Further thoughts on my July 2005 article in The American Muslim—Freedom and Democracy: America’s Ultimate Polytheism
One of the best ways for Muslims to shift from a reactive ghetto mentality and rejectionist approach to the world is to familiarize ourselves with what non-Muslims are doing that we should be doing even better. Instead of priding ourselves on being what a famous U.S. Vice President once called “nattering naboobs of negativism,” we should try to fulfill what the Evangelical Christians call our “prophetic mission,” which is to warn against evils but concentrate on the Evangelium or good message of hope for ourselves, our community, our nation, and the world.
I subscribe to some of the best Roman Catholic intellectual journals, as well as to some superb Jewish magazines, and regularly read some of the best Buddhist literature. One of these magazines is the Jesuit journal, America, which some of us enlightened Franciscans do deign to read even though the various orders have fought each other, not always only in jest, for centuries.
The June 20-27 issue of America reproduces the address of the Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, on April 4th, 2005, entitled “Hopes for U.N. Reform.” His message applies not only to global governance but to governance at every level of human community. Following the Catholic moral theological principle of subsidiarity, which calls for solving problems at the lowest level first and only when necessary resorting to higher levels of authority, Archbishop Migliore gives a quintennial State of the Millennium Report, which is a five-year report on the eight global goals adopted by the world’s religious leaders, including many Muslims, at the Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000.
First he gives the bad news, which is very bad indeed. He writes, “Globalization does not appear to be bringing any harmonization between developing and developed countries, or a more equal distribution of wealth and income. It has not resulted in a more natural dialogue and cooperation between cultures and civilizations or a peaceful and fruitful sense of interdependence. On the contrary, the resentment generated by the continually increasing inequality gap could easily give way to a refusal of interdependence, which could turn into instability and downright revolt.”
Archbishop Migliore explains the three fundamental goals of the United Nations, which are participation, protection (from man-made catastrophies, like genocide, starvation, and serious human rights violations), and collective security. He asserts that, “security can no longer hijack the place of development,” because security no longer means merely defense against acts of aggression by states but protection from threats of non-state actors originating “in the everyday life of ordinary people: in the production and distribution of food, in access to local natural resources, in people’s health care, in the organization of social life, and in the rapport between different cultures and religions.”
The symptoms of instability resulting from failures to address these causes, namely, “corruption and organized crime, epidemics, environmental degradation, the plundering of primary resources, exclusion, and social injustice,” must be addressed primarily by collaboration among individual members of society. This must begin with education that families give their children so that every citizen will have instilled a sense of responsibility.
“This is why,” he says, “the reform of the United Nations has to start with the human and moral dimensions. ... It will not work if international organizations, government administrations, and the various components of civil society always insist only on their own particular, politicized point of view of the ‘promotion of rights,’ while ignoring the corresponding duties - that is the personal and social responsibilities that go with them.”
The Holy See’s permanent observer at the United Nations concludes that U.N. reform must go far beyond improvements in financial accountability and administrative efficiency. The question is not how to build a more effective world government, because this very specifically has never been the goal of the United Nations. Instead the focus of reform should be to “strengthen the system of international solidarity in a world of inequality.” The goal should not be to impose order from the top down, whether in economics or politics, but to strengthen the will of individual states to respect the U.N. resolutions and their desire to cooperate with one another on behalf of their enlightened interests as representatives of individual human beings. He concludes, “For this reason, when we speak of the reform of the United Nations, we mean above all the injection of a huge dose of bold political will on the part of the member states into global governance.”
Moral theologians are often good at providing broad frameworks for the major issues of conscience in society. But, their job is not to provide specifics. The specific applications of ‘amr bil ma’aruf wa nahi an al munkar is where the proverbial “rubber hits the road.”
In a recent article of mine appearing in Islamica (which, in my view, is one of the two or three best Muslim journals in the world today). I suggest that the current Republican Administration in Washington is selling slogans without meaning, at least not any meaning comprehensible by the vast majority of people in the world. In this article, I suggest the framework for the real specifics that might be followed in Iraq, such as privatizing the oil resources through individual voting shares of stock equally to every citizen, so that every Sunni, Kurd, and Shi’a would personally and equally own the natural resources of their country.
A related issue, which I have mentioned but not really addressed, is whether and how one can change the existing financial structure of the world through cooperation rather than confrontation. Would the Neo-Cons still be confrontational in protecting the existing system if they were sufficiently aware of an alternative to totalitarian socialism and monopoly capitalism? In other words, is their system of thought defective or are they defective as persons. Are they of good will or inherently evil? One can argue this both ways. Following Jawad Khaki’s guidelines for positive inspirational thought in addressing all issues, how should one respond to the issue of whether the current American call for freedom is a fraud?