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  Disastrous Steadfastness 
by Tarek Heggy [author, academic] 1/23/07

Many of the storms engulfing our part of the world can be attributed to the fact that the movements practicing politics in the name of "political Islam" are still governed by a coup mentality, still acting as underground movements rather than as modern political institutions that respect and observe the law.

Actually, the word "mentality", which assumes the use of mental faculties, is a misnomer in this case, as most of these movements rely more on their muscles than their brains, more on raw power than on minds governed by a respect for laws, constitutions, rationality and sound judgment.

Tarek Heggy- Columnist

Tarek Heggy is both a leading liberal political thinker in the Arab world and International Petroleum Strategist. His work advances the causes of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights in the Middle East – advocating them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. In addition to being amongst the members of the first echelon of the contemporary Arab liberal thinkers, Tarek Heggy is a well-known international speaker/lecturer. During the past ten years, Tarek Heggy was invited to lecture at a wide number of world class universities including the King’s College of London University, Oxford, Princeton, Columbia, Maryland, California Berkeley and University of Colorado – Boulder. Heggy's website is located at http://www.heggy.org [go to Heggy index]

Take the case of Lebanon, which has an elected government and a parliament representing the people. And yet the largest opposition movement, a religio-political organization, refuses to recognize the authority of the nation's elected representatives and listens only to strident voices calling for a return to the past. The religious firebrands seeking to drive Lebanon several centuries back in time are playing a game in which the muscles of blind power ride roughshod over the principles of democracy, constitutional legitimacy and laws. A single armed party is turning the tables on everyone, showing total contempt for the elected parliament that should be the ultimate arbiter instead of hordes of demonstrators manipulated from outside the country by a theocratic regime that is financing the destruction of Lebanon.

Then there is the situation in the Palestinian self-rule territories, where a theocratic movement, emerging from the cobwebs of medieval times, does not consider itself bound by any of the commitments undertaken by previous governments. As far as it is concerned, events only began to unfold the day it came to power. When Abu Mazen wisely, if somewhat belatedly, called for a return to the people, the source of authority, the government of theocrats whose understanding of democracy is limited to its usefulness as a means of reaching power rejected his call. A theocratic movement that is by definition democratically immature may be capable of understanding that democracy brought it to power but not that it will, by the same token, prevent it from hanging on to power indefinitely. Governed as they are by a coup mentality totally at odds with the very notion of democracy, the members of this movement are driven by religious hysteria [not religious faith] coupled with a violent and confrontational style of political action.

The third case in point is the shocking display put on by the young members of the Muslim Brotherhood in front of Al-Azhar University, which showed that political Islam is still a very immature blend of religious hysteria, a simplistic, not to say primitive, understanding of democracy and a propensity for violence, for the use of muscle power untrammeled by the constraints of reason.

Although the incident shocked and saddened all the lovers of this nation who want to see it achieve progress, stability and prosperity, it served as a wake-up call. Proving that every cloud has a silver lining, it opened everyone's eyes to the danger of allowing power to fall into the hands of people with simple minds and meager stores of knowledge who rely on the use of muscles not brains to achieve their aim of ruling the ancient land of Egypt. 

I believe the childish display of naked power at Al-Azhar was detrimental to many people, including members of the People's Assembly affiliated ideologically [or organizationally] to the Muslim Brotherhood. How can the Egyptian people accept a political movement when the clear message they get from the bizarre behaviour of its young adherents at Al-Azhar is that it has, or could eventually have, organized militias? How can they, in an age of science and management, accept to place their fate in the hands of a callow movement driven by blind instinct not rational ideas, and relying on muscle power, not mental faculties to achieve their ends?

To my mind, the movements of political Islam have not yet gone through the necessary stage of threshing out their ideas, of separating the chaff from the grain, so to speak. Nor have these movements seen any internal ideological developments to speak of. Indeed, I would say that Muslim thinking was exposed to many more radical changes in the hundred years separating the death of the first of the four great Sunni jurists, Abu Hanifa el Noaman [in the middle of the second century of the Hejira calendar], and the death of the last, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal [just over a century later], than in the twelve centuries since Ibn Hanbal's death in the third century of the Hejira calendar. This stagnation, with its extremely detrimental effects, is a result of two phenomena. The first was when the door was slammed shut on deductive reasoning. The second was when the majority of Muslims turned their backs on the man who championed the primacy of reason, Abul Walid Ibn Rushd. Had they allowed themselves to benefit from the ideas of this outstanding philosopher, the Muslims would not have reached the low rung they now occupy on the ladder of human progress and development.

Many hurdles stand between the trends espousing political Islam and political maturity. Perhaps the most insurmountable is the insistence of these trends, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to cling to the theory of hakameya or "divine dominion" propounded by Abul 'Ala' el-Mawdoody and Sayed Qutb. Derived from the Arabic root "hokm", which means rule, the theory has a certain superficial glitter that appeals to some people. In fact, however, it is based on an untenable proposition that renders it meaningless. It postulates that mortals are not ruled by mortals but by God. This is dangerous sophistry, as there is no direct recourse to the Supreme Being – in the literal sense of the word 'direct' – given the existence of a religious caste ruling in His name according to their understanding of His intentions. I believe el-Mawdoody and Qutb came up with their theory, a fanciful notion that can obviously not be implemented in practice, each in reaction to his own personal traumatic experience. Both men experienced what we now call a culture shock, Mawdoody in the face of the strong and vibrant culture of India, Qutb, who spent less than two years in the United States nearly sixty years ago, in the face of an American culture that shocked him to the core. Unable to cope with the realities of the age, they chose to escape into a less challenging past.

Thus the first obstacle that the movements of political Islam must overcome if they want to live in the modern age at peace with the rest of humanity is the theory of hakameya to which all adherents of these movements subscribe. For it is a theory cannot be applied unless we turn the clock back more than a thousand years and regard all other cultures as mortal enemies.

The next step is for the leaders of these movements to develop a better understanding of and a stronger faith in democracy among their followers. They need to explain democracy as a process distinct from Shura [consultation]. For although there is no contradiction between them, Shura is but one part of a whole, namely, democracy. To those who consider this as belittling Islam, I would like to point out that while it is true that Islam spoke of Shura and not of democracy, it is also true that it spoke of pack animals and not of cars and planes. This in no way detracts from the greatness of Islam. After all, the purpose of Islam's message was not to predict the achievements of future ages, such as democracy, planes, human rights, lasers, medical breakthroughs, civil management systems, information technology, etc.

The leaders of movements of political Islam must breed a new generation of followers who believe that the nation is the source of authority, that the Constitution is the law of laws and that in this day and age societies cannot be led by men of religion [especially when the religion in question does not allow a caste of clerics to act as intermediaries between man and God] but by the latest discoveries in science, management, ideas and information technology.

Until at least some of these leaders break away from the doctrinaire approach to religion that has plagued the Muslim mind for over a thousand years, unless they can groom generations capable of understanding that the nation is the source of all power and that societies can only be run by science and management, we should not be surprised to find the young members of Islamist movements trying to form militias in a bid to govern us with wild emotions, strident voices and muscle power untamed by reason or common sense. CRO

copyright 2007 Tarek Heggy





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