Why Hizb Ut-Tahrir is wrong, part 3: what it means to be human
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Editor’s note: Hizb Ut-Tahrir envisions the establishment of a pan-Islamic super-state, but would it even work? Is it even what Muslims want? neweurasia’s Schwartz doesn’t think so. What’s at stake are two very different understandings of unity and humanity, the one of everyday people versus the one of radicals — and that difference is everything.
In my first post I examined the inner logic of Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s vision of a restored Caliphate and in my second I did the same for their approach to Modernity. To wrap this up, I now turn to the more fundamental questions: would an Islamic super-state actually work, and is this something that Muslims even really want? That second question is the more important of the two, as ultimately it’s really dealing with differing views of what it means to be human.
Would an Islamic super-state actually work?
The honest answer to this question is that no one actually knows. However, historical precedence is not very reassuring, as we’ve seen the majority of super-states struggle and ultimately fail to become coherent and sustainable. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are the most obvious examples of failure; Canada and Belgium are examples where the struggle is ongoing, and in far more humane and liberal conditions. However, in the latter case, it has led to a very strange state of affairs, as it were, a permanent crisis. Consider: these four are examples of super-states, large and small, that were trying to weld together geographic and linguistic zones far smaller than the Caliphate envisioned by Hizb Ut-Tahrir.
Arguably the only super-state that has succeeded so far has been the United States, in no small part due to the fact that much of its constituent states were the product of colonization from an original nucleus of member-states. But even then the United States underwent an intense civil war, as two very different political and economic traditions vied with each other, and to some extent that conflict is still being waged, except now through political discourse and taxation and military policies.
Key to the feasibility of any super-state is the question of ends: why or for what purpose does the polity exist? Is there some grander call, e.g., gaining the maximum number of people to submit to the Law of God, or is the goal more worldly, e.g., to exert dominance over other societies? And not only this, but what is the place of the quotidian aspects of a polity, e.g., trash collection or managing healthcare, in the scope of that purpose? As far as I can hear, Hizb Ut-Tahrir doesn’t have consistent or well-thought-out answers.
I should confess that in this regard, I’m actually somewhat sympathetic. As a member of the Baha’i Faith, it’s an article of my faith that there shall one day be established a worldwide super-state — we call it the “Global Commonwealth” — and although the general framework has been laid out for us by the founders of our religion, i.e., that the Commonwealth shall seek to re-harmonize the spiritual and material qualities of humanity and thus further advance civilization in a dual sense, that diversity shall nevertheless be retained within or alongside this new unity, that there shall be a just distribution of wealth and resources, and so on, the details have been left to the Baha’is and like-minded groups to figure out.
Nevertheless, I think there’s a crucial attitudinal difference between the Baha’is and Hizb Ut-Tahrir, namely, how we understand what it means to be faithful — that important subtlety that appeared as early as the first point in my first point. Do we really know what God wants? If not, that is, if we are in an uncertain universe, how can we still act, and do so with confidence and energy? The Baha’is respond by inculcating a state of mind of humble experimentation: the answer will be revealed over time, and even then, we may never fully comprehend it. Hizb Ut-Tahrir, however, appears to be much more convinced that they somehow do possess the answer with certainty and clarity. I think I’ve sufficiently demonstrated the dangers of their approach in my previous posts, so let’s move onto the next question.
Is a Caliphate really what Muslims want?
I confess that the idea of the Caliphate taps into a very real nostalgia for a time when there was, ostensibly at least, unity within the global Islamic community, and moreover, that nostalgia doesn’t have to be historically accurate or all that realistic. However, one immediately wonders whether the majority of Muslims would agree with the idea that the global Islamic community is, at root, a demos, much less an ethnos, i.e., a polity and an ethnicity.
To be sure, they certainly see themselves as (usually) brothers and sisters in a common spiritual fraternity. In the experience of both myself and countless other people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who spend their time trying to access, as it were, the Muslim psyche, the overwhelming majority of Muslims would express various levels of discomfort at the notion of elevating their fraternity to anything as firm and fixed as a pan-Islamic national super-state. Rather, they seem to prefer present national and political identities, or at least ethnic and communal identities. Moreover, if Morocco and Turkey’s (albeit frustrated) attempts to join the European Union and the various revolutions that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa are any evidence, they’re just as interested, if not more so, in interacting and integrating with the larger non-Muslim world than just with each other.
Hizb Ut-Tahrir themselves tacitly admits that this is the case. Otherwise they wouldn’t be making such a huge effort to propagandize Islamic populations in the attempt to get the global Islamic community to see things their way (they, of course, prefer the euphemism dawa). What I wonder about is whether Hizb Ut-Tahrir is actually misdiagnosing the condition, i.e., seeing it as a problem of consciousness. In my view, the rank-and-file Muslim viewpoint, if I may speak in terms of such a vast generality, may actually have very real and meaningful content.
Here’s my reasoning: to be sure, the first impetus for wanting to vividly interact with and even integrate into the non-Muslim world is economic. However, underneath every economic, much less political strategy, there is a metaphysics, i.e., a sense of what it means to be human, and with it, a set of choices: if you see humanity one way, certain options occur to you that would not if you saw humanity another way. Clearly, the majority of several Muslim nations have considered it to be perfectly consistent to be Muslim and not necessarily part of a larger pan-Islamic national super-state, indicating that their vision of what it means to be human is something that transcends the particular identity category of “Muslim”.
Differing visions of humanity
So, let me conclude with this: what’s really at stake in examining Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s ideology is the question of how we understand tawhid or unity, that most fundamental of Islamic concepts: is tawhid only within the global Islamic community itself, or is it a human-spanning concept, and if so, in what way? Hizb ut-Tahrir opts for the latter, although doubtlessly they believe that eventually the global Islamic community shall be co-extensive with the human species (most likely through armed jihad emerging from the restored Caliphate). Everyday Muslims, however, seem to me more inclined to see the human species as simultaneously too broad and more fundamental than any one specific identity, including the Muslim one.
History can thank the influence of Sufi doctrines and not a little bit of secularization in this regard, but it is certainly a very different, and far less aggressive, conception of tawhid. Frankly, speaking as a Jew, whose history has been scarred by insufficient and inhumane tawhid; as a Baha’i, for whom tawhid is even more at the center of what it means to be religious, a journalist, and a human being; and most of all, as a human being, who, like all of us, longs for a real and deep reconciliation within our species, I’d take the “everyday” version of tawhid over Hizb ut-Tahrir’s any day. In the end, it is the truest, and it is right.