Age of Reform & Enlightenment in the Muslim World
How Tunisia's brilliant leaders are showing the secular path to the Muslim world
By Freydoon Khoie
From as far as East Asia's rain forest in Philippines and Indonesia, to the deserts of Sahara in North West Africa where ever there is 'political Islam', there is violence, division, discord, intolerance, terror, death and destruction. The poor and the neglected millions in every Muslim society are deceived by the opportunist, mostly illiterate self-appointed clergy into believing that 'political Islam' is the answer to their chronic social, economic and political short coming and the poor and neglected masses are incited to hate America and Israel even if most of them have nothing to do with America and Israel. They assemble a cadre of unruly bunch clothed in headbands claiming "Allah O Akbar" God is Great and unleash them like wild beasts into the herd of helpless civilians to savagely loot, rape, murder, and force them into submission to a vague and undefined ideology called 'Islamist regime in the name of Islam and they assume they have legitimacy to impose upon the unsuspecting masses of true and innocent Muslims just about every evil that Mullah's twisted and perverted minds can come up with. From cutting the limbs of the miserable young boy who stole a piece of bread, to stoning the adulterer who was convicted without due process, to lashing the man who drank a beer, and to hanging poor soul accused on blasphemy and by doing so spread fear and terror in the hearts of masses. Anyone who dare to invoke wisdom, truth, compassion, mercy, common sense, referring to Quran that it said 'there is no compulsion in religion' is quickly attacked and crushed under the feet of the frenzied beasts with the shouts of Takfir ( apostate ) and by doing so terrify the otherwise faithful community and force them into submission and put a claim on their submission and call it popular consent and vote of confidence in the formation of the proposed 'Islamic state' and quickly begin to install the apparatus of fear and terror using such names as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Sarallah, Jihadist, soldiers of Imam, Boko Haram, and a long list of invented brands popping up each day in four corners of the Muslim world, and recruit the uneducated and innocent youth, and use the religious foundation's fund to armed them with a AK-47 and a round of ammunition and encourage them to go on and kill and die for the glory of Islam. Chaos and criminality will reign, women and children are victimized, drugs, alcohol and prostitution flourishes, the educated and technocrats pack and migrate to Western countries and leave the state machinery in the hands of the perpetrators who do not have a clue how to manage the society other than shouting death to America and death to Israel and death to everything that is the sign of common sense, progress, decency and peace and all in the name of Islam. We know that this is not true Islam and these groups and their leaders are nothing but enemies of Islam and outright terrorists deserved to be arrested, imprisoned, reformed and turned into useful citizens of their respective countries be it Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saud Arabia and the rest.
In the meantime, there are still few half educated Marxist, Leninist amongst them who relish at the site of poor masses calling for the death to America, that great symbol of Capitalism and hope to take the lead and bring about their long dead and buried idea of a socialist economy to these poor, neglected, abused masses of Muslim countries and call it Islamic Revolution and soon enough, the people will realize that their revolution, their sacrifices, and toil was nothing but an illusion. Much of the blame in fact should go to these idealistic fools who still think that central and state owned economy is the answer to all the enormous challenges that the Muslim world is facing today. They fail to be honorable and courageous to tell the people that the grand communist experiment did not work and is now a bankrupt ideology and the disastrous failure of communism and socialism in Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, much of India, Brazil, South Africa and others are living examples of the failure of this mind slaving ideology that does not work and will not work even if they put a Muslim turban on top of it. The fundamental reality is that once mankind's innate selfishness and self-interest that functions as energy for production and economic growth is taken away from him and he is forced to work for the state and expect a life-long security and free handouts in return for giving up his personal liberties, human dignity and human rights on the altar of meager economic security he is essentially a walking dead.
In the words of Ayn Rand "The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment. The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value."
She goes on to explain that the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions. There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level. The radical Islamists in Iran or Egypt, Turkey or Saudi Arabia go on claiming that "selfishness" is wrong and if it is true that “selfishness” is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others for Islam. It means that the faithful Muslim is not obligated to accept the notion to be as sacrificial animals in the service of profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites—that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men—that it permits no concept of justice.
The Islamists' half-baked attempt to deceive the truly faithful Muslims begins with telling them that they ought to be unselfish, altruist and sacrifice everything and even their lives for the rewards of hereafter, but the thinking Muslim feels the need to assert his and her right to a moral existence—that is: to recognize his need of a moral code to guide the course and the fulfillment of his own life . . . .The reasons why man needs a moral code will tell you that the purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions in this world and so long as those interest are within the perimeters of his moral actions his reward both here and in the hereafter is secured. All values have to be gained by men’s actions, and any breach of this principle necessitates an injustice: the sacrifice of some men for others. Walk on the Iraqi mines and die and you will go to heaven, while Khamnei and other 299 mullahs become millionaires and have their children live in Paris and London is the ultimate injustice by the immoral man who happened to be the agent of the moral imposition on the society.
Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind faith in Islam or other religions and desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness. To lead the millions of young Muslims into believing that they have to selflessly sacrifice their lives in suicide bombing to kill the infidel is the height of immorality and violation of the self-interest principle and Islamic ethics. But Secularism teaches that selfishness is “concern with one’s own interests,” the Objectivist ethics uses that concept in its exact and purest sense. It is not a concept that one can surrender to man’s enemies, nor to the unthinking misconceptions, distortions, prejudices and fears of the ignorant and the irrational. The attack on “selfishness”, "personal incentive", and "self-interest" is an attack on man’s self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other. To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of “selfishness” that one has to redeem for the Muslim believer who is being told that he should sacrifice all to be rewarded in hereafter.
The first step is to assert man’s right to a moral existence—that is: to recognize his need of a moral code to guide the course and the fulfillment of his own life . . . .The reasons why man needs a moral code will tell you that the purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions.
Ayn Rand asks, "Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None—except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason. I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice. It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don’t, I enter into no relationship; I let dissenters go their way and I do not swerve from mine. I win by means of nothing but logic and I surrender to nothing but logic. I do not surrender my reason or deal with men who surrender theirs." And this is the nature of society that the leaders ought to be teaching the Young faithful Muslim and not to lead them to die for the glory of an perverted and misinterpreted Islam as Mullahs and Hezbollah do in Iran, Muslim Brotherhood attempted and failed in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere.
The ignorant Mullahs deceive the young Iranians by teaching them that the ego is the synonym of evil, and selflessness is the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egoist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge or act. These are functions of the self. Here the basic reversal is most deadly. The issue has been perverted and the Muslim man has been left with no alternative—and no freedom. As poles of good and evil, he was offered two conceptions: egoism and altruism. Egoism was wrongly understood to mean the sacrifice of others to self. Altruism—the sacrifice of self to others. This tied man irrevocably to other men and left him nothing but a choice of pain: his own pain borne for the sake of others or pain inflicted upon others for the sake of self. When it was added that Muslim believer must find joy in self-immolation, or suicide, the trap was closed. Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal—under the threat that sadism was his only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the Muslim mind to use him as the device by which dependence and suffering were perpetuated as fundamentals of faith and life.
The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination. The choice is independence or dependence. The code of the creator or the code of the second-hander. This is the basic issue. It rests upon the alternative of life or death. The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive. The code of the second-hander is built on the needs of a mind incapable of survival. All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil. The Political Islamists deceitfully try to take advantage of the men's desire to be dependent upon the state and in turn give up their liberty and objectivists selfishness which destroys the nation's productive energy and leaves everyone poor and destitute to the extent that death and sacrifice becomes readily acceptable.
The Secularist on the other hand believe that egoist in the absolute sense is not the man who sacrifices others. He is the man who stands above the need of using others in any manner. He does not function through them. He is not concerned with them in any primary matter. Not in his aim, not in his motive, not in his thinking, not in his desires, not in the source of his energy. He does not exist for any other man—and he asks no other man to exist for him. This is the only form of true brotherhood and mutual respect possible between men/women.
Correcting the path of the Arab Spring
The Secularist believe that the moral purpose of a man’s life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental—as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence—and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive is the power of his life.
Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character. Only a brute or an altruist would claim that the appreciation of another person’s virtues is an act of selflessness, that as far as one’s own selfish interest and pleasure are concerned, it makes no difference whether one deals with a genius or a fool, whether one meets a hero or a thug, whether one marries an ideal woman or a slut. In spiritual issues, a trader is a man who does not seek to be loved for his weaknesses or flaws, only for his virtues, and who does not grant his love to the weaknesses or the flaws of others, only to their virtues.
When the Tunisian assembly recently approved the concept of the “civil state” without making Islam the main source of legislation, and the notion that the state not only protects freedom of belief and religious practice but also “freedom of conscience" it has taken the first step in the right direction for the Muslims, because the "freedom of Conscience" will allow the citizen to focus on his self-interest that will unleash the productive energy and bring about the desperately needed economic growth that has been the very root cause of the revolution to begin with and this would be equal to the Tunisian citizen's key moral obligation to themselves.
Article 2 of the new constitution states that Tunisia is a civil state that is based on citizenship, the will of the people and the supremacy of law, and Article 6 in order to assure the innocent and the faithful worried about his religion adds that the state protects religion, guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religious practice; protects sanctities; and ensures the impartiality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan politics and many have proposed to add to this article a clause criminalizing takfir [Muslims deeming other Muslims as apostates]. These enlightened bills are the indication that Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey are all on the right track to secure pure secularism that Western nations achieved centuries ago and the secular forces in Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and all other Muslim countries in Asia and Africa are fighting to achieve.
By ratifying this article, Tunisia moves from being the pioneer of the Arab Spring in 2010, the pioneer that is correcting the path of the Arab Spring and all pro-democracy revolutions in the Muslim world. As the Arab Spring become characterized by fundamentalist currents forcing themselves upon Muslim political life causing the collapse of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya, Tunisia is providing a different model: a secular democratic constitution in every sense of the word by unambiguously mentioning the “civil state” without any political or cultural embarrassment in a country that is entirely Muslim. Even the clause that is considered “moderate” in some countries — that is, that Islam is a main source of legislation (as opposed to the only source) — was omitted.
A non-Tunisian Arab observer would hardly believe the ratification of the second principle because it has no precedent in even the most secular Arab constitutions past and present, save for the Tunisian constitution under Habib Bourguiba. Article 6 stipulates that “the state shall guarantee freedom … of conscience.” Some Arab observers may not realize how revolutionary that expression is. “Freedom of conscience” not only means freedom of worship but also the freedom to adopt any faith or religion one wishes. And this is the beginning of road to progress and liberty in the Muslim world.
Before he came to power, Rachid Ghannouchi wrote that the concept of ridda [a Muslim Converting to other religions] — which is punishable by death [under Sharia law] — is a political concept that means sedition against the Muslim state, not an ideological concept whereby one leaves Islam. This is profoundly important to understand.
During a symposium at the Center for Arab Unity Studies, which was held in Tunisia 1½ years ago, Mr. Ghannouchi directly asserted the concept of “political ridda” instead of “ideological ridda.” But one should admit that no one imagined Ghannouchi supporting a constitutional article guaranteeing “freedom of conscience,” which is present in the Vatican’s proclamations. The Muslim nations will not earn the respect of the world unless they negotiate this very issue that all men are ultimately accountable to God and not to Man and therefore they must be truly free to choose their own religion as they are guided by their spirit.
In the Synod of Middle East Churches, the previous pope criticized the Arab, Turkish and Iranian worlds for rejecting “freedom of conscience” despite adopting the freedom to practice all religious rites. This is because the Mullahs in Iran have attempted to utilize Islamic state as their own turf and repress the nation of Iran under the disguised and deceptive interpretation of Koran.
The phrase “freedom of conscience” was a religious concept with Thomas Aquinas in the Roman Catholic Church, then became part of Protestant religious thought from the rebellion of Luther to Calvin. Then it became a political concept by the philosopher John Locke, whereby the state has no authority over the beliefs of individuals. It was then adopted by the US political thought that founded the US Constitution. The people of Iran and the Muslim world are now demanding that “freedom of conscience” is an individual’s right to decide his religious belief and this is beginning of the constitutional reform movement in the Muslim world.
A Muslim society unambiguously supporting the concepts of the “civil state” and “freedom of conscience” reflects self-confidence. It means that society’s enlightened elite sees no danger facing Islam, which is a deep cultural force throughout the world. This act of self-confidence was made by the country’s liberal, secular and Muslim elites in Tunisia in the face of a fundamentalist stream that is terrified by modernity and wishes to spread that fear among the Muslims.
Let’s recall that the first article of the new Tunisian constitution restored without modification the text adopted during the era of President Habib Bourguiba. It reads as follows:
Article 1: Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its form of government is a republic.
The phrase about the state’s religion being Islam is in this case natural and logical. But lawmaking and the state’s civil character require nonreligious standards that religion cannot meet, as should be the case in any country that is fully Muslim. (Before Israel’s founding, and for shortly afterward, there used to be a prosperous Jewish minority in Tunisia, but they left because of lack of freedom).
This must be said with enough courage, as did the Tunisian elite via its pioneering constitutional position. It was noted that one of Ennahda’s branches in the capital tried to compensate for its loss (of not including a clause stipulating that Islamic law is one of the sources of legislation) by emphasizing the state’s Muslim religion in Article 1. But that phrase is nothing more than a necessary declaration taken from the previous constitution and describing a fact about Tunisian society and culture, and has definitely nothing to do with lawmaking.
In a moment like this, one should respect the special and wise experience of Ennahda, which has been part of the ruling coalition since the revolution won. This doesn’t preclude the presence of a fundamentalist militant current inside Ennahda. During the discussion about the constitution, current MPs threatened a secular MP and were forced to apologize amid a ruckus that almost halted the constitutional debate. The matter was quickly resolved in a political society that is very sensitive to political assassinations, which have targeted secular figures, leading Tunisian security services to react strongly against Muslim extremists. A position that the Iranian national army should have taken during the revolution and should be taking now.
One should also applaud the Tunisian secular bloc, which some call the “Bourghiban societal bloc” and was built by the secular experience in the era of President Bourguiba. That bloc, with both men and women in it, has struggled in the last three years, in a democratic, industrious and determined way, to prevent the fundamentalist deviation inside and outside the government. Today, we are witnessing, and benefiting from, the completion of an unprecedented secular achievement. We can even say that while the secular institution led by Bourguiba was undemocratic, today’s great constitutional achievement made it democratic.
Peace, progress, prosperity and civility will not come to the Muslim world until we have all agreed on the principle of 'Freedom of Conscience" that will unleash the otherwise chained and oppressed millions of Muslim for centuries and this will be the beginning of the true liberation that our long suffering people have been waiting for.
In today’s significant constitutional “moment,” what we’re missing in Egypt is a pro-civilian state movement, even though Egypt is in the midst of an anti-takfirist battle. The Egyptian army succeeded in preventing civil war in Egypt by relying on the Egyptians’ deep-seated peaceful culture. But despite the renewed “militarization” of Egypt’s bureaucracy, what Egypt is witnessing today may in fact turn out to be a foundation for establishing a civil and secular state.
Of course, the current Egyptian constitutional draft is a setback because the meaning of “civil state” is left unclear. That’s because the civil and liberal coalition was forced to ally with the military and make “painful” concessions to the Salafist movement in return for the latter joining and remaining in the alliance.
The main priority of the Egyptian liberal secular elite, just as it is in Iran, is to achieve victory over the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and over Hezbollah in Iran, because that is an indispensable prerequisite to consecrate the idea of the civil state, while noting — paradoxically — that Egypt and Iran today need the idea of a civil state more urgently than Tunisia does. Egypt and Iran has both Muslims and Christians, a situation that is different from Tunisia's, which is religiously and denominationally homogenous (almost all belonging to the Maliki sect of Islam), except for a minority of Ibadi Muslims.