Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

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How to respond to Islamic terrorism

In a previous article, 'Knowledge processing, Creativity and Politics' (henceforth KPCP), I suggested that political power results from agreement on a unified set of moral rules. Morality is possible because people with capacities for creative lifestyles can also afford cooperating with each other to confront predatory and parasitic lifestyles. [i] Therefore, it has been said that the best of moralities must be the ones that support the best conditions for creativity. However, because of the importance of political power and its potential for interchangeability with other resources, power struggles ensue. These may take the form of disagreements over moral values which can lead to the disintegration of political power. This underlines the necessity of having institutions that are capable of providing and maintaining a unified set of moral rules for a group of people to agree upon so that they form and maintain political power. There are only two methods of obtaining agreements on the unified set of moral rules, either through liberal democracy or ideologies.

Ideologies are able to bring about agreement because, once they have provided a unified set of moral rules, they prohibit ideational challenges. However, to carry out this function ideologies use varieties of subjugation methods including threats and violence against those who do not submit or compromise by other means. (Here, I should remind the reader that about my definition of ideology outlined in the aforementioned article: I define 'ideologies' as "the systems of beliefs which facilitate the production of  unified sets of moral rules, necessary for underpinning and sustaining political power, without the need for liberal democracy". This definition is original and differs from all the classical definitions). Ideologies, within the context I suggested, may be regarded as terroristic by nature, if we define terrorism as an act of violence in response to ideational challenges.

However, terrorism is usually defined as a resort to opportunistic actions or threats of violence, used to achieve political aims. Of course, this definition is less specific, and suffers from the problem of lumping together freedom fighters with terrorists. My definition assists in distinguishing a terrorist from a freedom fighter. As soon as individuals, organisations or even States resort to violence in response to ideational challenges, we could label them as terrorists. A freedom fighter, on the other hand, is someone who opposes in response to the suppression of ideational challenge. These separate definitions are outlined in the previous article, and implies that freedom of expression concerning moral and political opinion is the most fundamental condition for participating in politics. Another essential manifestation of political participation is allowing the adjustment of the set of moral rules according to an individual's moral opinion, in the instance that it gained the approval of the majority eg through a vote.

However, it can be said that the definition of terrorism, I suggest, pays less attention to local and opportunistic characteristics of terrorism, but then these are not its essential characteristics. Iraqi Baath as a government party was using both large scale confrontation and local and opportunistic operations. Currently, being deposed, it uses only small scale opportunistic attacks. In general, it could be said that terrorism is one of the characteristics of ideological movements alongside other qualities, such as tyranny and totalitarianism. Someone who is prepared to use violence to suppress ideas is unlikely to be squeamish about performing small scale operations, or terrorism. Most ideological groups that have not submitted to liberal l democracy have also been involved in acts of terrorism, tyranny and totalitarianism.

Another important implication of the essay mentioned is that ideologies, including religions, are contradictory in nature to liberal democracy. This view disputes today's prevalent conception of liberal democracy, which advocates religious beliefs as a right, without recognising that at least some religions are not compatible with liberal democracy itself. This explains simply the absence of liberal Democracy where ideologies, including religions, dominate. It is no wonder therefore, that liberal democracy evolved precisely where religions were subjugated. In the West the subjugation of Christianity happened in the evolutionary course of nation states, and usually at the hand of tyrannical rulers, who saw that their authorities were challenged by religious authorities. On the other hand, by reducing the power of the organised Church, these rulers also undermined the claim of legitimacy which they were deriving from religions. No longer able to call upon the religious authorities for intellectual backing for concentration and the monopoly of political power (indeed, in the case of England, it was important religious figures who played significant role in imposing Magna Carta which signalled the transition to liberalism), these rulers had to accept rights, or in other words, submission to constraints on their political actions. It is because of this history that the dominant conceptions of liberal democracy do not see conflict between religions and Liberal democracies. In any case the subjugation of Christianity manifested in the separation of religions and State and that most Christians accept that their belief is purely a faith and so does not bear objective examination. Accordingly, many people declaring themselves Christian decline the claim that Bible is literally true. There are exceptions: consider, David Koresh's Branch Davidian. However, it is this exceptionality that led eventually to the Branch destruction.

Islam, unfortunately for Muslim individuals themselves, and everyone else in world, escaped this kind of subjugation. The currently dominant Western conception of religions does not tag religions as ideologies. Consequently, it seems there is no systematic pressure, similar to that experienced by communists and Fascists, being applied to Islam. Islam also escaped the neutralisation that Christianity was put through in the course of the formation of nation states, bearing in mind that most of the nation states of the Islamic world were concocted and brought into existence by the West. The reasons for the Western passivity towards Islam may have had to do with the conception of religion that was based on the model of Christianity. Or perhaps, because these foreign powers could easily find local Islamic power centres willing to cooperate and thus did not want take on the more difficult tasks involved in forcing people to accept secularism.

There are other reasons that helped Islam escape the necessary subjugation. For instance, in current Iraq, and this might surprise some people, communism was a very prominent political party with massive following during the sixties. (The strength of the party made many commentators think it was capable of taking power- Western powers must have thought so and this explains why they support Arab nationalists despite their atrocious nature.) This is despite the fact that the followers of communist party were aware of the materialistic and atheistic nature of communism. Nonetheless, communists never tried systematically to undermine the religious worldview. They held the mistaken assumption that religion is a part of ideologies (according to their own definition) characteristic of societies divided into conflicting social classes, and that, once the conflict amongst social classes disappeared, as a result of the dictatorship of proletariat, religions would also disappear. This mistake meant that, once the masses were disillusioned with communism and nationalism they relapsed back to Islam. Moreover, Arab Nationalists, in their efforts to build up the pride necessary for their aggressive jingoism, extolled Islam, concentrating only on "achievements". These "achievements" involved denying the contribution of non-Arab Muslims and non-Muslims. They also included taking great pride in the invasion of what were formerly non-Muslim and non-Arab lands, ignoring what must have been atrocious acts and avoiding the fact that the world would expect celebrating these "victories" should undermine their objection to others doing the same. This highlighting of "achievements" also involved overlooking all the unattractive aspects of current Arab-Islamic culture.

Regardless, the point to make here is that the job is left undone. Every society aspiring to be peaceful, fair and prosperous must be able to force its ideological groups to denounce the use of violence in response to ideational challenges. Liberal democracy comes about and flourishes because, a peaceful ideational interaction brings about an objective ground for the evolution of arbitration institutions that could ensure the provisions of the unified set of moral rule - these institutions are represented in laws of human rights and the institution of election (see KPCP). Ideologies spread and dominate when using violence in response to ideational challenges is not suppressed. That is why, where ideologies are prevented to an effective extent from using force, as it is the case in the West, they disintegrate-consider the division and the massive abandonment of Christianity. Where political violence is not controlled and religions, like other ideologies, are able to carry out acts of violence they can become formidable and energetic forces, consider Islam. Indeed, the prediction of this theory is that Islam, like other ideologies, will not survive without using violence. So, this is a challenge to Muslims to prove that their religion is not dependent on violence.

Some Practical Measures

Terrorism in Islam arises from the fact that Islam is an ideology and for an ideology to rule it needs violence. It might be true that hundreds of millions of Muslims would not contemplate terrorism. Although, it is undeniable that there is an oppressive tradition among Islamic masses which expects individual Muslims to suppress what they deem as atheism, sacrilege, blasphemy or un-Islamic behaviour, which might spill over into areas if dress code or your personal relationships, especially when the person in question is a female Muslim. However, there has not been and there will not be a single Islamic state, or an organisation, that is trying to bring about or uphold an Islamic regime, without having submitted to liberal democracy, and it is not terroristic.

The point to make here is that as soon as an Islamic organisation tries to impose Islamic rules without prior submission to liberal principles, respecting the right of dissent, it becomes terroristic. From this perspective any attempt to rule according to Islam, without prior submission to liberal democracy, can be seen as a step that is leading to terrorism. Accordingly, we should not absolve the passive masses of Islam of responsibility, because these passive masses still believe that Islam is the source of goodness and the ultimate good system is the Islamic system. If the greatest proportion of the passive Islamic masses have ever had bad conscience, it would not be because of the concern with the atrocious disposition of Islam but because they were better Muslims and carrying out their Islamic duties that may also include the Jihad. By making Muslims aware of the violent and terroristic propensity of Islam, we should expect them to assume their moral obligations that they join with other to demand human rights for themselves and non-Muslims. It is every Muslim individual's duty to hinder or prevent the functioning of organisations which operate without respecting liberal rights, as long as that individual share the world with the others and as long as he or she benefits from the rights that non-Muslims offered. The idea here is not to demand to form Islamic vigilante groups fighting other Muslims. It is a call for participating in efforts to declare the interpretations of all Suras and Ayas or Hadiths as null and void, insofar that these verses encourage or enjoin the prohibition of intellectual dissent and apostasy.

All people, including Muslims, should have no illusion about the available choices. It would be possible to give Muslims the free reign to decide their own policies and attitudes towards the world without challenging their beliefs and assumptions. But the price for this will be great, the consequences dreadful. The price would consist not only of terrorist attacks on some non-Muslims and Islamic dissidents now and then. Allowing Islamic organisations to dominate will promote Afghan style civil wars, as before its liberation from the Taliban. The history of Islam confirms this assumption. Even the so-called four Rightly Guided Khalifs and the Ten Heavenly-Promised Companions of Mohammed went to war against each other. Ali was accused of being behind the killing of Othman, the third Khalif and twice son-in-law of Mohammed. Ali led a battle against a rebel army that featured prominent figures like Aisha, Mohammed's wife and Abu Bakir's daughter and two of the Ten Heavenly Promised, Talha bn Zubair and Zubair bn Awam, who were also in line of succession to Khalifdom. We know Ali and his sons were also eventually killed by Muslims. The wars between Muslims, among themselves and also against non-Muslim never ended, which eventually brought the whole civilisation and culture of the Middle East to a miserably stagnant and impoverished state economically and and culturally, and must have been a major factor in the desertification of the land.

It is necessary to draw the attention of Muslims to contemplate their own history. While it is currently possible to blame the Zionists and the imperialists for all the difficulties that Muslims suffer, which is currently the  first prefabricated justification, it would be far less credible to blame their early civil wars on external agents. The reason for Islam being prone to fragmentation and internal warring is quite obvious. Islam has no theoretical provision for establishing liberal democracy, which is the only peaceful arbitration method in the struggle for political power. To hold a polity without liberal democracy needs extremely concentrated power, which eventually strangles the society. Islam, like all other non-liberal democratic political belief systems, lacks the political culture to allow peaceful power struggles. anyone with concern  for peace should decline a political belief system which fails to offer a culture of peaceful arbitration in power struggles.

One would have expected that being disadvantaged and vulnerable to the overwhelming Western power, Muslims would have revised their attitudes towards the West and appreciated the moral considerations found in the West, this being an important factor in the refrainment of the West from employing their superior military power. Unfortunately, not so - being in the weaker position, they chose to blame the strong world-players for their problems. In fact most of non-Muslims are accused of conspiracy against Islam even the overwhelming majority of Islamic leaders have not escaped this same accusation. This adds an alarming complication. What if a militant Islamic group or state laid its hand on nuclear weapons? Perhaps, they might not use it. However, considering that the prospect for Islamic economies can only be bleak as long as Islam rules, regardless of the massive oil wealth, and considering that many an Islamic organisation has no ethical compunction against using drug trafficking, the taking of hostages for ransom and displaying extreme cruelty, we should only expect large scale, protracted and nerve-racking blackmailing of the world, so Muslims can get piecemeal what they fail to get in one single strike.

What is needed is mainly working on the intellectual level, nothing physical. The details of the project will depend on whether this theory of politics is accepted or not. The task, no doubt, will be much easier if we could enlist the help of Muslim scholars and authorities. The project revolves around an awareness campaign regarding the context of the role and evolution of ideologies and religions. The aim is to allow conveying a message that a religion like Islam is dangerous and that, like all religions, Islam will also vanish eventually, that is, if humanity survived Islam. Of course, we cannot expect everyone to agree with this assumption, but we should hope for all Islamic authorities to declare violence against intellectual disagreement as unlawful.

We should also expect that the consequence of forfeiting the right to use violence, as a means to prevent challenging Islam intellectually, will alarm many Muslims. It is important therefore, not to give false reassurances. The Islamic public should know that accepting the premises of liberal democracy will not leave Islam unscathed. The current forceful Islam will lose a lot. They will not have power to coerce others to comply with codes of Islamic practices. They will not be able to persecute others who challenge their beliefs. They will not be allowed to outlaw apostasy or be free to kill the apostates. They will see massive desertion from their ranks and massive fragmentation-similar to what is happening to Christianity. They will see Western values and lifestyle spreading into their countries, changing their world beyond their recognition. Still they will need to anticipate and accept these changes as a natural process simply because there is no future with Islam. Being open about this will pre-empt future junior clerics, the likes of Bin-Laden, from crying foul and undermining the more cooperative Islamic authorities.

Some would argue against shocking the Islamic public with such a task, gradual and imperceptible co-opting of Islamic leaders is not impossible. After all, Jaafari and tens or hundreds of other Islamic leaders are cooperating with the West. The cooperation of these leaders, however, is out of pragmatism and this is partly due to their awareness of the limited power they have, and also partly due to their own self-interests. This background undermines their reliability. Consider Turkey and the anti-American sentiments that have been rising steadily since the coming of the Islamic government. Neither, in fact are Saudi Arabia and Egypt predictable partners. This unpredictability is not surprising considering that they need to be seen as independent from the West, and representative of their own people, which implies they should assert the Islamic and Arab nationalist sentiment. In order to enjoy the massive economic aid and political backing of the West, Mubarak has for years perpetuated a situation which leaves him looking as a moderate in the face of Islamic militancy. Yet had Mubarak protected the liberals and upheld intellectual freedom, Egypt would not have continued to be a land that produces terrorists for domestic and overseas attacks. Had he supported the liberals, Mubarak would not have needed to shoot those people who become terrorists. However, he would not have been able to hold power for the decades he did in a more liberal society.

In short, the practical steps suggested here are no more than requesting what any person living in any society should comply with. Considering that some militants will not respect this request, all concerned authorities in the world need to provide protection to individuals who wish to speak out but are currently intimidated. Also, we will also need to consolidate liberal democratic institutions where possible; we should realize that there is no alternative to it. Muslims and non-Muslims alike need to realize that there is no way other than liberal democracy that provides a stable and peaceful political power.

[i] 'Creativity' is defined broadly to include all activities that result in producing resources and to exclude the predatory and parasitic methods which take advantage of what others' have produced. 'Resources' is also defined very broadly to include all the goods and services that are needed for human survival. Accordingly, sex, love, sympathy, friendship, arts and protection all become resources along with other goods and services that are conventionally termed as resources,just like food and accommodation. 

Showan Khurshid is the author of : "Knowledge Processing, Creativity and Politics: A Political Theory based on the Evolutionary Theory" which can be purchased here

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