Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence between Science and Religion - Part 5

Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

Posted Jun 14, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence between Science and Religion - Part 5

Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

TABLE OF CONTENTS  Due to limitations on the length of articles on The American Muslim site, this important article has been put online in a serialized format.  The Table of Contents link gives the links for all chapters.

Chapter Eleven
Traditionalist Islam or Enlightened Islamism?

Students of Islam and of the “Islamic phenomenon” increasingly are facing the question whether “political Islam” as a new ideology can evolve into a constructive force in the world.  Supporters of “moderate Islamism” have advanced the argument that the future of democracy in the Middle East will depend on the growth of the civil sector of society embodied in the non-governmental organizations and movements that can shape society’s agenda.  They point to the various Islamist movements as potentially the most influential and constructive force in the development of indigenous democracy.  This raises several questions of both definition and substance.  Is there such a thing as “enlightened Islamism.”  Is “Islamic democracy” fact or fiction?  And, how does this differ from traditionalist Islam? 

Islamist intellectual pioneers, and their non-Muslim supporters, increasingly over the past decade have rejected the confrontational approach of the radicals, including those within their own ranks who have engaged in mimetic warfare to hi-jack the Islamist movement. The newest topic of discussion is how to define Islam as the opposite of the jihadist perversions of it.  Professor Louis Cantori in recent years has been advocating the terms “republican” and “conservative” in order to show the commonalities of the civil infrastructure being developed by Islamist movements with the values that gave rise to the traditionalist movement in Scotland and England as the progenitor of the American Revolution.

Professor Cantori first introduced his concept of what he called enlightened Islamism in the May 2003 issue of Islam 21: A Global Networking for Muslim Intellectuals and Activists, which is published by the British organization, The International Forum for Islamic Dialogue.  It devoted its entire May issue to its March 25th seminar on “Democracy from Within: A Conservative Perspective.”  Dr. Cantori presented his views under the title, “Democracy from Within: A Republican Theory.”

He distinguishes conservative republican Islam from liberal Islam and says it is more appealing to Muslims for three reasons.  He writes, “The first is that it reveres the past as possessing the traditions and religious values from which the virtue of the citizen is constructed (and not an imagined liberal utopian future).  The second is that it instructs the individual into the responsibilities that he/she has for family and society (and not the individualism of liberalism).  The third is that the ends of society are primarily moral purposes (and not individual happiness).”

Cantori claims that this view of “republican democracy” is consistent with the thought that led up to the American Revolution as well as with Islam.  In September, 2003, I welcomed what he was trying to do.  His call for revolutionary overthrow of tyrannies, however, may merely legitimize extremists who have lost all hope for peaceful change and therefore have been overcome with hatred.

Professor Cantori’s formulation of conservative republican Islam is better than “liberal” or “progressive Islam” as a constructive force in the promotion of America’s enlightened self-interests, because it reflects better the traditionalist paradigm as understood by America’s founders.  Nevertheless, Professor Cantori’s formulation and terminology suffer from at least two major drawbacks.  The first drawback of his approach was that nowhere in his article or in the entire IFID conference did anyone even mention the word justice of any kind.  He calls for education of the citizen to “create a new set of values and a new set of expectations” so that “all the diverse parties would be looking to adhere to the principle of freedom from domination.  We may be centrist, Marxist, etc., but the one thing we agree on is the dignity and equality of the citizen.”

This raises the basic question whether we really need to create a new set of values by a new political focus on freedom from tyranny and domination?  Freedom without normative content does not reflect the traditionalist understanding of America’s Founders that freedom is merely a means not an ultimate end. 

Professor Cantori explained that liberals view the problem in the Middle East as the absence of democracy but do not address the political injustice of tyranny.  It is politically incorrect to criticize America’s allies.  And it is forbidden to advocate revolution, armed or otherwise, to destroy the tyrants.  Cantori says that it is difficult or impossible to develop civil society and any institutional authority independent of the government until the tyrants are overthrown, which means that liberal talk of democracy is useless so long as it is constrained by what is politically correct in American academia and think-tanks.  All colonial wars, he says, were fought either sincerely or insincerely for democracy, but the results always were neo-colonial rule through despotism. 

Cantori says that the theory of republican democracy calls not merely for constraining the state but for directing the government through popularly accepted authority.  He concludes that the Palestinian Hamas and the Hisballah and Ikhwan are examples of republican democracy based on control of the government by the citizenry either through elections or revolution.  He points to the English republicans who executed James I in 1649 and to James Madison and George Washington as fathers of the American Revolution and to Patrick Henry’s call to arms, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

The liberal academic establishment, says Cantori, is conditioned to play the role of the sycophant so that the purpose of political science is to protect the state as an essential part of patriotism.  Furthermore, this bias among liberals works against any consideration of cultures that have paradigms of legitimacy different from their own or even of culture as a generic phenomenon because by definition all culture is biased, except their own.

Cantori defends the Islamic State as advocated by political Islamists, because he defines it as a nomocracy based on a statement of goals and not a theocracy or rule by religious leaders.  Ideally this would be true, but any state designed to implement the ideology of a particular religion almost by definition must be or become a totalitarian dictatorship bent on mind-control, which is much worse than a simple tyranny bent only on maintaining its own power.

He refers to deToqueville who identified dual states, the political state, which controls resources and reflects the interests of the elites, and the social state or genuinely authoritative leadership in which most decisions are or should be made.  Cantori says that tyranny exists when the intellectual elite or opinion-makers, the ahl al ‘aql, purport to act on behalf of the masses but do not enlist them in the decision-making process.  Liberal democracy, he says, calls for civil society but in fact operates as a collaborative project between the elite and government.  He quotes Isaiah Berlin who argued that the totalitarianism of Communism and the tyranny of Fascism resulted from liberalism because the liberals fear confrontation and prefer pluralism, compromise, and accommodation.  Colonialism and its liberal academic supporters, on behalf of civilization, opposed any authority independent of government, repressed any signs of dual states, and therefore guaranteed freedom only for tyrants.

Cantori’s critique of the Ikhwan or Islamist movement seems to oppose its internal transformation from emphasis on gaining political power to greater emphasis on social change as a more fundamental means of societal transformation.  He warns against overemphasis on social change when the demands of the times call for political revolution.

A major drawback of Cantori’s concept of republican conservative Islam is his use of Western terminology, which might, in fact, further radicalize the Muslims who are increasingly suspicious of everything American.  Freedom and democracy without the higher purpose of justice nowadays will not buy a cup of coffee.

A drawback of the term “republican” is that most of the so-called republics in the Muslim world have been tyrannies that deny even the concept of justice.  Furthermore, the term “conservative” in American parlance has come to mean maintenance of the status quo with all of its injustices.  This may be why President Bush in his six years in the presidency has rarely mentioned the word “justice” except as a substitute for revenge.  He obviously requires much more education about the Founders’ commitment to justice so that he can both understand and welcome it as a paradigmatic framework for American policy, either domestic or foreign.

The second major drawback of Professor Cantori’s emphasis on political revolution as the key to enlightened Islam has been brought out by Anwar Haddam, who has been in exile from Algeria ever since the military coup of 1990 disenfranchised him as the senior member of the Front Islamique de Salud (FIS) or Islamist party in the Algerian parliament.  His only response to Professor Cantori’s defense of his thesis was his comment: “You have not mentioned taqwa or loving submission to Allah.  Without this, no intellectual paradigm can have any meaning for traditionalist Muslims.” 

Perhaps Professor Cantori merely assumes this as a basis for everything he says.  But, then would not adoption of the terms “traditionalist” or “classical” Islam avoid the disadvantages of the term “conservative”?  This would build on the observation that the major cause of radicalization among Muslims is not merely the glaring lack of justice in the world but their own lack of taqwa and of the resulting hope for peaceful change based on tawakkul or the traditionalist reliance on divine guidance, which defines compassionate justice as well as the best means to pursue it in a pluralist world. 

This traditionalist approach has been described in Parts One and Two of this book.  It is further developed below in Part Three, entitled “Consonance, Complementarity, and Mutual Engagement in Science and Religion: ‘Ilm al ‘Adl and ‘Ilm al Taqwa.”


30. Crane, Robert D., “From Clashing Civilizations to a Common Vision,” 32nd Annual Conference of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), Bloomington, Indiana, September 26-28th, 2003, entitled “East Meets West: Understanding the Muslim Presence in Europe and America,”

31.  See my articles in “How Muslims Are Losing their Way,” December 20th, 2002; Religion Building Colloquium: “Progressive Muslims Call for Abandoning Religion in order to Survive,” January 30, 2005; “Can the Bankruptcy of Moderates Create Extremism,” July 8, 2006; “Are ‘Social Traditionalists’ Un-American?”, October 15, 2006; and “The Heart of the Culture War: Who Founded America?”, April 26, 2005.