Shaping consciousness through Islam

Category: World Affairs Topics: Iran Views: 5549

Disorientated and demoralized, the Islamic community in the early 20th century was under siege from enforced secularism in Turkey, Iran and elsewhere. 

With Marxism filtering away its younger members, it began a journey of discovery. It sought a solution to its problems by finding a new 'self'.

Islamists returned to the Quran for insights. The Quran is not a blueprint for politics or a state: It is, as it states frequently, nothing new. 

The Quran is a 'reminder' of old truths, already known to us all. One of which is that for humans to live together successfully society must practice compassion, justice and equity. 

This insight lies at the root of political Islam. It is a principle that represents a complete inversion of the 'Great Transformation'. 

Instead of the pre-eminence of the market to which other social and community objectives are subordinated, the making of a society based on compassion, equity and justice becomes the overriding objective - to which other objectives, including markets, are subordinated.

It is revolutionary in another aspect: Instead of the individual being the organizational principle around which politics, economics and society are shaped, the Western paradigm again is inverted. 

It is the collective welfare of the community in terms of such principles - rather than the individual - that becomes the litmus of political achievement.

In short, Islamists are re-opening an old debate - one that is at the root of both Western and Islamic philosophy. Posed by Plato, that debate questions the purpose of politics. Some Westerners are troubled that after 200 years of settled opinion, the Western paradigm is being questioned anew. 

One American conservative commented to me recently that with Descartes, the West had discovered 'objective truth' through science and technology. It had made 'us' rich and powerful and Muslims could not bear that. They knew that ultimately they would be forced to acquiesce to Western 'truth'.

But the Islamist revolution is more than politics. It is an attempt to shape a new consciousness - to escape from the most far-reaching pre-suppositions of our time. 

It draws on the intellectual tradition of Islam to offer a radically different understanding of the human being, and to escape from the hegemony and rigidity of the Cartesian mindset. 

It is a voyage of discovery to a new 'self' that is far from complete. It has many shortcomings, but its intellectual insights offer Muslims (and Westerners) the potential to step beyond the shortcomings of Western materialism. 

This is what excites and energizes. As a Hezbollah leader replied to me when asked what the Iranian Revolution had signified for him, he said unhesitatingly that Muslims were free to think Islamically once again.

It is not possible therefore to make sense of the Iranian or wider Islamic resistance without understanding it as a philosophic and metaphysical event, too. It is the omission of this latter understanding that helps explain repeated Western misreading of Iran, its Revolution and events in the region.

Of course, there is another side to Islamism: Islam, like Christianity, has witnessed, from the outset, a struggle between a narrow, literalist and intolerant interpretation in opposition to the intellectual tradition grounded in philosophy and reasoning and in transforming knowledge. 

Though not at all perceived by most Western analysts, who see them only through the prism of opposition to Israeli occupation, movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas are part of the latter, intellectual tradition.

Perversely, for the past 50 years, it is to the literalists, often called Salafi, that the West has looked to circumscribe 'threats to its interests' in the Middle East - emulating Cold War containment thinking. 

The Saudi orientation of Salafism has been used by the West to counter Nasserism, Marxism, the Soviet Union, Iran and Hezbollah; but in so using the literalist puritan orientation, the West has misunderstood the mechanism by which some Salafist movements have migrated through schism and dissidence to become the dogmatic, hate-filled and often violent movements that really do threaten Westerners, as well as other Muslims, too.

Ironically, the West of the Enlightenment is situated on the wrong side of the divide - backing dogma versus the open intellect of religious evolution. It is perhaps not surprising that a literalist and dogmatic West has contributed to literalism in Islam also. 

But the West, by holding on to this flawed perception that it is supporting docility and 'moderation' against 'extremism', paradoxically has left the Middle East a less stable, more dangerous and violent place.

Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence (MI6) agent, heads the Conflicts Forum in Beirut.


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  2 Comments   Comment

  1. Charles Jacks from USA

    The question is whether the west can embrace the rule of law regardless of race, religion or national origin. If so then it should go into the west bank and gaza and start arresting all squatters for war crimes. International law considers an embargo an act of war and the transfer of citizens into an occupied territory a war crime. This is a start and all those that support this illegal activity should be arrested as well, whether they are Israeli or some other politician.

    Humanity cannot afford to have law selectively enforced because it is inconvenient or politically correct. Down this road is lawlessness and enmity between peoples that will swelter. In the future this can result in disruption of energy, transportation and other life preserving networks.

    Given that, it is in the best interest of humanity to require the west to accept the full and complete application of law. The Palestinians can accept that AN Israel can exist in exchange for the requirement that the UN examine every resident of the British Mandate and those that are not indigenous and do not have proof that their residence was obtained from an indigenous member in a noncoercive manner shall be arrested, prosecuted and punished. Further all those that supported this violation of international law shall be arrested as conspirators.

    To prevent future abuses of law, all governments and governmental organizations shall suspend any members that support violations of law, including the security council. Other governments and governmental organizations shall embargo countries that refuse to support the enforcement of international law.

    If the west denies the unbiased application of the Law then allow the Palestinians to emigrate, disband the UN and allow all governments and people to bring what ever pressure they can to force justice to prevail.

  2. Charles Jacks from USA

    I find it interesting that the author calls Islam "a reminder of old truths" and expounds on that yet then calls Islam "revolutionary". This speaks of the western mind set of self centered inconsistency. This is a structural positive feedback effect of the weak monotheism practiced in the west. Weak monotheism being the worship of a single thing where that thing is defined from the point of view of the worshiper and therefore can both include an amalgam and exclude that Intelligence that overlays the outermost verse (as in universe). Strong monotheism is the worship of that Single Intelligence as that Encompassing Intellect defines it.

    Westerners lose an encompassing view in relation to their displacement of their religion. I define religion here in its original sense as the re (again) joining (ligio) of the worshiper to that Intelligence. The followers of strong monotheism gain an encompassing view as their religion matures while followers of weak monotheism lose the ability to maintain rational consistency as their religion and their minds falter. With a cognitive opponent this feeds back upon itself.

    Consider a breeding experiment where some primate is bread as a servant. As the severed wishes to increase the competence of the servant, the astuteness of the population is increased. At some point the servant will become cognizant of its own death as the result of entropy on corporeal forms. The breeder has at this point a duty to the servant to transform the servants intelligence into a sustainable form, indeed the breeder has a duty to bring the servants intelligence to the fullest level it is capable. Western "religion" redefines "capable" downwards from its initial value.

    Muslims are not "reopening" the debate as to the value of human cooperation. (-10 for using the word "Islamist", another -10 for posing the essay in these terms) Muslims are attempting to prevent the west from simultaneously retreating into a dark ages and destroying life on earth