“Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers” (Hadith of Prophet Mohammed)
In the beginning was Westphalia
In order to properly set the scene for the subject which concerns us here, that is the “Order of the World” in contrast to “World Order”, as it was perceived by the late Malek Bennabi 1Malek Bennabi (1905-1973) was an Algerian thinker and writer who devoted most of his life to observe and analyze History to understand the general laws behind the rise and fall of civilizations. He is also known for having coined the concept of “colonizability” (the inner aptitude to be colonized) and even the notion of “globalism” (mondialisme, in French). it is convenient to proceed to a necessary clarification of the key concepts in this matter.
In fact, in the abundant literature on international relations, particularly in the French language, the qualifier “international”, “global” or “planetary” is rarely explained satisfactorily. As Gilles Bertrand 2Gilles Bertrand,“Ordre international, ordre mondial, ordre global”, in Revue internationale et stratégique 2004/2 (N°54). points out, the undifferentiated use of one or the other of these adjectives suggests that they are interchangeable, therefore without real meaning for political science. This is not the case, since for many authors like him, this usage reflects belonging to a particular school of thought in international relations, a particular perception of the world, and a different analysis of the concept of “order” in world politics.
The French Academy dictionary defines order as “an arrangement, a regular layout of things in relation to one another; a necessary relationship which regulates the organization of a whole into its parts”. In reality, the notions of order and disorder are part of practical, ethical, political, even mythical and religious discourse. From a philosophical point of view, according to Professor Bertrand Piettre 3Bertrand Piettre, “Ordre et désordre : Le point de vue philosophique”, 1995., these two notions seem to be more normative than descriptive and have more value than reality. Thus, the term “order” is understood at least in two contradictory senses: either the order is thought of as finalized, as carrying out a purpose, pursuing a direction and thus making sense; disorder is then defined by the absence of an intelligent design. Or the order is thought of as a stable or recurring structure and, thereby, recognizable and locatable, as a constant and necessary arrangement; but as such, it can appear totally devoid of finality and purpose. Disorder, then, is not thought of as what is devoid of a finality, but as what appears to be devoid of necessity.
These two meanings, Piettre explains, refer to two philosophically different visions of the world: finalist or mechanist. Also, recent developments in contemporary science reveal a third possible meaning of the word order, a so-called “contingent” order which is constituted, not against or in spite of disorder, but by and with it; not by triumphing over disorder, but by using it. The author concludes that the notions of order and disorder are therefore intimately entwined and complementary to each other. Their combination, in a play of contingency and necessity, produces the diversity of the material and living world that we know.
In the context of international relations, order is commonly understood to mean the set of rules and institutions that govern relations between the key players in the international environment. Such an order is distinguished from chaos, or random relationships, by a certain degree of stability in terms of structure and organization.
Perhaps, one of the best studies ever done on this topic is the one sponsored by the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute in 2016 under the title “Understanding the Current International Order” 4RAND Corportation, “Understanding the Current International Order”, 2016.. The main aim of this study, was to understand the workings of the existing international order, assess current challenges and threats to the order, and accordingly, recommend future policies deemed sound to U.S. decisionmakers.
The report says that in the modern era, the foundation of the international order was built on the bedrock principles of the Westphalian system, which reflected fairly conservative conceptions of order while relying on pure balance-of-power politics in order to uphold the sovereign equality and territorial inviolability of States.
This Westphalian system led to the development of the territorial integrity norm, considered to this day as a cardinal norm against outright aggression towards neighbors with the aim of seizing their lands, resources or citizens, which was once a common practice in world politics. Thus defined in its main elements, this system has continued to prevail, especially since the Concert of Europe, also known as the Vienna Congress system, which from 1815 to 1914 established a whole series of principles, rules and practices having greatly contributed, after the Napoleonic wars, to maintaining a balance between European powers and shielding the Old Continent from a new all-out conflict. It stood fast until the outbreak of World War I, resumed with the creation of the League of Nations, and then, again, after World War II.
In sum, even if it took different forms in practice, the Westphalian order continued to be a permanent feature of the relations between the great world powers during all the aforementioned periods, thus allowing, to the greatest possible extent, the prevalence of structured relations designed to forswear territorial conquest and curtail any global disorder susceptible of generating wars or large-scale violence in their midst.
The RAND Corporation report indicates that since 1945, the United States, which was the greatest beneficiary of the restored peace, has pursued its global interests through the creation and maintenance of international economic institutions, bilateral and regional security organizations, and liberal political norms and standards. These ordering mechanisms are often collectively referred to as the “international order”.
However, in recent years, rising powers have begun to challenge the sustainability and legitimacy of some aspects of this order, which is clearly seen by the U.S. as a major challenge to its global leadership and vital strategic interests. Three broad categories of potential risks and threats likely to jeopardize this order have thus been identified by the writers of the report:
– some leading states consider that many components of the existing order are designed to restrict their power and perpetuate American hegemony;
– volatility due to failed states or economic crises;
– shifting domestic politics at a time of slow growth and growing inequality.
Kissinger and Realpolitik
Two years before the publication of this study, Henry Kissinger, the veteran of American diplomacy credited with having officially introduced “Realpolitik” (realistic foreign policy based on the calculation of forces and the national interest) in the White House while serving as Secretary of State under Richard Nixon’s administration, had further explored the theme of world order in a landmark book. 5Henry Kissinger, “World Order”, Penguin Press, New York, 2014.
From the outset, Mr. Kissinger asserts that no truly global “world order” has ever existed. The order as defined by our times was devised in Western Europe four centuries ago, on the occasion of a peace conference held in Westphalia, a region of Germany, “without the involvement or even the awareness of most other continents or civilizations”. This conference, it should be remembered, followed a century of sectarian conflict and political upheavals across Central Europe which ended up provoking the “Thirty Years’ War” (1618-1648), an appalling and unnecessary “total war” where a quarter of the population of Central Europe died from combat, disease or starvation.
However, the negotiators of this peace of Westphalia did not think of laying the foundations of a system applicable to the whole world. How could they have thought so when then, as always before, every other civilization or geographic region, seeing itself as the center of the world and viewing its principles and values as universally relevant, defined its own conception of order? In the absence of possibilities for prolonged interaction and of any framework for measuring the respective power of the different regions, Henry Kissinger believes, each of these regions viewed its own order as unique and defined the others as “barbarians” wich were “governed in a manner incomprehensible to the established system, and irrelevant to its designs except as a threat”.
Subsequently, thanks to Western colonial expansion, the Westphalian system spread around the world and imposed the structure of a state-based international order, while failing, of course, to apply the concepts of sovereignty to colonies and colonized peoples. It is these same principles and other Westphalian ideas that were put forward when the colonized peoples began to demand their independence. Sovereign state, national independence, national interest, noninterference in domestic affairs and respect for international law and human rights have thus asserted themselves as effective arguments against the colonizers themselves during armed or political struggles, both to regain independence and, afterwards, to protect the newly formed states in the 1950s and 1960s in particular.
At the end of his reflection combining historical analysis and geopolitical prospective, Mr. Kissinger draws important conclusions about the current international order and asks essential questions about its future. The universal relevance of the Westphalian system, he said, derived from its procedural nature, that is value-neutral, which made its rules accessible to any country. Its weakness had been the flip side of its strength: designed by states exhausted from the bloodletting they inflicted on each other, it offered no sense of direction; it proposed methods of allocating and preserving power, without indicating how to generate legitimacy.
More fundamentally, Mr. Kissinger argues that in building a world order, a key question inevitably concerns the substance of its unifying principles, which represents a cardinal distinction between Western and non-Western approaches to order. Quite aptly, he observes that since the Renaissance, the West has widely adopted the idea that the real world is external to the observer, that knowledge consists in recording and classifying data with the greatest possible precision, and that the success of a foreign policy depends on the assessment of existing realities and trends. Therefore, the Peace of Westphalia embodied a judgment of reality and more particularly of realities of power and territory – in the form of a concept of secular order supplanting the demands of religion.
In contrast, the other great contemporary civilizations conceived of reality as internal to the observer and defined by psychological, philosophical or religious convictions. As a result, Kinssinger is of the opinion that sooner or later, any international order must face the consequences of two trends that compromise its cohesion: either a redefinition of legitimacy or a significant shift in the balance of power. In such circumstances, upheavals could emerge, the essence of which being that “while they are usually underpinned by force, their overriding thrust is psychological. Those under assault are challenged to defend not only their territory, but the basic assumptions of their way of life, their moral right to exist and to act in a manner that until the challenge, had been treated as beyond question”.
Like many other thinkers, political scientists and strategists, especially Westerners, Mr. Kissinger considers that the multifaceted developments underway in the world are fraught with threats and risks that could lead to a sharp rise in tensions. And chaos threatens “side by side with unprecedented interdependence: in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the disintegration of states, the impact of environmental depredations, the persistence of genocidal practices, and the spread of new technologies threatening to drive conflict beyond human control or comprehension”.
This is the reason why Mr. Kissinger thinks that our age is insistently engaged in an obstinate search, sometimes almost desperatly, of a concept of world order, not without expressing his concern which takes on the appearance of a warning: in our time, a reconstruction of the international system “is the ultimate challenge to government. And in the event of failure, the penalty will be not so much a major war between States (though in some regions this is not foreclosed) as an evolution into spheres of influence identified with particular domestic structures and forms of governance, for example the Westphalian model as against the radical Islamist version” with the risk, according to him, that at its edges each sphere would be tempted to test its strength against other entities of order deemed illegitimate.
The major conclusion of this scholarly book which concerns us particularly in the context of our theme of the “Order of the World”, as opposed to “International” or “World” order, is this: “The mystery to be overcome is one all peoples share: how divergent historical experiences and values can be shaped into a common order”.
Mr. Kissinger’s allusion to the “radical Islamist version” as a possible alternative to the Westphalian model of world order is far from trivial; and the fact of having singled it out from other eventualities speaks volumes about its own strategic reading of the evolutions underway and the possible contours of the world to come.
Afghanistan, yet again a slayer and graveyard of empires
With a few years of delay, the “establishment” of his country seems to have been convinced of the same views. Indeed, in the space of just four days, two clarifications in this sense have been made, shaking violently the foundations of policies and “truths” hitherto considered incontrovertible.
Firstly, through an editorial 6The Wall Street Journal, “The Unconquerable Islamic World”, August 19, 2021. published in the columns of the highly influential New York business and financial daily “The Wall Street Journal”. Under the evocative headline “The Unconquable Islamic World”, the newspaper owned by Australian–American billionaire and media mogul Rupert Murdoch claims that historians, troopers and politicians will debate for many years the particulars of what went unsuitable throughout America’s intervention in Afghanistan. This adventure had its epilogue, on August 31, 2021, in the form of a hasty and messy evacuation of American troops through Kabul airport, under the triumphant gaze of the Taliban, the new masters of Afghanistan, a country which once again proved to be a slayer and graveyard of invading empires, old and new. Such a rout, broadcast live by international media, left everyone bewildered and certainly eclipsed similar scenes of panic that marked the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, on April 30, 1973, which sealed the first military defeat in the recent history of the United States.
Considering that the US-led coalition has been guilty of blindness by failing to understand that politics lies downstream of tradition, and tradition downstream of faith, the newspaper recognizes that Islamic societies belong to a particular civilization, which resists the imposition of foreign values by way of energy. This blindness is caused by the fact that, becoming apostles of common civilization, Westerners think that “human beings all over the place would make the identical primary choices we made in constructing political group”, and also by a “noble want” to see people as equal, interchangeable beings for whom religion and tradition are “accidents of delivery”. Whereas in fact, these accidents are “non-negotiable truths for tons of hundreds of thousands of people that would moderately die than concede them”.
Failure to understand this, the daily concludes, can be a symptom of “religious vacancy”. In other words, “alienated from America’s Christian origins, hundreds of thousands can’t fathom how religion may play a significant position in binding people collectively”.
Secondly, through an equally scathing assessment by President Joe Biden himself during a speech to the nation 7See: “Remarks by President Joe Biden on the End of war in Afghanistan”, The White House, WH.GOV, August 31, 2021. delivered in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and only eleven days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11, terrorists attacks, which had precisely precipitated this military intervention. On this occasion, President Biden gave a full-throated defense of his decision to end the United States’ longest war abroad by declaring that the era of large American military deployments to remake other nations is over. He further emphasized: “After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan a cost that researchers at Brown University estimated would be over $300 million a day for two decades in Afghanistan yes the American people should hear this: $300 million a day for 20 years in Afghanistan”. Will this important declaration help turn a new page in Washington’s foreign policy, especially towards the Muslim world, a policy characterized by so many setbacks that have claimed the lives of millions of innocent people and caused heavy material damage and unspeakable sufferings? Only time will tell.
Islam and the New World Order
In the meantime, as Ali A. Allawi asserts in his mesmerizing book 8Ali A. Allawi, “The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation”, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010., there is little doubt that for at least two centuries the civilization of Islam has been going through a profound crisis. Islam, as a religion and a method of worship, embraced by almost two billion people in the world 9According to a study conducted by The Pew Research Center entitled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050”: “Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population. By 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history. If the main projection model is extended beyond 2050, the Muslim share of the world’s population would equal the Christian share, at roughly 32% each, around 2070. After that, the number of Muslims would exceed the number of Christians. By the year 2100, about 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim (35%) than Christian (34%)”., has kept its vitality intact, and is gaining more and more followers outside its original geographical sphere, notably since the events of September 11, paradoxical though it may seem to some. Indeed, we are seeing more and more telling signs in this regard such as: the increase in the number of conversions to Islam, in particular among educated women; the significant surge in the number of mosques, Islamic centers and other places of worship in the West and elsewhere (including through the conversion of abandoned Christian places of worship); the election of Muslims to high positions of political and representative responsibility (including mayors and parliamentarians of major capitals and Western cities); the interest in studying Islam in general and the Qur’an in particular, including in schools and universities in many countries around the world; the remarkable growth of banks and other Islamic financial institutions, as well as that of the Halal industry in the world.
It remains true, however, that the situation is quite different for the world and the civilization that Islam has built over the centuries. These have been seriously undermined. What does this mean exactly? To try to answer this question, it is important to recall the following key considerations:
All civilizations try to balance themselves between the individual and the collective (or the group), between the temporal and the spiritual, and between this-worldliness and otherworldliness. Shifts between the relative importance given to the former at the expense of the latter is what gives the different civilizations their distinctive identity and coloring; and critical disjunctions in human history occur when the individual paradigm is overturned or tilted towards the collective, or vice versa.
In modern Western societies, especially English–speaking ones, it is an indisputable fact that since the Renaissance which was at the origin of the Enlightenment movement and thought, there has been a gradual and probably decisive and irreversible shift away from the collective and the sacred towards the individual and the secular.
This being the case, in the self–image of Western or Westernized societies, the individual is ennobled and endowed with the power and tools to determine, alone, the course of his personal development and fulfillment as well as those of society, through the idiom – which is then erected into absolute dogma – of rights and the practice of a democracy based on laws and rules. The primacy of the individual over collective rights thus gradually paved the way for the dismantling of the post-war welfare state, making the dividing line between the public and private domains increasingly blurred, and providing wide–open avenues to an unbridled individualism.
The Muslim World was not spared either by the onslaught of these stormy developments, and all the countries composing it ended up joining, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and intensity, the irresistible ultraliberal globalization movement churned out and forcefully promoted by the Reagan-Thatcher couple in the 1980s. Nevertheless, to this day, Islam, this invisible glue that binds Muslims to a different set of values, loyalties and identities beyond the nation, seem to be resisting and still has not recognized the inevitability of a world civilization stamped with the sole seal of the West and its typical and willfully domineering political, cultural, and socio-economic model.
Being a religion which does not separate the spiritual from the temporal and puts the rights, interests and well-being of the community ahead of those of individuals, Islam today constitutes a major brake on and obstacle to the standardization of humanity according to the globalist mold aiming to impose the rules of a single economic model and mindset. The supporters of this vision of the world work tirelessly to break open this bolt which still holds, unlike Catholicism, the other monotheistic religion with a universal vocation, in particular since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which has totally abdicated by giving in to the “demands” of an increasingly desecrated modern world. 10See : Jean Pierre Proulx “Il y a 50 ans : Vatican II. Le Concile qui a bouleversé l’Eglise”, Le Devoir, December 22, 2012, and the interview with historian Guillaume Cuchet, in “Aleteia”, “Le catholicisme aura l’avenir qu’on voudra bien lui donner”, September 18, 2021. This Council, let us remember, had, under the impetus of the brand new Pope John XXIII, assigned three main goals, the repercussions of which are still being felt today: to renew the Church itself (to make its aggiornamento), to re-establish the unity of all Christians, and to engage in the dialogue of the Church with the contemporary world.
Pierre Hillard understood this very well when he said that Islam is now the “last bulwark against the New World Order”. To the question that Laurent Fendt put to him on Radio “Ici et Maintenant”, on January 11, 2010, of “what would be in the case of a world government the enemy who would be put forward to continue to rule the world?”, Pierre Hillard replied: “Within the framework of the New World Order, the enemy currently is Islam (…) because Islam is still the only religion which brings hope for the hereafter (…) It is for the globalist spirit a competition that it cannot accept, because the Muslim will not – in any case much less – focus on material pleasures, on the consumer society; so it is necessary at all costs to destroy this Islam which does not extol the American way of life”. And while referring to an article by Ralph Peters in an American military journal 11Ralph Peters, “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would look”, in Armed Forces Journal, juin 2006. pleading in favor of a “Vatican of Islam”, he recalls the encyclical Pacem in Terris of John XXIII before concluding: “they succeeded with Catholicism and there is nothing left but Islam which tries to resist”.
On closer inspection, we may argue that throughout the Western colonial period, the Cold War and until after the “Thirty Glorious” the West was somewhat indifferent if not condescending to Islam as a religion. The fear of Islam has followed the demise of social democracy in the West, especially since the events of “May 68”, and the decay of progressive and socially centered movements in the Third World. The Iranian revolution of 1979, itself begotten by this historical development, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, radically changed the geostrategic situation in the eyes of Western countries. Islam is increasingly at the center of their concerns today and a rampant Islamophobia has naturally, and dangerously, ensued. As Mr. Allawi so rightly put it, Islam’s religion, cultures, civilization, nations and peoples have become the subject of meticulous scrutiny by a wide array of analysts, “from the most thoughtful to the most incendiary, from the most illustrious to the most obscure, from the most sympathetic to the most bigoted”.
Make no mistake about it. Much like Egyptian thinker Mustafa Mahmoud, we are aware that when some influential figures, both Western and indigenous, declare that they are not hostile to Islam as a religion, they are honest in some way. To be sure, they have no objection to Muslims praying, fasting, making the pilgrimage to Mecca, spending days and nights worshiping God, glorifiying Him and seeking His grace in individual meditation and invocation or in collective prayers in mosques. They are in no way hostile to ritual Islam, an Islam of gestures, genuflection and asceticism. Nor do they object to Muslims being bestowed with the rewards of the hereafter. It’s a question they don’t necessarily care or think about. On the contrary, these personalities and their mentors have very often encouraged, supported and defended the leaders and other sounding boards of this type of Islam: peaceful, pacifist, docile and exploitable at will. Their hostility and enmity are rather directed against the other Islam, the one that challenges their claim to the exclusive authority to rule the world, and build it on other ideals, values and interests than theirs; progressive Islam which enjoins what is right and forbids what is wrong in the world; Islam which wants to open an alternative cultural path and establish other models and values in the fields of economy, trade, art and thought; Islam that wants to advance science, technology and inventions, but for purposes other than the conquest of the territories of others and the control of their resources; Islam that goes beyond individual reform to social reform, that helps cure the ailments of the current pervasive and materialistic civilization to effect a much-needed salutary global change. In all such arenas, there is no room for negotiation, bargaining, or compromise. There is bitter warfare, either overt or covert, sometimes even with the help of supposedly co-religionists local clients.
In reaction, an awareness characterized mainly by rearguard actions and resistance to the claims of secular modernity is emerging across the Muslim world. This dynamic encompasses all of the attributes of a struggle for the survival of Islam, henceforth the sole standard bearer of Abrahamic monotheism.
The future of Islam: between reformation, deformation and rebirth
Uneasiness and uncertainty as to the direction in which Islamic civilization is moving, or is being intentionally pushed, have been providing the foundation for a flow of projects and plans aimed at “reforming” or “revitalizing” Islam since the beginning of the 19th century and up to the present day. These continued attempts are all based on schemes of “reinvention” of Islam through secularization, liberalization, historicization, or radicalization of Muslims’ understanding of their religion.
As we pointed out earlier, there is no crisis of religious belief in Islam comparable to that which has affected Christianity in the West generally. But this is a far cry from the assertion that the seeds of a rebirth of Islamic civilization are there simply because most Muslims continue to show extraordinary commitment to their religion. Mr. Allawi is right in thinking that the main threat to Islamic civilization will not come from the massive abandonment of religious faith. Rather, the future of this civilization is more linked to the success or disappearance of political Islam as it has manifested itself during the last forty years.
Indeed, the extreme politicization, both internal and external, of Islam and its transformation into an ideology for legitimizing access to and/or retention of power is undoubtedly a crucial change that has influenced the life course of Muslim states and peoples, and also their relation to the whole world. According to Allawi, the success of political Islam may, paradoxically, turn out to be the “coup de grace”, the final blow to the Islamic civilization. For it will eliminate, once and for all, the possibility that the political path could ever be the basis for rejuvenating or reshaping the elements of a new form of Islamic civilization. In many ways, the use of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam confirms the disappearance of this civilization from the consciousness of terrorists and their local and foreign supporters. Despite its predominance in the calculations of policy and decision-makers and in the public imagination, political Islam is only one aspect of the overall problem of Islam in the modern World. Similarly, its ups and downs are only one symptom among others of the disease affecting this civilization. And the fact that Islamism has received the lion’s share of attention does not automatically make its leaders and ideologues the arbiter of Islam itself.
Therefore, what needs to be addressed as a matter of high priority and urgency is to identify the root causes of the crisis and to remedy them. In particular, it is crucial to find out whether Islam’s apparent mismatch with the modern world is intrinsic to the religion itself or is due to other factors, including the gradual breakdown of its vital forces. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Muhammad, who has contributed significantly to the development of his country, has suggested what could well be a particularly interesting “road map” in this regard. Addressing the participants of the 3rd International Conference on Islamic Thought, held in Kuala Lumpur in May 1984, he said: “If Muslims really want an Islamic social order, then they must examine every aspect of modern life from the perspective of Islam and make the necessary corrections (…) Then they should integrate the new knowledge into the corpus of the Islamic legacy by eliminating, amending, reinterpreting and adapting its components according to the world view of Islam”.
The debate on this topic is endless, and the opinions expressed by Muslims themselves are often diametrically opposed. This is the case with two recent contributions. If for the Tunisian researcher Hela Ouardi 12See : Hela Ouardi, “L’Islam n’arrive pas à trancher le fil de la mythologie qui lui permettrait d’entrer dans la modernité”, Le Monde des religions, September 19, 2021. “Islam is a totally anachronistic religion, stuck in a temporal trap and unable to cut the thread of the mythology that would allow it to enter modernity”, it is quite otherwise for the Swiss researcher of Moroccan origin Réda Benkirane 13See : Réda Benkirane, “Tout ce qui se joue depuis un demi-siècle concourt à une sécularisation turbulente de l’islam”, le Monde des religions, September 5, 2021. who considers that “paradoxically, what we perceive as a return of religion is in reality an exit from Islam. This “outing” essentializes the accessory (appearance, clothing, standards) and accessorizes the essential (the articulation of reason and faith). Everything that has been going on for half a century now has contributed to a turbulent secularization of Islam (…) The instrumentalization of religion for political ends has been the work of secular Western states and Arab petromonarchies”.
In truth, what reformers and critics of Islam alike have not sufficiently understood or admitted is that “the spiritual dimension of Islam has permeated the entirety of its civilization”. Accordingly, regaining knowlege of the sacred is an essential requierement. This is the most important characteristic of this particular religion, one that Muslims hold to be perfect and definitive, especially in terms of the transcendent reality which lies at the heart of its message. In interpreting the world view of Islam, the aim of all knowledge must be to “seek, find and affirm the divine basis of all righteous thinking and actions”, as referred to in the Qur’an. 14“We will show them Our signs in the horizon and within themselves until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth. Is it not enough that thy Lord doth witness all things?” (Chapter Fussilat, Verse 53). Furthermore, the clear dichotomy between the sacred and the secular contained in the biblical affirmation “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” finds no place in Islam if it “despiritualizes the foundations of individual and collective action”.
The aforementioned considerations are the most essential features which made the specificity of Islam, its Alpha and its Omega, which allowed the birth and then the greatness of its civilization, and which will be crucial for the success of any “rebirth” enterprise aimed at the individual and societal regeneration of Islam in the modern world. Otherwise, what Mr. Allawi calls “the last crisis” of the civilization of Islam may induce a secularization of Islam, which would therefore reduce its domain to the private sphere, as an individual faith or, at best, a community faith. Such an evolution would obviously add Islam to the other non-established religions in the modern world and, with time, its singularity will disappear, and with it any possibility that its outward expression will have a serious impact on the world in general. On that account, it would permanently lose any claim it might have to be “the incubator of a unique form of a future civilization”. As for the Muslims taken individually, they would then be part of a world which would bear no imprint of their religion “while the model of Promethean man, heroically defying the gods and tolerating no limit to his desires and their fulfillment”, would take a further step towards its own inescapable perdition. All in all, the Islamic “awakening” so much announced lately would not be a prelude to the rebirth of an Islamic civilization but “a new episode of its decline”, and the final act of the end of a once resplendent civilization that would have thus, God forbid, also made its swan song.
This fundamental conclusion reached by Ali Allawi, and which we endorse entirely, is the same as that formulated fifty years before him by Malek Bennabi in the original Arabic version of his fascinating scholarly book published in 1971 in Cairo under the title “The Problem of Ideas in the Muslim world”. The Muslim world, he wrote, has emerged from the post-Almohadian era in the last century without, however, yet finding its base; like a rider who has lost the stirrup and has not yet managed to get it back, it is looking for its new equilibrium. Its secular decadence, which had condemned it to inertia, apathy, impotence, colonizability, nevertheless retained its more or less fossilized values. It emerges in this state in a twentieth century at the height of its material power, but where all moral forces began to fail soon after World War I.
After examining the ins and outs of this long process of decadence, Bennabi warns that the Muslim world, and more particularly a large part of its “elites”, is carried away by contradictory ideas, those very which bring it face to face with the problems of technological civilization without putting it in contact with its roots, and those which link it to its own cultural universe without putting it completely in contact with its archetypes, despite the meritorious efforts of its Reformers. It therefore risks, “by infatuation or by slipping on slides set in its footsteps, to be drawn into modern ‘ideologies’ just as they consummate their bankruptcy in the West where they were born”. We do not make history, he affirms assertively, by following in the footsteps of others in all the beaten paths, but by opening up new paths; this is only possible with “genuine ideas that answer all the growth problems of a society which must be rebuilt”.
Surely, for centuries, the civilization of Islam has often been shaken by powerful opposing currents. The crusades, the Mongol invasion, Western colonization and imperialism and, today, the intense movement of globalization were the most striking ones. It has just as often bent under their blows, but has never broken. Far from it, its contribution to universal civilization and to the construction of the Old and New worlds is undeniable. The chronicle of this role, especially during the period of the Ottoman Empire, has recently been the subject of a remarkable book written by Professor of history and Chair of the Department of History at American Yale University, Alan Mikhail 15Alan Mikhail, “God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan who shaped the modern world”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2020., under the title “The Shadow of God: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World”. In the introduction to this narrative presenting a new and holistic picture of the last five centuries and demonstrating Islam’s constituent role in the forming of some of the most fundamental aspects of the history of Europe, the Americas, and the United States, he states that: “If we do not place Islam at the center of our grasp of world history, we will never understand why the Moor-slayers (Matamoros) 16“Matamoros” is the name of a city located in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas across the border from Brownsville, Texas in the United States. It was coined by Catholic Spaniards for whom it was the duty of every Christian soldier to be a Moor-slayer. are memorialized on the Texas-Mexico border or, more generally, why we have blindly, and repeatedly, narrated histories that miss major features of our shared past. As we chronicle Selim and his age, a bold new world history emerges, one that overturns shibboleths that have held sway for a millennium”, before concluding: “Whether politicians, pundits, and traditional historians like it or not, the world we inhabit is very much an Ottoman one”.
This is a chapter from Amir Nour's forthcoming book, titled “L’Islam et l’ordre du monde: le testament de Malek BENNABI” (Islam and the Order of the World: Malek BENNABI’s Testament). First available in French with translations to Arabic and English planned.
Amir Nour is an Algerian researcher in international relations, author of the book "L’Orient et l’Occident à l’heure d’un nouveau Sykes-Picot"(The Orient and the Occident in Time of a New Sykes-Picot) Editions Alem El Afkar, Algiers, 2014.
( Source: The Saker )
|↑1||Malek Bennabi (1905-1973) was an Algerian thinker and writer who devoted most of his life to observe and analyze History to understand the general laws behind the rise and fall of civilizations. He is also known for having coined the concept of “colonizability” (the inner aptitude to be colonized) and even the notion of “globalism” (mondialisme, in French).|
|↑2||Gilles Bertrand,“Ordre international, ordre mondial, ordre global”, in Revue internationale et stratégique 2004/2 (N°54).|
|↑3||Bertrand Piettre, “Ordre et désordre : Le point de vue philosophique”, 1995.|
|↑4||RAND Corportation, “Understanding the Current International Order”, 2016.|
|↑5||Henry Kissinger, “World Order”, Penguin Press, New York, 2014.|
|↑6||The Wall Street Journal, “The Unconquerable Islamic World”, August 19, 2021.|
|↑7||See: “Remarks by President Joe Biden on the End of war in Afghanistan”, The White House, WH.GOV, August 31, 2021.|
|↑8||Ali A. Allawi, “The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation”, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010.|
|↑9||According to a study conducted by The Pew Research Center entitled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050”: “Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population. By 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history. If the main projection model is extended beyond 2050, the Muslim share of the world’s population would equal the Christian share, at roughly 32% each, around 2070. After that, the number of Muslims would exceed the number of Christians. By the year 2100, about 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim (35%) than Christian (34%)”.|
|↑10||See : Jean Pierre Proulx “Il y a 50 ans : Vatican II. Le Concile qui a bouleversé l’Eglise”, Le Devoir, December 22, 2012, and the interview with historian Guillaume Cuchet, in “Aleteia”, “Le catholicisme aura l’avenir qu’on voudra bien lui donner”, September 18, 2021.|
|↑11||Ralph Peters, “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would look”, in Armed Forces Journal, juin 2006.|
|↑12||See : Hela Ouardi, “L’Islam n’arrive pas à trancher le fil de la mythologie qui lui permettrait d’entrer dans la modernité”, Le Monde des religions, September 19, 2021.|
|↑13||See : Réda Benkirane, “Tout ce qui se joue depuis un demi-siècle concourt à une sécularisation turbulente de l’islam”, le Monde des religions, September 5, 2021.|
|↑14||“We will show them Our signs in the horizon and within themselves until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth. Is it not enough that thy Lord doth witness all things?” (Chapter Fussilat, Verse 53).|
|↑15||Alan Mikhail, “God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan who shaped the modern world”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2020.|
|↑16||“Matamoros” is the name of a city located in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas across the border from Brownsville, Texas in the United States. It was coined by Catholic Spaniards for whom it was the duty of every Christian soldier to be a Moor-slayer.|