In No 'Hurr(i)y(ya)' for Freedom
During several notable speeches since 2003, including both inaugural and State of the Union addresses, President Bush has repeatedly stressed the paramount importance of promoting freedom in the Middle East. Speaking in an almost messianic idiom, he has termed such a quest
'the calling of our time ...the calling of our country.'
Most recently, he reiterated this theme while speaking to The American Legion on February 24, 2006, and offered the following sanguine assessment of progress:
'Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East. The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad, to Beirut, and beyond. Slowly but surely, we're helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom. And as freedom reaches more people in this vital region, we'll have new allies in the war on terror, and new partners in the cause of moderation in the Muslim world and in the cause of peace.'
Despite President Bush's uplifting rhetoric and ebullient appraisal of these events—which epitomize American hopes and values at their quintessential best—there is a profound, deeply troubling flaw in his (and/or his advisers) analysis which simply ignores the vast gulf between Western and Islamic conceptions of freedom itself.
Hurriyya (Arabic for 'freedom') and the uniquely Western concept of freedom are completely at odds.
Hurriyya 'freedom' is — as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) the lionized 'Greatest Sufi Master', expressed it — 'being perfect slavery.' And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis' perhaps metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the 'master' and his human 'slaves.'
The late American scholar of Islam, Franz Rosenthal (d. 2003) analyzed the larger context of hurriyya in Muslim society. He notes the historical absence of hurriyya as '...a fundamental political concept that could have served as a rallying cry for great causes'. An individual Muslim
'...was expected to consider subordination of his own freedom to the beliefs, morality and customs of the group as the only proper course of behavior...'.
Thus politically, Rosenthal concludes,
'...the individual was not expected to exercise any free choice as to how he wished to be governed...In general, ...governmental authority admitted of no participation of the individual as such, who therefore did not possess any real freedom vis—