The Tenth General Conference :Islam and The 21st Century
Islam in the Face of Racism in the Social Project
Islam in the Face of Racism in the Social Project
Dr. Mansur Abdelssalam Escudero
President of the Federation of Islamic
Associations and of the Islamic Commission
The antagonism between religion and racism belongs to the historical sphere of western Jude-Christianity. To extend this antinomy into other situations may entail certain risks and some inaccuracies. Analysts shouldn't fall for the easy solution of extrapolating this situation to other contexts such as, for example, the Islamic one, for then their assessment would he incorrect. In Islam there is no church- structure built to administer the society, although it is true that certain forms of power or political concepts, which have emerged amongst the Muslims, have in fact imposed such a system. The essential difference rests on the fact that all members of the Islamic community, the Ummah, share an equal religious status. In Islam there is no gap between the religious and the non-religious spheres of human life, between religion and laicism.
1. The concept of racism.
2. Tolerance and recognition of the "other".
3. Islam, a religion of peace.
4. Islam against terrorism.
Peace and blessings be on our beloved Prophet Muhammad, his family and Companions, and on whoever follows his noble way.
1. THE CONCEPT OF RACISM
The antagonism between religion and laicism is accepted, like so many other dualities, in the context of political analysis, without paying much attention to its origins and meaning, as part of the strategy of uniform thinking, which is the basis for the so-called "international New Order" In this context, it is generally accepted that these terms denote antithetic realms, hard to reconcile, that are nevertheless forced to coexist within the discourse, in order to give it meaning, and for it to refer to reality always from otherness, from differentiation.
Although it was the philosophy of the Illustration what brought this question into the open, thus creating a gap between "religious" and secular thought, the question itself has its roots in antiquity, in classical Greece, where all philosophical doctrines that were to conform western thought and spirituality were first conceived as a germ: like spiritual idealism, heir to the platonic universe of ideas, and the budding rationalism in the Logic of his disciple Aristotle. In Al-Andalus, during the rule of Al-Muwahidun, the debate between the spiritual followers of Ibn Sina and the philosophers of the school of Ibn Rushd. In our dying century, the Cold War between those brothers born of the illustration spirit, who were mentioned at the beginning : between the defenders of rationalistic materialism and the idealist defenders of economic liberalism.
In contemporary analysis, terms are used with little conceptual accuracy. Religion is placed against racism and this opposition is extended to every kind of religion and every kind of racism. And this is obviously not serious, certainly disrespectful towards history, and perhaps part of a trend to make this latter look obsolete and dispensable. The antagonism appears inside a particular culture, the Judeo-Christian culture, which, though "religious", has absorbed into it along its with numerous elements of paganism and of various old traditions of Indo-European naturalism. The term "lay" comes from the Latin laicus which meant "layperson", and was used to refer to those persons within a Christian religious order who did not perform sacerdotal duties as such liturgical, sacramental, etc.-nor enjoy all the privileges that went together with the clerical status. Later on the term gradually evolved to denote those who al though being Christians were "outside the Church itself" and, finally, those who position themselves on the fringes of the Christian community. The leap from the European theocratic society in the Middle Ages to the secular society which Modernity demanded, was made as a result of the demands of capital ism, which needed to transform the old structures in order to achieve great accumulations of capital, although this was made at the expense of considerable social turmoil. The old formulae of power were exchanged step by step for more flexible ones, and seemingly less corrective, that would allow access to the factories to great numbers of workers and, above all, the entry of women in "productive" jobs, as if the only meaningful production was that involving material things, and consumer goods.
The transition from an authoritarian society to democracy left by the road side many traditional modes that were gradually replaced by the different ideologies and models of social structuring. So, it is easy to admit that the antagonism between religion and racism be longs to the historic realm of western Judeo-Christianity, and that to extend this antinomy to other situations may entail certain risks and some in accuracies. Analysis shouldn't fall for the easy solution of extrapolating this situation to other contexts, as for example, the Islamic one, for then their assessment would be incorrect. The duality religion-laicism takes on aspects of hostility the moment the interests of traditional society conflict with those of modernity. A democratic project in which people must participate cannot develop in a society structured along authoritarian lines. One cannot of equality when the Church does not accept the rights of women. Certain economic projects are not viable if the Church were opposed to usury, etc...
The western transition towards a "secular society" widened the abyss between those who defended "a religious option", in the sense of a society in which the moral principles of Judeo-Christian tradition were applied, and those others who, from outside the Church structure, opt for other ideologies, invoking science and rationality, even within the same cultural tradition, The conflict springs from the culture's own contradictions, from the intransigence of a Church that has clearly shown that its goals are not "religious" in a spiritual and social sense, and that has maintained for centuries an inquisitorial method of suppressing plurality and dissidence. Given that situation, it was not possible for other options to take root. The denominational nation- states, which were the rule in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were hut a product of the alliance of the various powers: on the hand, the ideological- religious and the political-economic, on the other (We could think that it was the same abyss that, as pointed out before, divided the followers of lbn Sina and those of lbn Rushd in western Islamic circles in the XII century, hut here the gap is of a different nature). What we want to emphasize is that the antagonism comes at a certain time and place, and that it must not be extrapolated to other co-ordinates.
This same process of separation between religion and racism is commonly applied to the analysis made about Islam from the standpoint of uniform thinking. In it, emphasis is laid upon those aspects that conflict with the current socio-economic model --which is but the old liberalism disguised of pluralism-- and so mention is made of the situation of women, of the utopia of Islamic economics, of the despotism of the Arabs, etc., mixing terms and concepts in a way that could be considered, to say the least, biased. All that produces the impression that Islam, as a social model, and democracy, as a political form, are incompatible: nothing could be further from the truth.
Firstly, because in Islam, contrary to what happens in Judeo- Christianity, there is no church hierarchy established to administer society, although it is true that certain forms of power or political concepts, which have emerged amongst the Muslims, have in fact imposed such system. The essential difference rests on the fact that all members of the Islamic community, the Ummah, enjoy an equal religious status, in Islam, there is no gap between the religious and the non-religious spheres of human life, that is, between religion and racism, because there is not a moment in man's life in which he is not a servant of God, so that he is free from the obligations born of his own creation, which are to serve and to worship God. No other model exists for the State except that based on the prophetic society, the Median community, and in spite of that the Muslims have organized themselves, and are ruled to this day, under various political systems, from popular Democracy to hereditary Monarchy, without ceasing to be Muslims. In that sense, Islam does not conflict with racism, because it doesn't accept that "religious" structures can exist outside civil society. Both are interlocked, because every individual is essentially religious.
The only political institution which is unanimously accepted by all Muslims is the Shura, mutual consultation, on the basis of the Qur'an and the many references to it in the Sunnah. We Muslims know that the society fostered by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, what he encouraged was a society in which members took part in political decisions. He would never take an important decision for the community without submitting it to his companions for consultation, and even, as we know, he accepted the decision of the Shura council against his better judgement (as in the council of war before the battle of Uhud). We also know that the Qur'an does not specify particular forms of government and that the Prophet did not leave detailed instructions about this or the naming of his successor. The Median society at the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was a plural society. The dhimmi status established the right to religious freedom for the "people of the Book" within the Islamic state. In the history of Islam, religious pluralism and the recognition of the right to be different are known and verifiable facts. As it happened in Al- Andalus, which was an example of a plural multiracial and multicultural society only when the political regimes ruling the Muslims decay due to the inherent dynamic of hereditary power structures authoritarianism and the temptation the build a "church hierarchy" have surfaced coinciding with a decline in the Islamic society and at the same time a loss of purpose and meaning which tend to degenerate into forms which are eclectic at first and then entirely anti- Islamic and in which the rights of citizens both Muslims and non-Muslims are no longer taken into account in many cases.
On the other hand, the breach between racism and the Judeo- Christian culture was mainly due to the fact that the latter was deeply ascetic, life denying and disregarded material needs and in its mediaeval evolution was a clear heir to a platonic idealism with frills of martyrdom, of a sacrificial offering of the "human animal" to attain to a divine nature through the redeeming mediation of an impossible incarnation. Not so in Islam, where the human and the divine coexist in a way of life that is not, as in Judeo-Christianity, "a religion of mysteries" of negation of the body, of pleasure and of the right to personal realization, but rather a transcendental and humanistic way, in which the human being is considered a caliph a vicegerent, a superior being endowed with reason: charged with the noble responsibility of caring for God's creation in the His Name, and possessing other abilities which are less easily dissemble to reason. This is why we Muslims begin every action saying Bismillah.
With the coming of Modernity, Judeo-Christianity showed its inability to respond to the needs of the new society, The Catholic Church lacked the necessary resources - intellectual as well as doctrinal - to give solutions to the is sues then placed on the table of History. It had nothing to say about equality or the emergence of Capitalism; on usury, on social justice beyond charity on freedom of conscience or religious freedom. Its mission in this world was to serve the interests of the power possessors (when it was those very power processors, and their interests, the ones that had to be transformed). That is the reason behind the "aggiornamento" the continuous adaptation of the Catholic Church to the demands of every new period of history, and history itself is being now, precisely and intriguingly made to look obsolete in order to draw a curtain over past crimes and their victims in a selective and cruel wav asking forgiveness for the Inquisition, for the Holocaust, for having fed the hatred in side the very Judeo-Christian culture for having sown the seeds of division among peoples that were brothers. Now Jews and Christians aim at their reconciliation and show agreement in rejecting Islamic fundamentalism, pointing towards the anachronism of Islam inside a society of liberties in which the Jewish and Christian was of life have, from a "religious" standpoint little or no role to play whatsoever. Nothing have they to say about the other victims those who perished in the same holocausts for being Muslims often converted by force to Christianity or the men and women labelled as "heretics" and murdered all over the world in the name of "orthodoxy".
In this context, to present Islam and Democracy as natural enemies is to say the least, an imprecision and a denial of the truth of History. Why, then is that antagonism maintained when the analysis is referred to Islam and the Muslims? What interests are behind views as widespread as those of Huntington, the so-called Theory of Confrontation or "clash of civilizations"?
Most Muslims living as minorities in the various states of the European Union are convinced that the state racism that we postulate will mean that those beliefs which are rooted in the society, will be protected by it on an equal basis. From our Islamic perspective, there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy, or between Islam and racking and according to my understanding, the inclusion of those concepts in the discourse of European Muslims will help others to understand better our beliefs and to eradicate forever the mediaeval stereotypes that have been built over the centuries.
Indeed, the underlying problem is one of values. In a society that claims to be liberal in its customs and ideas, and where individual freedom is extended to the border of public law and order, contradictions appear increasingly evident.
Even in the sixties, during the Vietnam war, Noam Chomsky, an American philosopher of Jewish origin, made his analysis of the American parliamentary system and spoke then of the totalitarianism hidden behind words like "democracy" or "liberalism" when then were not endowed with of real meaning. Decades later, Roger Garaudy is now talking about "market monotheism".
It is obvious that democracy, as a political formula has failed to develop to any real depth in those countries where it is being tried. The goals declared at the onset have not been realized: there isn't a Welfare State that caters to the needs of everybody; there is not real social justice, the scope of civil liberties has been reduced by inconsistencies in their application and, given that lack of equality, the system doesn't function in a clean, transparent way, but according to the pressing interests of the various powers, albeit few, which determine the progress of the international New Order.
In this context, we Muslims have to live with a perplexing contradiction when adapting to a certain way of life and being in the world which is determined by the technological revolution, by the momentum of a thrust that in most cases is what determines the development of nations, their access to a market economy that favours growth and consumerism, but often does it at the expense of values that we Muslims see as essential to live a wholesome experience of reality. We see how the neo-liberal model, the neo-classical economic model, which we now see in operation, clearly separates what is the citizen's personal and spiritual life in a way that, on one side, it contemplates the right to religious freedom but that, on the other, when a certain group, a certain community trying to develop their social project, shows aspects that conflict with the establishment, it is attacked or even forced in the direction desired by the state through strategies that we can only define as evil indeed. We hear talk of transition from an authoritarian system to a democratic system, but when the Muslims organize themselves and achieve political power through the ballot - as we have seen in Algeria or in Turkey the machine of the establishment closes in against them, and all its parts roll in unison.
2. TOLERANCE AND RECOGNITION OF THE "OTHER" There is another theme which I now want to bring to your attention How is it possible to live in modem society, a society which declares to have a pluralist and multi-cultural will? How can we best present it to our minds? What messages are the most adequate? What efforts are to be made to achieve a better social model? In the political discourse shared by most European leaders it is fashionable to speak of tolerance, as a cure-all that will alleviate those social sufferings brought about by intransigence and racism. Tolerance, however, is not the proper attitude to neutralize those evils, for it needs the presence of someone who tolerates and someone who is tolerated, and thus implies an obvious discrimination between them. The word "tolerance" comes from a Latin root which means "to carry, to bear a load" which makes abundantly clear the semantic field where its primary and modem meanings incubated and developed. It was used then, as nowadays in the sense of "not repressing opinions considered false and modes of behaviour considered detrimental to society or, in any case, wrong.
In order for tolerance to exist there is a necessary condition- namely: the existence of an authority and an assumption that authority upholds a system of values which negates and rejects the opinions and attitudes "tolerated".
Nowadays, we use the term "tolerant" --derived from the same meaning-- with regard to an individual or social authority who abstains from penalizing those opinions and modes of behaviour different from his or its own --not even using a negative description. This second connotation springs from the first as a product of a particular historical evolution of society and its ideology.
Tolerance seeks integration: the assimilation of those "tolerated" at the price of their loss of identity and culture. Alternatively, the propose laid down by Muslims is based on recognition and acceptance of cultural diversity. Recognition of the "other", of his culture, his colour, his language, his religion whatever makes up and constitutes his being in the world, whatever cannot and shouldn't be alienated from him., whatever is eminently his own.
Tolerance appears mean to us. The recognition of the "other", accepting him or her as he or she is, with his, her genuine idiosyncrasies --in one word love-- is both noble and uplifting. Tolerance produces an unbalanced result whoever tolerates becomes stronger --those tolerated. weaker. In recognition -- when is mutual-- both are strengthened on an equal footing. The most out standing result of an attitude of recognition is a society that, being governed by a law which is equal to all contains within it different cultures that develop along their own lines, without that alienating loss of identity that shocks and seriously compromises public life. Such inter-cultural society will always re main a healthy and fruitful society.
Nothing could be further from our discourse than exclusion or authoritarianism. Whenever Islam and Muslims are accused of intransigence of being out-of-step with the times or opposed to progress, what is usually forgotten is that the contemporary social project is far from being the secular project dreamt by the different historical ideologies and which had at its core an unwarranted "faith in the progress of mankind". Today, that "secular" faith in progress docs not have as many enthusiastic advocates as before. The consequences of that "progress generated since then have increasingly shown its most negative aspects, and now we hear many authoritative voices speak of regression and involution, particularly in connection with cultural, ethical, philosophical, ideological and environmental aspects. Scientific progress, based on mastery over nature, has exceeded in many cases her capacity to restore a viable equilibrium. The decrease in resources, the unsolved situation of grave social and economic differences, pollution and cultural impoverishment live side by side, in this dawning Age of Communications, with the culture of information and satellite video-conferences. New powers shape up in the background of contemporary society, media powers, new formulae for economic domination, neo-colonialism, etc.
3. ISLAM, RELIGION OF PEACE
As we all know, the term Islam, which means "submission to the will of God", comes from the same root which produces salaam, peace. This is no mere coincidence, in etymology, but expresses with stark clarity the link between the submission to God and realizing a social project of peace and co existence. When we speak of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, we ask "may God bestow peace on him", which together with His blessings constitute the greatest good a human being may receive in this world and the Next.
Ulama' of all times are unanimous in stating that Islam is a middle way between the spiritual and the material aspects of life. With regard to how we must live the religion - the Din - the Qur'an says: "And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind". (2:143)
There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error." (2:256) The regulation of existential transactions achieved by Islam becomes a source to individuals and communities, of inner peace and social peace, de fusing and resolving the basic tensions of existence which otherwise promote constant strife and competition. The Lesser Jihad, the war against intolerance and injustice, against the control of people's consciousness, and which is conventionally translated as "Holy War", appears in many places in the Qur'an: Fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression - for, verily, God does not love aggressors." (2:190) But alongside, and simultaneous with this fighting, the real conflict un ravels itself: the Greater Jihad, which is fought inside the believer, in his heart, between the opposite poles of existential duality. And God has given His guidance to man, so that by applying the science of Tawhid, he may resolve the conflict by seeking His pleasure and nearness to Him.
4. ISLAM AGAINST TERRORISM Because of the interests already mentioned, we hear in the West talk of a Holy War' with regard to situations that have no connection whatsoever with Is lam. Nothing is said of the inner dimension of that struggle, which is designed to purify and pacify the hearts. Islam forbids torture, all kinds of wrongdoing, aggression towards the environment, social injustice, etc. Still, the media portray Islam as intolerant and aggressive: a fanatical Islam --although we know that the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, constantly called people to restraint and moderation. In a hadith, on the authority of Abu Huraira, may God be pleased with him, the Prophet is quoted as saying, with regard to excessive zeal in religion : "Perish the extremists", and he repeated it three times.
We do not mean to say that there are no fanatical attitudes amongst Muslims, or that Islam is a way of life where fanaticism cannot thrive. No Fanaticism, excessive passion and irrationality are human attitudes that can emerge in any time and place. Obviously, world views differ as do ideologies and cosmogonies, and some are more likely than others to promote certain attitudes. In the case in point, there are numerous examples that could lead us to conclude that Islam condemns fanaticism, but nevertheless both realities remain fixedly linked in present time imagery. There are moments in Islamic history when fanaticism has appeared in Muslim communities: sometimes due to the way in which religion was exploited for political ends others due to the precarious life-conditions of particular human groups.
It is thus surprising to find that, during the revolutionary processes under gone by some Latin American countries until a decade ago, fanaticism was not mentioned when evaluating the passionate political attitudes witnessed during those processes. It would seem that ideology was seen there as legitimating certain excesses.
Not so now when evaluating the consequences of other processes in which religion is involved and which are described and qualified using terms like "fundamentalism" "fanaticism", "extremism" , "terrorism" or "intolerance". In some came cases, western discourse describes those involved as revolutionaries freedom fighters martyrs of an ideology or revolution, while in others. of fanatics and terrorists. In some times and places, they are revolutionary heroes, in others. mere delinquents. In this sense, the case of Algeria is exemplary. As a country trying to overcome the colonial experience and so enter into modernity through a revolutionary process of non-religious character, Algeria opted afterwards with the will of the majority to establish a democracy through the ballot. We all are aware of the role played by the Muslims in this ongoing process. Muslims, knowing there is no intrinsic contradiction between Islam and Democracy joined in the process and won the elections --the first really democratic elections in Algeria which guarantied for the first time ever a majority government freely elected. Reality, though, has shown that there are certain powers that simply will not accept a democratic Islam, based on Shura consultation, for then contradictions will become too evident to the world. The army coup which ended the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front was backed by France, the cradle of racism and the democratic project, with the unacceptable argument that the Muslims, once victorious, would dismantle the free election system. The crimes attributed today to "Islamic terrorism" in present dictatorial Algeria are the work of the Army and paramilitary groups hidden behind "Islamic" names. This fact has been denounced by independent international analysts, but this has not stopped the media from speaking of "the cruelty and fanaticism of Islamic fundamentalism".
The true face of Islam does not attract interest, only its caricature: the deformation to which is subjected by orientalists and the mass media, which are all obliging servants of the powers supporting the international New Order in its project to eliminate all differences, in order to construct a global village which, nowadays, looks like a manageable farm of producer consumers in which ethical and spiritual values have increasingly less and less place.
This account will be incomplete if our analysis lacked some proposals intended to suggest practical solutions to these problems. Obviously, the possibilities for action cannot be the same in countries where Muslims are in the minority as in others where they are the majority and have political power.
The first situation is clearly that of the Muslims in Europe: minority communities protected under the umbrella of non-confessional constitutions that declare the right to religious freedom. In this sense, as is the case in Spain, we Muslims uphold the constitution and therefore demand our full rights in accordance with it as Spanish citizens of Islamic faith, We are in that sense, Muslims and democrats, because we defend the same right to religious freedom for all other religious denominations, and at the same time support state racism as its compromise to adopt a position of neutrality in religious affairs. We consider urgent that we Muslims design strategies to counteract the false image of Islam presented constantly by the western mass media. We have at our disposal the powerful tools and communication networks which are conforming the new global society. In themselves these tools do not have any moral content: they are not either good or bad. It is, rather a matter of how they are used. And in this sense, our position is that they must be used to present real and true information about Islam and the way Muslims perceive reality. At the same time, we should use those tools to analyze - and if necessary denounce - all situations that affect us politically, socially and ideologically. The new information age technologies enable us to forge links between Muslims world