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Article 9

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Islam and the Clash of Civilizations 
--A Review of a New Mirage
by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane


Occasionally scholars come up with paradigmatic books that purport to either confirm or abolish old paradigms or introduce new ones. Roger Scruton, the English philosopher and essayist, has produced a new twist on Bernard Lewis's pioneering view that Muslims are motivated above all things by rage and on Samuel Huntington's corollary that the world therefore is now faced with a clash of civilizations. 

Scruton's new book, The West and the Rest, in its Italian edition just published at the end of January, 2005, is featured in the geopolitics curriculum of the Graduate School of Economics and International Relations at the Catholic University in Rome. This university is directed by Vitorio E. Parsi, who is an editor of the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference This new twist on the Huntington paradigm was reviewed on February 3rd by Sandro Magister in the Jesuit journal,  which advises that "it makes required reading for Vatican diplomats."

The gloomy views of Scruton and his reviewer, Magister, about the future of the world are based on a fundamental misreading of Islam as a religion, which has led them to conclude that Muhammad Atta masterminded the bombing of the World Trade Center because of a phenomenon of "lost identities" common to both the West and the Rest. 

Scruton is accurate in emphasizing the traditionalist orientation of Islam vertically, i.e., the timeless relationship between each person and God, but he is wrong in claiming that this excludes the horizontal orientation among people in community that produces attachment to place and commitment to justice. 

Scruton is quoted as saying that the fact of the hijra predisposes Muslims to be rootless without loyalties to territorial jurisdiction or to national government and therefore to become terrorists. In fact, the third of the seven universal principles of Islamic law, the maqasid al shari'ah, namely, haqq al nasl, provides that all levels of human community, from the nuclear family to the nation to humankind, are sacred and must be respected because they are expressions of the dignity of the individual person, which derives directly from each person's creation by God with responsibilities and rights. This third principle derives from the second one, namely, haqq al haya or haqq al nafs, which is the duty to respect human life and the spiritual essence of each person. This second derives in turn from the first one, which is to know and love God.

Western international law does not acknowledge any rights of any communities, and asserts that only individuals and states have legal rights. This is why part of the reason why the state of Israel has rights but the Palestinian people as a nation have none.

The exact opposite of Scruton's basic contention is true. Islam does not cause rootless ness but provides roots for people who otherwise might have none. The truly rootless in the world are those in secular states, which attempt to impose loyalties from the top down, in contrast to the Islamic world view which recognizes that true loyalties proceed from the bottom up, attenuating progressively as one moves higher up the spectrum from family, to clan or village, to tribe, to nation, and on to civilization and finally to humankind as a species distinct from septennial beings in other galaxies, all subservient to what the Qur'an calls "The Lord of the Worlds."

Scruton is a classic tribalist in his contention that people are losing their identities the more they associate their loyalties with supra-national bodies, such as the European Union and the World Criminal Court. He obviously thinks that there is only one level of loyalty, namely, the nation state, so that any community loyalties either below or above this artificial creation of the secular mind are illegitimate and derogate from one's real identity as a citizen of the state. He praises America as a state that is still proud of its own identity and seems to offer it as a model for the world.

Scruton decries the "crumbling of Western loyalties," which he says is part of Western decadence and part of a process of civilization self-destruction. On the other hand, he calls for the resurgence of Christianity as a substitute for the disappearing national loyalties. He warns that the rootless Muslims are losing their traditional identity commitments and are resorting to their religion as an alternative source of loyalty. He seems thereby to be blaming Muslims for a growing clash of civilizations, but he calls for Westerners to revive their civilization loyalty through Christianity as a defense against the Muslim threat. This seems to be a case of double-standards.

He asserts that globalization will aggravate this process, presumably because it favors the West at the expense of the Rest. He laments that, "Whatever hope there might have been that people [in Muslim countries] would come to define their loyalties in terms of territory rather than faith has been obliterated by the impact of Western technology, which seems to believe in neither." 

The basic premises of Scruton, shared by the reviewer, Sandro Magister, contain a fundamental error. They misread Islam as a religion, confuse the historical aberrations from it as inherent in the religion, and substitute a bogus religion as the inspiration for Muslim terrorists. 

This calls to mind the profound statement by Stephen Hawking: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." Hawking is the genius who came up with the idea of string theory to address his view that classical physics is based on illusions. He didn't insist that he is right or that establishment physics is based on insuperable dementia but only that one should be open-minded to other levels of reality. 

Perhaps the failures of those who regard material superiority as the arbiter of history will trigger a badly needed paradigm shift away from imposed stability as the highest human goal and ultimate power in the universe and toward ideative power as the link from spiritual wisdom to justice. This would require neo-conservatives, however, to stand on their heads, as well as those like Roger Scruton and Sando Magister who appear to support their ideology. This may be asking too much, because illusion, like the arrogance and/or desperation that often spawn it, are not self-correctable. Ideological illusions of those who are desperate to save mankind from global chaos are the most intractable of all. Try telling the traveler desperate from thirst in the desert that the shimmering lake of water just ahead is only a mirage. 

He is right in saying that modern secularism denies the sacredness of all relationships, vertical or horizontal.

 

 

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