Islamo-Obama Phobia: The Latest Update
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Fortunately, the run-of-the mill Islamophobes, like Robert Spencer, shoot themselves in the foot by attempting patently to pervert Islam through the mouths of the worst Muslim extremists in order to prove their superficial and easily demolishable case. Occasionally, however, a more substantial extremist emerges from the conservative community to update the phobic movement.
A prime example is John Laughland’s cover story in Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative, entitled, “Liberte, Egalite, Sharia?” Laughland is Director of Studies at the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in Paris. In the September, 2009, issue of this generally paleo-conservative journal, which thereby is a mortal enemy of Neo-Conservatism, Laughland contends that President Barack Obama is a Neo-Conservative clone because he supports the totalitarian globalism common to both President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden.
As an extremist libertarian and therefore as a heretical paleo-conservative, Laughland condemns George W. Bush’s notorious National Security Strategy of September, 2002, because it stood for universal, not American, values: “The United States must defend liberty and justice, because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere.” President Obama is guilty of propounding the same dreamland of universalism in Cairo and Moscow, as well as earlier in March in his message to Iranians by expressing sentiments of a “common humanity” and speaking hopefully about the future.
So what is so threatening about that? Laughland opines that the “Bush-Obama continuity” is based on a “Gnostic triad” of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” which inspired Marxism and has captured the liberal imagination for centuries starting with the French Revolution. The ultimate crime of Western civilization is captured in the sub-title to Laughland’s position paper, namely, “Universal Nation.” This ultimate goal of a universal nation that will abolish all boundaries is identical to the same criminal conspiracy allegedly inherent in what he calls “medieval Islam.”
Laughland writes, “The concept of universal political values may have been the cornerstone of the Enlightenment, but the Enlightenment itself - which we usually think of as an eminently rationalist movement - was, in fact, hopelessly emotional and escapist. ... The Enlightenment, whose children we all are, really believed that the wish is more important than the reality. Immanuel Kant, the greatest of all the Enlightenment philosophers, raised this absurd thought to the level of a metaphysical system when he claimed that the only true reality was the categorical imperative - an abstract universally valid proposition that becomes real when it is willed. He did this because he thought ordinary reality was otherwise unknowable. The attraction of Englightenment liberalism, therefore, is the result of a deep emotional need for a philosophical system that enables man to create a reality in a universe he does not understand and thereby to escape from the difficulties of the world by believing that everything will turn out all right in the end. Lacking a real belief in the afterlife, it also holds that the drama of human salvation is played out in this world, in history and politics.”
A result of such secular extremism is the worship of democracy as the source of truth and justice. Laughland is absolutely right that the form of government most feared by all of America’s founders, except the secular firebrand Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in his early years as America’s emissary in Paris, was democracy. In his farewell statement as president, George Washington proclaimed, “I am leaving you with a republic, if you can keep it.”
For democratic extremists, writes Laughland, “any notion of ‘vertical’ power is deeply anathema.” Vertical power, says Laughland, is basic to all sound religious thinking. Christ said to Pilate, “You would not have any power over me if it had not been given you from on high.” “Vertical power,” Laughland reminds us, “was never understood as dictatorship: quite the contrary. Rooted in God, the power of the prince is itself part of the basic structure of the universe, which it is the sole purpose of his sovereignty to protect. It is precisely because we have today lost any sense of sovereignty rooted in law and reality that we equate it with tyranny.”
Now comes Laughland’s peroration about the threat posed by Islam to America. Islam, he says, “is itself a fundamentally ‘democratic’ religion’,” because it has no established hierarchy, and the submission to God “is egalitarian, creating a mass of individuals who are equal in their abstractness,” in other words, a collective not a community of morally responsible human beings.
Even more dangerous, contends Laughland, is the nature of Islam as a “profoundly voluntarist religion. “God’s will is just will [i.e., “merely” will], it has no correlation to natural order as in the Christian or Jewish tradition. ... Because Allah is absolutely transcendent and unknowable, he is like the Kantian thing in itself: mere command.”
Since the bete noir of all libertarians is the looming threat of globalism, Laughland concludes, “For this reason, globalists in fact have Islam as an objective ally. Both forces destroy the concept of natural order and of individual political communities (nations). Both claim to embody universal values. Perhaps it is no wonder that, as President Obama likes to remind us, Thomas Jefferson had a copy of the Koran in his library.”
This emanation of the Islamophobic movement is more sophisticated than the mouthings of run-of-the-mill professionals in recent years, not only because it perverts Islam in unexpected ways but because it uses this perversion to attack President Obama as a Neo-Con in liberal clothes. We may hear more of this new line in the future.
This line of attack is especially vulnerable to contradiction by equally sophisticated understandings of reality and of the reality of Islam. To begin with, the school of thought that God is all will and not Beyond Being has always been marginal. Its most extreme proponent, Ibn Hazm, founded the so-called Dhahari Madhab in Andalucia, which was condemned by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensberg as typically Islamic. It died out within a few decades as a result of its grossly un-Islamic nature. Only the Salafi still support this theology, which was first attacked by the Mutazillite extremists and then practically eliminated by the more balanced Asharites.
The death knell for the Laughland hypothesis is his hypothesis that the Islamic emphasis on justice is un-American. The Preamble to the American Constitution enumerates the five purposes for founding the American union. The first is justice, and the last is freedom, because, contrary to the Libertarian creed, freedom results from justice, not the other way around.
The contribution of Islam to the American mission as a model for the world lies precisely in the fact that no other system of law has ever come even close to the sophistication of classical Islamic thought on the maqasid al shari’ah or higher purposes of natural law, which derive from revelation, observance of the laws of the observable universe, and human reason in understanding these first two sources.
In Islamic normative law the four guiding maqasid, may be configured as haqq al din (respect for religion, including freedom of religion), haqq al nafs (respect for the sacredness of the human person), haqq al nasl (respect for human community as a product of the prior sacredness of its individual members), and haqq al mahd (respect for one’s physical environment, which is another form of community shared by all living beings). These four guiding universals (kulliyat), essentials (dururiyat), or purposes (maqasid) inform four implementing universals. These are political self-determination (haqq al hurriyah), economic justice (haqq al mal), gender equity (haqq al karamah), and respect for knowledge (haqq al ‘aql, with a secondary level of hajjiyat or explanatory and implementing principles, as in all the other maqasid).
Laughland’s contention that Islam as a religion denies human community and rejects the concept of sovereign borders is belied by the fact that all the most eminent Islamic scholars emphasized the sacredness of humanity community and the wisdom of diversity among communities as ordained by God.
Patriotism is an obligation for all Muslims wherever they live, but this implies loyalty to what is good in the society where one lives, as well as respect for other societies. Ibn Khaldun used the term asabiya for both unbalanced and balanced group loyalties. He stated that asabiya in its negative and tribalistic form leads to the destruction of civilization, even though it could build power centers based on self-serving patriotism over the short run. Asabiya, however, in a balanced sense of pride in one’s own understanding and practice of universal values and respect for the understandings of others is essential to the growth and preservation of civilization.
The good asabiya does not look down on others merely because it looks up to one’s own values. It is good also because it does not look down on one’s own culture, which many do today, as expressed in one’s language, common law (urf), and religion. It does not reject the value of community pride. It is good because it rejects multi-culturalism in the sense of regarding all cultures as equal, which necessarily denies the absolute value of anything. Multi-culturalism is equivalent to the denial of God, from which all ultimate values come. This new sophistication has become a cancer in American life.
The reference to love for those close to oneself, dhu al qurba, in the Qur’an sets priorities. One should get to know every person on earth, which, of course, only angels and rare saints can do. This can be done by the rest of us, however, only by knowing human communities, which are sacred because they reflect and represent the sacredness of all their members. Among communities, the highest priority must be given to one’s own, extending outwards from the nuclear family to one’s extended relatives, the village, and finally the larger communities, including the modern nation and, in fact, all sentient creatures on planet earth and beyond.
Nowadays, in the age of internet communities and communities based on ideas and universal cultural values rather than on territory the highest priorities for one’s loyalties are to those who most share one’s own sense of identity. This may even include one’s own skin color, but not if this leads to looking at those different from oneself as somehow inferior, because such superficial criteria have no meaning compared with the sacredness of either oneself or one’s various levels of community. Unfortunately, the internet communities can exacerbate superficial differences through prejudice and hate and by narrowing one’s interests and knowledge rather than broadening them.
Ethnocentrism is bad to the extent that it is empty of universal values. It is bad also if it ignores the multiple identities that every human has and should respect in oneself and in others.
The most dangerous prejudice is to deny the very possibility of multiple identities. Abdul Hakim Jackson (Sherman) for more than a decade has been warning against “false universals,” which can refer to monist identification whereby a single one of one’s multiple identities precludes the legitimacy of all the others. Thus, “I’m just a Muslim,” may amount to denying that one is an American, or to the other extreme that true Americans can not be Muslim. A person’s highest identities might be “human,” “Muslim,” “Cherokee,” and “American.” There need be no contradiction among them. In fact, they should reinforce each other because they bring out different aspects of the same universal principles of truth and justice.
This is why the most dangerous of all the false universals is the collectivist concept of human communities whereby the collective community derives its legitimacy not from the higher legitimacy of its component members, who are subject only to the higher sovereignty of God, but from some ideological assertion about its inherent superiority in every way to every other community.
John Laughland is right in pointing out the dangers to America’s values, but he is wrong in failing to see the sources of support for these values in the universal wisdom that is accessible in different ways to every community and world religion.
In His infinite mercy, God gave guidance to fallible humans through divine revelation (haqq al yaqin), as well as through the natural laws of the universe (‘ain al yaqin) and through our own powers of intellection and rational thought (‘ilm al yaqin). We have the power to recognize the coherence of the diversity in the universe (tawhid) as it points to the Oneness of its Creator, and we have the power of taqwa or loving awe of God, Who alone deserves worship. Nevertheless, we still mess things up, as the angels said we would, but this is the price of free will, which sets us “above,” but not superior to, the angels.