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Terror, Imperialism And The Meaning Of Faith
By Ahmed M. I. Egal, (Guest Commentator)
No single act by terrorists in recent history has resulted in the devastation of relations between states, peoples and the international political order as has the destruction of the twin towers in New York and the wing of the Pentagon on September 11th 2001 . The victims of that horror have been multiplied by the subsequent multitude that have been sacrificed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, Russia, Indonesia and indeed throughout the world. As I write this missive, the massacre of human beings in the name of cruel nihilism disguised as faith (on one hand) and brutal imperialism disguised as civilization (on the other) continues.
The madmen who perpetrated the horror of September 11, 2001 did not act for Muslims nor in the name of Allah, but for their own twisted objectives, and they speak for no one but for themselves. Certainly, the pretensions of a motley gang of privileged and egocentric boys to divine inspiration, godhood if you will, merit nothing more than the contempt of the reasoned and the wise. These pretensions most surely do not merit the wholesale retreat from the principles of equity, justice, rule of law and mutual respect for each other’s humanity that we have witnessed and have been subjected to in the name of defense from their terror.
It is a self-evident fact of life in the jungle that when a lion is wounded, it will lash out and wreak havoc upon all within reach. America was grievously wounded on September 11th, 2001 and its instinct was to lash out, which it did with all the might and power with which its unparalleled military, economic and political hegemony afforded it. We, the fellow global citizens of America , may have hoped for greater wisdom and vision from its leaders, but many factors militated against such hopes. Firstly, the new president had just won office after a nail-bitingly close election, which was eventually decided by a court against a marginal preponderance of votes. Secondly, the new administration favored the imposition of an imperial order on global politics where America ’s military, economic and financial might would triumph over reasoned debate, collective decisions in global affairs and multilateral action to effect such decisions. These new centurions seized upon the calamity of September 11 to impose upon a recalcitrant world their flawed, and ultimately doomed, vision of a “Pax Americana,” which has succeeded in dividing humanity into the “civilized” few against the wretched many and, indeed, threatens the future of mankind.
Certainly, in the aftermath of September 11, the American populace was traumatized and enraged, and understandably so. Certainly, the nature of a democracy demands that leaders heed the wishes of their electorate – this is the central feature of its supremacy over all other forms of political organization and why all humanity strives unceasingly towards it. Equally, true leadership is not the blind acquiescence to the demands of the mob, nor merely the facile accumulation of interest groups (which are nothing more than the pursuits of charlatans), but rather the pursuit of justice and the defense of law, even when doing so is not immediately popular. Such leadership is clearly absent at the White House and on Downing Street .
The evil perpetrated on September 11, 2001 by a gang of isolated miscreants plotting in the caves of Afghanistan has been compounded by the responses of the Bush administration centurions, who have cynically sought to hijack the outrage of the people to impose their own, narrow and bankrupt vision upon all of humanity. They have used the wrath of the people, not just American people but people throughout the world, to sacrifice most of the advances in human social organization that we all value. (The front page headline of a French newspaper on 12 September read, “Today we are all Americans” and the world shared that sentiment.) America , with all of its faults and failings, presented to mankind the clearest vision of personal liberty, impartial justice, social equality and economic progress in human history. Indeed, we were all Americans because the home of our collective ideals was attacked and all mankind felt threatened. But how have these centurions, these wielders of the greatest power accumulated by one nation in human history, used our outrage and our goodwill?
They have massacred thousands of innocents in blind vengeance; they have subjugated the people of Afghanistan to the warlords after promising to deliver them from the Taliban tyrants – exchange of Taliban tyranny for Pentagon-supported warlord tyranny. How cynical, how evil. They have replaced the brutal dictatorship of the Saddam regime in Iraq for the madness of anarchy they cannot control. They have elevated mendacity to the height of diplomacy and they have robbed their people of many of the freedoms for which their ancestors fought and which all humanity envied. They have unleashed the Russian bear upon the Chechens and the murderers among the Chechens upon defenseless Russians. They have sanctioned the dispossession, degradation and daily humiliation of Palestine and so unleashed the demon of an entire nation. They have divided their people into tribes of ethnicity and made the few the enemy of the many. They have sought to attain by brutality and force the province that Allah gave only unto Himself – hegemony over humanity.
The entire world looks to Europe and North America as the model of human social development not because everyone wishes to be European or American, but because all humanity values personal freedom, social responsibility, state accountability and political participation. The development of liberal democracy and free market capitalism in the West presents, to date, the most successful socio-political and economic model for delivering these values to the greatest number of people. With all of its admitted faults, peoples throughout the world look to this model of human organization and development to learn from and enrich their own progress. This is why the response of the leadership of the world’s greatest and oldest democracies ( USA & UK ) to the evil of September 11th, 2001 is so wanting. Instead of wisdom, reasoned judgment and vision they have chosen vengeance, xenophobia and imperial might.
The new centurions ensconced in the White House perceived the evil perpetrated on September 11th, 2001 as an opportunity to impose their stunted vision of a Pax Americana upon mankind. They are blind to the simple truth that millennia of human history has amply demonstrated, that people only surrender by force their individual and collective sovereignty temporarily. People can only be subjugated for a time but not indefinitely, as America 's own history has proven time and again. Why an American would imagine that the US can impose its will indefinitely upon a recalcitrant world is a source of great wonder not only for me, but also for all students of human history and lovers of freedom, justice and the rule of law. America has reverted to an international equivalent of the backward-looking, angry, authoritarian reaction of the southern states during the struggle to deliver to black Americans their political and civil rights during the 1960s. Just as the rednecks of Alabama and Mississippi surrendered their reason at that time, America has surrendered to the knee-jerk of the lynch mob and demonized half of humanity as “the enemy”.
I am a Muslim, as my name attests. I am not a Mullah or an Imam, I am not a theologian nor a religious scholar, I do not presume to speak for my religion nor do I seek to represent anyone except myself; neither am I a terrorist. I do, however, wish to outline some salient and pertinent principles of the faith that I hold dear and fail to live up to every day of my life. Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic religions of the world and, as Muslims, we are taught by the Koran that the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are our prophets who brought the word of Allah during their times. Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him), for us Muslims, is the last of Allah’s Messengers; there were Noah (Noah), Muse (Moses), Abraham (Abraham), Isse (Jesus) and others that came before. Also, as Muslims, we are taught not to attribute divinity to Mohammed (PBUH) as Christians do to Isse (Jesus), rather the Prophet was a man, chosen by Allah to bring the Divine Message to humanity. Hence, we come to the final thesis of this missive – the meaning of faith. The architects of the New Imperialism argue that Islam is an essentially anti-modern [read backward, intolerant and violent] religion and that there is, therefore, a fundamental conflict between its tenets and the “civilizing” influence of Western liberal democracy and free market capitalism – this is the essence of the “Conflict of Civilizations” thesis which provides the philosophical underpinnings of the New Imperialism.
Firstly however, I wish to deal with the offensive concept of “civilization” as commonly used in this debate. The enforced expatriation of some one hundred million people of African descent to the New World for economic gain from their slavery was initiated, regulated, enforced and justified by the European Powers of 19th century Europe and refined by their brethren in the Americas . European settlers in the Americas , Australia and Africa perpetrated the most calculated and methodological extermination of indigenous peoples in order to usurp their territories and their wealth. Lastly, the most barbarous and evil regime of the last century which plunged the entire world into war and which scientifically exterminated six million people purely on the basis of their ethnicity originated and thrived in Europe. So please let us, the descendants of the enslaved, the colonized and the exterminated, not hear from the descendants of the slavers, the colonizers and the exterminators about our lack of “civilization.” It is grotesque.
I specifically used the word “faith” in the title in order to accentuate the meaning of my religion, as I understand it. Essentially, the central concept of Islam is submission – submission to Allah and to His will, submission to one’s responsibilities, submission to human fallibility and submission to human mortality. One pivotal difference between Islam and the other two older monotheistic faiths is that there is no clergy in the Muslim faith. Allah did not decree any man or woman, or group of them, as his representative(s) on earth, there is no intermediary who can represent a Muslim to his Maker; there is no priest, no pope, no confessor, and no rabbi. Despite the practices that have developed in many Muslim countries and sects, the Koran is adamant on this precept – there is no intermediary between a Muslim and his Creator, it is a direct and personal relationship. The Koran directs Muslims to educate each other and prospective converts about the Koran and the teachings contained therein, but there is no clergy in the formal sense that such exists in Christianity and Judaism.
An essential corollary to this defining feature of Islam is the responsibility imposed upon the Muslim to think for him/herself. Islam requires its faithful to be responsible for their thoughts and actions – a believer cannot go to any earthly authority for absolution, they can only answer to Allah. With responsibility comes freedom. Islam requires that belief in Allah, and therefore submission to his will, be voluntary – a prayer is not a prayer if it is forced. This freedom is ordained [and constrained] by Allah. The Koran defines the constraints of the innate freedom given by Allah to his creation, i.e. humanity. These range from the constraints upon individual behavior (e.g. against murder, thievery and mendacity) to constraints upon social behavior (e.g. against tyranny, usury and injustice). Despite the protestations of the ignorant, a government cannot be “Muslim” or “Islamic” by definition, but it can be just, equitable in its treatment of its citizens, and permit them the freedoms given humanity by Allah – such a government is truly worthy of Muslims as citizens.
A Muslim cannot both be faithful to Allah and unquestioningly obey human directives since God’s law supersedes any made by man. Whenever a man claims to speak for Allah, the true Muslim knows that he is either a charlatan or misguided at best. The word of Allah is contained in the Koran, pure and simple. People, both in the Muslim world and in the West, have interpreted this to mean that Muslims are subject to a set of rigid edicts from which there is no appeal. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Koran is not simply the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, although its teachings are contained in the Koran as are those of the Torah as passed down to Muse [Moses]. Rather, Islam requires the believer to encompass the totality of his life in his faith in his Creator – a Muslim cannot just be pious on Friday (the Muslim Sabbath) and impious the rest of his life and expect to gain admittance to heaven. Equally, a Muslim ruler cannot expect to oppress his people while he/she him/herself is pious and expect to gain admittance to heaven. Further, Islam teaches that if a ruler is unjust or tyrannical, i.e. un-believing of Allah’s teachings, Muslims must oppose him in favor of piety.
Islam is the only religion that commands participation in politics in that it requires the rulers to secure the consent of the ruled. The essential concept of democracy, that element referred to earlier that elevates it above all other forms of human socio-political organization, also relates to the concept of submission. In political philosophy, this is called “consent”, i.e. the consent of the ruled to the rulers. No other religion requires, as an essential feature of its faith, the ruled to consent to their rulers. Indeed, Islam requires Muslims to uphold Allah’s will by practicing personal freedom & responsibility, justice, accountability and tolerance even if their ruler is impious by denying these values. I do not pretend to be a scholar of theology nor of jurisprudence, but merely seek to correct the evisceration of my faith by the megalomaniacs of terror and the centurions of the New Imperialism in the corridors of power in Washington , Downing Street and countless other walks.
Finally, a concluding thought - Islam was the religion that freed mankind from the constraints of superstition. Under Islam, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology assumed their ascendancy of scientific thought. Under Islam, mysticism, spirituality, political freedom and social responsibility came to the foreground in the evolution of social organization. This is my faith. I will not surrender it to the maniacs of terror, nor will I be intimidated from it by the bankrupt, shallow and doomed vision of the New Imperialism.
Ahmed M.I. Egal is a banker from Somaliland who is presently working in Saudi Arabia as Director, Finance & Business Development for Al Mutawa Sons Group. He grew up in the UK as a political refugee, received most of his secondary education in England , and has a BA in Economics & Politics from Warwick University , and an MA in Economic Development from the University of London