Tuesday, April 25th, 2006
By Kafkazli Seyed Javad
Imperialism: A Definition
This question could be approached dualistically, namely we need to give a semantic account what the term ‘Imperialism’ means and secondly formulate a conceptual account of this term as it is conceived within human and social sciences by critically add what our unique understanding is in regard to this concept in relation to Muslim Psyche.
The term is composed of the idea of ‘emperor’ and the rule based on vast territorial control which do have many historical antecedents such as Persian Empire, Babylonian Empire, Summerian Empire, Akkadaian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Roman Empire, British Empire, Russian Empire, and many others modern or pre-modern empires. More literally it refers to the policy or practice of extending a state’s rule over other territories based on aggressive annexation of foe-reigned territory.
This system of governing was deeply related to the mythological understanding of universe where the emperor was conceived as the embodiment of ‘divine command’, hence the Latin term ‘Imperialis’ from ‘Imperium’ that translates as ‘command’. Within the traditional worldview the world of being was understood as the world of command vis a vis the world of phenomenon and the emperor was represented as the gate of these two worlds. Regardless of its ontological relevance or significance the emperor and the imperial rule were embedded within a particular philosophy of life and polity, where whatever that was not under the command of emperor was supposed to be considered as a ‘foe-reigned’ territory and a legitimate target for possible ‘commandibility’. The latter term was equivalent to bringing under the reign of Divine that emperor was its terrestrial representation. Although it is open to debate how some strata of ruling elite abused or misapplied and hijacked the religious understanding of life in order to satisfy their own political needs nevertheless it is beyond doubt that it was one of the most sufficient politico-military tools in the history of Mankind.
The technical use of this term within social and human sciences is not always similar to the semantic and mythological conceptualization. The concept of ‘Imperialism’ has had a very complex history within social theoretical discourse and there have been many arguments against its workability as a scientific concept and indeed there are many today that contend and criticize its in-and-out ideological character. Nevertheless, there are still many other, who, thanks to the advance of sociology of science and sociological approach to the problem of ‘scientificity’ and its deep-rooted relationship with current ideological modes in any human society cannot drop this concept based on aforementioned critiques. On the other hand they argue that the realm of science is neatly connected to the overall structure of societal setting and whatever enters to the public arena could not but be a discursive issue which has, in one way or another, an ideological character, namely to serve an interest. Although it is not impossible to detect the generality of interest and the fundamental bases of the ‘service’ which it aims to accomplish nevertheless one cannot fathom any social arena devoid of such concerns or apprehensions. The same argument do apply on the concept of ‘Imperialism’ and the its ‘field of application’, how fuzzy and how extensive that field might seem to many critics.
What does this concept stand for within philosophy, human and socio-political literature of modernity?
The vast literature on this subject both on the Left side and Right side of politics of modernity such as H. L. Wesseling (1997), Rupert Emerson & William L. Strauss (1942), Barbara Ward, Thomas P. Whitney, Robert Strausz-Hupe and Charles Malik (1960), Nathaniel Peffer (1927), V. I. Lenin (1939), Chronis Polychroniou (1991), William H. Meyer (1988), Berch Berberoglu (1987), James S. Olson, Robert Shadle, Ross Marlay, William G. Ratliff, and Joseph M. Rowe (1991), Lewis Feuer (1986), Cecilia A. Conrad (1998), David G. Becker, Richard L. Sklar, Simon Hakim, and G. Chaliand (1999), J. A. Hobson (1961), B. Warren (1980) and J. E. Goldthorpe (1975) could be pinned down along two major dominant perspectives.
One emphasizes the political dimension of domination and traces imperialism back to ancient civilizations based on expansion such as Persian Empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great. The other emphasizes the economic dimension and views imperialism as mainly a feature of modernity and of Capitalism. Although some writers would claim that colonial rule is a necessary part of the definition of imperialism, others would disagree and reject such juxtaposition and call it a-historical analysis. For example, they argue that the indirect political influence and economic dominance of US constitutes imperialism, even though historically its colonial possessions have been few. With the decline of colonialism since World War II, and the disappearance of the Western European Empires, other writers, such as Goldthorpe have naively claimed that imperialism no longer exists and it is of no practical and social scientific use to employ the very term either, let alone the concept or the reality it attempts to portray.
The emphasis on economic aspects is generally, though not exclusively, associated with Marxist-Leninism. This has been most influential in sociology in UK in the last few decades. The approach is based on the work of Lenin. Whilst Lenin saw imperialism as an inherent feature of economic development in advanced capitalist core states, recent writers have focused more on the effects of imperialism upon the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Deriving from the works of Marx as well as Lenin, imperialism is said to originate from the drive for profitability intrinsic to capitalism, and the ceaseless need to appropriate new avenues for both capital and commodities. Accordingly, territorial expansion is a necessity for capitalist societies. This involves using the Third World as a focus of investment and as a source of exponential profits, markets for goods and suppliers of raw materials and easy access to human energy (as poor immigrant workers). The effect on Third World countries is primarily seen as that of holding back internal development by focusing their economies on a limited and discordant range of activities, often owned by foreigners, and involving a transfer of resources to the advanced core states. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the Leftist approach to the question of imperialism is a homogenous one and in this camp there are no disagreements whatsoever. Warren, for instance, argues that colonialism and imperialism have assisted to promote capitalist development in the Third World rather than impeded its progress. He, despite of many critics, even goes as far as to contend that this is, in fact, closer to Marx’s original view. Needless to argue that this goes right to the opposite side of what Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919) had in mind when she put forward her ‘Marxist Analysis’ of imperialism.
In any case, it should be clear by now that both camps agree that within modernity there is an ‘imperial dimension’ but what is at stake is that some argue it is a tale of the past and the other camp holds that as long as there is capitalist system and unworkable semi-capitalist economies in the world this imperial dimension would remain an indispensable part of modern system. The social theoretical reason for the latter argument which is more appealing and consistent with the geo-political realities of contemporary world is the ‘capitalistic ability to expand’ and semi-capitalistic economies inability to innovate and impede the encroachment of the former one. In addition, what makes this view more viable is its emphasis on the multi-layeredness nature of ‘expansion’ on behalf of capitalistic system, which does not confine itself to one level, namely economic. On the contrary, it does expand to all spheres of life and on the other side there is the inverted capitalism which is unable to expand in any socio-cultural sense and this inability is not only of economic nature. The most obvious of all inefficiencies is the political expansion in moving with the spirit of time and addressing the contemporary issues with original approach and solving old questions with sober mind.
Despotism: A Definition
The semantic meaning of despotism is not as negative as the technical connotations which moderners do ascribe to this concept. Both Greek and Latin roots of the term refers to the idea of ‘Custodianship’ and ‘Household’, namely despota, despotes and domus. Although the very nature and mechanism of taking into custody the household, which is the very prototype of political ruling has come under severe critique within modernity nevertheless there is one dimension which is totally absent within modernity unlike the ideal of Custodian ideology, namely the cordial relation between the Custodian and the household, regardless of its size and scope. Needless to argue that the absence of this relation is what distinguishes between modern political philosophy based on agnostic metaphysics and traditional religious philosophy based on gnostic metaphysics. This metaphysical distinction in relation to political life and public arena was excellently put by Immanuel Kant where the latter expressed the defining moment as man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. This ontological and political process of emancipation is what Kant considers as ‘Enlightenment’ in contrast to ‘Illumination’. By the disappearance of the illumination from the epistemological dimension and its subsequent relevance within the public arena the relation between common man and noble man based on the idea of spiritual hierarchy became redundant and reactionary indeed within the modern ideological parlance. Because what did distinguish between the modern conception of politics and traditional understanding was the idea of law and its sources both in a metaphysical and political sense. When the ‘mature man’, unlike the ‘tutelaged man’ is able to employ his understanding without ‘direction’, be it political or divine (as Revelation), from another then the hierarchical conception of knowledge which was the raison d’être of traditional metaphysics is redundant altogether. For, it is argued, modernity is all about the reign of reason as a sui generis category. Despotism is then an anathema within modernity and any resort to ‘First Principles’ in re-establishing it’s benevolent and humane or paternal and custodian dimensions are considered as reactionary ideological attempt. One of the significant reasons for this argument is the denial of what within traditional metaphysics is called as ‘realization’ and its absence from modern anthropology. By anthropology I don’t intend its disciplinary meaning but its generic sense. If there is nothing to be realized and there are no innate dispositions then there would be no need for a custodian, a despot or a monarch to realize the collective potentialities as well as individual ones. In other words, the differences between modern and traditional political philosophy is one of metaphysics and more importantly is related to the psychological dispositions of contemporary man, either in East or West.
However, the problem of despotism is not confined to the defining features of modern and traditional political philosophy. On the contrary, this issue has come to preoccupy the modern philosophers and social theorists as well as traditional philosophers and theologians of East or West. Political theorists have long pondered the formula for a successful governing system. In doing so, despotism and majoritarian rule have arisen as two possible forms of government. John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, and Alexi de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, both refute the idea of despotic rule, not of a single ruler, but of the majority. The “tyranny of the majority,” as Mill describes, is worse than straightforward dictatorship and should be avoided. Tocqueville concurs that unlimited power, in the hands of an absolute majority that is able to exercise both physical and moral control, is dangerous to the sovereignty of the individual. Although both theorists differ moderately in their approaches and definitions of despotism of the majority, they agree it hinders the liberty and individuality of the citizens and is tyrannical.
Mill and Tocqueville attempt to define the appropriate role of government with respect to the individual. The tyranny of the majority suppresses independence and coerces society into conformity to the will of the active majority. The majority excludes reason in its decision-making, and instead focuses on attracting or persuading society to accept its position. The soft despotism of the majority is more menacing than dictatorship or single figure despotism because it possesses not only physical control over the citizenry, but encompasses both the physical and mental abilities of the people.
Mill sternly asserts that in a civilized society the individual has complete sovereignty and may only be ordered against his will except to prevent harm to others. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” “[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” To Mill, the freedom of the individual from excessive command was an essential requirement of a civilized society. The protection of this right was important to opposing despotism and preserving the integrity of the individual’s liberty.
In contrast, Tocqueville objects to the individual’s right to exercise his will in any manner he chooses. “I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim that politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything . . .” Tocqueville does, however, embrace the concept of independence of mind and the freedom of real discussion. He supports the freedom of speech and desires all citizens to actively partake in their rights. In a system where the majority exercises strict control over the people, fervent debate can not occur. Mill submits that: “[w]hatsoever crushes individuality is despotism.” Both theorists stress the importance of independence and sovereignty in a free and civilized society.
The intellectual exchange of ideas and open debate of differing opinions drives society. Mill and Tocqueville wanted to protect the right of individuals of discussion and freedom of opinion to stimulate philosophical and theoretical thought. In addition, thought is a powerful agent against tyranny: “[t]hought is an invisible and subtle power that mocks all the efforts of tyranny.” Tocqueville also viewed theoretical thought as an instrument against despotism. It helps to develop better judgment among the people and resist despotism. Thus, the constant discussion of one’s political ideology ensures that liberty is not infringed.
The basic principles of majoritarian rule are rooted in the belief of equality of man and a confidence in the capabilities of the collective society. Tocqueville found this true in America and observed: “The moral authority of the majority is partly based upon the notion that there is more intelligence and wisdom in a number of men united than in a single individual.” The assumption is that all men are equally competent to exercise governing. Mill disagreed and took a more elitist approach, thinking that only a very small percentage of the population was capable of governing. The small percentage would exercise its influence over the majority, who would remain apathetic to government because of their isolation from involvement. Mill astutely discovered that the ‘will of the majority’ did not necessarily constitute the true sentiments of an actual majority of the people. Instead, he found a small but vocal faction would take direction of the government: “the will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people- the majority, of those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority.”
Mill asserts that a danger arises because government is not always conducted by the judgments of the people, but by the decisions of an outspoken minority able to manipulate the rest of society.
The main reason Mill and Tocqueville oppose despotism of the majority as compared to a sole dictatorship is the majority obtains more influence and power than any one individual can. Mill observed that most people desire conformity and are often fearful as being viewed as an outsider. “[E]ven in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of.” The lack of strength to exercise one’s own thoughts and beliefs leads to the unconstrained domination by the majority. The people must exercise there right to individuality and create an intellectually open exchange and discussion of ideas. After studying European countries, Tocqueville noted that a King only has physical power, his subjects retain the freedom of their will. Under tyranny of the majority, the power distribution is unilaterally transferred to the majority, away from the individual. “But the majority possesses a power that is physical and moral at the same time.” The majority effectively enslaves the soul and allows the people no other recourse but conformity. According to Mill, society is dangerous when it interferes with the sovereignty of the individual because: “it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since . . . it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”
The subjugation of the soul destroys one’s liberty and freedom. Both Mill and Tocqueville disfavor the tyranny of the majority due to its denial of individuality and liberty.
The tyranny of the majority is a flawed political system for several reasons, as delineated by Mill and Tocqueville. Government must determine the appropriate line from which to make laws and do so through the application of reason. Either law or the general consensus of the people creates rules of conduct. The key principle, however, is the utilization of reason. Mill thought that reason solved all political problems and was devoted to reason philosophically and politically. Rules grounded in opinion and custom are contained in a deeply embedded social code. The code of custom is very powerful as Tocqueville states: “Custom has done even more than law.” Mill views customs as deleterious to society because they don’t require sound thought and refute reasoning: “People are accustomed to believe . . . that their feelings on subjects of this nature are better than reasons and render reasons unnecessary.” Reason is a necessity in creating logical and philosophical laws.
The absence of reason appears in efforts to effect the governing by the majority. Attention is not paid to detail and reason, but instead to the mere act of persuading the majority to a certain viewpoint. Thus, the laws derived from such irrationality are irresolute. Furthermore, the majority’s concentration on an issue quickly diminishes once it is diverted from the issue. Tocqueville found this is particularly true in America:
“The omnipotence of the majority and the rapid as well as absolute manner in which its decisions are executed in the United States not only render the law unstable, but exercise the same influence upon the execution of the law and the conduct of administration. As the majority is the only power that it is important to court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor; but no sooner is its attention distracted than all this ardor ceases.”
Reason is the main element of politics that creates effective and impartial laws. The danger of the majority results because of the attempt to conform. Debate only occurs during the pre-implementation of new law instead of a continual discussion, which does not allow a constant re-evaluation of law.
The concentration if power into a single entity leads to tyranny and abuse. Tocqueville flatly states: “Unlimited power is initself a bad and dangerous thing.” Both theorists also thought that the majority could nonetheless be seen reduced to an individual and reason implied against that. Tocqueville’s opposition to the absolutism of a majority is based in his desire to grant no person or faction unrestrained power. “A majority taken collectively is only an individual . . . the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.” Mill also saw the majority as neglecting reason and relying too much on personal beliefs. He used the same reasoning to relate the thoughts of the majority to an individual and thereby indicate what he would not grant to a single person; he would also not confer to a group. “[A rule] not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preferences; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one.”
Regardless of the rule, both theorists recognize reason as necessary to provide legitimacy to a law. The irresponsible absolute power given to a majority impedes the implementation of proficient laws. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, and Alexi de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, both describe the effect of ‘soft despotism’ or the ‘tyranny of the majority’ in relationship to the sovereignty of the individual. Mill strongly thought that the independence of the individual should never be infringed unless the individual encroaches on the rights of another. Tocqueville also favored the sovereignty of the individual, but not to the same extent. The danger of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ is that it contains physical and moral power over the people. It enslaves the soul into conformity.
Mill and Tocqueville also disapproved of soft despotism because of its absence of reason in formulating law. Both theorists viewed reason as stimulating a philosophical and theoretical debate, which would result in fair laws and the protection of individuality. To counter man’s intrinsic proclivity towards conformity, the open discussion of different ideas is required. Tocqueville was fearful that unlimited power in the hands of an absolute group would be dangerous to the liberty of the people. Mill also thought that the majority could not be trusted to protect the freedoms of the people. Overall, tyranny of the majority is comprised of a lack of reason in conceiving law, the absence of a true majority in forming opinion, the harmful necessity of conformity, and most importantly, the enslavement of the body and soul into compulsory harmony with society. It also impedes the free and open discussion of independent thought, which leads to the deprival of liberty and individual rights. Tyranny of the majority is wrong because of its irrational attack against individuality.
Although both of them were aware of democratic flaws but their respective critique was not based on a traditional or religious political philosophy and surely did not intend to re-establish the ‘Custodian’ ideology of a Monarch or a Philosopher-King. What did they were very concerned about was the idea of ‘individual’ which was taken from religious metaphysics but it was not defended on religious bases within ‘revelatory frame of reference’. The most important aspect of despotism that is relevant for the current discussion is the absence of both criteria, namely the custodian cordial dimension of government and the respect of individual within modern Muslim culture. In other words, the Muslim political elite has inherited the worse of two worlds. Despotism, in the sense of tyrannical rule based on total disregard for sanctity of individuality, which, again, is based on a misconceived modern democratic philosophy, where the ‘majoritarian will’ should reign at the expense of individual liberty.
A brief history of Muslim Political Thought
Any debates on Muslim political thought should start with the Sacred Book of Islam, namely the Koran. Having said that it should be added that any discussion about the political philosophy of Islam could not but commence with the two grand unit-ideas of ‘Imamate’ and ‘Khalifate’ based on the idea of ‘Inspired Leadership’. Muslim theologians and political philosophers of the past and social critics and religious dignitaries of the present have in one way or another been preoccupied with the relationship between the actual ruler and the Ideal Leader. There are, at least, two broad perspectives among Muslim political philosophers, which dominate the debates on the nature of political thought in Islam. One is the idealistic approach where the philosopher takes the idea of a virtuous leader as his or her point of departure, without any due consideration to the actual conditions of political rule, whether it is ruled by Attila or by a Pious Imam. What is of great significance in this approach is the ideal form of government, which is essentially unchangeable and permanent and more importantly Good. The impermanent cultural forms should comply with the ideal essences and the rulers should strive to be-come as the ideal types. Although these approach is very rich in terms of philosophical arguments nevertheless it lacks sociological understanding of the mechanisms of power and what is considered as ‘lack’ among actual rulers are more complicated than this approach renders. The main representatives of this approach are Avecinna, al-Farabi, Averros, al-Ghazzali, Rumi, Mulla Sadra. The other perspective is more sociologically informed but lacks the rigorous philosophical understanding of the former approach. This approach, in its classical form, is represented by Ibn Khaldun and have many modern and contemporary followers such as Naini, Kavakebi, Afghani, Kalim Siddiqui, Maududi, Iqbal, Shariati, Sorosh, Muttahari, Qutb, Arkoun, and many others, who take into consideration the substantial or cultural aspects of society in contrast to the essential and metaphysical ones. Despite many differences which may reign between these two broad perspectives among Muslim philosophers and social thinkers it is doubtless that each and everyone of them in their own particular approach has attempted to give an account of the idea of ‘Imamate’ or ‘Khalifate’. By the advent of modernity and the demise of political Islam as it was represented by Ottoman Khalifate and Persian Sultan (who represented in a very theologically subtle manner the Imam), the ideas of traditional Islam were absent amidst the modern forms of polity such as Nationalism, State-Modernization and Westernization or Russification. The modern polity thanks to both Tanzimat and Mashroteh brought ideas of constitutionalism in politics and nationalism in psychology of politics to Muslim political lexicon. There appeared many discourses to undermine the universal ideas of Man in Islam by replacing the ideas of Nation and Nationality as ‘Islamic’ ideals to strive for and in one word ‘national home’ replaced the ‘Ummatic Home’, without many dignitaries to realize it. As a matter of fact there were many great thinkers who, in the face of modern military assault did give in to the idea of nationalism and tried to find out passages here and there in Koran in order to support the idea of ‘Vatan’, ‘Mihan’, ‘Ana Yurt’ as Prophetic act (Hub al-Vatan men al-Iman).
The symbolic union of Muslim Ummah as well as the political unity of Islam did shatter and in their wake Muslims inherited imposed ideals of ‘territorial states’ designed on ad hoc boundaries as decided or imposed by Paris, London, Moscow, and finally Washington, which did not reflect any historical or traditional reality of Muslim life or religion.
Nation-State System as a means of Imperialism
The relation between national states and imperialism is not a new debate within social sciences and philosophy or critical libertarian discourses since the Enlightenment. Nevertheless what I intend by nation-state as a means of imperial policy at an international level have been less debated within social theory and social philosophy. The nub of the question of national state is the idea of ‘sovereignty’ in a legal sense within political lexicon of modernity. What is sovereignty? Is it a right given or taken? Is it a legal right endowed upon a territorial state by others or a claim made by state visavis other states in a warring state of affairs? The contemporary discourse, which is deeply involved with the institution of ‘civil society’ both in a national level and global arena, is portraying a very legalistic and hence a-historical account of the matter under investigation. It seems as though it is a right which every state currently accepted as such made such a claim at the outset of modernity in this legal fashion without any bloody battles fought or wars erupted. The very fact of the central idea of nation state, namely ‘sovereignty’ may have been a right claimed by triumphant core states of capitalist system but the same could not be applied to other entities. Although these lesser states did fought for their independence but what they become was not equivalent for what they were previously, namely cultural units rather than territorial constructions.
The modern process initiated by colonial powers did, in fact, cause a colonial race between Russia, England, and France and the end result of this race is what international body came to incorporate as the United Nations, namely fabricated units based on the idea of ‘nationality’ and endorsed by a political institution entitled as ‘sovereignty’. In this scheme, for instance, two Arabs who happened to live across the border of ‘Shatt al-Arab River’ one came to be called ‘Iranian’ and the other ‘Iraqi’; or two Azeris who happened to live across the border of ‘Araz River’ one came to be considered as an ‘Iranian’ and the other as ‘Russian’ (and finally in 1991 as Azeri); and the same applies to other ethnic groups such as Daqistanis, Chechens, Afghans, Beluchi, Kurds, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and so on and so forth. Muslims who find themselves in a post-Cold War Era are heirs to a divided body which symbolically is united in the Idea of Hajj annually and the Idea of Salat daily but at the same time riddled with many factual antagonisms which are best illustrated whenever a Muslim wishes to pass through one so called ‘country’ to another. The introduction of passport, which might have had both political and symbolical significance for European nations which lost the unity of Christianity had, indeed, have a negative backlash against Muslim Ummah by re-inserting unnecessary divisive elements into the body of Ummah.
If these observations are taken into consideration and the very idea of capitalist system, which was aforementioned in terms of the need of system to expand itself and incorporate new markets into its surplus value-system then the real nature of imperialism towards Muslim Nation, which, in essence, is one could be more discernible. The imperialistic economic system is efficient as long as the union between Muslim Community is absent and confined to an ailing ‘ritual dimension’, which is cut off the reality of politics of Islam, which, is one of the pillars of political philosophy of Islam as epitomized in the idea and ideal of ‘Imamate’ and ‘Khalifate’. The entrance of Muslim states to the league of nations as individual nation state is a permanent threat to the idea of Muslim Community, which is the quintessential of political philosophy in Islam. Without the actual realization of this aspect of politics of Islam the question of Polity in Islamic term is, to say the least, a shambolic gesture without any substance related to social reality of people lived within these modern boundaries. Either these states inhabited by Muslim majority should take a complete route based on ‘national interest variable’ as they do as a matter of fact visavis each other due to their secularity of politics and put up with the sporadic eruptions of dissident Muslims who still cling on the idea of Ummah or set on a substantially different path, which on the surface could be similar to the idea of European Union. It should be mentioned that imperialism is not only confined to the economic forces but it is endorsed and at some occasions initiated by militarism, which would surely oppose the idea of Umma in a political sense and certainly there are many internal and external obstacles towards the realization of Ummatic polity too. In other words, as long as there are among Muslims any essential reliance on the ideas of nationalism, racial factors such as Turk versus Arab, Kurd versus Arab, Persian versus Turk, Malay versus Indonesian, and Pakistani versus Afghani and so on and so forth the ‘imagined community’ based on the idea of Nation backed up by the institution of State and recognized by the legal authority of Sovereignty, there would be no exit for Muslims to be self-reliant and agents of historical magnitude but divisive forces malleable by market forces leashed by imperial states.
Nationalism and Islam
The contemporary political thought of Islam is inflicted by ideas of Nationalism in ways which would have surely abhorred traditional philosophers of Islamic Ummah, who considered issues such as race, nation and ethnicity as ‘Hijab’ or veil of truth. There have been many political writers of great caliber within contemporary era that argued that Nationalism is endorsed by the ethos of Islam and there is no contradiction by being a Muslim and a nationalist and one factor in such a grave misunderstanding has been the Realpolitik of Modernity. It is a very well-known fact that many parts of Muslim land was colonized by foreign forces and when the battle for de-colonization started the best unifying flag, which could unite all forces in one part of these vast territories run by either Russia, or England and France was the idea of Nationalism. At least this is what the Muslim nationalists such as Shariati, Maududi, Iqbal, and Qutb argued and downplayed the political significance of Pan-Islamism due to the fact that it was propagated by Ottoman rulers and was not congruent by Arab Christian sentiment which was ignited by Europeans among Muslims and non-Muslims of Arab background. Another factor in downplaying this progressive idea, which could have paved the way for an umbrella political institution was the denominational friction between Muslims, which gave an apt tool for despotic rulers to stave off any attempt towards Ummatic Union. Unfortunately Muslim political analysts did succumb to this de facto situation and instead of penetrating beyond the historical absurdities and imperial games of ‘nationalism’, ‘tribalism’ and ‘racialism’ stop and start where the rationale of modern nation-state road-mapped. This approach institutionalized nationalist discourses within Muslim countries and gave birth to a new genre where the essential ideas are modern and nationalistic but the façade is Islamic and rhetorically revolutionary. The very idea of revolution came to be associated by regime change and one came to miss the point that within the Islamic paradigm the change is not only a matter of form but an issue of content too. In addition the content is not only confined to the realm of regime or institution of power but the heart and mind of those who aspire to make change. In other words, the ideals of Islam were essentially gone and the cultural realities (‘urf) of Turks, Arabs, Chechens, Persians, Kosovos, Albans, Bosninas, Kurds, … came to be considered as the ideas of Islam and revolutionary movements came to replace one interpretation of culture with another without any normative reference to the Prophetic Tradition. Many ideologies were born and new regimes did emerge which set each Muslim State on a new course of secular pursuit but adding the adjective of ‘Islam’ to anything they did. Pakistan, for instance, was created and it was called an Islamic Republic but the course of the ideology of Pakistan does resemble anything but political philosophy of Islam. The same could apply to Iran, and many others which settle with rhetorical claims and downplayed the real task of reconstructing the politics of Islam and working towards a Muslim polity based on a Koranic policy. Other states such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Irak, and many other that set up a secular policy as their goal created another kind of hurdles for Muslim Ummah, which are not less problematic than the former ones.
If modern idea of Nationalism as a frame of reference is understood to incorporate the whole ethnic groups of Muslims, then in this sense Islam could be reconciled with Nationalism otherwise there is no congruity between the idea of Nationalism as understood within modern philosophy and political thought and Islam. In addition, if the idea of nationalism needs to be so greatly stretched then what it yields to is not anymore what one understands as Nationalism in the analytical sense of the term. So, to put it differently, it would be more to the point to choose a Native-Islamic term to render the Muslim situation in political sense that is both a result of Islamic political philosophy and a reflection of de facto realities of religion of Islam as daily and annually practiced in a symbolic manner by Muslims all over the world. Additionally this would pave the way for the emergence of Muslim Union as Europeans have already embarked on this road without any reliance on religion that could be of a great symbolic assistance to bring fraternal associations and deprive the foe-reign and the advance of Imperialism.
Imperialism from without and Despotism from within
Aren’t the pictures I depicted earlier utopian and unrealistic? It could be if by utopian one intends to convey a message that the union of Muslims is a day-dreamery rumination and by reality to understand whatever one sees and faces de facto. However there is more to Utopia than day-dreamery and the scope of reality is vaster than what one sees. The realm of possibilities is what real is all about and what is called Utopia is where is pleasant to be. There could be no argument that where Muslims are now is not where they wish as collective to be and to find an outlet to be rescued from this dystopia is the dream of any committed Muslim intellectual. However it should be borne in mind that there are many obstacles both external and internal. In this section we would look at Despotism as a huge impediment to the realization of Ummatic Union and its relation to Imperialism as its sustainer.
The question of despotism cannot be dealt with properly without significant reference to the cultural politics of each individual Muslim nation-state and to do this it would require a complete book, which is beyond the scope of this article. What I have in mind is the widespread culture of despotism which has come to be wrongly associated with Islamic thought and in this fashion replace the spirit of Islamic polity in a reactionary manner unprecedented since the establishment of Medina.
Within modern social science discourses the question of despotism has come to occupy a very significant place in the writings of Karl Wittfogel and known as the question of ‘Oriental Despotism’. The main idea of this Wittfogel’s thesis was related to the nineteenth-century social philosophy of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, J. S. Mill’s which claimed a specific route to production called ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’. In Wittfogel’s view that gave birth to a kind of particular society that is best termed as ‘Asiatic Society’ and characterized by ‘despotic’ state power. This resulted from a necessity for public works to provide irrigation and flood control. This, he termed, ‘Hydraulic Society’. Oriental despotism was contrasted with Western European forms of constitutional, ultimately liberal constitutional, government. This hydraulistic approach to the Oriental question did not win many hearts and even lesser minds. Nevertheless in Wittfogel there is a sociological antecedent to the question of despotism. This question was also debated by Muslim thinkers in 19th century, namely Abdul Rahman Kavakebi and Naiini, who considered despotism as a second nature within contemporary Islamic mentality and a prominent feature of Muslim polity that altogether contributed to what is today considered as ‘social regressivism’ by social theorists. Naiini and Kavakebi, who were contemporaneous, tried to find some solutions for the problems of their society and to present some updated opinion. Generally, Kavakebi thought about despotism and the ways for its removal and Naiini thought about the denial of despotism and approval of the necessity of constitution and its consistency with Islam.
Which did the collapse of Muslim Empires in India, Persia, Ottoman Lands there, instead emerged tyrannical principles of governmentality assisted by the Colonial policy in introducing modernization from above. What was considered as a social and cultural progress in Europe came to be imposed by political means on Muslims and one is tempted to call the entire modern period in Muslim Land as an era of civil violence and political coercion in meeting the demands of imperial market. The distance between the governor and governed widened ever deeper and there were no traditional bonds to explain the role of these modern dignitaries on the power and the modern democratic inter-state agencies did not develop either due to the autocratic character of modern Muslim despots such as Ata Turk, Reza Khan, and many others. This dual process of violence gave birth to a new breed of Muslims, who are best considered as ‘hybrid individuals’, who are neither the residents of Dar al-Islam nor citizens of Modern National State. Because the discrepancies between the world they are exposed to at home and privately is profoundly different than the world modernity pulled them towards and the relation between the center and periphery was one of brute force and regime survival, that was backed up by imperial powers as long as the King or the Leader secured the international interests of Grand States at the expense of Muslim Ummah. Muslims Ummah is posed by an inherent threat which is despotism from within and in order to overcome this the task is not only a political and organizational one but it needs, what M. Naquib al-Attas calls, adab. Within this century Muslim political thought has been undermined by Leftism and Liberalism and sadly none of this movement did penetrate into the mind and heart of political leaders either but a specter of each was flirted with for demagogical reasons without any deep understanding. Despotism from within has inflicted much anomical dis-ease among Muslim population and there are not many debates how to approach, investigate, and overcome these issues within all sectors of social life and arenas of cultural significance. To add to this complex socio-political reality of Muslim Ummah another external dimension which is in dire need of chaotic situation in order to increase the surplus values of its own unit, namely imperialism from without then one can realize the gigantic task ahead of Muslim intellectuals who aspire to think about the predicament of Muslim Nation, both as an ideal and an ailing fact.
The roadmap to Ummatic Union: What Shall We Do?
The first thing Muslim intellectuals should not do is to write any manifesto or call to revolutionary organizational-political actions. This should not be done for the simple, important though, reason that the intellectual ground is very shaky and foundations of Islamic political philosophy far from the ideals and ideas of ‘Imamate’, ‘Khalifate’, and ‘Inspired Leadership’. The task is intellectual and the forces in need to accomplish the very first steps are of educational character. Another very important task is to institutionalize the tradition of Ibn Batuta and traveling Muslim intellectuals who went land by land and spend time among all parts of Muslim Nation and learned the main languages and customs of each particular people. Since the collapse of political unity of Muslims and the imposition of imperial state-system there have been many Muslim philosophers, social critics, religious leaders and intellectuals who have written in favor or disfavor of modernity and Islam and how to graft these two or separate them surgically without causing any great damage and so on and so forth. Some of these ideas such as the importance of Nationalism or state-system have become like the very essential nature of people who inhabit Muslim lands and a powerful tool in the hands of corrupt leaders to manipulate the masses in order to enhance the despotic situation from within and do immense service to imperialistic trends from without. The roadmap is to break these idols by scrutinizing them all and allowing the unifying ideas and ideals of sacred tradition come to the public arena and take intellectual measure to rectify these misconceived, mis-cultivated understanding, which have penetrated the entire universe of Muslim Psyche, despite of many Koranic injunctions that disallow the growth of these sentiments as signs of ‘Endarkenment’ or Jahiliyet. Is there any hope that Muslim Ummah can regenerate her prophetic spirit? Allah Knows Best!
The main focus of this article was to explicate the implicit and explicit factors, which have contributed to paralyzation of Ummatic body in terms of policy and its realization both culturally and physically. The main argument has been to pinpoint to a dual impairment process, which has inflicted the body of Ummah both from within and without. To illustrate this dual impairing mechanism the attention was focused on two aspects of contemporary Muslim culture which has been shaped by despotism from within and imperialism from without. To overcome these impairing forces, it has been suggested that educational and intellectual forces of Muslim Ummah should be collectively united beyond the current patterns of politics and due attention be paid to the idea of Pan-Islamism and the union of Ummah based on the symbols of Hajj and Salat or ‘Pilgrimage’ and ‘Prayer’ in erecting the new vision of communal life for Muslim Ummah, which goes beyond the contemporary state-system based on ‘Nationalism’. This, it has been argued, would usher into a new era of politics and lay the necessary foundations of ‘Muslim Polity’ based on sacred tradition and the banner of this union should be Ka’aba and the symbolism it stands for.
Dr. Kafkazli Seyed Javad is a Professor of Human Sciences and Philosophy, Department of Human and Social Sciences, Harbin Engineering University, China