Dead on Arrival:  One Secular State for All the Peoples of the Holy Land

Dead on Arrival:  One Secular State for All the Peoples of the Holy Land

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

  The disillusionment of peace-makers in the Holy Land has given rise to solutions that are even more utopian than continuing the conflict without change.

  There is a long history of single-state solutions in the intellectual history of Palestinians, including leaders of Hamas, designed to legitimate both Jews and Muslims equally in their homeland.  Some make sense and some do not.

  In his essay, “Why the Only Solution for Jews and Palestinians is a One State Solution,” Elie ,Elhadj, author of The Islamic Shield, in the January 2009 issue of Syria Comment, calls for a single secular, de-politicized state for the peoples of the Holy Land. 

  This is totally unrealistic for two reasons.  First, for most Jews and Muslims it violates the essence of what is most meaningful for them, namely, their purpose on earth in the search for truth and justice, which does not come from the denial of religion.  Second, the use of the term secular is loaded with the baggage of opposition to truth and justice, even though it need not be.

  In reference to the first fatal flaw in Elie Elhadi’s prescription for peace in the Holy Land, it is instructive to quote one of the most profound Islamic thinkers in the world, S. Parvez Manzoor (from Sweden), who writes in his editorial for the September 2008 issue of Islam 21 Monitor, referring to Islam but by implication to all the world religions:

“The ultimate vision of Islam is transcendence: it is a moral doctrine, not a secular ideology. ... Only through a commitment to the ultimate transcendence does the human world, the world of history and politics, acquire whatever meaning it seeks. ... Man’s existence is a gift, and his/her morality a commitment.  Morality is an obligation, a contractual agreement that has been freely negotiated by Man himself and not a burden arbitrarily imposed upon him.  Existence and morality are therefore indissoluble in the Islamic perspective.  Just as we cannot will ourselves into existence, we cannot annul the moral contract either. ...

“Man is special on two accounts: ontologically, because he has been infused with God’s spirit (15:29; 38:72; 32:9), and morally, because he is God’s Deputy and the custodian of His creation on earth (2:30 ff; 7:11 ff; 20:116 ff). ... Man acts thus as the intermediary between a blissful, albeit non-reflexive and amoral existence and a voluntary ascent to the demands of a higher calling.  For the Muslim mind, further, the immensity of space and matter is a symbol of the Transcendent reality; all of this plenitude of being and immanence points beyond itself.”

  The distinction between Islam and Islamdom is emphasized by Parvez Manzoor, which is critical in distinguishing the spread of the religion Islam from the spread of Muslim power by the various Muslim empires.  There usually was a reverse relationship.  This use of the term Islamdom, similar to the term Christendom, which often was not very Christian, was first used by Marshall G. S. Hodgson in his three-volume magnum opus published by the University of Chicago in 1975-77, of which Volume 1 was entitled “The Classical Age of Islam,” volume 2, “The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods,” and volume 3, “The Gunpowder Empires and Modern Times.”

  The major reason the Muslim empires were less oppressive than most others was the consistent opposition of the great Islamic scholars to the un-Islamic political regimes that ruled in its name.  Ibn Taymiya died in prison because he insisted that the concept of a politicized “Islamic caliphate,” then the equivalent of Syed Qutb’s oxymoronic concept of the modern “Islamic state,” is un-Islamic and should never be understood as anything more than a moral consensus among the wise men and scholars on the nature of compassionate justice.

  Parvez Manzoor writes, “Very little in the way of exposition of Islam’s transcendent - and ineluctably moral - vision is ever proffered by official Islam.  All that these beneficiaries of our historical order can conjure is a lame apology of the status quo! Islam for them is nothing but a frozen moment in time, a provincial culture rather than a universal faith. ... The legalistic discourse [for six hundred years until recently] does not do justice to the moral vision of the Qur’an.  And neither does the parochial politics of ‘revivalism’ which lacks both the jurist’s method of instrumental reasoning [the maqasid al shari’ah] and his concern for the common good (maslaha).”

  In effect, what Manzoor is saying is that to exclude religion from a single state in the Holy Land under the banner of secularism would only cause more conflict because it would eliminate the contribution of religion as its only cure.

  The second fatal flaw in Elie Elhadh’s prescription for a single secular state is his use of the term secular.  In American culture, and therefore in most of the world, secularism means hostility and active opposition to religion in public life.  In America, at a time when Church and State both claimed political power and caused unending wars in Europe, including the monstrous French Revolution, the whole purpose was to exclude the politics of Church and State from public life so that faith could undergird and protect the Great American Experiment in peace, prosperity, and freedom through transcendent justice.  This is spelled out beautifully in the Preamble to the American Constitution, where justice comes first and freedom comes last as its product. 

  Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was perhaps the most spiritually profound of America’s founders, taught that any nation can remain free only if the people are properly educated, that true education consists primarily in learning virtue, and that no nation can remain virtuous unless the citizens in all their personal and public lives are infused with loving awareness of God.  This is why the major thrust of the leading Islamic scholars today is embodied in the first principle of Islamic jurisprudence, haqq al din, which in the past has often been perverted to mean “protection of the state religion,” but nowadays, except in the caves of Afghanistan, means its precise opposite, namely “freedom of religion,” as is emphasized so clearly in the Qur’an.

  In the same issue of Islam21monitor, Abdullahi An-Naim, in his article, “Human Rights, Authenticity, and Justice,” writes, “Secularism has evolved as a means of ensuring the possibility of pluralistic community among different religious groups.  However, the need to avoid ethical conflict over the state also means that secularism cannot support deeper moral convictions, like the universality of human rights.  That necessary quality of secularism also fails to address the need of religious believers to express the moral implications of their faith in the public domain.”

  An-Naim points out the major fallacy in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which in early drafts included reference to their source beyond the prescriptions of positivist law based entirely on political power.  The Soviet Foreign Minister, Maxim Litvinov, used his veto power to delete any reference to human rights that might limit the political power of the state.  As An-Naim states, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 did not make any explicit reference to the foundations or sources of human rights.”

  He explains, in reference to the elevation of the state to the level of God, “In fact, the notion of an Islamic state is a contradiction: any shari’ah principle ceases to be the normative principle of Islam by the very act of enacting it as the law to be enforced by the state.”

  He adds, “Another factor to note here is that the extensive diversity of opinion among Islamic schools of thought and scholars [which were designed in part to protect against state imposition of arbitrary law] means that any enactment of shari’ah principles as law would have to select certain opinions over others, thereby denying Muslims their freedom of choice among equally legitimate, competing opinions.  Moreover, there is neither a historical precedent of an Islamic state to be followed , nor is such a state practically visible today.”

  An-Naim advocates the use of the term “secularism” as denoting the religious neutrality of the State, which is the most common usage in the Indian Sub-Continent, but he warns that the leaders of every nation can be reliable spokespersons for truth and justice only if they personally are committed to bringing the wisdom of their religion into the public square.  In all religions the ideal polity is possible only when people are led by people who are led by God.

  The Western concept of the State, adopted after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to end the Thirty Years War, defines the state as whoever has a defacto monopoly of coercive power over the majority of any given land.  Therefore, it would be best to avoid mention of a one-state solution to the crisis in the Holy Land, because this is precisely what the extremists on both sides are determined to impose.  Especially one should avoid the term “secular state,” because it would constitute the denial not only of everything truly American but of all the world religions as the only viable framework for civilizational prosperity.

  More appropriate would be the term Abraham Federation, perhaps as spelled out in Norman Kurland’s articles in “The ,Abraham Federation: A New Framework for Peace in the Middle East, August 25, 2002, and “Gaza and the Abraham Federation,” January 15, 2009, as well is in the library of materials at the website of the Center for Economic and Social Justice,  .