A Rage Against History
January 28, 2015 9 Comments
This article is by Clive Kessler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of New South Wales. It’s very good, as it goes into some of the motivations of why we are seeing Islamic radical violence. I would recommend you get your coffee refilled as it’s also fairly long. Enjoy.
The Ottawa parliament, Café Lindt, Charlie Hebdo and so many others too: these are all separate incidents. But they are all part of the same global phenomenon.
They are all expressions of a rage against history that lurks within modern Islam and animates Muslim militants worldwide today.
It is a rage that has its source within the wounded soul of contemporary Islamic civilisation, of the modern Muslim world generally.
The Islamic religion and its social world are an intensely political tradition.
It has always been so, going back to Muhammad’s dual role as both prophet and political leader in the original Islamic community in Madinah from 622 to 632 CE.
More, within a century of Muhammad’s death his small desert oasis polity had become a vast transcontinental empire.
And, in a succession of different forms or political frameworks (“caliphates”), the community of Muhammad’s faithful continued to live in the world on its own founding assumptions.
For a thousand years it was largely a continuing success story. Islamic civilisation, as it evolved upon its foundational political template provided by Muhammad, was able to live in the world on its own terms.
The central Islamic societies in which Islamic civilisation evolved were able to write and then “live out” the script of their own history.
Not only did Islam, and the Muslims of Islamic civilisation, live in the world on their own preferred terms, according to their own faith-based socio-political and legal blueprint. They were able to set those terms to others who came within their orbit, under their influence and control. It was to be accepted by all, lovingly or in obligatory submission, induced or imposed.
How has the world of Islam always explained and justified this to itself?
Religiously, Islam sees itself as the successor to and the completion of the Abrahamic faith tradition of ethical and prophetic monotheism. To Judaism and then Christianity.
It sees itself as completing those two earlier faith communities: those of the “peoples of the book” or genuine scripture. Completing, but also repairing and then superseding, those earlier revelations, making good their limitations and deficiencies.
What deficiencies? First, those earlier revelations, so mainstream Islam holds, were incomplete, only partial. And second, in their human transmission, what God had revealed through them had been distorted and corrupted by its learned custodians, the rabbis and priests.
Islam sees itself as complete because it sees itself (or so its scholarly traditions assert), unlike Judaism and Christianity, as equipped with a fully developed social and political “blueprint”, a divinely prescribed plan for the organisation and political management of society.
For this reason, its mainstream scholars have long held, Islam incorporates and carries forward all that is right and good in Judaism and Christianity. And what is not good or authentic Islam rejects —— and what it has rejected is simply wrong.
So Islam supersedes, and in a sense also negates, its two predecessor Abrahamic faiths. They, or the best in them, live on in Islam. Once Islam succeeded and incorporated them in this fashion, Judaism and Christianity became, in effect, obsolete and irrelevant. Religiously superseded, they lived on in world history merely as relics from an earlier, pre-Islamic era of human spiritual and social evolution. This was not just religious doctrine; these ideas informed and even defined the historical civilisation founded upon that religious faith.
This attitude could continue, this faith-based civilisational outlook or worldview, could continue undisturbed so long as it was not evidently counterfactual. So long, that is, as Islam continued to live in the world on its own terms. So long as the worldly career of Islamic civilisation remained a success story.
It was, for a thousand years. Islam survived the challenge of its great trans-Mediterranean civilisational rival, the world of Christendom, withstanding even the era of the Crusades. But eventually it succumbed to what we might call “post-Christian Christendom”, or Europe and the Western world.
The long crisis that the Islamic world, in the form of the Ottoman Empire or Caliphate, entered was dramatically signalled and symbolised at the end of the eighteenth century by Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt.
Over the following century, the world of Islam was overwhelmed.
Of course the classical Christian response to the claim that Islam is the completion of the Abrahamic religions is that it is simply another heretical schismatic cult. And it follows that current western governments have major problems dealing with it, simply because they believe in nothing (except self-enrichment, perhaps). And we all know that nothing cannot stand against anything, no matter how ill-conceived.
Hat tip to CPS