(image by Alastair Crooke)
On July 27th, in the midst of the twin crises in Gaza and Ukraine, Representative Mike Rogers on Face the Nation 'revealed' to Americans that Iran is supporting both Sunni Hamas and Shia Hezbollah, leaving Bob Shaffer as confused as his listeners. What the American media is missing - never mind the public - is an understanding of the concept of 'Resistance' that applies equally to Islam's two main sectarian groups. Alastair Crooke's book R esistance: the Essence of the Islamist Revolution fills that crucial gap.[tag]
Crooke is a former British diplomate who advised Xavier Solana on the Middle East when Solana was the UN's High Representative to that region. In 2006 he founded Conflicts Forum in Beirut, whose purpose is "to shift Western opinion towards a deeper, less rigid, linear and compartmentalized understanding of Islam and the Middle East.": http://www.conflictsforum.org/about/#sthash.LTWaAKD6.dpuf
In 2009 Crooke published Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. I cannot say that it is an easy read, or that it could not have benefitted from some serious editing, but it goes a long way toward fulfilling Conflict Forum's remit. In this review I will concentrate on the differences between Western philosophy and political theory and those of Islam, which form the book's core.
Crooke quotes at length from a series of discussions with a "tall, bearded, white-turbaned 'Hojat-al-Islam' - a position nudging on that of Ayatollah", whose knowledge of Western thinking is certain to come as a surprise to many readers. The Shi'te cleric sees Protestantism's essential difference from Catholicism is that it replaced a community-based faith with an individualistic one. Protestantism "was no longer concerned with 'managing social divisions', but rather 'accepted constant transformation as the normal and desirable human state". The Anglo-Saxon ethos, with its pursuit of business, efficiency and an ever-rising standard of living was unconnected to any deeper vision of life or meaning." In classical terms,"it lacked Plato's telos, or rationality and purpose," which is contrasted with the democracy of the Athenian port, rough and rowdy.
"For the Iranian Revolution, democracy is the higher project of justice, equity and compassion". Instead of being used to perceive truth and values, in the West rationality is a tool for fulfilling man's psychological and material needs"..Western thinking has been channeled into the construction of a desire-seeking and materialistic society."
Who would have thought that a religion supposedly stuck in the Middle Ages could be echoing the growing number of contemporaries who are disaffected with Western society?
The Hojat continues: "By eliminating God from society, [the West] has eliminated the values and structures which enable men to advance and to aspire to perfection.'"
Personally, I do not think humans should aspire to perfection, even if this were not an impossible goal. However I agree with the rest of the message, even though I've been an atheist since the age of ten: "The separation of faith from reason was contrived deliberately to eliminate from our minds the potential to know the values and realities of the world. This severance facilitated man's materialistic mind to dedicate itself to the 'management of society' - without the intrusion of God - and without ethical values."
In the early nineties, after writing a book in French that foresaw the reunification of Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I began to reflect on attitudes toward death and their relationship to politics. It led me to spell out my conviction that while modern man does not need religion, he does need the serenity that can be gained from the insights of ancient intuitions that are confirmed by the new physics. The resulting work, 'A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness.' underwent many iterations over more than a decade, but its basic political message remains: Remedying society's ills does not require the presence of a supreme being - or the external authority of government, but rather each individual's trust in his or her own 'internal authority'. The chapter 'Islam and Otherness' states:
"The notion of sacredness implies that responsibility does not derive from any Truth-as-an-absolute, but flows from man's only real freedom. It is inalienable, not because it is given by God, but because it is internal. This realization could enable both Islam and the West to walk the path of life with a modicum of serenity.
For this to happen, both the West and Islam need to move away from their dualistic ethos, with its linear implications, toward recognition of the Whole of which we are a part."
Imagine my satisfaction when I read: "According to Islam, the individual is part of the reality of existence, and there is no separation between him and existence."
With respect to the ecological crisis I had written: "As the Muslim world confronts the ecological crisis, the overarching imperative of obeying God could be translated as preserving the life that God created, in Qutb's words, establishing a non-distorted relation between man and the physical world."
Resistance provides a firm foundation for what had essentially been a leap of faith on my part. The Hojat affirms that:
"The system of existence of which we are a part is a moral one. Moral and ethical values are part of this existence and of this world. Values such as justice, love and freedom are things within existence, and no one has the right to transgress or breach them. When Islam talks about God and the values of existence - an existence that is dependent on God - God is not an abstract concept."
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