Ideas & Philosophy — 30 March 2013
Democracy, Dictatorship, and the Mimic

Ali Harfouch

The Self-Defeating Mimic: A Walking Paradox

A liberating moment occurs when the oppressed can think beyond the imaginary horizon constructed by the oppressor. A liberation of the consciousness and the inauguration of an emancipatory trajectory begins when the colonized realizes that what his oppressor had deemed desirable and natural is in fact undesirable and artificial and that which was deemed impossible is in fact inevitable. Servility however is the state in which the colonizer sets the ‘universe of possibilities’ for the colonized, as what is possible or impossible is determined by the scope of action and the narrative super-imposed on the colonized subject. He is at once paralyzed, yet ignorant of his state of servility as he continues to pursue the limited trajectories for so-called liberation within the scope of ‘possibility’ pre-set by the violent colonizer. History testifies that this is indeed the epitome of servility (for the colonized) and the strongest medium and expression of power (for the colonizer). For what is freedom, but and fundamentally the freedom of the consciousness and what is power but the ability to paralyze the undesirable actions of your opponent? A victim is one who is physically and coercively unable to take particular actions. A complacent and facile slave is one who is unaware that the possibility of these actions even exist. And if he is aware of their “logical” possibility, the status-quo remains desirable.

Following the first wave of colonization, the oppressed reacted by forming anti-colonial nationalisms and paradoxically legitimizing the very principles and antagonisms which had driven and justified the drive for colonization; nationalism. In their desire to resist colonial violence and subjugation they responded to Western nationalism with their own primitive and nativist nationalism and subsequently limited their scope of action to that determined by the theoretical boundaries and borders of Western thought and Modernity. A more liberating and trans-national venture which would united the oppressed as opposed to those within colonially constructed borders would have required that they un-neutralize their neutralized consciousness and transcend the realm of the “possible” into the realm of the “impossible” . Neo-colonialism ushers in a similar situation. The very same authoritarian regimes and totalitarian state-machinery set up by colonialism are confronted by neo-colonial narratives of “Democracy” and “Human Rights”. Mimics and emulators, despite valorizing and essentializing history, seemingly forget the experience of their predecessors. What is all the more perplexing is when change and reform is sought within the political architecture of these authoritarian regimes despite their intrinsic transgressiveness and foundational illegitimacy. “Formal” politics or participation is taken to be the only legitimate and ‘possible’ method for change, while a ‘Democratic’ discourse is deemed the only valid and legitimate discourse. At once, the agent both constrains and colonizes himself. Once again, what is possible and desirable is determined by those external to the oppressed, by the oppressor.


Deifying Democracy


A post-Arab Spring is now vulnerable to the same paradox. Demands of the revolting populations are products of the structural contradictions underpinning the colonial state, and those who have come to formal albeit fictious “power” are espousing neo-Colonial discourse in response. This is not because the colonial discourse effectively and actually addresses these demands, for the very same structural contradictions like poverty and political corruption exist in the discourses place of origin (the ‘West) but rather because the mimics and emulators are unable to transcend the realm of what is “possible” or “practical”. Only two possibilities exist for the colonized subject, a fixated and natural dichotomy; democracy or dictatorship. The insistence of the mimic on importing a Democratic discourse despite its Eurocentric exteriority, paradoxes, and contradictions tells us something about the mentality of the mimic. He pushes the contradictions and paradoxes of Western through a level further through his insidious syncretism between Islamic thought, and the colonizers discourse. Democracy, at once is expected to retain its authenticity while at the same time subscribing to incommensurable ontological foundations of Tawhid. It (“Democracy”) supposedly signifies both the absolute authority of the ’demos’ with, the sovereignty of the Absolute Creator – Allah. Consequently, Democracy is stripped and eviscerated of its ‘demos’ while the Absolute Creator’s sovereignty and temporal will is rendered abstract, contingent, and at best, nominal. A pitiful act of mimicry, devoid of any intellectual substance in which the Islamic activist becomes an emulating disillusioned walking paradox whose only talent is the ability to dilute and devolve his original, and superior Islamic discourse in conformity to the hegemonic ideas which shape his servile and oppressive environment. Almost instantaneously, he is able to Socialize Islam when Socialism is hegemonic, Arabize Islam when pan-Arabism is dominant, and Liberalize Islam when Liberal-Democracy permeates the fabric of politics. And in doing so, reaffirms his perpetual and perennial positional inferiority. Islam no longer serves as a basis for takfeer – excommunication – be it of individuals or societies but rather excommunication is passed on the basis of one’s commitment to Democracy. The extent to which an individual, movement, or society is democratic determines its legitimacy and the extent to which an individual, movement, or society is undemocratic (in the eyes of the [Western] beholder) it is stripped of its political, social, and economic rights and shunned from the public’s eye.

In the Arab-Muslim world, these mimics are not limited to the intellectual domain, but also the realm of ‘politics’. Within the colonial modes of governance, the ‘political’ is not an open and life-enhancing sphere for autonomous and free political actors but rather the ‘political’ is in itself subordinate to the concentric political and economic power matrices which encircle the ‘nation’. Mimics, who take upon positions of “leadership” compound this servility but inviting, and then legitimizing a parasitic trojan horse: Democracy. From its very inception, it slowly and corrosively erodes the ‘native’ and ‘local’ belief-system. When Democracy in the homogenizing West signified Social Democracy; the mimics in the Muslim world obediently followed suit and defined their “Islamic” Democracy as being built upon “social justice” and “equality” and naturally when Democracy became equated within Liberalism, sure enough our local mimics followed suit and “Islamic” Democracy meant “liberty”, “women’s rights” and “free-market economy”. Islam, although universal and absolute in its origins is rendered contingent and subordinated to the legitimized (albeit constantly in flux) criteria of the Eurocentric and relative [trojan horse] ‘Democracy’. Amusingly, the mimic becomes more dedicated to the qualifications of Democracy at the expense of his authenticity than the colonizer himself. For while the Colonizer is instragient and refuses to accommodate an Islamic episteme despite the shallowness of Western civilization, the mimic will relativize a divine Islamic episteme (revelation) in order to accommodate his Western-counterpart. Reminiscent to the house slave who rushes towards putting out the fire and saving the house under which he was enslaved while the owner and “master” runs for safety! The similitude of this dubious situation is as such; two persons were asked to transport a vessel of wine from point A to point B. One of whom is a Muslim, and the other a non-Muslim. While the non-Muslim will transport the vessel but only after missing the given deadline and having drank half the vessel, the Muslim will transport it on time and without having wasted any of the wine. To make matters worse, the Muslim will provide an Islamic justification for doing so! While the previous ruling party more than often missed Parliamentary sessions or hearings the Muslim is present. And while the previous Secular ruling party ruled a Democratic Republic “undemocratically” you can count on the fact that the Muslim will be as Democratic as it gets.

On an ideological-political level, the ‘Islamist’ goes even further. A debased idea like ‘Democrarcy’ is given a cosmic and divine-based justification. A Democrat’s dream.

(1) Democracy produces ‘decisions’ which exist independently of any external and objective truth.
(2) The legitimacy or illegitimacy of a ‘decision’ is circularly based on its being reached through ‘Democratic procedures’ and thus a fallacy of circular reasoning.
(3) And thus ‘Democracy’ cannot justify its ‘normativitiy’ on any objective grounds.

However “Islamists” who participate in the Democratic process do indeed give ‘Democracy’ an external normative justification.

Democracy is no longer a means, but rather an ends – emulation becomes a fixed trajectory as though Democracy is naturally predisposed in our human-ness. Ironically, the emulators lack of moral autonomy and independent ‘reason’ creates a substantial lack in his human-ness according to the qualifications and definition of ‘human’ for thinkers in the dehumanizing West. A tragic moment indeed, for he forfeits both his Islam-ness (authenticity) and human-ness in pursuit of regressive and minimal gains. What is all the more tragic is when his discourse of positional inferiority and unauthenticated is disseminated to his popular bass who are in turn de-mobilized and pacified. And in trying to legitimize Islam through its proclaimed association with Democracy; Islam is in fact delegitimized in that its vitality and relevancy to the “Modern” epoch is contingent on a, now legitimized, external system of knowledge; Western political theory. A chief characteristics of the mimic is his inability to distinguish between the proclaimed objectives of Democracy and its definition – a fallacy of equivocation. Whether or not Democracy actualizes its objectives is beyond his thinking-capacities.  A second characteristic is his inability to distinguish between what-is and what-ought-to-be meaning that his socio-political and economic reality.

In the end, the mimics insistence on preserving and essentializing his status-quo he paradoxically ends up both preserving the very power-structures which render the actualization of ‘Democracy’ impossible and continues to pursue it (Democracy) at the same time. In an age of free-market capitalist globalization and the anarchic state of the international order, the ‘Nation’ and its ‘People’ are neither sovereign nor free to determine their own trajectory and destiny as hegemonic forces external to the ‘Nation’ and its ‘People’ do so.  And thus even on a pragmatic level, the ideals and material-goals of the mimic remain a mirage.

How does ‘Democracy’ – in itself – alleviate the economic, social and political structural contradictions in the Muslim world? What is it intrinsic to ‘Democracy’ that makes it an all-encompassing and comprehensive political programme which can seemingly do away with the deep-rooted problems? History testifies to the fact that there is indeed no causal link between economic development, technological advancement and ‘Democracy’. Unless ‘Democracy’ is a masquerade for a far-reaching neo-liberal political programme, it falls nothing short of a mirage. Both ways however, ‘Democracy’ is part of the problem and not a solution of any sorts.


Towards a Third-Way

The paradox of such a dichotomy lays in the fact that both sides are, in reality, two sides of the same coin in the sense that both systems:  (1) create the mechanisms of subordination on the domestic level, and (2) reproduce our external colonial state of being; the politics of emancipation however dictates a “dichotomous chasm” which Laclau describes as “between the emancipatory moment and the social order which has preceded it” and a “radical discontinuity”. A transition from colonial modes (Arab dictators) of governance to neo-colonial modes (Liberal-Democracy) hardly qualifies as any sort of emancipation. An opportunistic West will, of course, try to mediate the transitions in the Muslim world following the Arab Spring as to prevent a radical discontinuity and maintain the continuity albeit with a few cosmetic changes through promoting “the only real alternative” to the dictatorships they previously supported. Perhaps many of the Western political analysts, as Elizabeth Shakman Hurd points out, cannot think outside their fixed materialistic worldview and its consequential deterministic view on progress and development; and perhaps Liberal elite are somewhat still clinging hope to Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” hence why they interpret the events in the Arab and Muslim world as being transitions to a Liberal-Democracy or as another wave of Democratization. Considering their secular (i.e a materialistic conceptualization of reality and power) intellectual background, one can make sense of their continued failure to understand politics in the Muslim world, but what one cannot understand is when those whose intellectual background is supposedly based on a divine and holistic worldview, parrot their views and promote the “only real alternative” as Rashid al-Ghanoushi of an-Nahda in Tunisia party continues to perplexingly do.

A liberating revolution must entail intellectual liberation—a decolonization of our consciousness and a deconstruction of the false dichotomies and colonial constructs super-imposed on the Ummah. A liberating revolution—not only against the Arab tawagheet, but also the world-system and Jahili order which they served—by using Tawhid as a liberating philosophy and revolutionary methodology through which we can decolonize the Muslim world, and as such, find a third-way which lays neither in Imperial Democracy nor Domestic Dictatorship. A more radical move would decenter the West as the loci of legitimacy and knowledge for a more divine trans-historical loci of knowledge—revelation.

Islamist movements today are at a crossroads; they can either reproduce and legitimize these false dichotomies and usher in an era of neo-colonization under the banner of “Democracy”, or they can use the demands of the revolting populations for freedom and social justice as an opportunity to show that the fulfillment of such demands lays essentially and foundationally in Tawhid and is manifested and institutionalized through its own distinct political system and modes of governance—the Khilafah.








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