Sunday, August 19, 2007

'Sufism' and US Foreign Policy (Part III) - An Examination of the 2004 Nixon Report -

Part I
Part II

Polemics, ‘Moral Panics’, Racism, Al-Hallaj and Orthodoxy, and Conclusion

As long they were giving history lessons, things went swell. Enter Polemics and Politics, regular chief guests at think-tanks and foreign policy institutes (without them the show can’t go on, dear reader, and you must be full already).

I was in disagreement with much of what Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi Executive Director, Islamic Supreme Council of America said of Salafism. She gave the impression that all of a sudden there was this anti-Western force in Islam which destroyed Muslim tradition and Sufi schools of learning with the aim to purify Islam. I was particularly taken aback by her phrase “Wahhabi destruction”. This sort of polemics is completely irrelevant to the productivity of my critique or to ordinary Muslims for that matter. What she says stems more from self-centred passion than a historical narrative. It is a universal truth that every civilization has its revolutions and changes, and it is not about the emergence of Salafism but ‘moral panics’. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this term. ‘Moral panics’ is basically a concept that is used to describe great and prevalent fear or concern in a society that some enemies from within that particular society are trying to sow unrest by mainly hostile actions.[1] It can be used by ruling elites to conceal bigger problems. I’ll give you an example. Once upon a time in England, even mugging was considered a form of ‘moral panic’, and a rather clever gentleman by the name of Waddington said that this was merely because the ruling elites wanted to divert attention from British capitalism.[2] There are loop holes in the cause and effect theory, I’m not saying that, but instead of blaming an ordinary set of people who call themselves Salafis and their version of Islam, we must ask what really led to the collapse of this so-called wonderful Islamic civilization as described by Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi. Was it really anti-Westernism? (Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi in my opinion makes this point because she is addressing mainly a Western audience, sort of fortifying the anti-Salafi programme). Could it be anti-Westernism? Why did Muslims want a change? Did they want a change for themselves or against the West? I know she is keeping in line with Bernard Lewis’s outrageous essay 'The Roots of Muslims Rage', but honestly Muslims were more likely to first think about setting themselves for each other than against ‘the West’. There was surely something lacking? I’ll tell you what was wrong. Things had already fallen apart and it wasn’t working out before the emergence of Salafism. This is the only possible explanation for a movement of thought or action. This is when it is a time for reaction to circumstances and grievance. To blame the economic and political failure of Muslims – I didn’t say “spiritual” because that is up to an individual himself – on those damn “Wahhabis” as we hear time and again repeated by media experts and a great number of Muslims is wrong and ahistorical and nonsensical. The Muslim World didn’t change because of a handful of “Wahhabis”. This was a movement in response to failure that had already occurred and not without the acceptance of the populace. It is my view that an effort must be made by Muslims to understand identities forged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in terms of their anthropological and historical relevance rather than smearing or slandering others. The hostility to Salafis is sometimes coloured by racism when instead of talking about the theological disagreement, which should be encouraged, people make unruly remarks about Saudis, which of course is true for the leadership but far removed from the habits and intelligence and nature of ordinary Saudis who are people like you and me. I mean, you put a guy with a turban on T.V. and the maximum response, even those of Muslims, will have that Ann Coulter flavour and immediately a ‘Wahhabi’ label will follow even if the man has more intelligence and sobriety than half the half-wits combined who are disparaging him behind his back, other than the obvious attempt by the news commentator to make the guy look stupid. These same people will also sit the way hell up and listen attentively with their ears pricked and all when some small-minded celebrity is talking about his or her egotistical life or something.

I agree with Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi’s feelings about literalism in Salafism. This I think is a valid approach. Salafism should be open to critique over questions of literalism or even the ugly attitudes of some of its adherents. And each movement is Islam must be critiqued as it isn’t cast in stone. Only the Qur’an is the perfect text which has always withstood critique due to its subliminal and divine mark, and the Hadith is the secondary text which has been analyzed through the generations by learned scholars and respected thinkers. And you would think she is right on it, but wait until you hear her support for shrines of saints, which is one of the things for which Sufism must be critiqued. There is nothing wrong with shrines in my view as historical monuments but her argument that people come to build bridges and all through these absurd rituals is false. The only thing that it leads to is shirk and if you look at those portly managers of shrines you know what happens to your charity. Later on in the report, Dr. Alan Godlas also stresses on the importance of visiting shrines for “Turkmen tribal identity”. From an Islamic perspective, we have to remember that it is incorrect though it is a very touchy subject for the followers. From an anthropological perspective, it can be understood. It is here we must apply Islam and rather than going about it sacrilegiously, we must do what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have done: educate, through wisdom and mercy that we are to worship God and not men (this is the most basic belief that links all Muslims); but not override their version of Islam with ours regarding interpretation or worship. Time and again there have been instances where Muslims in the majority have persecuted those in the minority, mostly defenceless Sufis, which is totally anti-Islamic e.g. in Saudi Arabia and Iran, where in fact a campaign has been waged to eliminate other traditions and even eccentric ideas that aren’t so much anti-orthodox as anti-authoritarian. Another example of ‘moral panic’. Of course, the case of Al-Hallaj is totally different – there’s at least one thing on which Shaykh Hisham Kabbani and I can agree on despite his fascination with European Orientalists who as luck would have it are absolutely head over heels in love with Al-Hallaj – and I’m not at all satisfied with Mevlana Rumi’s defence of Al-Hallaj’s statement or Al-Hallaj’s execution which is really lamentable as he wasn’t given any chance to repent which is a Qur’anic right given to every creature. The Orientalist fascination with Al-Hallaj as Edward Said critiques in his seminal work Orientalism wasn’t to do with what Al-Hallaj said, though it may have given them immense pleasure to find that it was anti-orthodox and anti-monotheistic other than Al-Hallaj verbally elevating himself to godhead. Rather it was the way in which Al-Hallaj was executed: crucifixion. This gave Orientalists the prospect to link Al-Hallaj, a Muslim figure, to Christ, Jesus son of Mary (peace be upon them both), in accordance with Christian tradition that Jesus was crucified; and this in my opinion was played against the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who died a natural death, and also there was a psychological manoeuvring in my opinion to overplay the significance or role of Al-Hallaj for the above reason. The case of Al-Hallaj also became a tool for some Muslims to provoke the majority or the orthodox with a condescending impression of ‘intellectualism’, which was nothing but distasteful sham, as throughout Muslim history the contribution of the orthodox has been pivotal to progress and creativity though mostly unacknowledged and snubbed off as ‘boring’. This enshrouding of the contribution of the orthodoxy to Muslim civilization has largely been accomplished by paying undue attention and reverence to anti-orthodox figures like Al-Hallaj.

The other speakers basically speak similar sorts of things: Dr. Alan Godlas ends his talk with Sufism Vs ‘Wahhabism’ imagery (and who will lead and get to be the big-shot I guess) but I respect his nuanced and generally non-polemical approach along with his cautioning the US to not interfere; Dr. Mohammad H. Faghfoory is the only speaker who doesn’t say anything about Salafism but rather dwells on the Persian influence and what I think of as a sincere discussion on Sufism – he is again silent on the issue of foreign policy – but at the end he says that those who disagree with Sufism are ideologizing Islam. I must be one of those because I tend to disagree with some or many aspects of Sufism and Salafism on solely intellectual grounds and Islam to me is not about ideology and I don’t believe in force, though I generally support resistance movements whether in Vietnam or Iraq against the centre of power and not innocent people, which has nothing to do with my religious beliefs; Dr. Charles Fairbanks bemoans the supposed fact that Washington is not a religious centre in the “war on terror” which to me is odd because George Bush is a devout Christian and the neocons are worried about Judeo-Christian heritage and all that and they go to church on Sunday to listen to those hymns – but they’re hypocrites of course! What is he trying to say? That we should officially have a Fourth Crusade? It is interesting that Dr. Fairbanks considers the “war on terror” of a quasi-religious nature. What he calls “modern, secular states” in the Muslim World are all Washington’s lapdogs with an increasing movement of resistance from its peoples. I guess any atom of rebellion by Muslims, however legitimate, is labelled as a “Wahhabi” scheme by the bosses in Washington and the Muslim figures speaking at such events. He differentiates between Sufi resistance and Salafi resistance simply because Sufis are fighting against Russia in my opinion. This is not harmful of course. I mean, with the Cold War and all, it’s really cool; Alex Alexeiv, the last speaker, talks of the Salafi methods of fighting in the Caucasus as tactically wrong which definitely is the case in my view and he doesn’t hint at foreign policy measures, which is good.

I know it’s way over time and too lengthy but I want to put all the speakers of this event in perspective, even those who didn’t directly advocate foreign policy in this talk. Why did they attend this conference? What was the objective of Washington? Each of these speakers shares blame for knowingly participating in a conference that was funded, made or supported by hawkish war-mongers and corporate institutions (given its role in stifling the facts on global warming, don’t be surprised if Exxon Mobil is one of them). Did these speakers see pictures of the Iraq invasion in 2003 and its bloody impact on the children in Iraq? Why are they making a pact of “foreign policy” with the thugs in Washington? While describing “Wahhabi destruction”, why did they participate in a conference that clearly aims to destroy those they disagree with? Pausing here, I equally condemn any campaign by the Saudi dictatorship to infringe harm on the Sufis and “force” their viewpoints on Sufis as they do! The image of Shaykh Hisham Kabbani quoting alleged “peace” poetry, which actually seems as a form of provocation, while denouncing an entire group of peoples (that comprises of ordinary family-oriented folks who don’t care about politics) as terrorists, and supporting governments engaged in state terrorism is disingenuous to say the least. And it is always easy to say a lot like the self-styled experts who congregated for the International (?) Security Program of The Nixon Centre in Washington on October 24th, 2003. While these men (as they all were indeed men, except Zeyno Baran the editor) were having a go at all the stuff I critiqued and quoted, the people in Iraq trembled in fright of the air raids and lawlessness and death, the objection and the voice of humanity unheard beneath the walls of some warm building where Bernard Lewis, a staunch advocate of the war, was sanctimoniously providing a rationale for the madness, a madness that was definitely incubated in one of these so-called international security institutes. And the speakers, waiting to pounce and announce their own grand agendas, against savage, irrational souls – in this case, the ‘Wahhabis’.


1 – Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance (Oxford UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), 11.
2 – Ibid., 42.


Anonymous said...

I find your efforts laudable and all your arguments seem intellectually driven. Its funny when i look at it this way that most of my people are blathering about "enlightened moderation" and trying to quell any resistance with force.. someone like you arises amidst your community with sound educated opinions and a truly egalitarian approach. I feel a tad uplifted and at the same moment a bit sad, and a slight bit of envy too, keep up the good work, God bless.

Anonymous said...

There are more of us in the Muslim community than you realise,Mr. Anonymous.The problem is that the Wahabbi/Salafi elements at grassroots level withold a lot of knowledge [qur'an and ahadith]that is beneficial to the wider community just to uphold their interpretation of Islam.Despite the hardship that this might bring upon their fellow Muslim,which is Islamically wrong.And,as i have said elsewhere,their behaviour is taken to be that of the 'typical' Muslim.I don't have a sectarian axe to grind,i am just wary of those who love to manipulate others for an agenda that is not that of our creator.
God go with you,
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