The Call of Democracy

From Jawdat Said

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Our legal and religious cultures were not built on strong foundations. Historically speaking, we must credit the Christian ethos for facilitating the appearance of the modern democratic nation-state. The notion of law as an alternative in resolving conflict has appeared, at least in limited form, within national democracies. It represents at least a small departure from ancient polarities of power, although it has not yet established itself beyond such zones. For instance, a comparison between the civilization of modern America and the ancient Egyptian civilization will show us how authority in the United States, the country of law and freedom, still depends on power, how trust still resides in muscle. The world in which we live is still incapable of putting its trust in ideas.

The United Nations is a similar manifestation of our failure. Despite the appearance of democracy within the nation state, international relations are still based on force. The constitution of the United Nations manifests this limitation in comparison to the constitution of the United States1. The ultimate international political institution, yet the U.N. is based on negating both law and religion; it is based on power. The problems with the United Nations and the division between East and West are manifestations of disease that indicates the need for a new paradigm. The Charter of the United Nations suffers from a failure to adapt to a new world, for its old paradigms about force and violence no longer explain the events of this century. We therefore become victims of our misinterpretation of the factors that led to the rise of Japan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the variables behind the European Unity, and the rapid development of many parts of South Asia. All these states were subject to a world dependent upon the realm of the intellect, not muscle. What brings about the rise or fall of a nation is no longer based on its military prowess. As such, the United States' belief that its force gives it control over the world is a form of self deception. Yet, it wants to maintain such a deception, about which it is not even embarrassed, as the children of Israel were not embarrassed to worship a lifeless golden calf.2

(Moses) said: `Get you gone!' But your (punishment) in this life will be that you will say, `Touch me not'; and moreover you have a promise that will not fail: `now look at your god, of whom you have become a devoted worshiper: We will certainly melt it in a blazing fire and scatter it broadcast in the sea!' (St~rah 20 Ta Ha: 95-97)

The arms race is another example of the failure to expand law on an international level. All states are p]aying a game that has been rendered obsolete. They do so by either suppressing information or exploiting ignorance when the bigger states sell outdated arms or small artillery to weaker satellite states. Although force has lost its objective effectiveness, it still performs as if it were magic.

The United Nations is still run like any backward country, ruled by despots, where a constitution has no value, where parliament is impotent. In fact, the United Nations is worse since its constitution does not even state theoretical equality. Rather, it institutionalizes inequality through the right of veto. The United Nation is illegitimate despite all the pervasive discourse of international legitimacy surrounding it. Its illegitimacy stems from its lack of equality, perhaps due to nations' continuing mistrust of what equality could bring. It seems global conditions have not yet reached a point where people feel the urge to enter into a new phase, and it is human nature not to enter a new phase until one has to. Intellectuals have the responsibility to raise people's consciousness, to turn the United Nations into a democratic institution, one that is based on the word of equity.3

The problems of our age are the result of our failure to adapt to a world where change is taking on an exhilarating speed in the techniques and instruments of knowledge. Yet, the quick external changes have surpassed our old paradigms, leaving them invalid and outdated. An example is the veto right, a scandal that hovers over the heads of our silent intellectuals, the fiuit of the intellectuals' harvest whether they like to admit it or not. So corrupt is our soil that a "disabled" institution has bloomed, the fruit of the twentieth century. Jesus told us to know good from evil from the fruits of such institutions: "Can grapes be picked &om briars, or figs from thistles? A good tree always yields sound fruit, and a poor [corrupt] tree bad [evil] fruit." (Matt 7:16-17) From the fiuit we know the weakness of the' international tree: we have created an institution that complicates problems instead of resolving them. The veto right is the religion and law of Pharaoh4. Pharaoh said: "If you do put forward any god other than me, I will certainly make you of the imprisoned." (Surah 26 A1 Shu'ara: 29) This is a negation of the word of equity (kalimat assawa'). The veto right is the negation of the word of justice and law, the negation of human rights and democracy. It is the ultimate corruption in our fiustrated.disabled world.

The breeze of democracy, as evidenced in the rise of the European Union5, is reminiscent of the call of prophets. Democracy has reached a point where it now forbids the creation of political authority via violence. What the Prophets taught about human equality has entered our world as a science and as a consciousness. A slow and painful process, nevertheless, the birth of democracy, no matter how small and limited, represents the birth of a new era in the world. That birth is the actualization and embodiment of the call of prophets, the expansion of the notion of law. However, the key difference between modern democracy and the call of the Prophets is that the Prophets forbade the path that modern democracy has taken, legitimating the founding of a society with the blood of coercion. The prophetic way viewed even violence used against despots and oppressors as illegitimate, and denounced the glorification of rebellion. The Prophets insisted on spreading the notion of monotheism by means of moral persuasion without any use of force. That is, they insisted on creating legitimacy with legitimacy, while we still subscribe to creating legitimacy with illegitimacy. This contradiction pollutes our political thinking and immerses us in confusion and self contradiction of our speech and actions.

The call of Jesus was not to change rulers; it was to change society. This fact confuses some people who want to believe that Jesus removed monotheism from politics when he said to leave for Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Reforming politics according to monotheism is a different path than using violence to disobey tyrants. The path of prophets toward inducing social and political change is financially economical and it saves human lives. Those who separate politics from religion have separated religion, justice and equality in their worship of coercion. But even those who mix politics and religion are in no mood to heed the prophetic method of social change: they too, emulate the rest of the world and accept the establishment of political authority with violence. The world is in an awkward position in relation to those crises

which take violence as their role models, such as the Algerian crisis that has taken the French Revolution as its role model. The world condones the use of violence to return a lost right of self determination, a precept that is at the heart of international law. Thus, ironically, some can claim that those who do not support the violent Algerian resurgence are in essence betraying their own ideals and principles when they are not supporting the fight for democracy.

But this argument does not understand a basic reality: the international crisis stems from reliance on violence and power, from reliance on the realm of the muscle rather than the realm of the intellect.

The crux of the assertion that "there is no coercion in religion" is that we have to separate the realm of the intellect from the realm of the muscle. We have to create an epistemological discontinuity between intellect and coercion and its instruments. This is accomplished through freedom of belief, through moral and intellectual maturity (rushd), which is distinct from wickedness (ghay), as truth is distinct from evil, and benefit from harm. Whoever rejects wickedness (ghay, which is coercive), refuses to allow coercion in religion, and believes in God (who forbids coercion in religion), has attained the most secure of all handholds.

If alchemy was about transforming rocks to gold, prophets were able to turn a human being into a rock. That is why Jesus said, "And whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." (Matt 21:44)6 And that is why he also said to one of his disciples when he was being taken away: "Put up your sword (again into its place). All who take the sword die by the sword." (Matt 26:52)

When we look at history, we find the possibility of resisting tyranny without violence. For instance, the early followers of Jesus resisted the state while they were committed to the path of nonviolence. They denied themselves the possibility of changing people's ideas through the use of force by killing them if they would not change. They kept their mission, not only in Palestine, but reached the heart of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire to which Palestine belonged. The prophetic idea continued on the path of rejecting violence and the acceptance of persecution until society and people were transformed. In fact, the Emperor himself converted in the end. This struggle was not bloody, unlike the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and many other revolutions in the world. Rome converted to Christianity after four hundred years of peaceful, ethical, methodical difficult struggle, in which victims were only on one side. What a creative transformation, even if we still live in a world that does not comprehend this event consciously through social laws or as a political technique.

What happened within Christianity in four hundred years, happened within Islam in less than fourteen years when the Prophet called people to walk the same path as the followers of Jesus. Both religions accomplished what they did by departing from worshipping tyranny (taghut) and beginning to worship God. They changed a civilization not by destroying a tyrant, but by refusing to obey his evil demands and calling him to the good (khayr). Similarly, Muslims did not enter Madinah as the result of a bloody war or revo]ution. Rather, , they did so through a persuasive transforming social movement without the use of violence or the killing of any person from the former society, which disintegrated on its own. In fact, only two Muslims were killed in Makkah during the persecution and torlure of new converts, for the new Muslims were not allowed to use self defense against them.

Those who believe in the legitimacy of founding a society with violence do not realize that they sanctify violence and reinstate the law of the jungle. Such a society becomes lawless since the peop]e's trust is placed in power and aggression over intellect. When we allow ourselves to found a society by such means, we automatically allow others to use such means against us when the time comes, thus entering a deformed vicious circle that deifies tyranny and worshiping power.

By refraining from the use of violent means to change society, and by prohibiting violence absolutely to one's self, one automatically enters the world of law, the law of humanity that distinguishes good from evil. And once violence becomes taboo for the self, the self creates the grounds for demanding an end to violence. Otherwise one deceives one's self and one's opponent7. Hence, all prophets forbade the use of violence in establishing a society of law, because one cannot establish such a society while one believes in the effectiveness of violence.

Law and violence are contradictory in nature. The prophets wanted to create a society in which individuals do not have to resort to personal self defense. They wanted a society in which the protection of its individuals came from their abiding respect to the prescribed and contracted law. Law, in this case, represents the third party mediating between the conflicting parties. Without such a mediator, the oppressor fears to lose his status and the oppressed wish to replace the oppressor; so they become caught in a repetitive rotation. The prophets realized, even if we still do not in our day, that oppressor and oppressed are the two sides of the same coin, locked in the same relationship of power, authority and violence. The fear of losing privilege, or the yearning for it, eats away at both sides: one side is locked in a constant anguish of losing while the other is immersed in an agonizing longing to acquire. Only the appearance of the third party can remove this rotation of hierarchy. Prophets, therefore, declared their own unilateral withdrawal from conflict even if it meant that only one side was departing from violence, in order to lay the path for creating a civil society to abrogate the militant one. What prophets did and what peace activists do now is still beyond serious consideration and research by most intellectuals, and today our world continues to be locked in polarized conflicts with a marked absence of mediators, without the prophetic alternative society of the word of equity (kalimat assawa').

1 The rule of law that has such a high place in the United States is only an internal phenomenon. It does not represent the commitment of the U.S. in the United Nations charter or in its actions throughout the world.

2 As the text says:

Then he brought out (of the fire) before them (the people) a calf statue: it seemed to low: so they said: `This is your god, and the god of Moses . . . : (Moses) said: `What then is thy case O Samiri.' He replied: `I saw what they saw not so I took a handful (of dust) from the footprint of the messenger, and threw it (into the calf): thus did my self suggest to me.' Surah 20 Ta Ha: 88.

3 As Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and wise, and revealing them to the simple [unto babes]." Matt 11:25.

4 He said: "I am your Lord, Most High." Surah 79 A1 Nazi'at: 24. He adds: "If you tum to another God, I shall surely imprison you." Surah 26 Al-Shu'ara': 29.

5 The European Union is perhaps the fitst historical indication of the possibility for the expansion of democracy and, in essence, the notion of law. For the first time in history, a few nation states are uniting on the basis of equality under the law. This union, in addition, is based on popular consent rather than on the will of some despotic emperor. The European unity represents a large society governed by equity under law, the lack of which explains why Europe never united at the hands of Bonaparte or Hitler. The absence of the exclusive veto right in the European Uruon confirms its democratic nature. Consequently, the European Union in principle has the potential of developing into a model of global unity, unlike the United Nations in its present form.

6 This verse is from the King James version as the verse number 44 in Matthew 21 is missing &om the Revised English Bible.

7 The Qur'an rejects double standards, and states that abiding by one standard for one's self and by another standard for the others is an odious wrong. "O you who believe! Why say you that which you do not. Grievously odious is it in the sight of God that you say that which you do not." Surah 61 A1 Saff: 2-3.

The same standard is expressed in: "[S]o be careful to do whatever they tell you. But do not follow their practice; for they say one thing and do another." Matt 23:3.