Thursday, 9 June 2016

Tangled Webs

A Kingdom Truly of This World

One of the more interesting questions facing us today is whether the violent struggles between Islamic powers is intrinsic to Islam and Islamic civilisation, or whether it is a recent and temporary phenomenon.  

Efraim Karsh argues that Islam has always had imperial ambitions--right from the very beginning. World-wide empire was its heart and soul.  But, at the same time, it has never been able to escape internecine rivalry and turbulence.  In this light, what we observe today regarding deadly warfare between Shi'ite and Sunni, Alawite and ISIS, is the norm.

He writes:
[Muhammad] tapped into the Middle East's millenarian legacy and ensured its perpetuation for many centuries to come.  From the first Arab-Islamic empire of the mid-seventh century to the Ottomans, the last great Muslim empire, the story of Islam has been the story of the rise and fall of universal empires and, no less important, of never quiescent imperialist dreams.
Politics during this lengthy period was characterized by a constant struggle for regional, if not world, mastery in which the dominant power sought to subdue, and preferably to eliminate, all potential challengers.  Such imperialist ambitions often remained largely unsatisfied, for the determined pursuit of absolutism was matched both by the equally formidable forces of fragmentation and degeneration.  [Ephraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007),  p.5.]
This is not to say, of course, that the warfare and violence presently sweeping the Middle East does not have some new characteristics--such as, terrorist suicide bombings, the use of the Internet, the spectre of nuclear weapons, and the "islamising" of Europe through mass migration.   But the general pattern remains the same.  On the one hand, there is the imperial ambition that all men must be brought into the "peace" of Islam, which is either a willing or forced compliance, and a ceaseless tribal turbulence, on the other.

Karsh continues:
In the long history of Islamic empire, the wide gap between delusions of grandeur and the centrifugal forces of localism would be bridged time and again by force of arms, making violence a key element of Islamic political culture to date.  . . .

It is true that this pattern of historical development is not uniquely Middle Eastern or Islamic.  Other parts of the world, Europe in particular, have had their share of imperial powers and imperialism expansion, while Christianity's universal vision is no less sweeping than that of Islam.  The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect.  The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in purely spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar.  [Ibid., p.6.] 
This same pattern of christianising and the resulting emergence of Christendom can be seen today--long, slow, gradual, and painful. It is a process which wins hearts and minds inductively.   Whence the difference?  It is due in large part because the Messiah drew a very sharp contrast between His Kingdom, and the kingdoms of this world.  Rule and authority in God's Kingdom were to be fundamentally different from the imperial ambitions of Babylon, Media, the Alexandrians and the Romans.  [See, for example, the contrast the Messiah draws in Matthew 20: 25-28]
. . . The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably lined with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist.  It is not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted as one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. . . . [Ibid.]
The Kingdom of Islam is an imperial kingdom of force, and in the end there can be only one Enforcer.  It is this reality which ensures internecine conflict within Islam in perpetuity.  The current self-proclaimed Caliph--the supreme religious and political leader of an Islamic state--
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi can tolerate no rivals.  Hence the relentless internecine conflict amongst competing authorities who are also Islamic.
Whereas Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, Muhammad used God's name to build an earthly kingdom.  He spent the last ten years of his life fighting to unify Arabia under this reign.  Had it not been for his sudden death on June 8, 632 he would have most probably expanded his rule well beyond the peninsula.  Even so, within a decade of Muhammad's death a vast empire, stretching from Iran to Egypt and from Yemen to northern Syria, had come into being under the banner of Islam in one of the most remarkable examples of empire-building in world history.  [Ibid., p.7.]
Yet, within that generation, the internecine conflict commenced.  It has continued ever since.

The West's attempts to intervene are doomed to failure.  Its cults of humanitarianism, progressivism, and the Rights of Man are worthless.  It has no universalism which can stand up to the hard universalism of Islam--there is One God and One Prophet--and the West's libertinism and gross immorality make it universally despised amongst Islamic peoples.

But given the nature and history of Islam--its imperial drive always being undermined by its incessant factionalism--the West would be smart to leave it alone, except for works of charity and mercy.  But it cannot. This makes the West's "soft" condescending imperium doomed from the outset--as doomed as Islam's dreams of empire.

What tangled webs we weave.

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