Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Imām al-Ghazzālī on Commanding and Forbidding Rulers

Ghazzālī begins his fourth and final chapter [of his book on commanding the right and forbidding the wrong in the Iḥyā'] by referring back to his earlier discussion of the levels (darajāt) of performance. Where the wrongdoer is a ruler, there is no problem with the first two levels, namely informing and exhorting; but individual subjects may not have recourse to the use of force or violence, since this leads to disorder (fitna) and to consequences worse than the original wrong. What of harsh language - expressions such as 'You tyrant (ẓālim)! You who have no fear of God!'? If its use brings harm to others, it is not permitted; but if one fears only for oneself, it is permitted, and indeed commendable. Thus the early Muslims would expose themselves to such risks, knowing that to be killed in such a case was martyrdom. Ghazzālī now quotes a series of seventeen anecdotes to illustrate their courage and plain speaking. This is how things used to be; today, alas, the scholars are silent, of if they do speak out, they are ineffectual, all because of their love of the things of this world.
-Michael Cook, Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong in Islamic Thought, (New York: Cambridge UP, 2000), 446.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

James Traub: The Arab War on Terror (Sept. 2014)

Arab states have a new defining cause: the war on terror. [...]

The problem, however, is the way regional states define the swamp which they would like the United States to help them drain. The chief swamp-dweller is the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have banned the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The UAE convicted 69 Brotherhood members of plotting to overthrow the state. In Egypt, it is an article of faith shared by secularists and Salafists alike that the Brotherhood is responsible, directly or indirectly, for terrorist violence and sabotage — despite the lack of evidence tying the organization to Ansar Beit’s murderous campaign. The great organizing principle of the current Egyptian regime is simply this: Crush the Brotherhood.
The Gulf diplomat I spoke to was quite explicit on this score. The Brotherhood and al Qaeda, he said, "are shades of the same thing." The Brotherhood is "a gateway to further extremism." When he asks whether the United States sees Libya as "another domino," as those in the region do, he is asking in part whether Washington understands that the Brotherhood is seeking to knock over regional dominoes, as American policymakers once said about international communism.
The answer is no. Barack Obama offered American support to Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood when the Egyptian people elected him president. It seemed, at the time, like an important endorsement of the right of Egyptians to decide for themselves who should lead the country. Administration officials quickly concluded that Morsi was a complete incompetent, but he was obviously no terrorist. In fact, Morsi proved to be a useful and effective interlocutor with Hamas.
Since then, neither he nor the other Brotherhood leaders who have been jailed and now face the death penalty based on absurdly trumped-up charges have called on their followers to take up arms against the state. Despite decades of repression, the Brotherhood has never deviated from a policy of nonviolent change. The organization has been singled out in part because of its own secrecy and parochialism, as well as its endorsement of violence when practiced by allies like Hamas. It is also the object of a paranoia Americans will quickly recognize as a new form of the Red Menace.
The terrorism label increasingly looks like a flimsy rationale for authoritarian control. After the European Union used a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to call for a "thorough, independent and transparent investigation" of the killing of several thousand protestors by Egyptian security forces since the overthrow of the Brotherhood government in July 2013, Egyptian officials accused the Europeans of adopting a hypocritical "double standard" that called on Cairo to join the fight against terrorism while undermining its efforts to do so. Foreign Minister Shoukry summoned EU ambassadors to personally object to the "negative message" they had conveyed.
Americans are probably in no position to criticize Arab states for overreacting to the terrorist threat by adopting harsh domestic legislation. If the United States whipped through the Patriot Act and gave itself leave to waterboard suspected terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11, how surprised can we be that nations with no tradition of democracy criminalize dissent and prohibit demonstrations, as Egypt is in the process of doing? Nevertheless, it’s deeply disheartening to see the dark mass of the national security state so utterly eclipse the beautiful celebration of freedom that adorned the public spaces of the Arab world only a few years ago. What’s more, the brutal reaction to dissent is surely self-defeating in the long run. Killing unarmed Islamist protestors has proved to be surprisingly popular among Egyptians, but doing so is far likelier to foster terrorism than to deter it. And it undermines the new war on terror by conflating domestic political rivals with a genuine transnational threat.

James Traub: The World War Inside Islam (Feb 2015, Foreign Policy)

As Shadi Hamid points out in Temptations of Power, his book on political Islam, Egyptians are deeply pious people who do not accept the idea that religion belongs in a privatized space. They want to live under sharia, though they disagree among themselves about what that means. So do hundreds of millions of people in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
In a recent conversation, Hamid argued that the only Islamist movement that has seriously tried to accommodate the nation-state is the Muslim Brotherhood, which came into being in the 1920s as the Ottoman caliphate disappeared. The Brotherhood, as Hamid makes clear in his book, is in no sense a liberal organization — but it has largely come to terms with democracy and has even accepted non-Islamic democratic outcomes, as Islamists do in countries like Morocco and Tunisia, which permit the consumption of alcohol and the like. The election of a Brotherhood government in Egypt in 2012 gave the Arab world its greatest chance to demonstrate that Islam and democracy are compatible. But thanks to the incompetence and narrow-mindedness of the government of President Mohamed Morsi, as well as the active conniving of the military and the judiciary, Morsi’s government was overthrown after a year in office — one of the great self-inflicted wounds of the Arab Spring. Egypt is once again, as it long was, a secular autocracy dominated by the military. I wonder how long the Egyptian people will put up with brutal repression and economic stagnation. Whether or not President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime endures, though, the events of recent years have demonstrated to Islamists that there is no place for them in the Arab political order.
The destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood is now treated as a tremendous success in Egypt and across the Persian Gulf (except in Qatar, a Brotherhood stronghold). Yet it is hard to think of anything that would strengthen the long-term legitimacy of Arab governance more than an embedded, democratic role for moderate Islamists. It is as deeply in the interest of the United States to encourage its Arab allies to find a place for such groups as it is to encourage democracy itself. But it won’t happen. I recently asked a senior administration official whether she thought Washington could nudge regimes to rescind the prohibition of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization across much of the Middle East. “No,” she said, flatly.
At least for the moment, the issue is an existential one: The only acceptable form of political Islam will be that practiced by the regimes themselves.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dr. Jackson on formal and informal religious authority in contemporary Islam

This bring me to the following closing thoughts. As the text under review, Initiative to Stop the Violence, clearly demonstrates, the Historical Leadership thoroughly familiarized themselves with the traditional Islamic religious sciences during their tenure in prison. It is also clear, however, that this alone was not the key to their success. As far back as the 1980s and especially the early 1990s, there had been attempts by such luminaries as the Rector of al-Azhar, the grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazālī, Shaykh Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Sha'rāwī, and other nonclerics, for examples, Fahmī Huwaydī, to disabuse radical jihadists of their "jurisprudence of violence" and/or broker a cease-fire. [132] All of these efforts failed. Yet, in their vindication of their Initiative to Stop the Violence, the Gamā'ah drew on a conspicuously traditional set of arguments-indeed, to a large extent, an emphatically traditional universe of meanings, tropes, and articulations -- on which these religious figures would seem to have much greater purchase. This, I think, should alert us to at least three things.
First, religious authority in contemporary Islam is not the exclusive preserve of those commonly identified as the guardians of the classical tradition. Rather, besides mastery of tradition, which is clearly the sine qua non of formal religious authority, other qualities or associations - for example, a "heroic stance" or, if you will, "street credibility"--may be equally or even more constitutive of informal religious authority, depending on the audience. While, generally speaking, the avenues to mastering tradition remain clear and formally regulated (e.g., through the granting of degrees and formal authorizations to issue fatwās), access to this "secondary," informal authority remains open and up for grabs. [133] For radical jihadists (or perhaps even others) the Gamā'ah and its leadership simply have more of this informal authority than do their formally trained (and other) counterparts. As such, they are likely to be far more effective in reaching these types of audiences (and maybe even others). In such light, perhaps their contributions to resolving some of the problems or realizing some of the possibilities confronting Islam and Muslims in the modern world, including East-West relations, should neither be automatically assessed as negative nor summarily dismissed as inconsequential.
Second, the categories through which we have grown accustomed to anticipating or even demanding critical Muslim responses to wanton violence committed in the name of Islam may call for reassessment. As the Gamā'ah'sInitiative clearly demonstrates, "moderates"--or those we tend to think of or identify as moderates--are not the only ones whose ideological commitments can sustain or even compel principled condemnations of promiscuous, political violence. Rather, sharī'ah itself, whether as presided over by traditional clergy, or as adopted and deployed by those who come to that tradition from "without"--including bearded so-called "fundamentalists"--can also be invoked and mobilized against capricious killing in the name of Islam. On this recognition, it may be time to reexamine if not discard the notion, often more implied than explicitly stated, that "Westernization," reduced religiosity, or secularization are the only or most effective means of promoting peaceful conflict resolution with or among Muslims.  
Finally, texts alone are not autonomously self-determinative of the uses to which they are put. The same Qur'ān, Sunna, and writings of Ibn Taymīya that were deployed by 'Abd al-Salām Faraj in his incendiary The Neglected Duty (al-Farīḍah al-ghā'ibah) were deployed by the Gamā'ah's Historical Leadership in promoting and vindicating their Initiative to Stop the Violence. Clearly, in such light, to continue to assign independent, determinative agency to ancient religious texts or authorities, as if existential circumstances-repression, humiliation, prison, occupation, civilizational domination, or intellectual maturation--contribute nothing to the ways in which these are read and pressed into service, is to fall victim to the stricture's of one's own ideological prism, ultimately resulting in what might amount to a form of "reverse fundamentalism," or in Amitai Etzioni's words, a species of "Mutliple Realism Deficiency Disorder." [134]
-from Dr. Sherman Jackson's introduction to his translation of Initiative to Stop the Violence (Mubādarat Waqf al-'Unf): Sadat's Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 46-47.