probalby be replaced by more moderates to avoid collapse of the movement. If they are not wise, which Wahhabis are not, they will initiate complete collapse of the economy and society and the coutrny will implode. Dont think its worth trying.

Well you know it well from Agerian history. So its rather like a damage limitation, its better to stop it, before it starts.

Riri said...

Yes you're right, but I despair of the people though, they really buy into the Islamists' idea, nothing sways them more than religion. So I can't really help but think, what we need is a scape goat of an Arab country where Islamists somehow manage to get in power and then we'll see what a fine job they'll do. Only that will convince people not to fall for religious propaganda anymore.

In Algeria, the Government tried damage limitation but it cost us tens of thounsands of dead people and 10 years of misery and still picking up the pieces. Still, people are still sympathetic to religion but not Islamists. Thank God for that. You'd have thought they would reject it outright but no, they're still influenced by it. It's like, what could possibly make them see? Only answer is, living in an Islamist State, then they'll know what to look for.

Of course am speaking as an academic, am v. curious to see such an experiment in reality, but without living it personally.

What you say about the West posessive and arrogant attitude and how it is complicating things is spot on unfortunately. But I dare say we wouldn't have done much better had we been in their shoes. Even now we act like we own the place and we have done feck all.

Riri said...

I just want to add that whatever language one has to use to convince people that the secular values are universal, it has to be a religious language somehow. I seriously think it is the only way people will respond and listen even.

But of course one has to be very subtle, the problem with Islamists is that they're playing too much on the promise that they'll save the populasse from the certainty of Western decadence. This immediately sets Islam as the antithesis of mdern secular political systems.

Only them can get away with contradicting themselves and nobody will notice, because they'll start every sentence with the rather cathartic Bismillah.