The Intelligent American’s Guide to Islamism.
(The Washington Times: June 3rd, 2005 )
The current winds of change in the Middle East is a welcome whiff of fresh air in the region, but the hasty promotion of democracy, could plunge the region deeper into the ”dark side”, bringing the Moslem Brotherhood to power in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere. While some in Washington
are ready to take on this risk, many (of us) liberals in the region, worry about the dangerous unintended consequences.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB’s) (established in Egypt in 1928), is the best organized political force in many Arab countries. It is a radical transnational organization which aims to take over the Islamic world in order to establish a Caliphate, is the best organized political force in many Arab countries. . Such a Caliphate, a religious militarized state will be the base to wage war against the infidel West.
And for our own societies, in the Middle East and Arab world, rule by the MB’s would undoubtedly result in: less freedom, increased state-ownership, segregated class-rooms, as well as the fact that a non-Muslim could never become president. It could also very well result in the reimplementation of punishments such as stoning, lashing, and cutting off the hands of thieves.
I have tried in this article to summarize the political thinking of the MB’s in thirteen points, in the hope that it will help shed some light on an issue many people in the world today need to understand.
Unlike Western democracies, which guarantee the political participation of every citizen regardless of ideology, opinion or religion, the MB’s makes the political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of Islamic Shari'a. And while the legislative branch of government monitors the actions of the State to ensure that they conform to the rules of democracy, the actions of the State are monitored by the MB’s to ensure that they conform to the rules of Islamic Shari'a.
The MB’s guarantee freedom of belief only for the followers of the three revealed [Abrahmic] religions. The MB’s position on the question of religious minorities can be summed up in the insistence that a non-Muslim can never become president and that non-Muslims will be subject to the principles of Shari'a on which the entire legal system will be based.
While Western democracies guarantee the absolute freedom of the individual as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, the MB’s set freedom of thought within the strict parameters of a moral code derived from the Shari'a. They call for the restoration of hisbah, which allows a private citizen to prosecute any individual who commits an act he considers a breach of the Shari'a even if the plaintiff himself has not been personally injured by such act. The right of hisbah was recently exercised by a private citizen in Egypt against respected intellectual Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, whose writings he considered as running counter to the teachings of Islam. The court found for the plaintiff, ruling Abu Zeid an apostate and ordering him to divorce his wife.
In Western democracies, women enjoy the same political rights as men: they can hold public office and participate in political life without any restrictions based on gender. But as far as the MB’s are concerned, women's political participation would be limited to municipal elections; there is no question, for example, of a woman ever becoming head of state. To further marginalize women and exclude them from any meaningful role in public life, the MB’s call for educational curricula to include material that is appropriate for women, tailored to suit their nature and role and insist on a complete segregation of the sexes in the classrooms, in public transportation and in the workplace.
The MB’s call for the establishment of an economic system based on the respect of private property. At the same time, however, they insist that it be based on the principles of Islamic Shari'a, which criminalizes bank interest. They also call for state ownership of public utilities.
Contrary to the system of government applied in a democracy, which is based on the peaceful rotation of power through elections, the MB’s call for a system of government based on the principles of Shari'a and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.
The freedom of association enjoyed by civil society organizations in a democracy would, in an Islamist system, be conditional on their adherence to the strictures of Shari'a. The MB’s oppose the notion of a state based on democratic institutions, calling instead for an Islamic government based on the Shura [consultative assembly] system, veneration of the leader and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. In this they are close to the model established by Khomeini in Iran , which enables diehard conservatives (a group to which the Supreme Guide certainly belongs) to nip any process of reform or renewal in the bud.
Over the last fifty-seven years, the MB’s have opposed all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The MB’s will never recognize the existence of Israel as legitimate.The MB’s call for the establishment of a constitutional and legal system based on the principles of Shari'a, including the application of corporal punishments in the penal code [stoning, lashing, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc.]
The MB’s have never condemned the use of violence against civilians except when it is directed against Muslim civilians. Finally, progress in the modern world is realized by two tools, science and modern management. These are two disciplines that the Brotherhood has not thea foggiest idea about. Instead, it promulgates a retrograde ideology, which can be deadly for sustainable economic development, growth in investment, and equality.
For liberals in the Middle East like myself, promoting democracy in the Middle East is imperative. It is something that will benefit humanity. And undoubtedly, if the right steps are taken, democracy has every chance to flourish in Middle Eastern societies. However, a hasty transformation, is likely to be disastrous for the forces of progress in Egypt and equally in the Middle East, and fits well with the words of the historian Daniel Boorstin, who warned that planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers to humanity. If the right steps are taken, Middle East people (as Professor Bernard Lewis repeatedly expounded) are capable of enabling democracy to flourish in the Middle East societies. However, a hasty transformation is likely disastrous for the forces of progress in Egypt and equally in the Middle East.
The Arab Mind
I have written many books and articles over the last ten years about the defects in the Arab mind-set, all of which are cultural defects stemming from three main sources. The first is the repressive climate that prevails throughout Arab societies, the second a backward educational system that lags far behind modern educational systems and the third a mass-media apparatus operated by those responsible for the climate of political repression to serve their interests. The following are the most obvious defects from which the contemporary Arab mind-set suffers:
A lack of intellectual hospitality;
It is steeped in a culture that encourages conformity and discourages diversity;
Limited tolerance for the Other;
Limited tolerance for criticism and the virtual absence of self-criticism;
The adoption of stands not on the basis of their coherence, validity or intrinsic value but on the basis of tribal or religious affiliations;
Deep feelings of inequality with others in terms of results and achievements makes for a sense of inadequacy that is sublimated into an exaggerated and unfounded pride;
A tendency to indulge in excessive self-praise and to glorify past achievements as a way of escaping our dismal reality;
The prevalence of what I call the 'big-talk culture', in which overblown rhetoric is used to compensate for the appalling lack of concrete achievements;
A lack of objectivity and the growth of individualism;
An unhealthy nostalgia for and escape into the past;
An aversion to the notion of compromise, which is deemed to be a form of capitulation and defeat;
Lack of respect for women;
A tendency to unquestioningly accept stereotypes at face value;
Setting great store by the conspiracy theory and believing that the Arabs are always the victims of heinous plots hatched against them by their enemies;
An ill-defined sense of national identity: is it Arab, Muslim, Asian, African or Mediterranean
The spread of the personality cult phenomenon in Arab societies, where the relationship with the ruler is based not on mutual respect and accountability but on the excessive adulation, not to say deification, of the ruler;
The prevalence of an insular culture that knows next to nothing about the outside world and the real balance of power by which it is governed, let alone the science or culture of others;
A lack of appreciation for the value of the bond that links the human species together, which is their common humanity. For most people in the region, the only bonds that count are either tribal, sectarian or nationalistic, although humanity is the most exalted common denominator of all;
The spread of a mentality of fanaticism due to a number of factors, the most important being the tribalism that dominates the Arab mind-set to varying degrees;
Finally, the Arab mind-set is not overly concerned with the notion of freedom for the simple reason that the Arabs have enjoyed only limited doses of political rights and civil liberties.
The twenty defects listed above are by no means exhaustive; I have no doubt that any Middle East
expert can come up with many more. However, all these defects are acquired, which means they are amenable to reform. Moreover, they can all be found, albeit to different degrees, in other societies. As I mentioned, they stem from the prevailing climate of political despotism and outdated educational and information systems designed and operated to serve the
interests of a power structure intent on maintaining its iron grip.
These defects will continue to grow unless radical changes are introduced to all three areas. The political system must be overhauled with a view to providing a wider margin of freedom and allowing people a greater say in determining the shape of their present and future. The educational systems in force must be reorganized from the ground up, their philosophy, curricula and methods brought into line with the requirements of the age. Last but not least, the media must be removed from under the thumb of government and allowed to function in complete political and economic freedom as a credible forum for the dissemination of culture, ideas and information.
is an Egyptian Writer and Oil Expert.
This article is a Summary of his many books on: "The Arab Mind."
In more details to look: www.t-heggy-site-contents.org
From the IFLAC DIGEST 01.04.05
Tolerant and Intolerant Islam
(Or “Peaceful Islam” versus “Militant Islam”)
As early as the first century of the Muslim calendar, Islam has known radical sects who demanded blind adherence to their rigid reading of the articles of faith, side by side with mainstream Islam, whose adherents eschew violence and extremism and do not profess to hold a monopoly on Truth. The phenomenon began with the emergence of the Khawarij (Seceders) in 660 AD, (the middle of the first Hejira century), a sect which preached a dogmatic interpretation of Scripture and practiced a version of excommunication by branding those who did not adopt its teachings as heretics. This was the first such sect but by no means the last, and throughout the history of Islam the quiet of religious life was broken many times by marginal groups who tried to impose their extremist views on the majority by violent means. A comprehensive history of these groups has been compiled by my friend, Professor Mahmoud Ismail Abdul Razzaak, in an authoritative reference work entitled “The Secret Sects of Islam.” The author devotes special attention to the Qarmatians, who carried away the Black Stone of the Ka’bah and kept it in a remote area in the east of the Arabian Peninsula for over a century.
Alongside the groups and sects whose members insisted on a literal interpretation of holy texts and laid down strict rules governing all aspects of life, there was the general trend represented in the main Sunni schools (the most important being the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafite and Hanbalite, and their offshoots, Al-Laith and Al-Tebarry), as well as the Shiites, who are split into a number of sects. The most important Shiite sect is the Imammeya, or Ithna’ashariyya, (i.e. Twelvers), so called because they accept as imams twelve of the descendants of Ali ibn-Abu Talib (according to their belief, the twelfth imam, who disappeared about 874 AD, is still living and will return). Within this general trend there emerged prominent proponents of deductive reasoning, like the great jurist Abu Hanifa, who accepted just over one hundred of the Prophet’s Hadiths as apostolic precept, as well as uncompromising champions of tradition, like Ahmed ibn-Hanbal, whose book, Al-Musnad, is a compilation of over ten thousand Hadiths. The conservative ibn-Hanbal served as the bulwark of orthodoxy and tradition against any intellectual endeavour, and for a time exerted a considerable hold on public imagination. Although his influence eventually waned, in its heyday tradition reigned supreme and very little room was left for reason. The two main disciples of ibn-Hanbal were ibn-Taymiyah and ibn-Qaiym Al-Juzeya, who, like their mentor, allowed no scope for reason or independent thinking, but insisted on a dogmatic adherence to the Hadiths as authoritative sources of all matters spiritual and temporal, laying down strict guidelines to govern every aspect of everyday life. In addition, the world of Islam was the scene of a battle of ideas between Abu Hamid Al-Ghazzali (Algazel), a strict traditionalist who did not believe the human mind capable of grasping the Truth as ordained by God, and Ibn Rushd (Averoess), who championed the primacy of reason. The exponents of these two schools waged a bitter battle in which the first salvo was fired by Al-Ghazzali with his book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ibn Rushd answered with his brilliant treatise in defense of rationality, The Incoherence of the Incoherence. But despite his spirited defense, the outcome of the battle was clearly in Al-Ghazzali’s favour, and the great majority of Islamic jurists adopted his ideas, interpreting the precepts of Islamic law by appeal to the authority of tradition and spurning deductive reasoning altogether. Islamic jurisprudence was dominated by the Mutakallimun, or dialectical theologians, who asserted the primacy of tradition (naql), as advocated by Al-Ghazzali, over that of reason (‘aql), as advocated by Ibn Rushd. But though Ibn Rushd’s ideas were rejected by the Muslim world, they took root strongly in Europe, particularly France, which embraced his vision of the primacy of reason wholeheartedly.
Thus Muslims can be said to have known two different understandings to Islam, as it were, one based on a rigid, doctrinaire interpretation of holy texts and the violent repression of free thought, the other on a moderate and tolerant understanding of Scripture which allowed for the acceptance of the Other. The first was espoused by the secret sects (limited in number and influence) which emerged in remote areas of the Arabian Peninsula and can best be described as the Bedouin model. The second took hold in the more intellectually vibrant climate that prevailed among the peoples descended from ancient civilizations in places like Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and the Levant, which I call the Egyptian/Turkish/Syrian model of Islam.
Until the mid-eighteenth century, this was the model adopted by most Muslim communities outside the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. But that was before the rise of Wahhabism, a puritan revival movement launched by Mohamed ibn-Abdul Wahab from Najd, where he was born in 1703. In 1744, he forged an alliance with the ruler of Al-Dir’iyah, a tribal chieftain by the name of Mohamed ibn-Saud, who became his son-in-law. The alliance led to the first incarnation of the Saudi state, which, by 1804, had expanded to control nearly one million square metres of the Arabian Peninsula. It was a short-lived incarnation, lasting only until 1819, when Mohamed Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, led a military expedition which destroyed Wahhabi power and razed the capital of the first Saudi state, Al-Dir’iyah, to the ground.
Mohamed Ali’s decision to send first his son Tousson then his son Ibrahim Pasha, known for his military skills, to destroy the first Saudi state had implications going far beyond the political or military ambitions of one man. It was in fact an expression of a cultural/civilizational confrontation between the two models of Islam, a confrontation the enlightened Egyptian/Turkish/Syrian model decided to take to the heartland of the obscurantist, extremist and fanatical Wahhabi model. Mohamed Ali, who was extremely impressed by the European model of development and saw no contradiction between the mechanisms by which it had come about and his Islamic beliefs, believed the Wahhabi understanding of Islam stood as a major obstacle in the way of the dream he had nurtured since coming to power in 1805 (and until he abdicated in favour of his son Ibrahim in 1848) to place Egypt on a similar road to development.
Years after the defeat inflicted on them by Ibrahim Pasha (who captured their leader and sent him to Egypt, then to Istanbul where he remained until his death), the Saudis reemerged as a political force in the eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula. Basing themselves in Riyadh, they began to meddle covertly in political affairs. This placed them on a collision course with the al-Rashid family in Ha’il, and the two sides were soon locked in battle. The Saudis, under the leadership of Abdul Rahman, father of the founder of the current Saudi dynasty, King Abdul Aziz, were defeated in 1891. Abdul Rahman fled to Kuwait with leading members of the House of Saud, where they remained in exile until 1902. During this period, they were the guests of Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabbah, who played an important role in the formation of the young Abdul Aziz. Born in 1876, Abdul Aziz, who came to be known as Ibn Saud, was encouraged in his dream to recapture Riyadh by the ruler of Kuwait. In 1902, Ibn Saud (Abdul Aziz) seized Riyadh and waged a 30-year campaign to assert his dominion over the Arabian Peninsula. In 1925 he entered first Mecca then Medina, and, in September 1932, the 56-year old proclaimed himself king over the Kingdom of Najd and Hejaz, later to become the first kingdom named after its ruling dynasty, Saudi Arabia.
Concomitantly with the birth of the new kingdom, which officially adopted the doctrine of Wahhabism, came the discovery of vast reservoirs of oil under its deserts. This provided the Wahhabis with a virtually endless source of funds which they used to propogate their model of Islam.
Three decades after the creation of Saudi Arabia and the discovery of oil, many things had changed in the world:
One, Saudi Arabia had built up a huge fortune that enabled it to further the cause of Wahhabism not only within its own borders but throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Its efforts proved successful, as many once moderate Muslims were gradually won over to the harsh version of Islam preached by the Wahhabis.
Two, beginning in the ‘sixties, Egypt suffered a reversal of fortune at all levels, including a decline in its general cultural climate, allowing Wahhabi influence to infiltrate the venerable institution of Al-Azhar. The defeat of June 1967 opened the door wide to groups which espoused the Saudi understanding of Islam and who translated their radical views into political action, often at the point of a gun.
Three, in the context of the Cold War, the West in general and the United States in particular adopted a number of misguided policies towards the region, including turning a blind eye to the spread of Wahhabi influence in the Arab and Islamic world, and even occasionally supporting radical groups inspired by the Wahhabi doctrine to achieve their own political ends, such as ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The assassination of President Anwar Sadat by an extremist group was a wake-up call which alerted the world to the growth and spread of the Saudi-backed Wahhabi model of Islam and the retreat of the Egyptian/Turkish/Syrian model. A succession of similar events attested to the dangerous spread of this model in most societies with a Muslim majority, in Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. on the morning of September 11, 2001, a group of fanatics belonging to the Wahhabi brand of Islam launched attacks on New York and Washington that illustrated how the members of this sect view the Other in general and Western civilization in particular.
For the average European or American unfamiliar with some of the facts presented in this article, it is easy to believe that Islam, violence and terrorism go hand in hand. But those who have a more thorough grasp of the issue know that this perception of Islam has taken hold only because a puritanical, fundamentalist model of Islam, which was marginal and ineffectual before oil wealth put it on the map, has managed, thanks to petrodollars, to make the world believe that its interpretation of Islam is Islam. The doctrinaire version of Islam propounded by the Wahabbis had no followers among the Muslims of the world before the expansion of Saudi influence following the oil boom. Millions of Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, the Levant, Iraq, Indonesia and throughout the world remained immune to the appeal of the fanatical, violent and bloody message of what was a small and obscure sect bred in the intellectually barren landscape of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. All that changed with the massive influx of petrodollars into the coffers of Saudi Arabia, which used its new-found wealth to propagate the message of its home-grown Wahhabi sect with missionary zeal. Hence the emergence of militant Islam as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, a force that now represents a dangerous threat to world peace, to humanity and to Islam and Muslims. Half a century ago, the Muslims of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey were models of tolerance who believed in a gentle and enlightened Islam that could, and did, coexist peacefully with other religions and cultures. Following the decline in living standards they have suffered since at the hands of despotic and corrupt rulers, they have become easy prey for the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
The perception of Islam today by many non-Muslims is that it is a fanatical and violent religion. That is a superficial view which ignores the fact that there are two models of Islam, one that is uncompromising and extremist in its views and another that is tolerant, moderate and humanistic. It is also a naïve view that can lead to dangerous decisions like the ones which informed the West’s policies when it turned a blind eye to the spread of Wahhabism and established close links with radical Islamic movements like the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Finally, there is no need to point out to the neutral reader that the existence of Qur’anic texts which can be used to evidence the violence of Islam is unimportant, because there are enlightened interpretations of the same texts which link them to specific circumstances and events. At the end of the day, any text, even if it is divine, requires a human agency to interpret it, and the real test is how the mind elects to interpret it. Moreover, there are also many Qur’anic texts which proscribe the use of violence and aggression against those belonging to other faiths and creeds, and calls on Muslims to treat them fairly and humanely. But texts should not be the focus of debate here, not least because this would allow extremists on the other side to justify their use of violence by invoking Old Testament texts exhorting believers to violence, notably in the Book of Joshua, son of Nun.
What needs to be done at this stage is to champion the cause of enlightenment by supporting moderates and promoting the humanistic understanding of Islam that once prevailed among the vast majority of Muslims. Efforts in this direction must go hand in hand with a counter offensive against the rigid, doctrinaire, even bloodthirsty, version of Islam that first appeared among isolated communities separated from the march of civilization by the impenetrable sand dunes of the Arabian desert. Geographical isolation coupled with a narrow tribal outlook is a lethal mix that cannot possibly shape a humane and tolerant perception of the Other. The time has come for the Saudi government to part ways with Wahhabism and to realize that the alliance between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi dynasty is responsible for the spread of obscurantism, dogmatism and fanaticism, poisoning minds with radical ideas opposed to humanity, progress, civilization, cultural continuity and pluralism, the diversity of opinions and creeds that is one of the most important and enriching features of human life.
Our Fascist Intimidation
Foreign students of contemporary Egyptian affairs believe there has been a marked decline in the civility of public discourse in recent years, particularly when two opposing points of view contend over an issue of public concern. I have given a great deal of thought to this phenomenon, which I tried to place in a historical perspective by comparing the language of debate in use today with that used earlier this century. My research centred on the now-defunct review, Al-Kashkool, specifically, on the issues which appeared in the period between 1923 and 1927. To my surprise, I discovered that the scurrilous language which I thought was the product of the last few decades was already in use in the `twenties. But further readings of the political and cultural writings of the period revealed that, side by side with the unfortunate tendency to resort to name-calling and slander, a tendency we suffer from to this day, was a sophisticated debating style that resembled that of the West. When Taha Hussein published his controversial book on pre-Islamic poetry, he came under attack from many critics. Some argued their case soberly, using civilized language and confining themselves to an objective critique of the book, but others stooped to unacceptable depths of calumny and personal attacks. one such was Mustapha Sadeq Al-Rafei, whose book, on the Grill, overstepped the bounds of decency in the virulent personal attack he directed at Abbas Al-Aqqad.
In other words, public discourse in Egypt was conducted along two tracks simultaneously: one track observed the rules of civility and objectivity, shunning the use of insulting language and personal attacks, the other belonged to the no-holds-barred school of writing, which had no compunctions about resorting to vilification and mudslinging to discredit the opposing party.
During the last fifty years, the objective school of public debate has gradually lost ground to a defamatory style based on hurling insults at the opponent, in which polemists find it easier to demonize the proponents of the opposing point of view than to argue their own case on its merits. Numerous examples attest to the prevalence of this phenomenon in our cultural life today, where differences of opinion over a specific issue are often expressed in the form of vituperative exchanges of accusations and personal insults.
Take the strident campaigns launched on a periodic basis by some opposition papers over one issue or another. All too often, these campaigns degenerate from an objective discussion of the issue over which they were launched in the first place into an all-out war against the person holding the opposing viewpoint, whose personal integrity and morality are called into question and who is accused of all kinds of private and public wrongdoing. At first, I thought this was because a public debate offers an ideal opportunity to give vent to the pent-up feelings of anger and frustration some of us harbour because of the many problems we face in our day-to-day life. I have since come to believe that, although this is certainly one of the factors behind the phenomenon, the real reason is a fascist trend that has marked public discourse in this country for close on half a century.
In the last five decades, public life in Egypt was strongly influenced by two main realities. The first is that the regime which came to power in 1952 was extremely intolerant of any opposition, indeed, even of the mildest criticism. I am not making a value judgement here, merely stating a fact. From the start, the regime brooked no opposition, using all the apparatus of state to crush dissidents, including the media, which launched devastating campaigns against anyone who dared raise a voice against the regime. The other reality is that the strongest underground opposition movement in the country was the Moslem Brothers, a party that was and still is notoriously averse to the least hint of criticism, dealing with whoever refuses to toe the party line either with an iron fist or with floods of speeches and writings that are no less fascist. Thus we were caught between a ruling establishment that crushed its opponents with all the means at its disposal and an underground opposition movement that destroyed its opponents both materially and morally.
In the context of a fascist climate where any divergent opinion was ruthlessly crushed, whole generations grew up with no knowledge of the rules of civilized debate, generations raised to believe that opponents and critics were fair game for the most ferocious attacks on their probity and honour, and that personal insults and abusive language were par for the course. Such a climate is not conducive to the promotion of such values as tolerance of the other climate, accepting criticism, engaging in self-criticism, expanding the objective margin in thinking and debate or genuinely embracing pluralism. There have been a number of notable exceptions to this general rule, but these are unfortunately far outnumbered by the examples of oral and written debates conducted along fascist lines, which represent the dominant trend in our public discourse at this time. It is a trend that is likely to remain dominant for some years to come, until the process of economic reform now underway has been successfully completed. The fundamental changes this is expected to introduce to the components of public life will make of those who now feed the fascist trend relics of a bygone time, products of a stage which left its mark on the attitudes of some members of our society until the new global changes divested them of their very raison d'etre. However, this is still several years down the road and, in the meantime, we will continue to suffer from the fascist trend that dominates public debate in Egypt today.