Secular Versus Religious Fundamentalism
Modern Liberalism & Islam: An Uncanny Resemblance
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Both Neo-Liberalism and traditional Islam present unmistakable hallmarks of Fundamentalist thought. (Neo-Liberalism defined here as the early 20th century attempt to hide socialism behind the term “liberalism.”) Arguably, the main fixation behind both ideologies is controlling others, seeing to it they obey all the rules. In other words, both have a predilection towards totalitarianism. This is clearly seen in regimes like Saudi Arabia, China, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Both socialists and Islamic fundamentalists assume a judgmental, condescending tone when preaching. Such doctrinaire attitudes result from accepting a false fundamentalist world view.
Socialism is easily differentiated from true, ie “Classical” Liberalism. The latter was the default world view of freedom-seeking Europeans during the American Revolution, based on the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Paine, Calvin, Puritan Revolutionaries, etc. These convictions center on self-reliance, limited government defending the rights of man, and bolstering freedom – wherever possible. The world view of Classical Liberalism is well-represented by Locke’s observation that the task of government is increasing people’s freedom.
In the following essay is examined the strange resemblance between the totalitarian regimes of Islam and socialism in the areas of politics, law, economics and freedom. (This paper differentiates between traditional Islam and modern Muslim states accepting Western ideas on human rights, law and politics.)
Both traditional Islam and Neo-Liberalism have a totalitarian vision for a one-world monolithic state. Marx believed in the inevitable rise of a worldwide worker’s state, guided by singular leadership. This was also Lenin’s goal, according to William Miller’s “The Meaning of Communism.” In traditional Islam, the centuries-old European concept of the sovereign nation-state is likewise absent. There are only two destinations in the classic Islamic world, being the various Muslim versus non-Muslim nations. These are termed the House of Allah (Dar al-Islam), and the House of War (Dar al-Harb), according to the “Popular Dictionary of Islam,” by Ian Richard Netton. The only defensible traditional Islamic state is organized according to the Qur’an, thereby run by Allah as a theocracy, according to Farooq Hassan, in his “The Concept of State and Law in Islam.”
Neo-Liberalism also does not brook opposition. Communism staged no free elections, refusing democratic principles when in power. For example, after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks did not allow any opposition party to remain. Instead, Lenin instituted the world’s most oppressive regime, according to Clarence B. Carson’s “Basic Communism; It’s Rise, Spread and Debacle in the 20th Century.” All other entities were ruthlessly crushed by Lenin, while establishing a one party rule, with a reign of terror to enforce this ideal, which then became the hallmark of all Marxist regimes. Given the almost total lack of democracy in the history of Islam, this perfectly comports.
While many leftists painfully differentiate between communist and socialist regimes, according to Marx the only difference between the two is opportunity. He taught socialism and communism are both inevitable stages of the irresistible people’s revolution that must overthrow capitalism. Each stage denies citizens exclusive ownership over property, and both vests all rights of the people within the government. The very essence of Neo-Liberal and traditional Muslim government is erection of an all-powerful state to rule over people who are neither intellectually, nor morally suited to rule. One merely has a government in the name of an absolutist God, whereas the other absolutely delivers the state as the only god. Not much difference exists in the final analysis.
Classic Muslim and Marxist legal theories have more in common than a superficial gloss would suggest, despite one being overtly religious, whereas the other is wholly atheistic.
The legal theory accepted by Neo-Liberalism is positive law, a jurisprudence based upon the popular will of the people, judged by a scientific “positive” standard. This is a rejection of Natural Law, or the notion there is a law above the law, ie “God’s Law,” from which to judge human decisions. Natural Law, being a supposed application of biblical principles to legal theory, had great impact upon development of Anglo-American jurisprudence. This resulted in the British “common law,” beginning with Alfred the Great encapsulating the Ten Commandments at the heart of the English statutes. It is a very flexible and dynamic theory, allowing principles to easily be drawn out for application in similar cases. From this base was developed our constitutional, due process and Bill of Rights based approach to jurisprudence.
It might then be assumed classic Muslim Shari’ah law would also be a Natural Law theory since it too is religious. But this is not so. Shari’ah law is a highly inflexible construct, the opposite of Natural Law, explaining why it’s so often condemned in the West, especially regarding draconian criminal punishments. Natural Law, versus positive law, is a principle based jurisprudence, meaning it can be endlessly applied to various situations that are analogous in some way to past rulings.
Traditional Islamic Shari’ah developed during a roughly hundred-year window after the Prophet’s death which closed by 10th century AD. Shari’ah is informed by the Qur’an; the Sunna, or model behavior of the Prophet; the Hadith, or wise sayings of the Prophet; and the agreement of the four classic Muslim legal schools, or Ijtihad, according to preeminent Islamic legal scholar Joseph Schacht, in his “Introduction to Islamic Law.” According to critics, it is nonetheless marked by a simplistic design, a striking lack of modern topics, and an inability to successfully adapt to the modern world.
For example, while not practiced in all modern Muslim regimes, Shari’ah is famed for its cruel and antiquated punishments for crimes, such as public whippings and lopping off hands and feet. But Shari’ah advocates argue it cannot be updated to modernity without displeasing Allah. Therefore, for example, a judicial amputation cannot be translated to, say, a stretch in prison. It is either the exact Shari’ah punishment, or an abrogation of God’s will, according to traditional Muslims.
Fascinatingly, Schacht argues the heart of Islam itself is not theology, but law. He wrote, “Islamic law is the epitome of Islamic thought, the most typical manifestation of the Islamic way of life, the core and kernel of Islam itself,” For this reason many argue Islam is better defined as a political movement than religious creed. The central theme of Islam, according to this theory, is not belief, but control and fealty. This would explain why the term “Islam” derives from the Arabic root “Salema,” meaning “obedience.” Islam sees itself as a submission to the will, ie law of God.
Both Neo-Liberalism and traditional Islam are normally fixated upon employing a socialist command economy. One would think the radical theocratic mindset of Islam would opposes the totalitarian atheistic structure of Marx’s thought. Walter Z. Laqueur in “Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East” refers to this as the “bulwark” theory, that falsely claims since most Muslims oppose atheism, socialism could never take root in Islam. Yet, the opposite has been historically true. The various Muslim countries which have employed socialism or communism over the years include Iraq, Sudan, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and others. Both classic Islam and socialism are committed to radical control of the populace, making them agreeable, yet strange bedfellows.
Leftism, by definition, is a theory of socialist and communist ideals. Marxism and socialism both arose in the radical ferment of the post-French-Revolutionary Parisian culture. Marx was lucky enough to achieve preeminence, but there is little doubt that the two “isms” share almost all the same convictions.
Does traditional Islam have an ancient default towards socialism? Historically, according to Kevin Reinhard in “Before Revelation,” Arab society predating Mohammad existed within a very paltry economy. Therefore, it was typical of Bedouin tribesmen to constantly raid one another simply for survival. This could be argued a cultural precursor to socialism, since there was no law against such raids. Likewise, one of the classics reasons for Muslim war, aka Jihad, was the collection of booty, in goods, slaves, and land. Augustine’s theory of the “Just War” has no analogue in Muslim history. Any war against non-believers was justified, ipso facto, in Islamic law.
Modern Islam has been much exposed to socialism. For example, the ideas creating the Iraqi and Syrian Ba’th party resulted from the French-educated Syrian intellectual, Michael Aflaq. He combined nationalism with Arab socialism, according to Ira M. Lapidus’ “A History of Islamic Societies.” Aflaq defined his idea of the perfect Ba’thist in essentially Marxist terms, calling the idea “Qawmiya,” or – that which “...implies total absorption of the individual in the nation.” The movement was designed to push out French and British colonial presence. Interestingly, Aflaq was raised Christian, and not Muslim.
A main religious factor in stymieing Muslim economics is the broad prohibition against so-called “usury,” or lending with interest, ie riba. In classic Islam, money can be loaned, but not done at interest. (It should be noted this definition of “usury,” which the Medieval Church also employed, is a mistranslation. In the Bible, “usury” is not all interest, but simply money lent at excessive interest.) As Timur Kuran explains in “Islam & Mammon,” the Muslim banking system which officially avoids interest, cannot function without clever strategies to sneak charges back into the equation.
Condemnations of usury is found here in the Qur’an where Mohammad discusses riba:
Those who devour usury will not stand except as stands one whom the devil by his touch has driven to madness….. Allah will deprive usury of all blessing…for He loves not any ungrateful sinner…. O you who believe, fear Allah and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if you are indeed believers. If you do it not, take notice of war from Allah and His messenger, but if you repent you shall have your capital sums; deal not unjustly, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly. And if the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if you only knew. [Surah al Baqarah, verses 275-280].
On top of the agreement on the evils of capitalism, traditional Islam and Marxism also shared a strong criticism of Jews. Marx’s famous essay, On the Jewish Question, is arguably an anti-Semitic work. Further, the two groups are in agreement in mistreatment of the Jews. Much of the anger directed towards the Hebrews was motivated by envy at Jewish excellence at capitalistic undertakings. For the same reason, the Muslims did cooperate with the Nazis in efforts to exterminate Jews, during WWII, with Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, working with the Third Reich.
Marx agrees with the Muslims, saying this on the topic in “On the Jewish Question”:
What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering What is his worldly god? Money. Very well: then in emancipating itself from huckstering and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our age would emancipate itself…The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jews. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.
Unsurprisingly, commitment to traditional Western definitions of freedom in classic Islam and Marxism are lacking, given the totalitarian vision common to each. A recurring theme for traditional Islam’s cultural critics is the utter lack of a Reformation or Enlightenment in its history. Scholars argue original Islam perpetually struggled to escape ancient concepts of person-hood, rights and state. Contra, Neo-Liberalism is a movement bent on returning citizens to slavery given how completely the Marxist state capitulates to the totalitarian concept of government. These groups end up agreeing. The theocratic state representing Allah, and the secular state as god, have no room for a robust, Lockean theory of individual rights against the government.
In development of world views, both traditional Islam and Marxism assume the utter incompetence of individuals to make appropriate life choices without direct guidance. They also assume the need for a legislative regime to direct human decisions, yet with one intriguing difference. In liberalism, it’s assumed there is an ever-expanding need for rules and laws. This is the sign of a regime that does not understand Rule of Law. But traditional Islam developed an unusual counter to this, being the tendency to proclaim whatever was not officially allowed to be considered off-limits. The book “The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam” by Yusuf al-Qaradawi is an explication of this theme.
In “Islam And Human Rights; Tradition and Politics,” Ann Elizabeth Mayer explains that modern Muslim regimes give mere lip service to Human Rights. She says typical modern Islamic rights manifestos “...call for obedience to authority and give political leaders complete leeway in determining the scope of permissible freedoms.” Likewise, Neo-Liberalism has brutally attacked various freedoms in the past. For example, all members of communist societies were held as slaves without any freedom of speech or movement, or any property or legal rights of any kind.
Worryingly, Neo-Liberals in America are now calling for various caps on freedom of speech, such as at the United Nations. In 2009, the U.S. and Egypt sponsored a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling on states to condemn and criminalize “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” There are efforts by Democrat politicians to bring back the Fairness Doctrine on AM radio, and to bring similar Net Neutrality onto the Internet. All of these regulate speech content, against the 1st Amendment. And Supreme Court nominee Ellen Kagan has admitted she believes in censoring free speech based upon “content.”
Traditionally, both Islam and socialism have supported the repression of religion. In Islamic countries, Muslims have superior rights to non-Muslims. The persecution of Jews, Christians and pagans is legendary in Islamic nations. For example, any person residing within an Islamic nation, but not Muslim, is considered an “enemy combatant.” These must pay for and sign a yearly capitation tax to enter a treaty of war, the Jizyah. This is offered to Dhimmis, or “People of the Book,” being Christians and Jews, according to Bernard Lewis in “The Middle East.” Should a Dhimmi be found outside Jizyah in a Muslim land, in theory they can be killed on the spot, according to Schacht.
But communist countries made religion illegal, per se, and millions of people were liquidated simply for their beliefs. Now again, there is a strenuous move by many Neo-Liberals to completely separate religion from secular society, which would have the obvious effect of driving the most pious and selfless persons out of public life. Further, America’s religious history itself is in danger of being buried under a nonsensical regime of Political Correctness, aiming at, and achieving nothing worthwhile.
Unfortunately, strident and bossy Neo-Liberals have misunderstood the purpose of government. It is not the place of government officials to judge private citizen’s decisions and become arbiters of personal taste. When politicians confuse the serious responsibility of keeping government reigned-in and protecting citizen’s rights with the call to proclaim Marxist pseudo-fatwas on judging the economic dictates of their citizens, all hell is bound to break loose. These politicians cannot be trusted with the most basic tasks and therefore must be replaced, ASAP, with Classical Liberals who understand that being a doctrinaire, spendthrift busybody is the last thing America needs in these desperate times.
We need to remember there is one form of good government, being John Locke & Edmund Burke’s vision of a kingdom of virtue, with few rules and protected freedoms. Contra, there is one type of tyranny – which comes in many forms, being an infinitely flexible totalitarianism, whether religious or secular. Until our leaders re-learn this lesson of our Founders, we cannot consider ourselves free people.