Thursday, September 8, 2011

Islamism and Creeping Sharia

The following comprises a dialogue between an OW (opposing writer) and Lawrence:

Lawrence:  "As to the danger of the 'increase of Sharia Law,'  Fundamentalist Muslims deriving from Salafist and Sayid Qutb teaching believe in a 'Creeping Sharia Law' as one of the devices intended to complete the Jihad that Mohammad started. That Jihad will only be completed when the entire world is Muslim."

OW: Lawrence is here confusing two very different, and in fact conflicting, movements within Islamic fundamentalism. I haven't found labels that I am happy with, but I have in other contexts used the terms Jihadis and Salafists. As I use the terms, Jihadis are Muslims who are committed to establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Jihad is an expression of religious faithfulness in the service of the body of Muslim believers for the purpose of bringing about an Islamic state.

OW: Jihadis tend to be committed to organizations and hierarchies, with a variety of authorities. They could promote peaceful means for bringing about this Caliphate, like Hizbut Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood, or they could adopt violence, like Hezbollah. They tend to also be very involved in social issues like healthcare and poverty. These groups would promote the use of Sharia courts as a means of bringing about the 'Islamicization' of society and the would encourage Muslims to listen to religious authorities.

Lawrence: No, no, no. You may have used the term "Jihadis and Salafists," but those deriving from the teachings of Sayyid Qutb prefer "Islamists" and those deriving from Saudi Wahhab teachings prefer Salafist. There is also the Khomeini "movement" which has the same goal as the Islamists, and since Khomeini strove during his life time toward developing a pan-Islamist movement he didn't approve of distinct names. There is also a movement deriving from Maududi in Pakistan out of which the Student movement known as the Taliban derived. But all Fundamentalists seek the victory of Islam throughout the world and it is debatable whether there are many "traditional Muslims" willing to go back to the old way of looking at things which was very passive about this goal -- sort of like the Postmillennial Christian position which believes in the eventual success of Christianity throughout the world, but isn't doing anything of note to bring it about.

OW: But groups like al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, both heavily influenced by Qutb, are very different. I would call them Salafists in that they believe that there was at one time a pure practice of Islam and that there is a single clear understanding of Sharia and what is expected of Muslims. This view is found in Qutb who taught that there is no need to interpret Sharia, that every circumstance in life is clearly addressed by Sharia, and so there is no need for religious authorities to provide guidance. Followers of Qutb, including most members of al Qaeda, reject the idea that a Muslim should ever turn to another Muslim for religious guidance, and so they reject the notion of fiqh and Sharia courts. Think here of evangelical Protestants who embrace the personal and individual quality of faith and reject 'religion'. Salafists are not interested in establishing Islamic governments since this would be to establish religious authority. What Salafists are working towards is an idealic time when every Muslim can live out their faith in as pure a form as is possible. The government can be any form, as long as it does not interfere with faithfulness.

Lawrence: What, what, what? Bin Laden was raised a Wahhabi. While fighting against the USSR in Afghanistan he formed "the base" aka Al Quaeda. He was influenced by Sayyid Qutb, but then Sayyid Qutb was a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers led by Hassan Al Banna who had been influenced by the Wahhabis who later chose to call their Islamic sect, Salafism. Don't forget, Sayyid Qutb spent most of his creative time (the time when he created most of his influential writings) when he was in an Egyptian jail; so he kept to the level of theory for the most part. Others later filled in details which he may or may not have approved of, but were consistent with his outline. He died for example before he could explain what he meant by his "fundamentalism" or Taqfir. He called those who didn't adhere to his strict interpretation as Islamic belief as backsliders. His followers haven't known how to interpret that and whether these backsliders should be killed. While some take a strict, kill the infidel view of Qutb and Khomeini teachings. Others find justification for using other means to accomplish the same end.

Lawrence; As to Sharia Law, Qutb very much subscribed to it. He didn't believe Islam could exist without it.

OW: When there is need for authority, it takes the form of an Emir, to whom people swear obedience. When this Emir dies, as in the case of bin Laden, a new Emir has to be chosen and people can choose to give fealty or not. Because purity of faith is paramount, it is possible to declare Muslims who deviate as takfir, or apostate, and require that they be killed. This is why al Qaeda groups have killed more Muslims than Westerners. It is also not necessary that the whole world be Muslim. What is necessary is that non-Muslims not interfere in the affairs of Muslims. It was this kind of interference, the presence of Westerners in the land of the Two Holy Cities, that set off bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Lawrence: Al Quaeda is a unique paranoid organization that didn't enlarge itself very much beyond those who fought the Russians in Afghanistan, but it did approve of and send out activists willing to kill themselves in a violent exercise. What happened to Al Quaeda fulfill's Khomeini's prediction: if an organization is well-named and well-known it is more likely to be coopted by the enemies of Islamism.

OW: Sharia courts do not represent the creeping presence of al Qaeda for the simple reason that al Qaeda rejects most of the logic behind these courts, for example fiqh and the need to use reason to interpret Sharia. There is no creeping presence of al Qaeda. al Qaeda is devoted to purifying the lands of Islam through whatever means necessary.

Lawrence: good grief, who ever said that al Quaeda was creeping Sharia, certainly not me? Sharia Law is "creeping ahead" as a handmaiden of its more violent brethren. Consider Christian evangelism as a parallel. There have always been a few activists who will go out on the streets to witness, but there is also a more passive form called "life-style witnessing." But both forms of witnessing have the same end, just as those advocating Creeping Sharia have the same goal as those advocating violence.

OW: There is also no creeping presence of Jihadis. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah thrive in contexts where the state is corrupt and fails to provide for the basic needs of citizens. This was how the Muslim Brotherhood started and it was under these conditions that it spread though out the Middle East. In most Western countries, these conditions do not exist and so the appeal of these Jihadi groups is largely non-existent. There are of course some Jihadis who work towards a world wide Caliphate, but the vast majority of Muslims, for many different reasons, reject this crusade.

Lawrence: As I said, Sayyid Qutb was a Muslim Brother and insofar as Muslim Brother teaching is concerned, it is Qutbism, but the Muslim Brothers had to morph in order to survive in Egypt and have been accused of selling out, but they claim they have not and have the same goal they always did.

OW: As I said before, in my opinion, Islam and Muslims as a whole do not represent a threat to anyone but themselves. On the other hand, individuals who are Muslim and groups of these individuals can be extremely dangerous.

Lawrence: While Islamist and Creeping Sharia Muslims have the same goal, we on the outside have two different theories about the threat they represent to us. To name some of the people I've read that would fall on one side or the other. John Esposito, Raymond William Baker, Edward Said, Olivier Roy, and Jules Kepel, think the threat is exaggerated. Scholars and journalists who believe the threat is a matter for concern include Bernard Lewis, Paul Berman, Bruce Bawer, Claire Berlinski, Youssef Choueiri, Jean Elshtain, Oriana Fallaci, George Friedman, Dore Gold, Victor Davis Hanson, David Horowitz, Robert Kagan, Sandra Mackey, Walter Russell Mead, Richard Miniter, Daniel Pipes, Ralph Peters, Kenneth Pollack, David Selbourne, Robert Spencer, Mark Steyn, Amir Taheri, and Kenneth Timmerman.

Lawrence: Some others are harder to place, Robin Wright for example. The Islamism is not a serious threat group claim her, but I've read several of her books and don't think they are justified. She reports in detail what she has found but doesn't take a strong position like those above. Another is Francis Fukuyama. He has voiced his admiration of Olivier Roy and Jules Kepel, which would seem to put him on the Islamism is not a series threat side, but the Neocons derived their foreign-affairs philosophy from Fukuyama's teaching and there is a logical association, but Fukuyama wrote a book denouncing the Neocons saying they should not have taken his passive theory and advocated action to hasten the elimination of one of the remaining enemies of Liberal Democracy.

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