The sociological void in the GME Project
by Prof. Dr. Özer OZANKAYA
The US and other Western governments have devised a strategy known as the “Greater Middle East Project” for the Muslim countries which they have colonised directly or indirectly for more than a century. On paper, they seek to establish self-governing democracies in a region extending from Morocco to Indonesia, and including the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet they also speak of “moderate Islamic governments”. It is a complete contradiction in terms!
The idea of a public order based on Islam, moderate or otherwise, impedes from the start the contributions that the science of sociology can make to the establishment of the social order. In his classic work “The Division of Labour in Society”, Emile Durkheim states that “Of all the elements of civilization, science is the only one which, under certain conditions, presents a moral character. That is, societies are tending more and more to look upon it as a duty for the individual to develop his intelligence by learning the scientific truths which have been established. Science is nothing else than conscience carried to its highest point of clarity. Thus in order for societies to live under existing conditions, the fields of conscience, individual as well as social, must be extended and clarified. The more obscure conscience is, the more refractory to change it is. That is why intelligence guided by science must take a larger part in the course of collective life.”
Reason versus religion
The chief advocate of the Greater Middle East Project, President George Bush of the USA, says he is not following science but rather Jesus. For this reason, he deems “moderate Islamic government” appropriate for the Islamic world. But for Durkheim, “If there is one truth that sociology teaches us beyond doubt on historical dimension, it is that religion tends to embrace a smaller and smaller portion of social life. Originally it pervades everything; everything social is religious; then, little by little, political, economic, scientific functions free themselves from the religious function, constitute themselves apart and take on a more and more acknowledged temporal character… It has sometimes been said that free thought makes religious beliefs regress, but that supposes, in its turn, a preliminary regression of these same beliefs. It can arise only if the common faith permits.”
Innumerable Muslims have themselves come to a similar conclusion. The use of the printing press was forbidden in the Turkish and Islamic world for almost 400 years from the 15th century onwards, preventing the enlightenment of the masses. Ýbrahim Müteferrika established the first printing machine in the Islamic world in Istanbul in 1726. Before his machine was burnt and destroyed a few years later, he printed a book explaining the weak and backward condition of the Islamic World compared to the West in terms of the absence of reason from the realm of thought. In “Rational Bases for the Polities of Nations” Müteferrika argues as follows:
“The rules necessary for the ordering of all Christian nations do not exist in their religious books; the current order of their states are immediately dependent on a series of rules based on reason; they have no thought of awaiting reward or payment in the next world… They have firmly disciplined their armies with laws and rules based on reason… Islamic nations have been entirely careless, inattentive and thoughtless in the face of the condition of the peoples referred to, and have refused to understand their attitude towards our country or the essence of their situation, preferring unmitigated bigotry and insisting on remaining ignorant.”
Islam’s secular potential
Islam is not a religion incompatible with science, freedom and a democratic and secular social and state establishment. It was a force for freedom during the period of its establishment. It created a bright civilization which benefited from the ideas of the Ancient Greeks without prejudice, and which preserved them for the West while it endured the bigotry of Middle Ages, thereby contributing to the formation of the atmosphere in which the revolutions of the Renaissance and Reformation took place. Islam does not envisage a class of clergy with privileged knowledge of God, but rather considers every individual to have the maturity of mind and superiority of consciousness needed to distinguish good from bad. It has no places of worship like churches where attendance is compulsory, but envisages that prayer be performed without ostentation, averting all pressures on the individual conscience.
In this context, let us recall Ibn Rushd, whose words “The universe has not been created, because it has been always there!” and “Verses of the Koran should not be used as an evidence in my madrasah” prefigured Lavoisier’s “Nothing is lost, nothing is created”; and can be seen as the source of inspiration for Lessing’s “What is the value of believing without asking evidence?” . Nor let us forget the universal values of Islam expressed by Yunus Emre – for example in the lines “Whatever you wish for yourself/ Wish for the others/ This is the meaning of the four books/ If there is any meaning.”
Such a religion, far from being opposed to democracy and secularism, makes these the essential form of social order. So why “moderate Islam”? Why does the West not simply declare itself for secularism and refrain from condoning medieval-minded public institutions and the practices which control them, from sheikhdom, sectarianism, religious education, opposition to the freedom of thought and the frequenting of tombs and healers to a family structure which places women in chains and seeks to base economic institutions on religious rules?
Chains of colonialism
Words spoken by Mustafa Kemal 80 years ago provide the essential clue: “The hundreds of millions of Muslim masses on earth are in chains of captivity and subservience to somebody or other. The spiritual education and morality which they have received has not given them the necessary human quality to break these chains of captivity, nor can it!” If one problem facing the integration of the Islamic world into the civilised family of society is the widespread mode of thought of a Muslim world anchored to the Middle Ages, the other side of the coin is the mentality of the Political West which does not regard colonialism as shameful!
Müteferrika’s extremely important warning failed to prompt an intellectual movement. Its outdated structure also caused the Islamic world to be excluded entirely not only from printing machine but also from the trends of the Renaissance and Reformation, from geographical discoveries and from scientific inventions in the West. Although a century later, during the Tanzimat period, efforts at modernization started to be witnessed, the Ottoman state and the Islamic countries had by then become colonies of Western Europe anyway. Like all oppressive governments, the rulers of these countries, insisted on their old feudal structure and started to cooperate with the colonialists.
The Islamic world – with the sole exception of the Turkey of Atatürk’s – was unable to understand – or prevented from understanding – the real cause of the destruction it had undergone. Capitalist powers, in turn, are far from repudiating their colonial heritage and habits - let alone from putting science and technology to best use in the service of freedom, equality, justice, peace and common welfare, particularly on the international plane.
Durkheim’s moral anomie
This issue is referred to by Emile Durkheim in his aforementioned work as “the state of legal and moral anomie that economic life is in”. “The most blameworthy acts,” he asserts, “ are so often absolved by success that the boundary between what is permitted and what is prohibited, what is just and what is unjust, has nothing fixed about it, but seem susceptible to almost arbitrary change by individuals… It is this anomic state that is the cause of the incessantly recurrent conflicts and the multifarious disorders of which the economic world exhibits so sad a spectacle... Human passions stop only before a moral power they respect. If all authority of this kind is wanting, the law of the strongest prevails, and latent or active, the state of war is necessarily chronic…To justify this chaotic state; we vainly praise its encouragement of individual liberty. Nothing is falser than this antagonism too often presented between legal authority and individual liberty. Quite on the contrary, liberty (we mean genuine liberty, which it is society’s duty to have respected) is itself the product of regulation… It is impossible for the State not to be interested in a form of activity which, by its very nature, can always affect all society…”
The only project able to improve the lot of Muslims and to integrate them into the modern world is the secularist path, which permits the development of a social order based on the science of sociology. This is compatible with Islam but requires a different attitude form the Political West.
The lives of societies are determined in part by material (economic and technological) forces, and in part by forces of thought and ideas. Unless the fabric of a society is not distorted by outside factors, these two groups of factors normally form a harmonious whole. If an order genuinely based on democracy – on independence, freedom, justice and welfare - is to be established in the large area of our world referred to as the “Greater Middle East”, the forces of thought should be such as to achieve, and not obstruct, these ideals.
(DIPLOMAT - June 2005 - Ankara)