Civilizations in Crisis: Confrontation or Peaceful Engagement? Part I
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
American foreign policy is in a new period of containment, similar to that inaugurated forty years ago by George Kennen in his Mr. X article in Foreign Affairs. The problem is that there is no longer a simple bipolar world in which there was only one big threat to contain and for which technology, albeit very expensive, provided a simple answer. Today there are no poles, and the threats range from ethnic conflict, religious extremism, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation to narcotics, economic imbalances, population explosion, and ecological genocide.
The masters of the universe in the White House are expected to solve or contain immediately all the problems of the world. Otherwise they wil1 be accused, in the words of E. J. Dionne, Jr., of having “the guts of Neville Chamberlain and the operational skills of the guys who brought us the Bay of Pigs.”
Faced with the threat of political losses at home, the politicians have tasked their gurus to save them from the threatening world abroad by producing in the field of foreign policy an equivalent of the unified theory of physics.
The most gallant such effort is Samuel P. Huntington’s breathtaking proposal that, during the coming century, civilizations, not states, will be the real actors in international affairs. Since he has not yet escaped the blinders of the Cold War mentality that sees the world as a universe of threats, our future thus becomes “The Clash of Civilizations.” The only logical foreign policy thus must aim to contain whatever civilizations or alliance of civilizations might destroy the world as we know it, i.e. might upset the status quo.
The major threat to America’s interests, according to many in the intelligence and foreign policy communities, will be the Muslim world. Huntington goes them one further by forecasting an even greater threat, namely, two civilizations, the Sino or Confucian and the Islamic, in alliance against America and the rest of the world. The task thus becomes how to contain this threat.
This position paper accepts the basic thesis that civilizations as the highest form of human self-identity will be increasingly important in the “global village” during the century ahead. But it suggests that we should shift to the opportunity mentality that can transcend the Cold-War psychosis and make possible a century of peaceful engagement designed to promote the interests of all civilizations, nations, and persons.
Globally, we may now be where we were in 1967 when Zingier Brzezinski introduced the new paradigm of “peaceful engagement” to destroy Communism. The difference is that Islam as a civilization does not aim to destroy America, though many Muslims in the world have been radicalized by centuries of felt injustice. We required twenty years from the beginning of “containment,” focused on threat, to reach the maturity of Brzezinski’s new framework for American foreign policy. Another twenty years, from 1967 to 1987, were required for it to reach fruition.
Although self-fulfilling prophecies have begun to create the very threat in the Muslim world that we are now trying to contain, we should hope that a policy of opportunity-analysis and initiatives would bear fruit very soon. The PLO- Israeli Accord can be the first step, but only if it is part of a grand strategy of peaceful engagement not merely with a few unrepresentative and isolated Muslim governments but with the one billion Muslims, a fifth of the world’s people, living largely in a l,000 mile-wide swath reaching from the Pacific westward all the way to the Atlantic.
The alternative is a world of warring economic blocs and the spiritual and moral dissolution of the United States from within. An American foreign policy focus on threat at the expense of opportunity is highly risky also because it would surely produce the one threat we are most urgently trying to prevent, namely radicalized populations leading to unrepresentative governments with a terrorist mentality resulting eventually in nuclear war.
This position paper calls for a process of civilizational dialogue between the “Western” and the Islamic civilizations rooted in an understanding that the basic principles of law in Islam and its basic religious beliefs and practices are very similar if not identical to the basic premises of America’s founding fathers, though both Muslims and Americans have lost much of this common heritage.
Although the enlightened self-interests of both the Muslim world and America are identical, they each often fol1ow parochial policies designed to play in a zero-sum game, whereby any gain by one must be a loss to the other. The two major threats to peace in the world are a parochial American strategy to consolidate a new world order based on maintaining the existing status quo, and a parochial Muslim strategy to overthrow the existing world order in order to promote justice. Each party rationalizes its strategy by demonizing the other in a spiraling process of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The only solution is for the United States to recognize that basic change in the world is inevitable, and for the Muslims around the world to recognize that the only way to achieve justice is to work with Americans in addressing the challenges and opportunities common to us all.
The unified field theory of global affairs was well articulated by perhaps the best strategist in Washington, namely, the First Lady, Hillary Clinton. In summarizing the purpose of her new role, she says “I have a burning desire to do what I can, a desire to make the world around me - kind of going out in concentric circles - better for everybody.” In an interview in her West Wing office with Martha Sherrill, she called for a “politics of meaning,” whereby her own life and our life as a nation can become “integrated,” so that our “emotional life and physical life, spiritual life and political life all fit together in sync, an orchestra sitting down to play the same song.” She would “rather convince you of something slowly - by deed - and she would rather change your mind permanently - about the world or people or politics -than make you laugh right here and now.” President Clinton has a master strategist in the White House, because the master is always the one who can define the issue.
I. Civilization as a new macro-paradigm of conflict
Since the end of the bi-polar world only three years ago with the advent of Boris Ye1tsin and the destruction of the Berlin Wan, we have had two paradigmatic revolutions in viewing the dynamics of world affairs.
First we had “the new world order” of Francis Fukuyama, who asserted that Communism had died, liberal democracy had won, and history had ended in a new world order dominated by seculare1ites governing from the United States. This “new world order” turned out to be merely a flash in the pan. Henry Kissinger, the principal guru of the secular establishment worldwide, condemned this concept from the very beginning as absurd because there was not and never could be a global consensus on a desirable future of the world.
For a couple of years, policymakers, and especially the policy advisers who inhabit Washington’s think-tanks, were lost in what clearly was a new world with no familiar landmarks. They were buffeted by micro-cosmic events unfolding in Bosnia, Somalia, Kashmir, Tadjikistan, and countless other places, but could not produce a coherent set of guidelines to determine how the United States should react to each individual event, if at an. Therefore they felt obliged to come up with some macrocosmic paradigm of thought that could help them make sense of what otherwise seemed to be an unfolding, universal chaos without pattern, purpose, or any handles for external control.
To their rescue came Samuel P. Huntington, Director of a major global think-tank, the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. Huntington had staked out a claim to intellectual leadership a generation earlier when he led the assault on the Western paradigm of “nation-building,” whereby progress in the Third World depended on the abolition of indigenous cultures and their substitution by the secular civilization of the West, which was to “mobilize” the natives into clones of their new secular mentors or would-be mentors in the United States. Huntington helped win the battle during the Vietnam era of the 1960’s against the optimists who had hoped and worked for U.S. unilateral dominance in the world.
In 1993, Huntington decided to fin the paradigmatic vacuum in Washington by updating his ideas to guide U.S. policymakers in the century ahead. He did so by publishing a magisterial article in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, “The Clash of Civilizations.”
He theorized that after the end of the post-bipolar world, which was dominated by two super-states, there would be no dominant states. In fact, international affairs would not be dominated by states at all, because the role of the state as the real actor in international affairs would be replaced by civilizations. He identified eight civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African.
His presentation of the new paradigm was so breathtaking and seductive that it may occupy center stage in one form or another in policy discussions for many years to come. Although most younger scholars and non-academics acted as if Huntington had invented the first wheel, in fact, Huntington was merely reviving an old policy dispute that dates back to the time of Ibn Khaldun in Tunisia six centuries ago. Ibn Khaldun wrote many volumes to support his thesis that ideas control history and the ultimate force in man’s individual or connective life is religious, i.e. the search for ultimate meaning in a transcendent purpose.
Oswald Spengler, author of the multi-volume. Der Untergang des Abendlandes, at the beginning of this century forecast that the West would decline as a civilization and die out because it had lost its spiritual dynamo.
Half a century ago, Arnold Toynbee gained fame by explaining, also in many volumes, that civilizations are the substance of history and that they rise only when there is a critical challenge and an inspired response. Toynbee caned Ibn Khaldun the greatest historian of all time.
World War II gave rise to an intense ideological struggle between the civilizational versus the nationalistic explanation of human action. Toynbee, Quincy Wright, and Parkinson led the field of macrocosmic theoreticians who said that no individual state could act independently of its parent civilization. This, of course, would mean that both Stalin and Hitler were natural products of Western civilization. Their opponents, above an Hans Morgenthau and Raymond Aron, took the micro approach and said each state is unique, just like an individual person, is motivated by power not principle, and acts independently in nurturing its own culture for good or bad.
This whole subject of the microcosmic versus the macrocosmic explanation of human group dynamics was hotly debated in academic circles as well as in the intelligence and policymaking communities in Washington during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Intelligence managers debated what indicators served best to predict threats, and a few policymakers debated what indicators were best to predict opportunities as well as to judge the success or failure of policies addressing either. A whole new discipline of quantitative behavioral science began to form in response to the new requirements, but it served mainly to disinform rather than to enlighten because the most easily observable indicators are by nature superficial.
During the 1960’s, when behavioral science had been carried to absurd extremes during the Vietnam war, a new guru of the macrocosmic began to influence elite thought in America and to bring a perception of order in the world for confused policy advisers. This was Fernand Braudel, a Marxist-Leninist in liberal clothes, who taught that there are three levels of human action relevant to policymakers. The first, most superficial level, is the world of current events, which one reads about in the daily newspapers. This has little meaning, because it is influenced and even determined by a deeper level of institutional change, which is much less observable and therefore less amenable to manipulation by policymakers. Underlying this as the agent of change in human affairs is the level of paradigmatic thought. As popularized at the time by Thomas Kuhn, a paradigm is a framework of reference against which all concepts of truth and rightness are measured. Changes at this deepest level take place glacially or else in sudden qualitative leaps, in accordance with modern chaos theory, but can no more be stopped or directed by conscious human action than man can stop or accelerate a glacier itself. This tri-level view of reality was considered by a few policy professionals as the best lens for either the intelligence or the policy communities to use in viewing the world, because it sheds insight on the environment and the limits within which policymakers can effect change.
With this background of cultural development in the art of foreign policy analysis, it was perhaps natural that in 1993 think-tankers in Washington and the academic community would search for meaning in a seemingly crazy world by looking for permanent actors with permanent interests. The only ones that still exist, according to Samuel Huntington, are civilizations, because every civilization by definition constitutes a unique paradigm of thought and action, and each has an organic need to pursue its own interests in survival and prosperity, either by cooperation with the other civilizations or through conflict with them. By sublimating the arena from one of micro-nations to that of macro-civilizations, the world could be tidied up at least intellectually, though the potential for serious errors in discernment and policy prescription might be greatly increased.
II. Civilizations as the ultimate source of conflict
The first theorists to address this renewed macrocosmic explanation of international affairs saw the entire world as a universe of threats, simply because this was the perspective they inherited from the bi-polar era, when nothing made sense outside of the threat posed by Communism to the free-world. The analogy that sprang to mind to explain the threats to America was the geology of tectonic plates, whereby earthquake events and even the growth of mountains are triggered by massive blocks of the earth’s crust forced against each other by nuclear or other energies powerful almost beyond human imagination. Each civilization serves as a tectonic plate and all are moving inexorably toward confrontation. The analogies were striking. Just as the Himalayan mountains have been created by the movement of the Indian plate colliding with the Central Asian plate to the north, so also an equally gigantic confrontation is shaping up between the unstoppable Hindu civilization which is grinding inexorably against the immovable Muslim civilization that stretches across all of Asia from central China to the Mediterranean and beyond. Other plates may grind sideways but with perhaps even more dramatic results.
By analogizing from the tectonic plates that drive the surface changes on the planet earth, Huntington concludes that “the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
Huntington explains that “a civilization is the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of what distinguishes humans from other species. ... Civilizations may include several nation states ... or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization, ... and may include sub-civilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic, and Malay subdivisions .... Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations disappear and are buried in the sands of time.”
He suggests that the clash of civilizations will intensify for a number of reasons during the coming century. First, the interactions among peoples in the “global village” may not bring harmony but rather intensify civilizational consciousness and therefore invigorate differences and animosities that reach back deep into history. In economics, regionalism in the form of trading blocs will reinforce civilizational consciousness, and the process may be reciprocal because economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. “Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of secular ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilization identity.” Politics, economics, and religion will become tools of each other.
Furthermore, Huntington concludes that the modernization process worldwide is separating people from the nation as a source of identity, and religious fundamentalism is rushing in to fill the gap as part of a return to the roots phenomenon, focused outwardly against the source of the identity problem, the West. And he adds, “Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. ... In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was, ‘Which side are you on’?’ and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is ‘What are you’?’” The answer he fears during the twenty-first century may be really a matter of life and death, for uncounted millions.
The major question in policymaking therefore is which civilization will clash with and perhaps bury another or others. If there is to be a global civilization, which will it be, or will they all destroy each other and give rise to something new. The answers will depend, one would conclude, on which civilization can best recognize the dynamics and orchestrate them to its own advantage.
III. The Sino-Muslim axis
Having set the intel1ectual stage for a policy conclusion, Huntington then proceeds to invoke the spectre of an alliance between Islam and its many component nations with the Confucian civilization, which includes China but extends beyond it. He thereby invokes an almost genetic fear of the two forces that invaded Europe, the Ottomans and the Mongols, and the tribal fear of inundation by alien peoples who today each number more than one billion persons, each more than the total population of the West.
In order to build on the originators of the current campaign against Islamic civilization, Huntington quotes the “new Orientalists,” starting with the Indian Muslim author, M. J. Akbar, who writes that, after the end of Communism, the West’s “next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Huntington reinforces this position with Bernard Lewis’s similar conclusion in his Atlantic Monthly article of September 1990, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” which prepared the way for Desert Storm: “We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations - the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”
Huntington warns American policymakers that, “In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to Central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma, and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders. “
One would expect that Huntington would ask himself what the significance is of the fact that, even before Bosnia, 80% of the refugees of the world were Muslims. The Islamic world does have bloody borders, but the blood comes at the hands of the Communists in Sinkiang, where genocide has been waged for decades; of the Russian nationalists and their fascist a11ies in the Central Asian republics, where in 1992 more than 30,000 Muslims in Tadjikistan were exterminated and 150,000 made homeless; and of the so-cal1ed secular government of India in Kashmir, where a tragedy equal to that in Bosnia is practically unknown to the world only because India does not permit freedom of information. One would think from Huntington’s litany of gore that the Muslims are attacking the Buddhists in Burma, the Hindus in India, the Jews in Israel, and the Serbs in Bosnia, rather than trying to defend themselves against aggression.
Huntington is honest by admitting the inconsistency of the United States when it prevents the Muslims in Bosnia from defending themselves while it refuses to impose sanctions on Israel for its policies in the occupied territories. He explains this simply by his statement, “A world of clashing civilizations is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.”
He states, obviously with approval, “Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain, and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany, and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non- Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Councilor in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers.”
Perhaps the most egregious case of duplicity was the intervention by the United States in Somalia when the Muslim forces were beginning to consolidate their control and had already brought sufficient order so that crops could be planted and the famine stopped. One influential analysis justifying the intervention was published in The Washington Post of October 17, 1993, by Christopher Whalen, who writes that American intervention was designed “to protect the increasingly isolated Saudi Arabian monarchy from the combined threat of Iranian military and political power and Islamic fundamentalism. [In contrast to earlier cases] this time ‘humanitarian assistance’ became the sole label for the latest intervention .... Iran’s limited but growing role in East African states like the Sudan and Somalia is part of a much larger strategy to gradual1y encircle the prime target in the region - Saudi Arabia - with a web of regional alliances and covert military operations. Strategical1y, as Yossef Bodansky wrote recently in Global Affairs, “All of this effort was aimed at a Sudanese-Iranian presence in the Horn of Africa [aiming] toward a transformation of the Red Sea into a Green [Muslim] Lake ... America is in the position of defending a weakling regime (Saudi Arabia) that cannot survive in its own increasingly dangerous neighborhood. It has been said that an American military withdrawal from Somalia ... would have serious consequences for the Persian Gulf. The Saudis and other fearful Arab states would believe that Washington can no longer be trusted to serve as a regional watchdog.”
This analysis is grossly simplistic, yet accurate to the extent that it suggests a hidden agenda, as do most acts of governments around the world. The real policy issue was not the need for humanitarian aid, or even the wisdom of using military force to impose political solutions from the top down as part of a worldwide experiment in social engineering, but whether this was the right place to begin an attack on Islam as a growing global force.
The policies of intervention in Somalia and non-intervention in Bosnia, however, according to Huntington, are peripheral to the main arena of combat. The real center of the threat in the old Mackinder sense of continental control is Central Asia. Against the world community a new threat is now emerging, which Huntington calls the “ConfucianIslamic connection.” He devotes a major section of his 27-page position paper on the clash of civilizations to this central area of global conflict.
“Those countries,” he writes, “that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or cannot, join the West compete with the West by developing their own economic, military, and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge the Western interests, values, and power.”
He notes the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer cal1s the “Weapon States,” which are those in the Sino-Muslim axis that no longer accept the old world order dominated by Euro-America. He notes that this has forced “the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War the primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non- Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests.”
In conclusion, Huntington forecasts that during the coming century “violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and the most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between ‘the West and the Rest’; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states. ”
This concept of a civilizational alliance against America stretching from the Pacific westward across Asia clear around the world to the Atlantic is appealing, because it suggests that Europe and America are surrounded, just as the Soviet Communists maintained a psychological war-footing by envisaging themselves as surrounded by capitalism. Mao Tse Tung must be moaning in his grave because he never thought of this stroke of brilliance. Mao reversed the Soviet concept of encirclement by claiming that his revolutionary movement would surround the capitalist citadel of Euro-America just as he had surrounded the cities of China from the countryside in his victorious sweep to power in the population center of the world. Perhaps this vision of encirclement may give coherence to American foreign policy, but it fails to recognize the real civilizational dynamics in human history, which are religious. When civilizations become secular, they always lose.
IV. The threat of the threat mentality
The current Fall issue of Foreign Affairs devotes even more space to countering the Huntington thesis than it allowed to the thesis itself. And the Winter issue is to give Huntington’s rebuttal to the worst that could be marshaled against him. Unfortunately, the most serious error in Huntington’s thesis is shared by all his detractors. They all accept the basic premise that Western civilization is secular.
If we are indeed a secular civilization as most of our opinion elites would have us believe, then America is destined to wage mortal combat forever with every other civilization in the world, simply because al1 civilizations are based on religion, that is, on a sense of the transcendent and of a higher reality and purpose than man can physically observe or control. Since both the proponents and opponents of the Huntington thesis in the Foreign Affairs dialogue are secularists, they may never be able to see their own fundamental error until the growing traditionalist movement of Christians, Muslims, and Jews inside America renders them irrelevant.
The second basic fallacy behind Huntington’s increasingly popular demonization of Islam and Muslims is its origin and basis in the threat mentality that always engulfs a society when it is disintegrating from within. The threat mentality causes otherwise normal people to view the whole world in paranoid terms as a universe of threats. Threat analysis in much of the world is still the paradigm of foreign policy, especially among the military which exists in order to counter threats. And the measures to which the defenders against real or imagined threats are willing to resort can include mass genocide far beyond the capability of any run-of-the-mill terrorists who simply blow up an airplane or try to blow up a single building. They both can be dangerously psychotic.
The terrorist mentality is a special and fortunately uncommon form of threat paranoia. Terrorism may be defined simply as a hate crime against innocent civilians designed to protest some felt injustice perpetrated by a third party. Terrorism almost never restores justice or accomplishes anything constructive. Since the target is not the cause of the felt injustice, terrorism is illogical and, given the injustice of targeting the innocent, is quite simply sheer madness.
Terrorism has been around since the beginning of history. It takes different forms depending on the culture of its perpetrators. Christians may seek peace by creating chaos, whereas Muslims may seek justice by committing the most heinous injustices. By resorting to terrorism, each, within their own culture, are presenting evil as good and good as evil, which each religion teaches is the essential characteristic of the devil. Terrorism therefore, by both theological and popular definition, is diabolical, which explains perhaps why it evokes such a primordial fear in the human psyche.
Although terrorism itself defies the laws of cause and effect, the psychology of the terrorist, that is, the decision to resort to terrorism, is usually the effect of a complex syndrome of causes. The common element in terrorism, whether in America’s inner cities or in foreign countries, is profound alienation usually against the entire world caused by a feeling of helplessness in the face of perceived injustice.
The “normal” kind of threat paranoia produces merely a psychotic view of the “enemy” but may develop into a search for proxies and end up in full-blown terrorism. A good example is the development of policy in Iran beginning with Imam Khomeini’s characterization of America as the “Great Satan.” This psychotic approach to problems makes rational analysis of dialogue and cooperation impossible and can lead eventually to state support of terrorism and to the use of nuclear weapons in a preemptive strike. Khomeini, as well as millions of his people, were desperately frustrated by what they felt was their oppression by a foreign secular culture bent on its own aggrandizement at their expense. Once the Shah as a proxy of this foreign threat was removed, Khomeini focused on the source of this threat, which for him became an amorphous but monolithic “America.” The aggressive war by Iraq aided and financed by the United States and its allies against Iran served only to further radicalize an entire nation and to justify in the minds of its radical leaders the resort to state terrorism against whatever proxy they could find and rather easily attack, especially Israel. By applying this self-fulfilling prophecy of threat in American foreign policy, U.S. strategists produced a threat that may take years to dissipate.
The mentality of threat and counter-threat, as well as of the sub-order of terrorism and counter-terrorism, often justifies its extremism by defining the threat as whatever the other guy does, without regard for his reaction to or perception of one’s own actions, and by defining the other guy collectively as an entire religion, and even as an entire civilization as in the phrase “the West” versus the “rest.” The result may be a catastrophist view of the world in which one’s own ethnic group, or religion, or civilization is locked in mortal combat with “the other.”
An example of psychosis comparable to that of Imam Khomeini has been the demonization of Islam in Bosnia. The Director of the Republican Task Force on Terrorism, Yossef Bodansky, produced an ostensibly well-researched position paper in September 1992 warning that the Muslims of Bosnia are a spring-board for political radicals to attack Europe and America. Fortunately, in response to immediate protests by the American Muslim Council, the co-chairman and half of the members of this task-force resigned after they read the report that had been issued under their names.
Much more dangerous than such egregious nonsense, which can sell only to Bodansky’s fellow paranoids, is the uneasiness of opinion elites at the highest levels in America and Europe over the rise of Islam as an influential religion in the post-bipolar world.
The arguments against permitting the Bosnians to defend themselves against aggression are based clearly on religious prejudice and fear. Thus Henry Kissinger stated on May 16th, 1993, in a lengthy position paper, published as an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, “The most irresponsible mistake of the current Bosnian tragedy was the international recognition of a Bosnian state governed by Muslims.”
This was repeated more clearly in mid-August by the British foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, who announced that Europe will never permit a country with a Muslim majority and an Islamic government in Europe. One might almost conclude that Kissinger announced the end of a multi-ethnic Bosnia on May 16th by calling for its division and the creation of a small rump Bosnia, whereas Hurd called for the elimination of even this small remnant.
A survivor of the holocaust, Henry Siegman, who is executive director of the American Jewish Congress, stated in the Washington Post of August 24, 1993, “Perhaps the real shameful truth is that the West is indifferent to the fate of Bosnia’s Muslims, at least in part, for the same reason it was indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the 1930’s. There was something in Hitler’s hatred of the Jews that resonated in residual anti-semitism in Western culture. Similarly, there is something in the Serbian and Croatian demonization of Bosnia’s Muslims - the fear of a Muslim state in the heart of Europe’ - that finds an echo in lingering Western prejudice.”
“However we rationalize our indifference to what is happening in the Balkans,” he continues, “its consequences will surely haunt us in the days and years to come. For what is at stake in Bosnia is not only indescribable human suffering but the idea of the universality of the civilized norms that are the foundation of our freedom and democracy. In Bosnia, on the threshold of an unfolding new order, we have been offered the opportunity to reaffirm that fundamental truth, and we have failed the test.”
President Clinton saw clearly what was happening in Bosnia. He urged in a press conference on May 11th that we must “stop this ethnic cleansing, murdering people, raping children, and doing terrible acts of violence solely because of people’s religion.” The juggernaut of Western “multilateralism,” however, simply overrode President Clinton’s compassion and horror at our inaction, because this particular religion had been declared out of bounds.
The irony of this demonization in Bosnia is that, at least until recently before the process of self-fulfilling prophecy began to take effect, the victims of the Serbian ex-Communists religio-nationalist xenophobia and genocide have been struggling to uphold all the principles that the Americans and British hold so dear.
They are trying to uphold their belief that communities should function not to exclude or hurt each other but so people can get to know each other, as it is urged in the Qur’an, so they can cooperate in the pursuit of knowledge, justice, and prosperity.
The majority of the people in Bosnia have been fighting to maintain multi-cultural cooperation, as Muslims have throughout most of their history, and to maintain political diversity based on representative governance, which is an absolute requirement under Islamic law. The Bosnians are not an ethnic group but have always been a community of people, including Christians and Jews, who submit to the universal teachings of divine revelation. This is precisely the broadest meaning of the adjective, “Muslim.”
It is appropriate that all the Bosnians who are fighting for the very principles on which America was founded are called Muslims. There is no other official designation. People are either Serbs, Croats, or a mixture of ethnic and religious groups officially termed Muslims. The designation is very apt, but the true significance of the term cannot be seen since the entire people have been demonized in the name of a religion.
It is perhaps fortuitous, or the Muslims would say the design of Allah, that the only truly practicing Muslim leader of any country in the entire world is the Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovich. His book, written in a Communist prison, Islam Between East and West, established Izetbegovich as one of the half-dozen leading Muslim intellectuals in the world.
His only problem is that most of the Muslims of the world have lost touch with their spiritual and intellectual heritage and can no longer fully grasp what Izetbegovich is saying. He is calling for a society governed by leaders who are governed by God, which is the whole idea of the Great American Experiment, rather than, as in most other Muslim countries, by theocrats, military bureaucrats, secular tyrants, or a feudal aristocracy. He is calling for a society governed not by human whim or populist movements but by the rule of law, by the inalienable human rights given every person and community by God, the most important of which are enshrined in the Islamic shari’ah and in the U.S. constitution.
Therefore it is most ironic that the death-knell of the Bosnian Republic was rung in January 1993 by Henry Kissinger who stated that he had read Izetbegovich’s book and concluded that it represents the purest form of the mounting Islamic threat to “Western civilization.”
Since Izetbegovich and all the other great scholars and leaders throughout Islamic history have been calling for exactly what America’s founding fathers did when they launched their revolution against foreign oppression, one can only conclude that the zealots behind the movement toward civilizational confrontation either are criminally ignorant or have declared war on the American people.
I. The opportunity mentality
Out of every tragedy there is an opportunity for good. The first, major, post-Cold War application of policies based on the theory of civilizational confrontation has shocked many people with any moral sensibility into questioning the theory’s premises. Perhaps the Bosnian tragedy and the underlying theory of civilizational confrontation will expose the fallacy of the secular premise on which it is based, namely, that religion is a cause of conflict rather than its cure.
Since secularism among the policymakers in both Serbia and the West clearly is the root of this genocide in Bosnia, as it was in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, many thoughtful Jews have begun to question the Zionist doctrine that secularism is the secret to security of the Jewish nation or any other nation. In the just published book, American Jews and the Separationist Faith: The New Debate on Religion in Public Life,” edited by David Dalin with an afterword by Irving Kristol, and published by The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., some of America’s traditionalist Jews have questioned the view that religion should be rigorously separated from public life, and they have begun to argue for “equal protection” in laws and for government policies that encourage the free exercise of religion. Perhaps the utter ruthlessness of the new doctrine of inexorably clashing civilizations has shocked some of America’s opinion elites enough and in time to seek in the religious basis of all civilizations the real meaning of history and the solution to the problems of the world.
The lights are coming on all over the world of Judaism. At the ancient Ansche Chesed Synagogue in New York, which is home for Michael Lerner’s vehicle for civilizational renewal, Tikkun, Rabbi Rachel Cowan worries about the n’shama, the soul, of Judaism. She continues the teachings of Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook of Palestine and of all this century’s great Jewish spiritual leaders when she explains with passion that, “God’s purpose for the Jews continues. We are here for a purpose: to combine our passion for making the world a better place with our mission to bring holiness into the world and maintain our rich spiritual path.”
Although the recent PLO- Israeli accord results from many factors, the underlying impetus that made it possible seems to be a growing willingness worldwide to shift the framework for decision-making from the constricting mentality of threat forecasting toward an openness to opportunity. The greatest opportunity is to question the entire paradigm of civilizational confrontation, based on the mentality of threat, and to explore whether religion is the only adequate source of justice, and justice the only means to peace.
II. The search for justice
Although all of world’s major religions agree on the essential spiritual truths, of course with dissenting factions within each one, and on the moral verities that underlie the formation of character, each religion has its own unique paradigm of thought and can be understood only within its own frame of reference.
In Islam, this paradigm is the shari’ah or Islamic law, just as in Judaism the paradigm is the Torah and for most Jews also the talmud
Some narrow-minded ‘ulama or professional clerics define the shari’ah very narrowly to consist only of a set of dogmatic rules essentially divorced from everything of spiritual, social, or political substance. Others take a diametrically opposite view’s of the shariah by defining it in Qur’anic terms as the shar’ or way of life that was taught by all the prophets, from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad ( ) and was developed by centuries of the world’s best minds into a paradigm of thought in the form of a hierarchy of purpose. This holistic approach necessarily encompasses every aspect of morality, including political, religious, and intellectual freedom.
Although Imam Shafi’i, two centuries after the time of the Prophet ( ), was the first scholar to develop the holistic approach inherent in the Qur’an to the level of an art, the earlier jurists, even at the time of the Prophet himself ( ), followed the holistic approach for which Islamic scholarship became famous, even though they had no terms to describe their techniques.
As Shaikh Taha Jabiral Alwani writes in his Usul al Fiqh al Islami: Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence, the Prophet ( ) ordered certain of his companions () to make ijtihad (intellectual effort) in his presence, so that he could tell them who was correct and who was mistaken, based both on the letter of the Qur’an and on its spirit. The ultimate model in developing and applying the shari’ah was the Prophet’s favorite, , Ali ibn Abu Talib ( ), who, Shaikh Taha writes, “had a deep concern with linking particular issues to general principles ... and always based his opinions on the broader aims of the Shari’ah.” Also the second Caliph, ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, “was quick to relate the particular to the general, and could pursue the ramifications of an issue back to basic principles in order to see its wider implications .... He felt it the duty of scholars to discover the reasons that are not specified in the texts, ... so that people will not become accustomed to seeking remedies and legal rulings on their problems outside the law of Allah.”
The classical shari’ah, which reached its high-point of systemic development in the 30 volumes of Ibn Taymiya and in the writings of his students Ibn Qayyim and al Shatibi six centuries ago, can be explained in terms of its premises and its purposes.
The first premise or basis of the shahadah is its holistic ontology, Allah is One. Therefore the entire created order exists in unitary harmony. The things and forces we can observe are real, but their reality is derivative from Allah. They do not exist independently of His purpose in their creation. This ontological principle, known as tawhid, is critically important in Islamic law because it means that the whole precedes and is greater than the parts. Purpose and meaning therefore derive deductively from pre-existing knowledge of the whole, revealed by God both directly and through His creation, and are not derived inductively by analysis of the parts.
The second premise of the shahadah is its esthetic. The nature of transcendent reality, and of all being, is beauty, which precedes and is independent of cognition. The flower in the desert is beautiful even if no person ever sees it. Beauty consists of unity, symmetry, harmony, depth of meaning, and breadth of applicability. The greatest beauty is the unitive principle of tawhid itself, because without it there could be no science and no human thought at all. This is of controlling importance in the shar’iah, because it means that the ideal system of law should be simple, symmetrical, deep, and comprehensive.
The third premise is epistemological. All knowledge is merely a derivitive and an affirmation of the unitary harmony inherent in everything that comes from Allah. All creation worships Allah because He is One. Every person is created with a need and a corresponding intuitive capability to seek and know transcendent reality. The human spirit, the ruh (which is always in direct contact with Allah), and soul, the nafs(i.e. mind, or decision-making power), and the power of reason (or material brain) are designed to know reality and to facilitate submission to Allah in thought and action.
To this end, everything in creation is a sign, an ayah, of Allah, designed to manifest the beauty and perfection of His will for our instruction. For example, the constant movement of the clouds shows the nature of the universe as a flux or state of constant change, so that we will seek the stability of peace only in Allah. Similarly, the variety of sunsets we see shows the freedom for diversity inherent in Allah’s design for the universe, which in turn shows the uniqueness ordained for every individual person. Both the clouds and the sunset have powerful lessons for every branch of human knowledge, from the fitric or microcentric disciplines of physics and psychology to the ummatic or macro-oriented disciplines of chemistry and sociology or politics.
This epistemological premise reinforces the first two, because it indicates that Islamic law serves to give meaning to everything man can observe. And meaning comes from Allah, Who gives purpose to everything He has created.
A second way to understand the shari’ah as a holistic guide to the rule of law is to analyze its practical purposes, because it is above all an educational tool designed to provide guidance. To the extent that the lower level of requirements must ever be enforced, the purpose of the shari’ah for human society has failed.
This purposive nature of law in Islam differs radical1y from the static nature of law in Indo-European cultures, where law serves to maintain order, continuity, and stability, and where law by definition exists only where it is enforced. This radical difference in nature is evident in the very concept of being. In Greek thought, from which Western secularism derives, “being” is known as ontos, hence the term ontology as the science of being. It is a static concept or at most conceives of being as cyclical and tending toward death in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics.
By contrast, in Semitic thought dominant in Judaism and Islam, and also in traditionalist Christianity, being is defined by the word kun in the sense of God’s command to the universe, “be,” and it was. All of creation arose by personal command with a divine purpose, and it is the task of man to find this purpose as best he can in the cosmology of the stars, the pattern of divinely guided evolution, and in his own nature and to transform both himself as a person and the surrounding universe in accordance with it.
When the status quo contains injustice, man’s duty is to change the status quo, which is why superficial stability can never become a false God for Muslims. This carries powerful meaning not only in the field of law but in every field of knowledge, especially human relations and international politics. Existence is purposeful movement and we can be real only if we become a component part.
The highest purposes of the shahadah are six in number, though some scholars in the early centuries, like Abu Hamid al Ghazali, identified only five. Each of these six universals (kulliyat) or essentials (dururiyat) or goals (maqasid) of the shari’ah provides guidance in identifying and addressing the issues of conscience in any society. There may be many valid Islamic positions on each of the major issues, but there can be only one Islamic approach, which is to address the underlying spiritual and moral causes rather than their outward manifestation in the chaos of injustice and evil.
To understand the nature of Islamic law in any country of the world we need only look at illustrations of how each of the six would apply in America. Since the problems of human society are basically the same all over the world, the essential meaning of Islamic law would not vary among countries, though the means of enforcement would depend on the extent to which the people felt themselves bound by this higher law. No-one is bound by Islamic law unless he or she accepts its binding nature. As a system of guidance, what would apply in America would apply with minor adaptations in Nigeria, Egypt, Tadjikistan, Sinkiang, and Indonesia.
The first three of these six highest purposes deal with what is essential for survival.
1) Life - The first is known as haqq a1 haya, the responsibility to respect or protect life. This would include the obvious issues of abortion on demand (half of the 3,400,000 unintended pregnancies in America every year end in abortion) and suicide (depression leads 30,000 Americans every year to take their own lives). The responsibility to respect life also includes such issues as the quality of life of the aged and disabled, and guaranteed health care of high quality for all Americans.
Haqq al haya includes many issues of national defense and foreign policy, including the worldwide problem of refugees, most of them Muslims. All of these foreign policy issues are rooted in the fundamental Islamic principle that peace comes most basically not from efforts to maintain stability through military power but from pursuing justice. This haqq al haya also gives special meaning to the new agenda of the global environment, which is so heavily emphasized in the Qur’an and hadith, and now is threatened by a materialistic indifference to man’s responsibility both to the Creator and to His creation.
2) Community - The second basic responsibility, haqq a1 nasl, is the duty to respect the family and community. This brings our moral focus onto the problems of divorce (the already horrendous rate has doubled in the last decade and has not gone still higher only because couples increasingly live together without bothering to get married), the care of children (in the inner cities we have a whole generation of de facto orphans), and family life programs (geared to “safe sex” without the slightest concern about moral obligation). Remedies range from health care and other benefits for part-time workers so that parents can reduce their working hours: governmentally guaranteed support payments combined with aggressive action against non-custodial parents; and elimination of the tax penalty for married couples; all the way to the introduction of voucher education designed to restore spiritually-based moral values and character-building as the major objective of education. And, of course, haqq al nasl would focus on the problem of homosexuality, lesbianism, and AIDS, which are primarily a direct result of the general anomie or lack of meaning and purpose in life.
3) Property - The third dumriyah or essential goal of the path and pattern of perfection known as the shari’ah is haqq al mal, which most simply is the duty to protect and promote private ownership of the means of production as a fundamental human right. In principle, whoever does not own and control the tools he uses to earn a living is in fact a slave of whoever does own them.
This human right and responsibility is based on the fundamental virtue and moral principle of infaq, which is the habitual inclination to give rather than take in life. Infaq is the basis of charity, that is, of zakat and sadaqah, which form one of the five pillars of Islamic action, but it requires much more than merely redistributing wealth to the marginalized and helpless in the community. Haqq al mal, and the principle of infaq on which it is based, require everyone to try to multiply the material bounties of Allah. Allah has revealed in the Qur’an that there can be no shortage of natural resources, because Allah has provided all the resources we will ever need, including our own intelligence to develop them. Therefore we should fight poverty not directly by redistributing existing wealth but indirectly by helping every person and every community build prosperity through entrepreneurial action.
This process of producing wealth through individual incentive, which relies on the human nature given to us for a purpose by Allah, has one overriding requirement. If haqq al mal, the ownership of private property as the means to earn our living, is a universal human right, then such ownership should be truly universal. This means that the financial institutions and practice of society, as well as the most basic concepts of corporate law, should serve to broaden access to wealth rather than to concentrate it in the hands of a few.
The codeword here is not equal results but “equal opportunity.” The great evil identified in Islamic economics, according to the holistic perspective of the classical shari’ah, is not interest-burdened finance, as most scholars would have us believe, but the underlying evil of concentrated wealth in society, to which financing through loans rather than equity investment contributes.
The model of Islamic finance is the employee-ownership program instituted by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt during the period immediately preceding the advent of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The early Islamists condemned the basic Marxist principle that wealth is created by labor and that therefore the ownership of machines should be turned over to the State. The Ikhwan or Brotherhood contended that in capitalist society wealth is produced primarily by machines, so the key issue of justice is how to broaden capital ownership. Their solution was to develop an embryo of what is now known as the creative credit revolution through the ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program in America, whereby employees leverage the assets of the companies where they work to obtain outside financing so they can purchase stock in these companies, to be paid back out of the future profits produced by the machines the employees now own. These pioneers of Islamic economics in the modem age of capital-intensive economies developed 70 employee-owned companies. These were so highly successful that Nasser immediately nationalized them when he took power and either executed or exiled all the business executives. The U.S. government has talked of privatizing para-statals in recent years, but has opposed efforts of Muslims to implement the basics of Islamic economics by privatizing the remnants of socialism through the development of institutions designed to broaden share-holding opportunities among the employees.
continued in Part II
originally published in the Winter 1994 print edition ofThe American Muslim