Waging Memetic Warfare on Tricky Terrain
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
One of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, Omid Safi, has just published a credal decalogue of Muslim progressivism. He writes that traditionalist Muslims fear the term “progressive” as a euphemism for the abandonment of basic human responsibilities and rights rooted in the spiritual and jurisprudential principles of Islam. He laments that, on the other hand, hard-core non-Muslim progressives distrust anyone who calls for transformative change as part of any religion. In order to resurrect the term “progressive” from the baggage it inevitably has acquired in America, he has written a book entitled Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism.
In his article of July 31st, 2008, “Tricky Terrain: ‘Progressive’ and ‘Religious’,” Dr. Safi contends that, “We are always moving back and forth: When speaking with our community, it is the emphasis that in fact we are and continue to be rooted in our tradition (and our community), while in speaking with more secular progressives that we are somehow legitimate. This going back and forth is draining, yet necessary.”
His main point is that this “back and forth does not take the place of what needs to be done: the doing. Ultimately love is a verb, not a sentiment. Justice is a relationship, not an ideal.” He then lists ten defining requirements of a progressive in the following litmus test:
1) Is there an unrelenting commitment to the well-being and uplifting of the whole of humanity, where the well-being of no one community is allowed to come at the expense of another?
2) Are we talking about merely being nice, or are we actually emancipating, liberating?
3) Is there a recognition that one-fifth of God’s children live on a dollar a day? For us, this is not merely an economic or political problem, it is a profound moral and religious crisis.
4) Is there an oppositional stance vis-à-vis colonialism and occupation? Is there a recognition of the lingering wounds of colonialism, and the fact that for millions of human beings, these wounds are fresh, on-going, and not healed?
5) Are we drawing inspiration from our religious traditions, even as we object to certain practices and interpretations of those same traditions?
6) Do we speak prophetically to/with our communities?
7) Do we, always, always, speak against the falsest of gods, those of the Market, and the Empire?
8) Do we engage in self-criticism, and listen to the criticism of those who speak out of concern and shared values?
9) Is there more emphasis on doing, and not just thinking/talking/developing new “theologies”?
10) Lastly, for me, there has to be a big dose of humility and compassion in our dealings with one another. How we live with each other has to be as lofty and luminous as the ideals we espouse.
No truly traditionalist Muslim could disagree with this creed as the essence of the enlightened Islam that must be practiced in the world today. But why burden this creed with the term “progressive”? Why surrender to the language of militant secularists and their Communist forebears, for whom the term “progressive” has introduced a new religion of militant polytheism, in order to gain a hearing for Islam, when the term “traditionalist” is both Islamic and quintessentially American?
America was not founded by secularists and in fact emerged as a reaction to the infamous French Revolution, which worshiped the “state” and collectivist man as a substitute for God, thereby spawning Communism, Nazism, Exclusivist Zionism, the Qutbian Clash of Civilizations, and its twin, NeoConservatism. The founders of America had one mentor, and he was not Locke or any of the contract theorists, who posited man as the ultimate authority. This mentor was Edmund Burke, who led the minority Whig Party in 18th-century England and championed the Scottish Enlightenment as the spiritual opposite of the intellectual movement that went under the same name but in many ways has introduced a new “Dark Ages” not only in Europe but now increasingly throughout the world. If the Americans had not become extremists and waged a violent revolution, which undercut Burke and his peaceful revolution, the world might be much more just and much less violent today.
The traditionalist movement in America adopted the appellation “Paleo-Conservatism” after the NeoConservatives started to hi-jack the Republican Party forty years ago. Nowadays, however, any mention of any kind of “conservatism” is just as bad as “progressivism.” This traditionalist movement, as conceived by America’s founders, is the purest Islamic force in the world today, though none of its modern leaders, who have been writing for more than half a century in the world’s best Islamic publication, Modern Age, know this. The American and Islamic traditionalists should get acquainted, but the first condition would have to be our principled rejection of the term “progressive,” because in the lexicon of the American traditionalists this connotes the opposite of anything spiritual or truly religious.
Rabbi Michael Lerner has been battling mightily for many years to reconcile progressivism and religion, but he also tries to speak in two languages depending on the audience. We should speak in one language, both in intra-faith and inter-faith, and stick to our guns. In the memetic warfare of the 21st century, which is the war of mimes or symbols that can capture the sub-conscious, there is no substitute for victory. Traditionalism has always opposed every kind of utopia. It is rooted not in relativistic imagination but in practical action to revive the best of the past in the present in order to build a better future.