Why Hizb ut-Tahrir is wrong

Hizb Ut-Tahrir is one of the world’s leading radical Islamist organizations. They propose “restoring” the Caliphate as the necessary precondition for “rejuvenating” the global Islamic community. This essay, originally published in three parts on neweurasia, constitutes my attempt to deconstruct their ideology. It’s point of departure is an essay by the University of Ghent’s Bruno De Cordier, also published on neweurasia, in which he defends the cogency of their ideology. (The photograph to the right is of the last Calph, Abdülmecid II.)

Last week, neweurasia ran a post by the University of Ghent’s Bruno de Cordier concerning his views on why the radical Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir has been able to survive as long as it has despite sharp repression of its membership throughout Central Asia and the deep suspicion, even strong dislike for it evinced by the United States and many of its allies.

“I believe that the answer may lie in the extent to which the organization’s platform, if understood in a certain light, may be tapping into very real discontent and aspirations in the general population, and is responding to on-the-ground realities better than secular human rights organizations,” he argues. Fair enough, but let’s evaluate some of his evidence and lines of thought, and while we’re at it, Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s platform itself.

I shall move through Prof. De Cordier’s post and respond to it according to the order he uses therein. This first part shall deal with substance of the arguments for Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s vision of an Islamic super-state, particularly the Caliphate (paragraphs 2-6); the second part with Westernization, Modernization, and transnational integration (7-11), and the question of whether the global Islamic community needs a “defender” (12); and the final part with the bigger yet more fundamental questions of the efficacy and desirability of an Islamic super-state, faith, and “alter-globalism” (13). I’ve got a lot on my plate, but that’s because there’s a lot to dismantle, and much of it very crucial, because as I’ll ultimately argue in the third part, what’s rally at stake are differing visions of what it means to be human.

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The Transcendence has finally come

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Today is the second anniversary of my decision to join the Baha’i Faith, and to mark the occasion, Ben Harvey and I figure it’s about time that we release our long-awaited first book, The Transcendence, which you can download at directly from this post by clicking here.

The file is a simple PDF, a mere 14.8 MB in size and 60 pages long. It launches on full-screen scale when you first open it, but you can escape that if you want.

I should note that this is not the book I’ve been working on for neweurasia that was funded by the HIVOS Foundation. That’s CyberChaikhana, currently completing production at GRACO-Verlag in Berlin and set to be released later this month or in March.

Friends will recall that The Transcendence was my pet project from early 2006 through 2008. It was ambitious: combining poetry, the Rock concept album, and the manga graphic novel to tell a story of a young poet who goes on a quest for revenge against God, along the way exploring several theological, literary, and personal themes. My friend Bruce Schimmel, founder of the Philadelphia City Paper, once called the project “an old-fashioned epic poem”.

In 2007, I enlisted Ben’s talents to illustrate the manuscript, transforming the project into a co-authorship. At the time he was an intern with Studio IL (he’s since moved up the ranks), an up-and-coming artist collective in Philadelphia. Together we share the license, which by the way is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. My poems may vary in quality, but Ben’s artwork is consistently stunning, even all these years later. I also contributed some artwork. You can view the entire gallery above.

If you’re curious to know more about the back story of The Transcendence, click “Read More” to continue. Otherwise, Ben and I hope you, our readers, find our creation an exciting and powerful experience — and that you’ll do us the big favor of passing either the PDF or this URL around!

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The Eurabian intellectual tradition?

Here’s a radical hypothesis: if we apply core-periphery theory to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, could Scholasticism be reconstrued not, as its generally held to be today, as a distinctly European or Latin Western phenomenon, but as nothing more than Europeans practicing Arabic/Islamic philosophy and science in their own distinctive way?

In other words, is it more historically accurate to characterize the High Middle Ages in Europe as an era defined by the very same process happening now to the non-Western world, namely, the absorption, assimilation, and adaptation by a marginal culture of the intellectual tradition  of a dominant one?

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Burning the Qur’an is un-Christian and wantonly destructive

Somehow, until now, I missed the news of Terry Jones‘ intention to burn the Qur’an on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks. I’m not certain whether this is a misguided pursuit of publicity or a misguided act of fanaticism, but I am certain that it is the antithesis of Christianity and thoroughly, wantonly destructive.

Spiritually-speaking, burning the Qur’an is gross sacrilege to Holy Writ and a gross offense against humanity. Practically-speaking, it can only serve to incite the rage of other fanatics and invite more violence upon the world.

I am speechless in the face of such hatred. Hence, I shall let Abdu’l-Baha speak for me. In his Tablet to the Hague, he writes, “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religion must be the cause of fellowship and love. If it becomes the cause of estrangement then it is not needed, for religion is like a remedy; if it aggravates the disease then it becomes unnecessary.”

As a member of the Baha’i Faith, I add my voice to the global condemnation of this decision and implore Jones not to make a mockery of his faith and of faith in general! And if Jones will not hear us, then I pray law enforcement authorities in the United States will stop him before he can do untold damage.

Injustice against Baha’is is injustice against all Iranians

Disheartening news everyone. Word from Iran Press Watch and the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights is that the seven Baha’i leaders who have suffered unjust detention and trial in Iran have finally been sentenced — for 20 years each, a a total of 140 years! Their crimes? “Espionage,” translation: because our faith’s World Center happens to be in Israel; “acting against national security,” translation: informally organizing the Iranian Baha’i community after the formal administrative order had been forcibly disbanded by Iranian authorities; and being “enemies of God,” translation: being Baha’is.

Meanwhile, there’s the continuing persecution of rank and file Baha’is, including a new round of house demolitions. But I need to emphasize that even though Baha’is are suffering incredibly, they are not the only oppressed religious minority in Iran. Although many other religions have nominal official sanction, whereas Baha’is are totally illegal, this in no way should be taken to mean that their existences are any happier. Jews are also frequently threatened with the crime of espionage, to say nothing of the multitude quiet ways in which Christians and Zoroastrians are prejudiced against by the government.

In other words, the morally bankrupt sentencing of the seven Baha’i religious leaders is not only a blow against my religion, but a blow against religious freedom in Iran and a disheartening perversion of Islam’s principle of non-compulsion in religion. It’s high time Iran took to heart these words by Baha’u’llah:

O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. — Hidden Words, Arabic #2

Progressive revelation in Averroes

I came upon this very interesting passage in Averroes’ famous rebuttal of al-Ghazzali, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, which resembles very strikingly the Baha’i belief in progressive revelation [see also the image to the right].   For me, it’s all the more interesting considering his theory of monopsychism, i.e., that rational objectivity is actually not only epistemological, but somehow vaguely ontological, as well (consider this remark by his teacher, Avempace).

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The Prophet’s dialectic

I co-authored the following paper, “The Dialectic of Islam: an historiographical interpretation of Islamist political violence”, with my friend Mamed Askerov.  It was published in the United Nations University for Peace’s student journal, The Peace and Conflict Monitor. Typical of both our styles of thinking, the paper is a sweeping overview of Islamic history that seeks to give a new direction to the debate on Muslim spirituality and radicalism.  We ultimately argue that the very same forces which compel many Muslims to violence are also the same means by which the world can bring about inter-religious dialogue and peace.

Mamed’s contribution is the notion of the Muslim dialectic itself and the original skeleton draft, as well as the embryonic thoughts that eventually comprised the first post-script.  I added the section on the Golden Age and the second post-script, as well as fleshed out the entire paper.   It was an especially fun paper to write and we’re hoping to expand it further into something peer-reviewable.

Abstract

This paper aims to analyze the debate over political violence in contemporary Islam from the viewpoint of its historical roots. At the heart of the matter are two currents that have existed in the Muslim community since its very beginning: a dialectic between the intellectual and the martial, and competing interpretations of an idyllic patristic era, with several practical and ideological consequences. This paper will demonstrate how today’s debate can be framed within this vision of Islamic history.

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Ocean of faith

A year ago today I joined the Baha’i Faith.  To commemorate the occasion, what follows is an account of the night when I made the big decision; some of you may recognize the story from an e-mail I wrote the next day.  I’ll write about the journey leading up to this fateful night, and where I am a year later, in a (near-)future post.

On 23 February, 2009, I was visiting Princeton University to discuss my Master’s thesis from the summer and, more generally, my future, with Professor Michael Cook.  I had a few hours before our meeting, during which I spent time in the famed Firestone Library.

By then I had already been investigating the Baha’i Faith for several months, having completed The Hidden Words, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and now nearing the end of the Kitab-i-Iqan.  So, my curiosity was piqued when I encountered a book entitled, Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on Baha’i Theology. One entry in particular moved me, “The Possibilities of Existential Theism on a Baha’i Theology” by Jack McLean.  Something about McLean’s essay snared me.

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Bahai Rights Day

bahairights

Re-posted from the Muslim Network for Bahai Rights:

For many months, we have been thinking about creating a dayin which everyone can become aware of Baha’i human rights abuses. We approached our friends at Iran Press Watch with the idea and we agreed upon July 11 in order to mark Baha’i Rights Day, a day dedicated to support the human rights for members of the Baha’i faith.

We are working on developing content and more ideas to make this day as influential and effective as possible, however this is impossible without your help and participation.

[…]  We rely on people like you to help make this day possible, despite the short notice. Please start spreading the word as much as possible through all your networks and mailing lists and let’s achieve this worldwide Baha’i Rights Day where we all unite regardless of our race or religion to support Baha’is everywhere!

Thank you.

Go to the official Bahai Rights Day website or continue reading to see how you can help.

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The Super-Tribe and the City of Gods: Post-Human Christianity and Primitive Islam — the Real Clash of Civilizations?

Is the real clash of civilizations not really about civilization at all, but the past and future?
Is the real clash of civilizations not really about civilization at all, but the past and future?

Since the World Wars, our species has been repeatedly confronted with the horrible visage of our increasingly godlike power. It grins at all of us from behind the emaciated ribs of starved Jews, Cambodians, and Darfurians, with the glare of Hiroshima shimmering across its jagged teeth. Now, what began as a severe crisis of faith in the Europe of the 1920s and 40s has quickly rippled out to encompass every culture and civilization, whether they realize it or not. Confucian and Buddhist peoples have laicized with shocking zeal, not to mention Jews, while Christianity and Hinduism have become hypercapitalist and contradict themselves. Mindbogglingly, all this has happened in the name of progress, virtue, and, most ironically of all, “family values” and cultural self-defense.

Let down as it has been by modernization and globalization, and severely betrayed by its own leadership, few in or out of the Muslim community would dispute that Islam has been particularly hit hard by the ever-expanding spiritual abyss. After all, is not most of the Third World Muslim? And in the few countries where Muslims have been able to prosper somewhat, it has either been in a position of dependency vis-à-vis the West (and now China), such as the bloated rentier states of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia; via dehumanizing authoritarianism, as in Egypt, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia; or in the form of a stuttering ascendancy fraught with ethnic strife, as in the fractious republics of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Indonesia. If it is true that Islam has “bloody borders,” this condition is at least as much a result of the seepage of vitality from Islamic principles, like blood from a slit vein, as it is due to Muslims’ persistent failure to co-exist with kafirs.

I’m no fan of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahab but he did have a crucial insight, namely, that the most important concept of Islam is tawhid توحيد (unity). Could it not be that in a sense Islam may point toward our species’ animal past while Christianity may point toward our post-human future? Existence for our primitive tribal ancestors was experienced as a unitary whole in which sacred and secular were one, the same, and visceral. But for sedentarized homo sapiens, existence is an experience filtered through instrumental consciousness, cookie-cut into categories and concepts. Hence the reason why Islam, the marauding super-tribe, and Christianity, the staid city of man-deities, have been historic rivals.

Could it be that as our species barrels toward a future so inundated with technology that not only the body but the very soul could become genetically alterable, the image of the resurrected Christ—more human than human—begins to seems very prophetic, and Islam, for all its brutality, may actually be calling us to remember where we came from and that we should be careful about lunging so quickly toward the Kingdom of Heaven?