DiPasquale Sheds Light On Islamic Response To Liberalism
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 21:03
“A great deal of interest has been focused on the Middle East, and in particular on North Africa—rightly, I would say,” said David M. DiPasquale, professor of political science at Boston College. “However, we have a cautionary tale from the end of November into December, that is after the fall of Mubarak: in the construction of a new constitution for Egypt, there appears to be an increasing emphasis on Sharia. And here, we note, in article two of the draft constitution, Sharia has been placed the primary guide for legislation.”
DiPasquale presented his lecture “Islam and Liberal Democracy” on Thursday night, under the sponsorship of The Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Association. In his remarks, DiPasquale considered a return to a tradition of medieval Islamic philosophy as a possible resolution to the conflicts stemming from Arab Spring, an event he describes as “the crisis of our time.”
“We have to be alive to the difference of democracy on one hand and liberal democracy on the other,” DiPasquale said, noting that although most people in the Arab world favor democracy, this desire often comes alongside a want for Islamic republics, modeled after Sharia law.
“If God, Allah, sent down by means of the prophet Muhammad a book meant to guide our lives in all its component parts, and does not make an easy separation between religion or religious matter on the one hand and politics as we understand it on the other, why wouldn’t it rule your country?” he said. Liberalism, from the perspective of much of the Arab world, is the resignation of divine law to that which is human. “Why should God submit to manmade laws?” DiPasquale said.
“Sharia is a comprehensive law—there is, in Sharia, no obvious separation of church and state,” DiPasquale said. “The Quran is the literal word of God, and in this context, man is viewed as a political animal. It also therefore offers a definition of happiness.” Notably, under Sharia law, the government is the caretaker of the soul. This belief is quite unsettling to much of the Western world, according to DiPasquale, and respectively those holding such convictions are often described with a host of unattractive words, including “Islamofascists” and “extremists.”
“Prior to the emergence of liberalism in the 16th and 17th centuries of our era, this older view was the standard understanding of what politics was and meant to be—law, happiness, man as a political animal,” he said.
Liberalism, according to DiPasquale, works under the presupposition that man existed in a pre-political state, in time escaping from this state of nature and forming communities without the help of a divine entity. “Liberalism’s basis is a hypothesis, and you can say therefore that liberalism is less natural, in a certain decisive respect, than a government created on the basis on a law that is regarded as sacred,” DiPasquale said. “The idea we have innate human rights is a modern invention … The liberal experiment is indeed a radical experiment,” a departure from governments founded on highfalutin ideals in favor of rights. “Can we as human beings live under laws that we ourselves create?” he asked. The founders of liberalism, according to DiPasquale, were aware of this possibility. However, he reckoned the liberal experiment would likely confuse ancient thinkers like Aristotle and Plato.
“If a Plato, somehow—like Star Trek-like—were able to be beamed back onto this era, right now, and he was given a list of regimes in the world today, America would confuse him, but a regime like Iran? Not so much,” he said. According to DiPasquale, it was only in the modern period that theoretical and practical edifice have been created to promote the rejection of governments like Iran, based on religious texts. This separation of church and state is quite compatible with religions like Christianity, which find function in faith and hold virtue as an internal state. Judaism and Islam, as legal-based religion, are far more difficultly reconciled with the liberal experiment.
DiPasquale perceived the possible reconciliation of Islam and liberal democracy particular in the writing of medieval Islamic philosopher Averroes, which many young Muslims today are using to recover a liberalizing heritage within Muslim tradition, operating outside of liberal western ideals often opposed on the Middle East.
“Where do our rights come from?” he asked. “Are we not forced to do so at a time when the pre-modern alternative is once again so forcefully reasserting itself? It seems to me if we do not engage this most difficult task with real seriousness, that our current war may be best described as a war of two beliefs—one, namely the Islamic, which never claimed to be based on unaided human reason, but on God, and the other liberalism, that was once rational, but is no longer, and is merely believed in.
“It appears to me the best and most respectful way to begin this arduous task is for both Westerners and Muslims to return to those books that define their respective traditions, and then to engage the Holy Quran not as simply a historical document, but rather as a font of living wisdom, to take its claims at face value as true,” he said.
“By understanding Islam as a real alternation to liberalism, we not only understand our Muslim brothers and sisters better, but we pay tribute to the finest qualities of our own tradition as well.”