Spring Time for Sharia in Araby

The release of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, PJM columnist and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy’s brilliant, evocatively written jeremiad, could not be more timely.

As Americans solemnly commemorated the 11th anniversary of the cataclysmic acts of jihad terrorism on September 11, 2001, jihadists in Egypt and Libya were besieging our government buildings in these Muslim countries, eventually murdering U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials.

By Friday, September 14, 2012, violent masses of Muslims were rioting in Israel, Gaza, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Kashmir, and beyond, using a very questionable American film, which purportedly insulted Islam’s prophet Muhammad, as an alleged pretext.

McCarthy’s remarkably compendious analyses make plain that these dangerous phenomena illustrate, graphically, the corrosive impact of the delusive misconceptions about Islam promoted by U.S. policymakers. This profound bipartisan U.S. failure of imagination -- and resultant failed policies -- abetted the Orwellian-named “Arab Spring” uprisings for “democracy,” in reality a mass, popular Muslim movement rooted in Islam’s timeless jihad imperative to impose its totalitarian quintessence, the Sharia, or “Islamic law.”

Marshalling his full armamentarium of prosecutorial skills, McCarthy makes his arguments with meticulous documentation, thoughtfulness, and trenchant wit. What follows are five of the most salient points McCarthy establishes, irrefragably, for the edification of all readers of this indispensable primer -- policymakers, media pundits of various ilks, and, most importantly, concerned U.S. citizens.

(I) Hurriyya Versus Freedom: There is a yawning gap between Western and Islamic conceptions of freedom -- the latter being “hurriyya” in Arabic. Hurriyya is, as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), the lionized “Greatest Sufi Master,”  expressed it, “perfect slavery.” And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis' perhaps metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the “master” and his human “slaves.” Following Islamic law slavishly throughout one’s life was paramount to hurriyya “freedom.” This earlier, more concrete characterization of hurriyya’s metaphysical meaning, whose essence Ibn Arabi reiterated, was pronounced by the Sufi scholar al-Qushayri (d. 1072/74).

Let it be known to you that the real meaning of freedom lies in the perfection of slavery. If the slavery of a human being in relation to God is a true one, his freedom is relieved from the yoke of changes. Anyone who imagines that it may be granted to a human being to give up his slavery for a moment and disregard the commands and prohibitions of the religious law while possessing discretion and responsibility, has divested himself of Islam. God said to his Prophet: “Worship until certainty comes to you.” (Koran 15:99). As agreed upon by the [Koranic] commentators, "certainty" here means the end (of life).

Eminent Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis, in his Encyclopedia of Islam analysis of hurriyya, discusses this concept in the latter phases of the Ottoman Empire through the contemporary era. After highlighting a few “cautious” or “conservative” (Lewis’s characterization) reformers and their writings, Lewis maintains:

[T]here is still no idea that the subjects have any right to share in the formation or conduct of government -- to political freedom, or citizenship, in the sense which underlies the development of political thought in the West. While conservative reformers talked of freedom under law, and some Muslim rulers even experimented with councils and assemblies government was in fact becoming more and not less arbitrary[.]

Lewis also makes the important point that Western colonialism ameliorated this chronic situation:

During the period of British and French domination, individual freedom was never much of an issue. Though often limited and sometimes suspended, it was on the whole more extensive and better protected than either before or after.

And Lewis concludes his entry by observing that Islamic societies forsook even their inchoate democratic experiments:

In the final revulsion against the West, Western democracy too was rejected as a fraud and a delusion, of no value to Muslims.

Elsewhere, writing contemporaneously on democratic institutions in the Islamic Middle East, Lewis conceded that at least “equality and fraternity” between Muslims were accepted. But even here Lewis included a major caveat with regard to “liberty,” whose Islamic formulation might never resemble John Stuart Mill’s conception in “On Liberty.” Lewis featured a reference to Alice in Wonderland, making plain his assessment of the likely superficial (at best) outcome of Muslim democratization efforts:

...perhaps it may be possible to extend them beyond it [the Muslim community] adding a redefined liberty  to make a new kind of democracy. Only “the question is” as Alice remarked, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Bernard Lewis’s bizarre contemporary volte-face on the merits of experiments in “Islamic democracy” (i.e., Lewis became a far more dogmatic evangelist for so-called “Islamic democratization,” despite such failures!) notwithstanding, as McCarthy correctly notes:

It has been no different in modern times: It was Mubarak’s military regime in Egypt that outlawed practices like female genital mutilation; it was Musharaff’s military regime in Pakistan that outlawed such sharia cruelties as forced marriage and stoning.

(II) Islam as a Totalitarian Theo-Political Ideology:  McCarthy explains that Islam’s “innate resistance to real democracy” is epitomized by the installation of sharia -- “Allah’s law” -- because Islamic culture “is premised not on individual liberty but on the solidarity of the ummah [global Muslim community], to which the individual is expected to subordinate himself.” Again, as McCarthy observes (and cites), the doyen of contemporary Islamic studies, whose advice is sought by policymakers across the political spectrum, Bernard Lewis, first described Islam as a totalitarian ideological system six decades ago (in 1954), predicated upon Islam’s “Holy Law,” sharia:

I turn now … to those [factors] deriving from the very nature of Islamic society, tradition, and thought. The first of these is the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition…. Many attempts have been made to show that Islam and democracy are identical – attempts usually based on a misunderstanding of Islam or democracy or both. This sort of argument expresses a need of the up-rooted Muslim intellectual who is no longer satisfied with or capable of understanding traditional Islamic values, and who tries to justify, or rather, re-state, his inherited faith in terms of the fashionable ideology of the day. It is an example of the romantic and apologetic presentation of Islam that is a recognized phase in the reaction of Muslim thought to the impact of the West…. In point of fact, except for the early caliphate, when the anarchic individualism of tribal Arabia was still effective, the political history of Islam is one of almost unrelieved autocracy… [I]t was authoritarian, often arbitrary, sometimes tyrannical. There are no parliaments or representative assemblies of any kind, no councils or communes, no chambers of nobility or estates, no municipalities in the history of Islam; nothing but the sovereign power, to which the subject owed complete and unwavering obedience as a religious duty imposed by the Holy Law.