Thursday, November 26, 2009

Abdal Hakim Murad: "One Humanity"

Koshul notes Islam's historic tolerance and even sponsorship of cultural diversity. Yet this is no proof of Islam's compatibility with mainstream Enlightenment notions. Perhaps because of their sympathy with the "body-subject" principle, the Semitisms have shown themselves capable of an internal cultural differentiation which, to the extent that they value it, in fact challenges one of the most visible consequences of the Enlightenment: the annihilation of cultural specificity at the hands of universal Reason. In an intensification of ancient disdain for the barbaroi, Renaissance humanism had generally been reluctant to contemplate the humanity of non-Europeans, and the Enlightenment in many ways took this further. In the first instance, an accelerating secular messianism, apparently vindicated by science, enabled a kind of military expansion whose narcissism was unlike any that preceded it. As Guenon complained during the heyday of empire:

If they merely took pleasure in affirming their imagined superiority, the illusion would only do harm to themselves; but their most terrible offense is their proselytising fury: in them the spirit of conquest goes under the disguise of "moralist" pretexts, and it is in the name of "liberty" that they would force the world to imitate them.
[Guenon, East and West, p. 25]
This new militancy in the name of Freedom typically affirms the possibility of diversity in the context of Enlightenment rights discourse; yet in practice it subjects difference to rapid atrophy. The consequences of this even for the West may prove severe. Much of the energy of internal critics of the Enlightenment came from a deep knowledge of other civilizations (for Rousseau and Nietzsche it was classical antiquity; for many German romantics it was India).

[J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (London: Routledge, 1998).]

Today, however, "we do not have such an alternative because in contrast to the historical civilizations, authentic culture cannot co-exists and survive under the hegemonic character of modern Western civilization."

[Ahmet Davutoglu, Civilizational Transformation and the Muslim World (Kuala Lumpur: Mahir, 1994), pp. 26-27.]

For Davutoglu, the Enlightenment's liquidation of non-Western cultures trap us forever in the monoculture, since the option of borrowing and syncretism open at earlier times of civilizational crisis has now been confiscated. The "peoples and tribes" which are created "to know each other" (Qur'an 49:13), are abolished by globalizing processes. Even the multiplicity of languages, regarded as a sign of God in the Qur'an (30:22), and a source of quasi-religious amazement to Bakhtin,

[Bakhtin, "The Problem of Speech Genres," in Speech Genres and other Late chapters, trans. Vern W. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), pp. 60-102.]

is eroded by the extinction of small language groups and the progressive intrusion of English into larger ones. Here, again, the Semitic will resist: Western reason is a single thing; but the body-subject is going to be radically disparate across the globe; for it is scripture, not reason, which insists that:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God has so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works.

[Qur'an 5:48; the translation is Muhammad Asad's.]
From Abdal Hakim Murad's "Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur" pp. 166-167

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