Theunderview : The Underview
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Posted by matt at 11:27 AM
Tahir Ul-Qadri Delivers: Watch Who Doesn't Like the Message
The first thing you need to know about people who tell you there’s a clash of civilizations between the “Western” world and the “Islamic” world is that they are empirically, historically and textually wrong. The thesis was wrong when it was initially advanced, and its wrongness continues to be demonstrated by everything from global forum experiences full of "palpable desire among conferees to cooperate, communicate, and explore new policy changes to fix the gulf that has clearly divided America and other Muslim states since 9/11," to United Nations reports punctuated by former UNSG Kofi Annan, who put it simply "The problem is not the Koran or the Torah or the Bible. The problem is never the faith, it is the faithful and how they behave towards each other." Even world opinion studies, which are "bad news for radio shock jocks and clash of civilization theorists," prove capable of distinguishing between conflicts and conflict. As I wrote last year:
The progressive evolution of spirituality and faith, their integration into democratic institutions and egalitarian ethics, exercises a moderating effect on them. It helps translate the literal into the metaphorical, helps adherents understand the way in which a story, passage, or symbolic account might provide psychological and sociological insight for individual and collective understanding. When religions turn to literalism (and almost inevitably thereafter turn to violence), or more accurately, cling to the remnants of the literalist world into which they were born, it's often because of the re-imposition of material scarcity, the exploitation of one group by another, and the tendency of the powerful to treat others as means rather than ends. Where love is allowed to flourish, it flows.
The second thing you need to know about Clash-of-Civers is that they benefit personally (sometimes financially, sometimes merely from inflating their self-importance) from creating the perception of such a clash—even to the point of facilitating and/or encouraging localized, contingent manifestations of it, and then using those violent manifestations of mutual misunderstanding as validations of their durable theory. Their urgent desire for their theories to be true renders them ahistorical: As James Wiles points out, at a minimum, "every practice of Muslims, which we today denounce as barbaric, was de rigueur for Christianity at or before the time of the Reformation."
It's that desperation that will inevitably greet the recent fatwa issued by Dr. Tahir Ul-Qadri, condemning terrorism. Qadri has stayed on message for a decade, criticizing Wahhabiism, condemning 9/11 right out of the gate, and punking Osama bin Ladin. The media is presenting this fatwa is both a transcendence and culmination of his work. It has a sense of unprecedented authority and finality: Qadri says his tract “completely dismantles al-Qaeda's violent ideology.” The document refers to Al Qaeda as "old evil with a new name". Pipeline News reports that "Some observers of these efforts have labeled them as having been crafted more for public consumption than anything else. Tahir ul-Qadri's declaration does appear to be a bit different however, if for no other reason than the sheer length of his exegesis." Muqtedar Khan says it could have an impact for several reasons:
It is comprehensive, direct, and does not dodge any issue. It has come at a time when there is very strong abhorrence for terrorism, specially in Pakistan, and it will strip terrorists of what little legitimacy they might be still enjoying in the eyes of Muslims who fear that Islam is under attack by Western powers. Dr. Qadri is ... well ensconced in the traditional Islamic heritage...the mainstream of Muslims in Pakistan and in the Pakistani diaspora ... Dr. Qadri's 600-pages fatwa is ... encyclopedic ... accumulates all the various jurisprudential positions advanced by Muslim scholars and jurists of different schools and provides a comprehensive overview of the various normative and ethical limitations that derivatives from Islamic sources have placed on the legitimate use of force.
So while the Fatwa itself is to be celebrated, the fanfare surrounding it raises a few important questions, particularly for those concerned with peaceful relations and anti-imperialism. The declaration has a sense of being designed and deployed by the West at a particular time and place, and that context might weigh against the larger importance of the declaration. As Kenneth Burke might have put it, the scene outweighs the act. This isn’t just a theoretical problem: As one comment notes, the fanfare
plays on a widely-held (and sometimes willful) misperception that Muslim leaders have not spoken out against Islamist violence. Large numbers of Muslim leaders have denounced violence, suicide bombs, 9/11, 7/7 and many other bloody attacks by Islamist radicals (check out a long partial list here). But since there is no real hierarchy in Islam, non-Muslims don’t know who has the authority to speak out and Muslims often challenge the authority of those who do. Many of these statements end up unreported, like the trees nobody hears falling in the forest. But if a news story is written with the “first ever” tag in the lead, it gives the false impression that no other Muslim leader has ever done anything similiar before.
This is important. The list of Muslim leaders who have condemned terrorism is pretty damn long.
Another important question: Do insurgents have the right to use violence to resist occupation? Does the outcome of history change this question? Some interpretations of the fatwa say Qadri argues that terrorism is not permissable even when facing "foreign aggression." I personally and politically agree with this, but many thoughtful people will find this problematic. They will argue, and not without some justification, that such a position risks giving a free pass to the very non-pacifistic imperialist interests that tend to drag us into invasions and occupations that serve the interests of, to put it euphemistically, much more pragmatic interests than the faithful, articulate opinions of Qadri and the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. An ethical problematization of insurgent violence is important in a conversation about the legitimacy of occupation itself. Both sides of such a debate have important things to say.
Finally, it's important to remember that nothing will satisfy the incompatablists, the essentialist scriptorians, and the Huntingtonists. That's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want war between the West and Islam because that war is their ideological lube, and often their material bread-and-butter.