Another 'Just So' Story?
Speaking at a December 10-11, 2007 Rome Conference entitled, "Fighting for Democracy in the Islamic World," renowned historian Bernard Lewis intoned,
"The authoritarianism present in the Middle East region is not part of the Arab and Muslim tradition, but it has been imported from Europe...."
"...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 a vis it."
"...there is still no idea that the subjects have any right to share in the formation or conduct of government-to political freedom, or citizenship, in the sense which underlies the development of political thought in the West. While conservative reformers talked of freedom under law, and some Muslim rulers even experimented with councils and assemblies government was in fact becoming more and not less arbitrary...."
"All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life...and remain set and rigid; ...This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form."
"...been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it [Islam]. It [Islam] accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed [emphasis in original] of their past."
"Each was a blood descendant of Osman [d. 1326, founder of the Ottoman dynasty]; the commander of all armed forces; the Caliph, the religious chief of all Moslems; the Padishah or King of Kings with the power of life and death over even his own cabinet ministers; the indisputable executor of the Prophet's will-the Shadow of God on Earth"
"But like the Janissaries [military slaves taken from the families of the subjugated Christian populations while adolescents, and forcibly converted to Islam, as part of the Ottoman devshirme levy system] they were Kuls, slaves whose lives and properties belonged to the master. Cases occurred where a Grand Vizier was put to death at a mere whim of the Sultan."
"Then, Islam was a totalitarian religion. The Koran regulated not only the relationship of man to God, but all aspects of political organization, economics, and private conduct. Although the Sultan was the sole legislator, his laws, the sheri [Shari'a], were expected to conform to the sacred text. Now, for the proper interpretation of the Prophet's phrases, there was a body of learned priests and jurists, the Ulemas. While no born Moslem could become a member of the Janissaries, no ex-Christian was ever allowed to enter the sacred corporation of the Ulemas. These theologians were not the slaves of the Sultan, but their opinions nevertheless were only advisory. So, the whole exotic structure of the Ottoman state can be summed up this way: the Koran was the empire's Constitution; the Sultan, its absolute executor; the Janissaries, the soldiers and administrators; and the thinking Ulemas, a sort of Supreme Court."
"Islam first came before the world as a doubly totalitarian system. It claimed to impose itself on the whole world and it claimed also, by the divinely appointed Muhammadan law, by the principles of fiqh [jurisprudence], to regulate down to the smallest details the whole life of the Islamic community and of every individual believer... the study of Muhammadan Law (dry and forbidding though it may appear)... is of great importance to the world of today."
"It remains to be seen how soon the reformers will realize the account that must sooner or later be settled between real civil and religious liberty and Mohammedan sacred law or 'Shariat' (including the Koran, and the Traditions)...It remains to be seen... whether the zimmi [dhimmi], (Christian or Jewish subjects) can ever really be accorded equal rights with the Moslem in Moslem states; whether the habit of freedom can be taught; and whether the root of the whole social evil, the position of women, can be touched, while a belief in the Koran remains...But apart from the problematic future, we have the historical past:- by the confession of the entire Moslem world itself, nothing could have been more deplorable from every point of view, moral, social, intellectual, political, and even religious, than the state of all Moslem lands before the reform movement from the West agitated them. This was freely admitted at a Moslem Conference held lately at Mecca...Is this confessed failure, then, due to Islam, or is it not? All that can be said is that Islam had practically had an absolute monopoly of influence where the state of things had been brought about; and that the impulse towards change in no case sprang-apparently could not have sprung-from any purely Islamic source. These are, at least, two solid facts. The 'movements' that spring from purely Islamic sources are typified by names like Abd ul Wahhab, the Mahdi, El-Senussi: And these movements are movements-backwards."