Spring Time for Sharia in Araby
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.
Decrying the willful blindness of Western policymaking elites who deny Islam’s intrinsic supremacist totalitarianism, while spraying charges of “Islamophobia” at those analysts who dare render such appropriate characterizations, McCarthy writes,
The blunt fact is that mainstream, Middle Eastern Islam is totalitarianism packaged as “religion” -- therefore, the guidelines for religions that pose no threat to free societies cannot be applied to Middle Eastern Islam (the Islam to which [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan subscribes) without putting liberty in grave jeopardy. I hasten to add that it is no insult to call sharia a “dictatorial” and “totalitarian” system. Devout Muslims believe Allah, omnipotent and omniscient, has ordained sharia as the template for virtuous human life – every detail of that life.
(III) Sharia Without Camouflage…and Its Muslim Contents: McCarthy bluntly acknowledges Sharia’s ugly, living essence -- founded upon Islam’s canonical texts (the Koran, and traditions of Islam’s prophet, or “hadith”) and classical jurisprudence -- as a dehumanizing liberty-crushing system: open-ended jihadism to subjugate the world to a totalitarian Islamic order; rejection of bedrock Western liberties -- including freedom of conscience and speech -- enforced by imprisonment, beating, or death; discriminatory relegation of non-Muslims to outcast, vulnerable pariahs, and even Muslim women to subservient chattel; and barbaric punishments which violate human dignity, such as amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and lashing for alcohol consumption. Furthermore, McCarthy adduces recent (i.e., May 17, 2011) Pew Global Attitudes polling data from major non-Arab as well as Arab Muslim societies
…illustrating the strong desire for sharia governance among…78 percent of Pakistanis, 70 percent of Jordanians, and 62 percent of Egyptians [who] told pollsters that “laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran.” To put a finer point on it, the dichotomy in the Middle East is not sharia versus secular democracy; it is exclusive, fully implemented sharia versus the predominance of sharia “principles” – i.e., systems which combine sharia with other law sources (e.g., variations on the Napoleonic Code), making clear that sharia prevails in the event of conflict. In Egypt for example, while 62 percent want strict sharia, 27 percent would prefer a legal system which, while not strict sharia, “follow[s] the values and principles of Islam.” Only 5 percent of respondents said, “laws should not be influenced by the teachings of the Koran.” Even in Turkey, where a decade of Erdogan has gradually dismantled an 80-year secularization effort, only 34 percent eschew Islamic law…
Consistent with these hard data, the new regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya -- all of whom have extended the influence of sharia via Muslim Brotherhood and/or other Islamic totalitarian political parties -- simply reflect the triumph of “democratically expressed,” vox populi Muslim attitudes.
(IV) Neo-Ottoman Turkey: I maintain that Turkey has proven itself incapable of steering a truly liberty-promoting course between the Scylla of autocratic secular Kemalist ultra-nationalism (based upon the racist theories of Turco-centric supremacism, such as the Türk Tarih Tezi [Turkish Historical Thesis], and Güneş Dil Teorisi [the Sun Theory of Language] promoted by the Turkish Republic’s founder Kemal Ataturk, and still taught), and the Charybdis of a totalitarian, politicized Islam. Regarding the latter, the renowned scholar of Ottoman and Republican Turkey, Uriel Heyd, observed with remarkable insight and prescience, just before his sudden passing in 1968, that Turkey’s aggressive re-Islamization was already underway within a decade of Ataturk’s 1938 death. Commenting on the May 2007 demonstrations in Turkey sparked by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s temporary failure to install his Islamic supremacist AKP party ally Abdullah Gul as president, Ayaan Hirsi Ali elucidated Turkey’s then still “unresolved” predicament:
…true secularism does not mean just any secularism. It means secularism that protects individual freedoms and rights, not the ultra-nationalist kind that breeds an environment in which Adolf Hitler's “Mein Kampf” is a bestseller, the Armenian genocide is denied and minorities are persecuted. Hrant Dink, the Armenian editor, was murdered by such a nationalist. It is this mix of virulent nationalism and predatory Islam in Turkey that makes the challenge for Turkish secular liberals greater than for any other liberal movement today
Spring Fever demonstrates convincingly that Erdogan, (now President) Gul, and the AKP Party -- with mass, popular Turkish Muslim support -- have outmaneuvered their secular rivals (notably in the Turkish military), and are presiding over Turkey’s complete, sharia-based Islamization. McCarthy elucidates succinctly the key details -- shrewd and sinister machinations, such as longstanding alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as formal jihad terror organizations [i.e., Hamas, openly and defiantly, but even al Qaeda-affiliated individuals] and state sponsors, including Iran -- which have allowed Erdogan and his AKP to successfully implement their ugly, if indigenously authentic and acceptable “vision” for Turkey. This patient, relentless program has engendered a Neo-Ottoman Turkey, imbued with an aggressive nostalgia for the Ottoman Caliphate era’s half-millennium of triumphant jihad, and rife with its traditional Islamic Jew (and broader non-Muslim infidel) hatred and contempt for Western freedoms.
(V) Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan)—Hard-Won Local Triumph, Global Aspirations: February 18, 2011 marked the triumphal return to Cairo of Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) “Spiritual Guide” Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi’s own words, accompanied by images and actions during this appearance, re-affirmed his obscurantist, albeit mainstream Islamic Weltanschauung of Sharia-based, aggressive jihadism, and its corollary -- virulent Jew and other infidel hatred, which should have shattered the delusive view that the turmoil leading to President Mubarak’s resignation augured the emergence of a modern, democratic Egyptian society devoted to Western conceptions of individual liberty and equality before the law.
His Tahrir Square appearance foreshadowed events that have transpired, predictably, during the subsequent nineteen months, till now, punctuated by the open ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and party affiliates, within Egypt, and across North Africa and the entire Middle East. Indeed, Qaradawi’s February 18, 2011, “khutbah," or sermon, to the adoring Muslim throngs that day reflected the longstanding aspirations of “martyred” Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and was symbolic of an Islamic revival begun earlier by the so-called “Al-Manar modernists” -- Jamal Al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida -- more than a century before Qaradawi took the stage at Tahrir Square.
Charles Wendell introduced his elegant 1978 translation of five Al-Banna treatises with a particularly astute summary assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood founder’s Weltanschauung. Wendell stressed not only Al-Banna’s seamless connection to the Al-Manar modernists, but to traditional Islam itself. Moreover, Wendell’s concluding observations remain critical to understanding the deep Islamic religious animus towards Israel and the West -- so much in evidence today -- that Al-Banna and his movement both inspired and reflected.
Hasan al-Banna’s fundamental conviction that Islam does not accept, or even tolerate, a separation of “church” and state, or of either from society, is as thoroughly Islamic as it can be. Any attempt to translate his movement into terms reducible to social, political, or religious factors exclusively simply misses the boat. The “totality” created by the Prophet Muhammad in the Medinese state, the first Islamic state, was Hasan’s unwavering ideal, and the ideal of all Muslim thinkers before him, including the idle dreamers in the mosque. His ideology then, before it was Egyptian or Arab or whatever, was Islamic to the core. Since it embraced all aspects of human life and thought, it was at least as much religious as anything else. Practically all of his arguments are shored up by frequent quotations from the Qur’an and the Traditions, quite in the style of his medieval forbears. If one considers the public to whom his writings were addressed, it becomes instantly apparent that such arguments must still be the most compelling for the vast bulk of the Muslim populations of today. The nagging feeling that Islam must, and very quickly at that, catch up with the West, had even by his time filtered down from above to the masses after having been the watchword of the modernizing intellectual for almost a century. There was also the notion that all these Western sciences and techniques were originally adopted from Islamic culture, and were therefore merely “coming home”—a piece of self-conscious back-patting that was already a cliché of most Muslim political writing… To this [Islamic] revivalist mentality, nothing could be more hateful than further diminution of the lands traditionally dominated by Islam. I believe that much of the fury and unconcealed hatred of the Zionist state which is expressed by the majority of Arabs will become more comprehensible in light of what the Islamic domain as a concept really means to the Muslims, seen through the lens of Hasan’s exposition…[T]he Muslim Brotherhood…had, on the basis of indisputable historical facts and clear religious traditions, a ready-made program for a world crusade that required only actors and a leader. Islam had from the beginning been a proselytizing faith. The error of the Islamic peoples, as Al-Afghani had pointed out forty years before, had been to cease their inexorable forward march, to abnegate their God-ordained destiny…
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s popular appeal and resultant political ascendancy were evident already at the close of the 1940s. As noted by Richard P. Mitchell, pre-eminent historian of the movement’s late 1920s advent and first quarter century of activities
…by 1948-49, this movement had reached such massive political proportions as to undermine the claim of the rulers to speak for the Egyptian people. The government’s decision to crush the movement in 1949 was presumably taken because of the organization’s potential threat to the existing political order.
Resilient tenacity and broad, ongoing appeal to Egypt’s Muslim masses enabled the Brotherhood to survive subsequent brutal crackdowns under Egyptian autocrats Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Spring Fever chronicles how the Brotherhood’s current savvy, battle-hardened leadership rapidly capitalized on the Arab Spring “democracy” fervor to finally assume governmental power with the imprimatur of parliamentary and then presidential electoral victories.
During a presidential campaign speech broadcast on May 13, 2012, on the Egyptian television station Misr 25, Morsi revealed, unabashedly, his traditionalist Islamic Weltanschauung. Extolling the Sharia supremacist ideology championed by Hasan al-Banna, whom Morsi invoked, he proclaimed,
[in the 1920’s, the Egyptians] said: “The constitution is our Koran.” They wanted to show that the constitution is a great thing. But Imam [Hassan] Al-Banna, Allah’s mercy upon him, said to them: “No, the Koran is our constitution.” The Koran was and will continue to be our constitution. The Koran will continue to be our constitution.
His adoring crowd then segued immediately into a responsive exercise with Morsi, each repeating the individual statements that comprise the Muslim Brotherhood credo:
Crowds: The Koran is our constitution.
Mohamed Morsi: The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
Crowds: The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
Mohamed Morsi: Jihad is our path.
Crowds: Jihad is our path.
Mohamed Morsi: And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
Crowds: And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
Mohamed Morsi: Above all – Allah is our goal.
Morsi concluded this part of his speech by making clear that he would work aggressively to implement the sharia, as president:
The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari’a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…Rejoice and rest assured that this people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic shari’a as a text to be implemented and as a platform. The people will not agree to anything else.
And as Andrew McCarthy concludes, appositely, in his updated Preface to Spring Fever,
Well, that didn’t take very long. On August 12, 2012, six weeks after being elected president of Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi forced the resignations of the generals atop the ruling military junta. Effectively, his election has converted Egypt from a military dictatorship to a sharia dictatorship. As this book argues, that is the end to which “Islamic democracy” leads.
Leftist critiques of Spring Fever will likely invoke its “partisan” failure to describe Republican flirtations with the Ikhwan that began 60 years ago, conveniently ignoring McCarthy’s rebuke, more importantly, of contemporary bipartisan Muslim Brotherhood outreach, and frank accommodation. Regardless, whatever mistakes were committed during our 1950s era engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood (for example, the Eisenhower administration bringing Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Said Ramadan to a 1953 “Colloquium on Islamic Culture”), the whole policy then really does seem to have been premised on the “Islam as a bulwark against Communism” geo-strategy. Indeed this was suggested to the U.S. by Hasan Al-Banna himself during Al-Banna’s fascinating August, 1947 interview in Cairo by a very informed and appropriately skeptical US diplomat, Philip W. Ireland. Moreover, in my forthcoming book, Sharia Versus Freedom, I allude to the views sharply questioning the validity of this approach and highlighting its dangers, as expressed by the British diplomat Sir John Troutbeck and the great Orientalist Gustave von Grunebaum. By comparison, our reckless engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood at present has intensified unacceptably under President Obama, far transcending any misguided, inchoate overtures initiated during the second G.W. Bush administration.
McCarthy argues cogently in Spring Fever that as avatars of “Messianic” totalitarian democracy (in political theorist Jacob Talmon’s parlance), the Obama administration now sees the Brotherhood as not only legitimate rulers of Egypt (i.e., a mere tacit acceptance of sad reality), but as long-term “diplomatic partners” of the US. Just this past May, 2009, the then-ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, acknowledged that subsequently deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak deplored the religious fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and had, along with his wife, supported advances in human rights which did not adversely affect political stability. Scobey, and her appropriate views regarding Mubarak’s regime, obviously stopped holding any sway within the Obama State Department by 2011, when she was replaced by Anne Patterson.
Andrew McCarthy’s pellucid, invaluable primer, in the end, updates the conundrum -- with all its attendant dangers, resulting from current U.S. policies, marinated in denial -- articulated two decades ago (in 1991) by respected anthropologist Ernest Gellner:
I think it is fair to say that no secularization has taken place in the world of Islam: that the hold of Islam over its believers is as strong, and in some ways stronger, now than it was 100 years ago. Somehow or other Islam is secularization-resistant, and the striking thing is that this remains true under a whole range of political regimes. It is true under socially radical regimes which try to fuse Islam with socialist terminology and ideas; it is equally true under traditionalist regimes whose elites belong to the world of Ibn Khaldun and come from a ruling tribal network; and it is true of the regimes in between.