Ideas & Philosophy — 01 May 2012
The Politics of Tribulation

Ali Harfouch and Umm Hafsa

Pragmatic policies and methods can only produce pragmatic responses and answers to critical questions related to principal and vision. Engagements with reformist movements are rarely a debate about principle; rather, they usually end in a common logical fallacy—an appeal to consequence (argumentum ad consequentiam) in which an argument’s conclusion or premises are rejected by referring to its undesirable consequences, which in reality have no bearing on the truth-value of the argument. Some Islamic Activists often appeal to this fallacy in referring to the consequences of adopting a revolutionary methodology—and the trials and tribulations which would follow—and insist instead on adopting a more reformist methodology of compromise and concession through the whimsical parliamentary politics and participation in periodical theatrical plays dubbed “elections”—an analogy of which is trying to plant a tree, but digging only a handful deep to do so. The result will indeed be a tree, but one which will be blown away by the slightest wind and whose branches will not reach high. A patient and wise gardener, however, is aware of the fact that strong and deeply rooted trees whose branches strike high into the sky must be planted, gardened, and cultivated with patience, and done properly so that the desired end can be reached. Sayyid Qutb observes:

 

“…they might be driven to use methods that dont measure up to the specific scales or firm manhaj of the dawah. They do this out of a desire to aid and spread the dawah quickly, and in an effort to fulfill what they call maslahat ad-dawah (the interest of the dawah)…”

 

We argue that the politics of activism and liberation are inextricable from the politics of tribulation, and that the clash between the establishment and the movement is an essential phase in the flowering of the principles and concepts which the movement propagates. This comes through the polarization of the movement and the establishment, and not the structural and ideological conformity between the two. This is because political participation in the establishment which the activist seeks to, in theory, antagonize will result in its the legitimization; this in turn dilutes and renders the party, in principle, non-existent as its existence is based on its ideological platform (which is compromised and lost through political participation in the very establishing the party opposes) and not on pragmatic gains (the presence of bearded MP’s is not to be considered a gain). Ones concepts and principles are made apparent through their principled, clear, systematic, and unwavering propagation as articulated by a clear and principled discourse which will result, as stated, in a clash with the state and its hegemonic establishment for the following reasons:

 

[1] A political platform and methodology which is anti-systemic and is in conflict with the underlying foundations of its opposing political system cannot but be violently opposed and suppressed by the establishment. As a matter of fact, this is only legitimate from the state’s perspective as it alone possesses what Weber called “legitimate violence”, and the intrusion into the political field by such movement was an informal intrusion, meaning it used illegitimate means as well as a radical and counter-hegemonic discourse to that of the state and its normative policies. The politics of “becoming”, as Connolly calls it, is the production of a new identity and subjectivity outside the matrix of power-structures which preserve the status-quo. Becoming necessitates that we are met with violence. And thus, we witness state’s launching propaganda wars and character assassinations on activists—where then would the pragmatic activist stand? Oppose the activist or oppose the state that he is legitimating, and through it, legitimizing the state’s opposition of the activist.

 

[2] Modern States have suppressed movements working within legitimate means of expression and political participation, although these movements are those which have declared their allegiance to the establishment and whose discourse is both apologetic and overtly reformist. Despite this, the past decades have witnessed severe suppression of these movements. If this is the case with those movements which acknowledge and legitimize the state, what can we expect to be the faith of those revolutionary movements whose methodology is counter-hegemonic, anti-systemic, and a discourse revolving around a denunciation of the state as being fundamentally illegitimate?

 

[3.1] The Modern (Nation-) State is by nature a conflict-generating state—in that it monopolizes identity, communication, and allegiance by constantly constructing what it means “to be” for its occupants. This monopoly is rested in the hands of the establishment as it not only maintains security, but the existence of the nation-state (as a nation)—as the state’s existence is based on this artificial and monopolizing identity.  [3.2] This is a unique feature of the “Modern” and Eurocentric state which bases its legitimacy and authority via the people on identity or the (state-shaped) general will, and (unnatural) natural categories (e.g. the nation) leading to what Dussel calls the fetishization of power by linking subjectivity to institutional power, as opposed to the Islamic system of governance which is purely contractual.

 

[4] A state’s legitimacy is based on consensus from a political community; however, when this consensus becomes dissensus, then a state will adopt more coercive measures to maintain its hegemony. The initial phases of this coercive phase are formidable both from the political movement which is becoming and for al-Mufasala which is the methodological demarcation of conceptual boundaries and grounds of legitimacy between two parties (in our case, state v. movement). It is at this crucial state—the stage in which a movement is being suppressed—that it fully articulates what it is by the violence of those who they are not. Life is given to one’s political platform which goes from a political agenda to a politics of Liberation and from the abstract to the concrete and from political principles to a praxis-oriented activism which Islam breeds.

 

[5] Political establishments in the Muslim world are part of a larger colonial power-structure or a world-system at the head of which is U.S and several European powers.  It is they who make up the center and whose surplus of wealth flows to their peripheries. Proxy regimes sustain and maintain a structure of inequality which renders much of the worlds resources and power within a neo-Liberal order. A revolutionary movement which would seek independence on the ideological, political, and economic well from the capitalist economic and hegemonic matrix of power-structures would lead, inevitably, to external unconditional support from imperial powers towards the political systems which seek to maintain the status-quo and, in turn, preserve the external powers’ imperial hegemony. Examples of such can be found across the globe from Latin America, the Muslim world, to East Asia. It is only natural then that an anti-systemic movement calling for the destruction and liberation from the tyrannical capitalist order will be met with utmost adversity, and one can only imagine how it would be met if this movement was a global movement such as that of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the nascent Hizb al-Ummah, and Lebanon’s emerging Itihad Organization.

 

[6.1] Quintessential to Islam is Tawhid—the very nature of which is revolutionary in that its totalizing nature transcendentalizes any form of absolute power, be it under the masquerade of divine kingship, the general will, or the [divine-like] invisible hand of the market. All thrones are to be demolished and rendered illegitimate as power is always relative and contingent with its authority belonging to the Ummah—the people who are responsible for manifesting not their “will”, but the will of Allah on earth through the implementation and preservation of Shariah. A message whose very implications amount to a cosmic revolution is bound to be met with adversity and fierce opposition by those who fetishize power.  Hence [6.2] suppression, is not seen by the believer as a problem but rather as an essential stepping block towards not only worldly victory but a prerequisite for the hereafter, and that this suppression represents the flowering of his or her da’wah and the coming to life of a new political order. The Qur’anic pedagogy cultivates within him a consciousness which is at ease for it recognizes that there is no necessary casual relationship between material strength and strategic success, but that Allaah aids his believers so long as they strive and act upon the divinely revealed knowledge. It (the Qur’an) reminds and instructs him in twenty-eight out of thirty of its chapters of the clash between Musa ‘Alaayhee as-Salaam and that of Fir’awn and his Establishment—[6.3] Aware that behind the hegemonic international norms and global power-structures and its laws are the cosmic laws put in place by Allaah ‘azza wa Jal from which no nation, power, or coalition can escape. The Qur’an, having mentioned the fall and destruction of empires, puts little doubt in the mind of the Muslim that the illegitimate establishment will also crumble and fall—he or she has full tawwakul. [6.4] The Qur’anic pedagogy emphasizes and stresses the importance of Sabr (Patience) as being essential to any successful transformation equating it with principles and actions themselves. Hence, the believer knows that no matter how politically articulate, or strategic he or she is, it must be accompanied by Sabr and Tawwakul. In the words of Qutb again, we are reminded:

 

“…The true maslahat ad-da’wah is that it remain firm on the manhaj without deviating in the least. As for the outcome, this is from the matters of the Unseen that none know except Allah. So, it’s not for the carriers of the da’wah to think about these outcomes. Rather, they are to go forth with this clear, straightforward, specific manhaj, leaving the outcome of this firmness to Allah – and the outcome will be nothing but good at the end of the process…”[1]

 

Reforming the corrupt political systems in the Muslim world through the removal of its age-old dictators took the sacrifice and death of thousands of believers. A complete transformation of a political establishment will require more intellectual and physical endeavor—more sacrifice. Denying this however will only create a sense of complacency amidst an unfinished revolutionary project. Just as the revolutionary companions—the earliest of activist, at the order of their revolutionary head, the Prophet (Salallahu Alaayhe wa-Salaam)—persevered in their persecution because what they sought was to plant the tree deeply and to reap its fruits long term, so must the true Islamic activists stand in the face of tribulation and persecution firm with ultimate sabr, firm that their persecution and imprisonment is nothing but a sign of their righteousness and a sign that they are in fact with the correct party, a party which is persecuted and attacked, politically and otherwise, for its ideas and its viewpoint on life, as opposed to those who seek to appease the establishment with apologetic rhetoric doing more harm to Islam than the good they delude themselves into thinking they are doing in turn of social safety. The true Islamic activist must reflect on the following ayah:  “Indeed Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties (in exchange) for that they will have paradise.” That the purchase of our lives is between us and Allah ‘azza wa Jal, who gives in return for it—Paradise. Thus, our lives are a loan with which we must strive in the cause of Islamic activism, and thus, we cannot allow illegitimate rulers and establishments to purchase our ideology, our steadfastness, our concept of systemic Tawhid in turn of temporary and feeble safety and tranquility in the life of this temporal abode. For surely that would be a foolish and fruitless transaction.

 

Ali Harfouch is a student of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut working in Islamic activism with Islam Policy.

Umm Hafsa is a Graduate from the University of Manchester and an Islamic Activist in the United Kingdom.



[1]    ‘Fi Dhilal al-Qur’an’; 4/2435

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. the problem with the ikhwan movement is lack of ideological premises, as hassan al banna (ra) was not like islamic intellectuals such as qutb, mawdudi and nabahin in terms of setting out intellectual premises for islamic movements, which has led to the pragmatism that we see today in the ikwhan, which has been on going since the 1970s and affected most spheres of the movement. therefore one cld argue of a movement from ideology to pragmatism, with pragmatism becoming the ideology of the movement. which is a shame, given that it seems to manipulate the masses with an islamic coating and in reality shedding islamic political principles for the sake of power.

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