The U.S. government, along with mainstream commentators Left and Right, debate how to meet what they deem to be the growing threat to America posed by the Sunni fighters who last month declared themselves to be “the Islamic State” and their leader, one Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as the caliph—secular and religious leader—of all Muslims. This reaction mirrors the group’s ignorant evaluation of its own importance. In fact, jumping the gun on the caliphate is likely to diminish its standing within the Muslim world, never mind vis a vis the West.
Last week, our ruling Progressive class cheered New York Democratic mayor de Blasio’s disbanding of an NYPD intelligence unit that had been keeping watch over the city’s Muslim community. Republican President George W. Bush’s mantra that “Islam is a religion of peace,” in response to 9/11 and Muslim terrorism in general, had drawn similar plaudits from the same Progressives. But this protectiveness does not mean that Progressivism is Islamophilic. Nor are the words and actions from on high that minimize Islam’s relationship with the terror that has struck America in the last generation attributable to ignorance.
As the Muslim world’s Sunni and Shia confessions tear at each other’s vitals along the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia through Syria and into Lebanon, some Americans’ regrets that we are not involved are based on the premise that this war is between moderates and extremists, and that our interest is to ensure the moderates’ victory. In fact however “moderation,” “extremism” and “al Qaeda” are categories that fit American prejudices better than they do than local realities. The war is about complex social, racial and religious hatreds accumulated over centuries.
A New Year’s wake-up call from the International Business Times: “In their annual End of Year poll, researchers for WIN and Gallup International surveyed more than 66,000 people across 65 nations and found that 24 percent of all respondents answered that the United States “is the greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Pakistan and China fell significantly behind the United States on the poll, with 8 and 6 percent, respectively. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea all tied for fourth place with 4 percent.”
This confirms what international travelers sense: whereas not so long ago foreigners saw Americans as the embodiment of peace and freedom, a plurality now see us as a source of trouble for themselves. For more people than not, being on America’s side now means being on the side of trouble. Why? And what is that to us?
So what are the prospects in the Islamic world for constitutional political orders featuring the rule of law, limited government, and political representation? To answer this question Sohail Hashmi, Professor of International Relations at Mount Holyoke College, has written an incisive essay exploring the political, legal, and religious history of Islam in order to shed light on the compatibility between Islam and political constitutionalism. Hashmi’s essay is a powerful argument for ethical objectivism and the possibilities for ressourcement within the Islamic tradition that could lead to a flowering of liberty with law.
Robert Reilly, author of the powerful book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, responds with “The Formidable Philosophical Obstacles to Islamic Constitutionalism” where he notes
Hashmi’s idea that the sharia can play the role of natural law in developing Muslim constitutionalism is problematic, to say the least, even though Hashmi is certainly correct in saying that it, at one time, served as the only brake against the otherwise absolute power of the caliph or emir. The problem is: If the sharia is divine, it cannot be changed. Since sharia codifies the inequality of men and women, and of Muslims and all others, how could it serve as the basis for a rule of law founded on the equality of all people?
Becket Fund lawyer Asma Uddin adds tremendously to the conversation with her distillation of human rights and the sources for their protection within the Islamic religious and legal tradition. Uddin’s voice in this exchange calls forth the complexity of the re-creation of right that could emerge from the sources of Islam.
The tireless defender of free speech, freedom of association, and religious liberty, David French, JAG officer and veteran of Iraqi Freedom, asks us to consider the substantive requirements of human flourishing and the abuses of authority within many Muslim-majority states. French argues that Hashmi’s contribution is needed and should be seriously considered by men and women of good-will in this debate. Directly stated: the current authoritarianism that is dominant in so many Muslim states cannot continue for much longer. From the standpoint of human dignity, new articulations of political freedom are needed and must be advanced in practical ways within the Islamic world.