A Nietzschean Cry That Still Rings in the Western World?

Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD)

Amidst the din of the post-Osama assassinations it is easy to lose sight of what is still transforming before our eyes in America. At first blush, there appears to be a resurgence of the religious Right [I prefer racial Right], who have presented themselves as the last best hope of stemming the brown/Islamic tide that threatens to overrun America. But much of this I feel is window dressing in comparison to the deep crisis that is unfolding when the cameras aren’t rolling. Namely, that is the crisis of secularization in the American/European world. This crisis, unlike the so-called Islamization of America, is far more real, as it uses such culturally sensitive nomenclature as democracy, Constitutional, and the like. The insidious part of this is that in the face of growing pressure from White America, many immigrant Muslims, in an attempt to appease the dominant culture, have co-opted this argument and are now wielding it against their fellow Muslims.

To fully grasp this slippery slope and the effects it has had on assimilation-focused Muslims, it will be necessary to recognize the pressures that are being exerted on the Muslim-American psyche and the reaction that stem from these pressures. For the rank and file practicing Muslim, the comments of Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, without a doubt resonate as nails on a chalk board. But if one wishes to critique Jasser’s commentary [as this writer certainly does], then we must look at the broader assault on belongingness in post-Osama America.

In a previous article, Required Reading: Muslims, the Constitution and Negotiating Political Reality, I showed how Muslims are under attack and under assault from a variety of vantage points including the media and academia. In the article, Dr. Sherman Jackson wrote a response and rebuttal to Dr. Vincent Cornell’s, Reasons Public and Divine: Liberal Democracy, Shari‘a Fundamentalism and the Epistemological Crisis of Islam, in which Cornell accused Jackson of being a “soft Sharî’a fundamentalist” for no other reason than Dr. Jackson’s refusal to see the United States Constitution as a document of inherent transcendent truth. In essence, Cornell’s argument reinforces the myopic dogma of “either you’re with us, or you’re against us”, providing little to no agency for Muslim-Americans on just how they will decide and negotiate this tentative pact. Without repeating the article in its entirety, it is fair to say that much of vernacular of Cornell’s argument can be found in the manifesto and outlook from individuals and groups such as Zuhdi Jasser and the AIFD respectively. Instead of a principled engagement of the United States, culturally, legally and socially, I believe Jasser’s [and Cornell’s] approach leaves Muslim-Americans exposed and vulnerable, where the only actions capable of being carried out are solely to express gratitude to the dominant [read “white”] culture for allowing them to exist within their borders.

Whether the intentions of people like Jasser or Cornell are well intended are none of my concern. The results of their conclusions are alarming. They represent two prongs of a very dangerous thrust that if fulfilled, will bring about the almost complete opposite of their intentions, at least as far as Jasser is concerned. So long as Muslim-Americans remain in a state of deference to the establishment for allowing them to exist in America—conditions of that existence aside—they will remain hapless victims of bigotry, prejudice and will have no power over whether or not they are used as political hockey pucks to further the agendas of America political interests. This stance has yet to [and I believe, will not] bring about sweeping changes for Muslim-Americans as it relates to harassment.

The language of these arguments [especially Jasser’s] are ripe with hyper-secularization. Both parties go to great extents to prove the dignity of Islam and Muslims, not on the grounds that Islam and Muslims might present from their own sources, but by couching Islam’s most sacred sources within the framework of modernity, such as the United States Constitution in Cornell’s case, and western liberal democracy in Jasser’s. The Qur’anic injunctions, in this light, is incapable of being seen or felt as a sacred document unless they can be proven to coincide with secular values. There has even been an attempt to say that, to paraphrase Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Islam has a long-standing secular tradition that can be tied all the way back to the Qur’an and the original sources1. In light of the pressures mentioned above, Muslim-Americans are coerced from both sides to accept these ideals as “congenial to [Islam’s] true nature and purpose—as the only tenable ideals to embrace or risk being cast as violent, barbaric, and seditious.

Ironically, by abandoning their U.S.-granted, God-given rights via the Constitution in favor of assimilation, Muslims will be doubly vulnerable, as they will have no means of defending themselves against such assaults. This is one aspect that Dr. Vincent Cornell did not understand about Dr. Jackson’s argument: Simply because a Muslim does not hold the Constitution to be a Divinely Inspired Document, does not mean that Muslims cannot uphold such legal principles, so long as they do not directly contract core tenets of Islam. Let me quote Dr. Jackson again here to make the point clearer:

To my mind, a more profitable approach would be not only to accept the provisions of the Constitution but to commit to preserving these by supporting and defending the Constitution itself. According to the Constitution, the U.S. government cannot force a Muslim to renounce his or her faith… The U.S. government cannot even force a Muslim (qua) Muslim to pledge allegiance to the United States! Surely it must be worth asking if Muslims in America should conduct themselves as “nouveau free” who squander these and countless other rights and freedoms in the name of dogmatic minutiae, activist rhetoric, and uncritical readings of Islamic law and history, rather than turning these to the practical benefit of Islam and Muslim-Americans. (Islam and the Blackamerica, 148)

Essentially, by embracing the Constitution as a document of legal fact, and not legal truth, Muslims can fully participate in that “negotiated, political arrangement” that Jackson quotes from Robert Dahl; a negotiation that ensure both parties get something out of the contract instead of one living for the appeasement of the other. This is an important nuance that neither Jasser, Cornell nor their constituents seem to understand.

Links

References

  1. Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future, 3.

1 Comment A Nietzschean Cry That Still Rings in the Western World?

  1. colediabusybee@hotmail.com'Miriam

    As salaam alaikum:

    Not that I am a great human being/ Muslim but I highly recommend this prayer to EVERY Muslim:

    http://sandala.org/store/books/the-prayer-of-the-oppressed/

    “Whether the intentions of people like Jasser or Cornell are well intended are none of my concern. The results of their conclusions are alarming. They represent two prongs of a very dangerous thrust that if fulfilled, will bring about the almost complete opposite of their intentions, at least as far as Jasser is concerned. So long as Muslim-Americans remain in a state of deference to the establishment for allowing them to exist in America—conditions of that existence aside—they will remain hapless victims of bigotry, prejudice and will have no power over whether or not they are used as political hockey pucks to further the agendas of America political interests. This stance has yet to [and I believe will not] bring about sweeping changes for Muslim-Americans as it relates to harassment.”

    My reply:

    I believe that many of the problems Western Muslims are having and the modern debates around co-existence have ALREADY happened and it is my belief that our Muslim ancestors won. I believe speaking first and foremost to myself that many of us are in leadership positions that we are unqualified for and are making things worse not better. Many of us are historically illiterate and lack basic knowledge of our religion and are incapable of defending ourselves because of sheer ignorance (again I speak to myself. I ran my mouth on the blogosphere based off emotion [anger and pain] versus a systematic study and research)

    I believe that Imam Al Ghazali http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghazali dealt with many of the issues we are having problems with
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghazali#Incoherence_of_the_Philosophers
    Also, I’m beyond tired of the dysfunctional dominance of the American Muslim narrative by immigrant Muslims and the continuation of said dysfunction by our own academic institutions and media. I AM an American and my ancestors help make this country what it is today. Why do I half to prostrate myself to white America and beg for acceptance? I don’t think so.

    “Ironically, by abandoning their U.S.-granted, God-given rights via the Constitution in favor of assimilation, Muslims will be doubly vulnerable, as they will have no means of defending themselves against such assaults. This is one aspect that Dr. Vincent Cornell did not understand about Dr. Jackson’s argument: Simply because a Muslim does not hold the Constitution to be a Divinely Inspired Document, does not mean that Muslims cannot uphold such legal principles, so long as they do not directly contract core tenets of Islam.”

    My reply:

    Wow… deep sigh…

    Muslims aren’t the only religious group who believe the constitution is ONLY a legal fact. Jehovah Witnesses, Orthodox Jews, Amish, Mennonites, and a few other religious groups have similar positions. I believe this opposition is rooted in Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. I’m frankly appalled that LICENSED Christian scholars, theologians, historians, and ministers aren’t condemning the abuse of THEIR own scripture. This isn’t making sense: abortion is a legal FACT in our nation, yet you will find Christians protesting the legitimacy of this law as being against the teachings of Jesus p.bh. I’m sorry but I can’t honestly believe that any God-fearing and intelligent Christian believes that our constitution and our modern legal system is divinely inspired. We STILL have prohibitionists especially in the deep south who are against the selling of alcohol yet our legal system permits it? I could say the same for gay marriage. Obviously there is a segment of our society that DOES NOT believe our constitution and our modern legal system is divinely inspired. Why not question the allegiance of these other religious groups? Why not question the allegiance of the Christians who blow up abortion clinics or the Jews who observe the Sabbath and forgo engaging in commerce? Why not question the allegiance of Jehovah Witnesses who don’t participate in the political system or salute the flag? Again, this ISN’T making sense to me?

    Blogger is down. I’ll return to post the links to my blog about the role of white supremacy in this constant denigration of our religion.

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