posted by din merican–July 13, 2009
ANWAR IBRAHIM’s KEYNOTE ADDRESS ON ISLAM AND THE WEST AT COMMON WORLD INTERFAITH CONFERENCE IN PERTH, AUSTRALIA, JULY 11, 2009
Islam and the West – Democracy, Jihad and Complicity with Tyranny.
Throughout the last century, there have been attempts to create “a truly Islamic state”, its ultimate objective being the attainment of a just polity premised on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, being essentially a reaction to Western imperialism, these attempts invariably were linked to the concept of jihad and the multifarious connotations attached to the word.
To begin with, even though primarily jihad is a doctrine of sacrifice for the preservation of faith, it had traditionally been interpreted to sanction war against enemies of the religion and had provided a moral framework for regulating the ensuing conflicts. The orthodox view espoused by the establishment muftis, adopted a particular Hadith to justify the principle that if a ruler orders something that is contrary to the Shari’ah, Muslims were at liberty to rebel. This view was then extended to justify acts against all forms of oppression.
Today, jihad has been invoked by certain quarters to legitimize wanton acts of violence. And as the line between jihad and terrorism becomes blurred, it is imperative that reform minded Islamists address this problem with courage and conviction. Surely, tyranny and oppression cannot be the only way to stem the tide.
Nevertheless, it is true that the post-war experiments of Muslim countries with democratic institutions ended in unmitigated disaster, returning to power instead the regimes of tyranny and repression. Turkey was of course the exception to the rule.
We are familiar with the United States policy of ambivalence in the war on terror, particularly under the Bush administration, which supported autocrats in the Muslim world on the one hand, and championed the cause of freedom and democracy on the other. Pointing the finger at the United States for driving a wedge between reform-minded Islamists and Muslim autocrats may carry some degree of legitimacy but the ultimate culpability must be borne by Muslims themselves.
As Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali puts it, it is telling “to see how Muslims are treated in Muslim countries and under Muslim governments and how other countries, such as Israel or Britain or the United States for instance, treat their own citizens. Human life and the dignity of man appear to have a much lower value and command less respect in Muslim countries … it is difficult under current conditions, to see how Muslims can expect to earn God’s support and fulfill their task as leaders of mankind.”
The 1992 bloodbath in Algeria saw the banning of the FIS (Front Islamique de Salut) just as it was becoming certain that the Islamist party was about to be legitimately brought to power. Thousands are known to have been abducted by “eradicators” that is, the mukhabarat, the State apparatus for silencing dissent. And notwithstanding a protracted civil war, the oligarchs continue their stranglehold on power.
Other Muslim countries have likewise used the terrorism/Islamic fundamentalism bogey to resist political reform and the powers that be continue to brook no dissent. Undoubtedly the West has also to blame. It too has a long track record of supporting military dictatorships during the past half century. In the case of Iran, we have seen the case of Mossadegh who was legitimately elected but was removed in a CIA led coup in collaboration with Britain. Even in Lebanon and the Palestinian state not too long ago, the United States were complicit in the aggression against these two nascent Muslim democracies.
And today we still see how a substantial part of the Muslim population living in non-Muslim countries are being stigmatized and marginalized on account of democracy being eroded at their expense for the sins of terrorists. It must be said though that President Obama, having assumed office, has made some palpable initiatives towards ameliorating this situation.
But regardless of that, it cannot be denied that the West offers at least in theory freedom and democracy – fundamental liberties, civil society, and representative government. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of Muslim countries. There is Turkey of course, being the first and until recently the only Muslim nation with clear democratic institutions, a market economy and a free society, notwithstanding its ups and downs. Indonesia which has just seen the reelection of President Bambang Yudhoyono, has of course been a respectable second entrant into this arena.
The key issue to be noted here is that in the discourse on Islam and the West, freedom and democracy provides the main catalyst for convergence, not as mere philosophical constructs but as the foundation for giving dignity to the human spirit.
Within Islam, freedom is considered one of the higher objectives of the divine law in as much as the very same elements in a constitutional democracy become moral imperatives in Islam – freedom of conscience, freedom to speak out against tyranny, a call for reform and the right to property.
Democracy and freedom acquire greater significance around the presence of substantial Muslim communities in the West, whose democratic institutions are under attack all in the name of the war on terror. ‘National security’ has now ominously taken on the hue of political persecution even in established democracies, and there are legitimate concerns to be addressed as we see the increasing tendencies to allow the erosion of fundamental liberties, not just because they are occurring in places with the presence of significant Muslim minorities, but because they should not be condoned anywhere.
If the notion of the universalism of Islam is to mean anything, it would require that its values of justice, compassion and tolerance be practiced everywhere. Our condemnation of the violation of human rights must transcend race, colour or creed.