Discover more from Fisted by Foucault
Saturday Commentary and Review #142
Quebec's Defense of the French Language, China and Russia as BFFs, "Is It Fascism Yet?", What Is Salafism?, Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?
Every weekend (almost) I share five articles/essays/reports with you. I select these over the course of the week because they are either insightful, informative, interesting, important, or a combination of the above.
The Canadian Province of Quebec has been an endless source of fascination for me ever since I was a little boy. The original reason for my fascination was due to the most obvious one: they didn’t speak English, but instead spoke French. From there on, my interests turned toward its increasing nationalism, its pre-nationalist history of Ultramontanism, and then to its French colonial history (which was snuffed out by the British at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1763), with a strong focus on exactly which French people arrived to settle there.
I spent a fair bit of time in Quebec during the 1990s, mainly in Montreal and Hull. This coincided with its failed second independence referendum that took place in 1995, and which effectively ended aspirations for Quebecois sovereignty. Montreal was still very cosmopolitan (and continues to be), but was undergoing increasing Francisation. This was a process that had begun in the 1970s with the rise of the Parti Quebecois and the institution of language laws that mandated the supremacy of French over English.
By the 1990s, the bulk of the Anglophone elite in Montreal (located mainly in the west of the city) had decamped to Toronto, making that city the new business capital of Canada. These Anglophones were heavily Scottish in origin, and were not very happy with the nationalist turn in La Belle Province. Even with their migration, Montreal continued to have a strong Anglophone presence.
Hull and the wider Gatineau area is a bit different. Being smaller and more parochial, I was taken aback by just how non-Anglophone the Quebecois were in that area that sat just across from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. Remove yourself from Hull and head up river to Aylmer (a paper mill town) and you’d have difficulty communicating with locals.
Thanks to its language laws, its high level of autonomy, and Canada’s official bilingualism and multiculturalism, Quebec has carved out for itself a hermetically-sealed Francophone culture that is uniquely Quebecois, and often difficult for the non-speaker of French to comprehend. They have their own TV shows, books, popular music artists, comedians, and so on. They have been shown to be able to protect their own culture with the strong assistance of the provincial government, thereby fending off assimilation into whatever Anglophone Canadian culture is (I can’t define it) or Americanization. In short, they are a unique culture, with its uniqueness founded upon an anachronistic form of the French language.
Granting concessions to Quebec to run its own affairs has kept the political peace in Canada for decades now. Many Quebec Anglophones have relocated, but many have remained in the province. This gentleman’s agreement has not satisfied everyone, with Conrad Black being one of its most vocal opponents:
The latest in a long sequence of outrageous assaults on the English language in Quebec was the provincial government’s announcement that out-of-province students in Quebec universities will pay twice the tuition fees as Quebecers. This is specifically identified as an attempt to discourage the registration at Quebec universities of students from other provinces because of the “anglicizing effect” they have on Montreal. All of the federal political parties have been engaged for years in a pusillanimous joint policy to hear, see and speak no evil about the language policy of the Government of Quebec under all three parties that have held office in that province in the last 50 years, to repress the English language in Quebec. This is expected to produce an additional $110 million in revenue annually, which will be added to the funding of Quebec’s French-language universities, ”to preserve, promote and enhance the French language in the university system,” according to Jean-François Roberge, the minister of the French language.
Now check this out:
“When tens of thousands of people arrive on the island of Montreal without a mastery of French, it’s obvious it can have an anglicizing effect on the metropolis“ (which has a population of 4.3 million), Roberge added. As 22 per cent of the students at Montreal’s McGill University are from other provinces and 30 per cent are from other countries, this move is also clearly intended to be a direct assault on the English-language universities — McGill, a historic institution that is admired and respected throughout the world, Concordia and Bishop’s (where Rudyard Kipling was once a lecturer).
Roberge’s statement simply tells us that by importing those who do not speak the majority language, culture can change. Mr. Black should be aware of this fact. What Mr. Black seems to argue for is a reconquista of Quebec by Anglophones and whatever Anglophone culture is today.
Quebec’s Bill 96 last year capped the number of students in Quebec’s junior colleges where English is the language of instruction. It also increased francization requirements for any business with more than 25 employees, and required offices and agencies of the federal government and of federally incorporated or chartered corporations, such as banks, to comply with the Charter of the French Language. This is an outright breach of the Constitution, which is attested to by the bill’s blanket use of the notwithstanding clause, but there was no discernible reaction outside Quebec and tepid resignation from the English-language minority in Quebec that has been relentlessly culturally browbeaten for nearly 50 years.
Mr. Black is technically correct w/r/t the use of the notwithstanding clause, but isn’t cultural protectionism a very, very good reason to invoke it?
This entire anti-English campaign is a betrayal. For decades the principal Quebec nationalists, Le Devoir, Radio-Canada, nationalist academics and politicians from Philippe Hamel to René Lévesque claimed that if biculturalism became somewhat reciprocal, and not just French-Canadians having to learn English, all would be well. “Conquer us with goodwill, my English friends,” said Hamel in 1935, “you are surely capable of it and you will be astonished by the easy victory that awaits you.” Once English Canada finally recognized Quebec as the immense asset to Canada that it is and biculturalism was energetically promoted and millions of English-Canadian school students started studying French and thousands of federal civil servants came to Quebec to learn French, biculturalism was straight-armed by the nationalist Quebec establishment as attempted assimilation.
The reason for this is simple: the French language cannot compete with English on a level playing field in North America. Not only are Anglophones much more numerous in Canada, but the massive giant that is the USA sits on a long border with Quebec as well.
Quebec’s official assault on the English language is a fraud and an outrage and a little courage from Ottawa and English Canada would bring down the nationalist Quebec unilingual house of cards. No serious country allows the language of the vast majority of its citizens to be tormented in its second-largest province. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is serious about retaining his office, he should inspire himself and the rest of us with the biculturalism section of his father’s playbook. So should the Opposition, if it is serious about replacing him.
Anglophone Canada has bought peace via its gentleman’s agreement with Quebec. The price has been the subordination of the English language to French in that province. Many will conclude that it is a decent price to pay. Upending this agreement would not solve any of Canada’s many significant problems that plague it at present. There is no threat of Quebecois separatism as it stands now. To apply the kind of pressure on Quebec that Mr. Black seeks would blow wind into the now-stagnant sails of that separatism.
Realists are in increasingly short supply in the West, as conceit and hubris are on the rise due to the increasingly ideological rigidity of its ruling elites.
The conceit that liberal democracy is the “only way to govern” has led to many errors over the past three decades. Examples include the failed “shock therapy” of 1990s Russia, the belief that Iraq could be transformed into a liberal democracy, and the complete failure of the West to get the non-aligned world onside with sanctions targeting Russia.
One of the most incomprehensible actions of the US-led West has been to push Russia and China closer together. It was only natural for a Russia forced out of Europe to turn East, and for the Chinese to welcome the Russians as partners as they too are feeling the strangulating effects of US military and economic policy in their own neighbourhood. The German Atlanticist publication Der Spiegel laments the fact that Beijing and Moscow have been increasingly working together for the sake of mutual self-preservation:
Russia's war against Ukraine has done nothing to change that. Since the invasion began a year and a half ago, Beijing and Moscow have further intensified their already close ties in a number of areas, including military cooperation, business and trade and in the area of societal exchanges. Contrary to China's assertion that the country is taking a neutral stance in the "Ukraine conflict," as Beijing officialese refers to the war, the two nations appear to be forging a united front.
Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for the meeting of the Silk Road partner countries at the Belt and Road Forum. It is the third time he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have met since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Moscow, for its part, is making no attempt to play down its close ties with China. On the contrary, having the world's second-largest power on its side is an invaluable asset for Russia. At most, Moscow officials would like to avoid giving the impression of increased dependence on Beijing, even if the facts clearly speak a different language.
Xi and Putin stage their summits to look like meetings of equals. And the two autocrats appear to get on quite well. Putin addresses Xi as his "dear old friend," who in turn has called Putin his "best friend." They have awarded each other honorary doctorates from their respective alma maters and – on the periphery of international summits – celebrated birthdays together on several occasions: in 2013 in Bali over vodka and sausage, and in 2019 in Tajikistan with ice cream.
Can you blame them? Of course not. What boggles the mind is how this situation could have been any different in light of the actions of the USA towards both Moscow and Beijing.
Self-preservation that is under threat from US hegemonic ambitions:
But beyond their similar backgrounds, they share an overarching political goal: that of breaking U.S. dominance. Russia and China see themselves as pushing back against Washington's "pursuit of hegemony," while "the friendship between the two countries has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation." That's from the text of a joint statement from February 4, 2022, adopted shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Xi received his guest of honor Putin for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
A natural partnership:
The war has in no way led China to scale down the intensity of that cooperation. Zhou Bo, a retired colonel in the People's Liberation Army and now a senior fellow at Beijing Tsinghua University's Center for International Security and Strategy, says the blame lies with Washington. "The Americans are stepping up their efforts in the Indo-Pacific," he says. That worries Beijing, he adds. "Joint patrols signal that China and Russia still share interests."
Thus far, that does appear to be true when it comes to large-scale military equipment and lethal weapons. Despite U.S. claims in March 2022 that such deliveries were being prepared, it doesn't appear that any have been made. That does not, however, apply to dual-use goods, items that can be used for both military and civilian purposes. They, too, fall under the comprehensive sanctions regime imposed on Russia by the U.S., the European Union and other countries.
In 2022, for example, Russia imported $900 million worth of semiconductors from mainland China and Hong Kong, more than double the previous year's figure. Also documented are Chinese exports of 1,000 "hunting rifles," 154,000 helmets and a significantly increased quantity of ceramics, such as those used in bulletproof vests. According to a contract seen by the news agency AFP, a Chinese company sold two Earth observation satellites in November 2022 to a Russian company belonging to the empire of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was head of the Wagner mercenary force at the time.
Through March, $12 million worth of drones and related components had found their way from Russia from China. In addition, Japan's Nikkei Asia magazine looked into Russian customs records, where journalists found that at least 37 of these drones were explicitly "intended for use in the special military operation," as Moscow refers to its war of aggression. In the meantime, China has imposed additional export restrictions on civilian drones.
Sanctions as “inconsequential”:
Xiao Bin, a Russia expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, insists that China's government has nothing to do with such deliveries. "But if some Central Asian states act as intermediaries, China has no leverage," he says. "When the war started, Russian companies opened offices there."
But vendors in China are likely also providing Russia with goods that it is no longer able to obtain elsewhere, as a conversation with a Russian businesswoman in Beijing would seem to indicate. She works for a company that matches up Russian buyers with Chinese manufacturers. Business is good and continues to grow, she says. Currently, she says, her company is receiving numerous requests from Russia for brand-name clothing from companies like adidas and Louis Vuitton. Some requests, though, have struck her as odd, such as the one for hunting rifle scopes.
Such apparent violations of sanctions designed to cut Moscow off from such equipment are likely to continue to go unpunished. The transactions are too discreet to be easily tracked and too small for the West to risk a confrontation with Beijing. Which has made Chinese companies into beneficiaries from Russia's isolation.
Bilateral trade at record levels:
The data reflects as much. In 2022, Sino-Russian trade reached the record level of $190 billion, an increase of 30 percent compared to the prewar year. In 2023, that figure is likely to be significantly more, with trade already totaling $155 billion in the first eight months alone. If that trend continues, the volume could reach $230 billion by the end of the year.
As Chinese goods increasingly replace those of Western origin in Russia, a growing amount of energy raw materials are flowing in the opposite direction. In August, Russia supplied 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day to China – more than Saudi Arabia and 26 percent more than in the same month last year. As a supplier of natural gas, Russia has so far held a less dominant position, but is nevertheless gaining ground. Although China consumed 1.2 percent less gas in 2022 than in 2021, imports of Russian pipeline gas increased by 54 percent.
And all that trade is filling Moscow's war chest. Ukraine is so alarmed by the development that Kyiv, on October 3, officially listed three Chinese oil giants as "international sponsors of war."
In 1973, Nixon went to China to split the Soviets from Beijing. In the past few years, the USA has done everything to force Post-Soviet Russia to get back together with China.
Click here to read the rest.
The use and abuse of political and philosophical terms is pervasive these days, with many of these terms effectively rendered incoherent due to misuse/overuse and said abuse. For example, I don’t think that anyone can any longer define what “racism” or “liberal democracy” actually means. Terms are expanded or contracted based on self-interest instead of universal agreement.
A classic example is the misuse/overuse of the political term “fascism”. Used entirely to attack political or cultural opponents in order to shut down discussion, its original meaning has been effectively corrupted and almost entirely lost. Yet the word has significant power in that it casts a negative moral judgment on whoever it is used against. In the case of fascism, this power is derived from the fact that our present world system was erected on the basis of its defeat in 1945.
The right wing in the West has been the overwhelming target of the fascism slur. More often than not, the charge is ridiculous; being anti-open borders is enough to be classed as one. However, those that protest are missing the point: it’s not the technical accuracy of the charge, but the moral judgment that matters.
On the other hand, accuracy still does matter. There are principled types who will insist on accurate definitions of terms, and they appear on both the right and the left. It is with this in mind that I present to you a Marxist take on fascism in the USA, one that seeks accuracy (from their ideological lens) in definition, and one that finds that many of those who wield the term willy-nilly can “best” be charged with being fascists themselves.
On accuracy in terminology:
My purpose in addressing fascism once again is to take it out of the American view that it is a matter of morally and politically bankrupt personal beliefs to place it in economic history as political economy.
The author of this essay makes the following claim:
Conflation of the US’s uniparty electoral system with parliamentary systems poses Democrats and Republicans as political opponents when they jointly act as tools of American capital. This distinction without a difference between the American parties leaves a perpetual choice between two dedicated servants of capital. Add back in American imperialism, and differences between the candidates and parties shrink even more.
The author states that placing fascism back in its proper historical context is both “tedious and necessary”, and I agree with him.
On American history through a Marxist lens and how it resembles fascism:
In 1917, US President, ‘progressive’ Democrat, racist crank, and proto-fascist Woodrow Wilson created the anodyne sounding Committee on Public Information to sell WWI to the American people. The Committee later served as the model for the German fascists’ propaganda efforts. Wilson’s Progressive ‘science’ substantially informed fascist race ‘science.’ The American eugenics program informed the German fascist program to exterminate ‘undesirables.’ Wilson was still prosecuting the Indian Wars in the US when the German fascists came to power. And in 1919 Wilson launched the Palmer Raids that rounded up American dissidents and put them in concentration camps, then known as ‘prisons.’
The second industrial revolution in the US (1860 or thereabouts) was contemporaneous with the launch-in-earnest of the Indian Wars. Prior to industrialization, Federal plans had been to create side-by-side nations where the indigenous (‘tribes’ if you prefer) would rule themselves. However, industrialization led to the use of natural resources on a scale never before imagined. The US had many of the natural resources needed for industrialization within its borders. The ‘problem’ was that many of these resources were on land occupied by the indigenous. The Indian Wars were a form of internal imperialism, complete with rococo, race based, explanations of why these resources rightfully belonged to American industrialists.
Taken together, and based on multiple accounts including that of contemporary American liberal Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction, the German fascists wanted to recreate what the Americans had using the methods the Americans had used to create it. According to Tooze, the German fascists concluded that Germany lacked the quantity and variety of natural resources needed to fulfil their ambitions to follow the American model of industrialization internally, hence their plan to conquer Europe, and in particular, Russia, in order to take them. From a Marxist frame, the German fascists look like ordinary imperialists with a racialized component.
While American Jim Crow laws provided the model for German fascist race laws, American Progressive ‘race science,’ a/k/a scientific racism, provided the pseudo-scientific basis for the extermination of ‘undesirables.’ American eugenics laws based in Progressive science led to the involuntary sterilization of 70,000 poor women in the US. And again, the Indian Wars were still underway in the US when the German fascists began their ascent to power. Add in US imperialism, its ethos explicated below by former US General Smedley Butler, and German fascism appears to be more an historical continuity than a break.
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” (Former US General) Smedley D. Butler, War is a Racket.
The author goes into a long digression about living in an almost entirely poor Black neighbourhood, and arrives at an interesting conclusion:
While racism is usually called upon to explain the bleak futures these children face, a preponderance of the people keeping this city poor proudly, loudly, and repeatedly, call themselves anti-racists.
The Liberal contention that this sort of violence may be regrettable, but it isn’t political, depends on the dubious distinction between economic and political power. But the systematic nature of the violence suggests otherwise. Bill Clinton and Joe Biden passed the 1994 Crime Bill that increased mandatory prison sentences while it made appeals for wrongful convictions virtually impossible to win. Joe Biden claimed to have written the Patriot Act, which ended restraints on police behavior toward the population. These aren’t considered to be failures by Liberals; they are considered to be successes. Just ask Hillary.
Likewise, the problems in my neighborhood aren’t evidence of neoliberal failure, they are evidence of neoliberal success. American oligarchs put their servants in government to the task of deindustrializing the nation, and they did so. Why? To break the back of organized labor as they avoided environmental regulations and the payment of taxes. Up until about two weeks ago the news had it that Americans are living in the greatest economic boom in modern history. While my homeless friends may beg to differ, no one is asking their opinion.
‘Fascists’ didn’t create, pass, and enact the 1994 Crime Bill, Liberal Democrats did. ‘Fascists’ didn’t create the Patriot Act (according to Biden), Liberal Democrats did. Donald Trump found himself on the wrong side of the Democrat’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine--- he only played a minor part in the slaughter of 450,000 Ukrainian soldiers by agreeing to send American-made weapons there. Trump was derided for his inadequate Covid pandemic response until Biden & Co. assumed his crony capitalist / libertarian logic to create the worst response in the rich world.
Now check out the conclusion:
The way to deal with Mr. Trump and his constituents was to govern effectively so as to beat him at the polls. I have said and written this consistently regarding the generic risk of fascism since the onset of the Great Recession. The choice of the Democrats to not govern effectively only adds to the risk of fascist violence by being fascist violence. The difference between the Weimar relationship with the German fascists and the Liberal Democrats’ relationship with Donald Trump and his supporters is that the latter aren’t political competitors except in the most anodyne of senses. In 2023, the Democrats are more explicitly capitalist, and imperialist, than the so-called political Right in the US.
He is right that the Dems are more explicitly capitalist and imperialist than the so-called right. I, however, disagree with it being categorized as fascist for several reasons as it does not meet the necessary standards of its original/early definition(s). I’ll save my explanation for another time, though.
The Hamas raids into Israel from Gaza have Islam back in the news, specifically political Islam.
Hamas’ original charter announced that they were the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization of incredible and vast importance across the Islamic world. The Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists i.e. those that view the impossibility of separating mosque and state. Yet they do not have a monopoly on Islamism.
A competing Islamist force is that of Salafism, a “back to the roots” version of Sunni Islam that stresses the purity of the early era of the faith (the ‘pious ancestors’ of the first three generations). We in the West are best acquainted with its jihadist groupings, most notably al-Qaida and ISIS. Both of these extremist organizations are Salafist, but not all Salafism is related to violent jihad, as Aaron Rock-Singer explains in this long (and very engrossing) essay on its history:
There are tens of millions of Salafis today, male and female, and their ranks stretch from the Middle East and South Asia to western Europe and the United States. Members of this Sunni Islamic movement are bound by shared principles, including a literalist theological approach regarding God’s nature and a commitment to deriving all law from Islam’s holy text (the Quran) and the authoritative record of the Prophet Muhammad’s life (the Sunna). These shared principles manifest not merely in a comprehensive project of piety that defines these men and women’s lives, but also in a set of daily practices that visually distinguish Salafis not only from non-Muslims but also from fellow Muslims.
If one knows what to look for, one can identify a Salafi by sight. Salafi facial hair comprises a trimmed moustache and a beard that is a fist long, at minimum; Salafis dress in pants or robes that are shortened to the ankle; and Salafi social spaces are defined by separation of men and women. If one were to venture into a mosque, one could identify (some) Salafis by the distinctive practice of praying in shoes, which stands in contrast to the practice of the vast majority of Muslims, who pray barefoot (and have done so for centuries). Collectively, these practices enable Salafis to create a cultural boundary between themselves and other Muslims and non-Muslims with whom they disagree on core issues.
Who are they really?
This description is likely not what you expected from an article on Salafism. When the term ‘Salafi’ is used, many in the US think of Osama bin Laden, the founder and late leader of al-Qaeda. And it is quite possible that many of those who think of Bin Laden when they hear this term also know a significant amount regarding his goals (global Jihad), his methods (attacks on civilians and military alike), his disdain for local Arab regimes (particularly Saudi Arabia) and even his death in May 2011 in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. And, as not only al-Qaeda but also ISIS have challenged the international order over the past two decades, the common answer to explain this trajectory has been that these groups model themselves after the first three generations of the Muslim community, known as the ‘Pious Ancestors’ (al-Salaf al-Salih).
These associations are not wrong but they are incomplete. Bin Laden was certainly a prominent representative of Salafi-Jihadism, but Salafi-Jihadism is a minority within the broader Salafi movement. Similarly, it is correct that Salafis take the first three generations of the Muslim community as a model yet, in doing so, they are joined by billions of Muslims across the world of vastly different views. And while it would be accurate to note that Salafis pattern themselves after the Prophet Muhammad’s journey – first his preaching in Mecca and then a full-blown project fusing religion and politics in Medina – an aspiration to reproduce this model is not the same as reproducing it. Put differently, while Salafis take inspiration from the 7th century, they emerged in the 20th century.
Muslims living in the shadow of western colonialism throughout the 19th and 20th century asked the question: who in the Muslim community should have authority?
For a millennium, the answer to that question lay with the traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence, known as the madhhabs. Scholars within these schools – which were not brick-and-mortar buildings but rather intellectual and social networks that knit together scholars across vast geographic distances – had long served as crucial mediators. They not only bridged the gap between lay Muslims and divine revelation and the Prophetic model, but also between the ruler and ruled. In the face of unprecedented political, social and economic challenges introduced by colonialism, however, Muslim reformers challenged the centrality of madhhab scholars.
These reformers were otherwise a highly diverse group who had little in common except shared opposition to the madhhab system. They came from Iran (Jamal al-Din al-Afghani), Egypt (Muhammad ʿAbduh), Syria (Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi and Muhammad Rashid Rida), and even Crimea (Ismaʿil bey Gaspıralı). Some such as ʿAbduh, Gaspıralı and Al-Qasimi sought change through education, while others such as Al-Afghani and Rida turned to Islam as a powerful source of solidarity to mobilise Muslims against colonial occupation. All, however, embraced the power of the written word to speak to Muslim audiences within and beyond their country of origin and, in doing so, modelled an understanding of a global Islamic community that depended on scholars and laymen alike. All were also concerned with an interlocking set of questions: what did it mean to preserve the Islamic tradition in the shadow of modernity? How could Muslims compete with Europe’s intellectual, political and economic might that manifested itself in colonial rule over Muslim-majority lands? Could the Ottoman Caliphate, which had stood for 500 years, be saved and, in doing so, offer a counterweight to colonial interference? To answer these questions, all proposed returning to Islam’s two ‘pure’ sources: the Quran and the Sunna.
The emergence of the Salafis in the the 1920s and 30s:
In the 1920s and ’30s, Salafism emerged as part of the Islamic reformist camp. As they did so, Salafis brought together two previously independent positions: a literalist approach to God’s nature and attributes preserved in the Hanbali school, one of the four Sunni schools of law; and the rejection of the madhhabs’ authoritative positions in favour of direct recourse to the Quran and the Sunna. While theology might appear to be an unlikely source of distinction for a world-making project, Salafis believe that their theological approach is the only valid way to worship God.
The Salafi theological and legal position was not merely a view of theological or legal truth but also a claim to authority and authenticity. In the shadow of the radical changes of the 19th and 20th centuries – a period during which Muslims had lost control over their lands, in which the Ottoman Caliphate had fallen, and in which European colonial penetration had reshaped the political and economic backbone of the Middle East and South Asia – they argued that Muslims had lost their connection to Islam’s founding model. While such an accusation highlighted the rise of secular nationalism in Muslim-majority lands, it also applied to other pious Muslims who also prized Islam’s golden period, such as the premier Islamist movement of the time, the Muslim Brotherhood. In short, the Salafi claim was (and is) that their commitment to modelling themselves after the early Muslim community of 7th-century Arabia makes them the most authentic and thus legitimate claimants to Islamic leadership. Just as importantly, the repeated claim that Salafis were subject to God’s authority only in countries whose leaders and populations were overwhelmingly Muslim was a clear rebuke of the authority of secular nationalist states that had arisen following the end of colonial rule.
The contemporary Salafi scene is defined by three main contingents: Quietists, Islamists (aka Politicos) and Jihadis. The Quietists believe in obedience to the existing ruler and shy away from any public statements that could be interpreted as criticism. Instead, they offer advice (nasiha) to the ruler in private while pursuing grassroots reform of Muslims’ theological beliefs and ritual life, a focus that Al-Albani termed ‘Purification and Education’. To the extent that Quietist scholars comment on the status quo, they do so exclusively from a ‘religious’ perspective, avoiding any indictments of the political elite. The approach of Quietist scholars to politics, however, should not be understood as apolitical, but rather as a principled view of the dangers of political disorder drawn from the Sunni political tradition. Quietist Salafis avoid political competition and criticism not merely because it is unwise but also because it exaggerates the capacity of the state to rear pious Muslims while necessitating compromise with non-Salafi Muslims such as Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is only through uncompromising and principled reform of society that a properly Islamic state can arise in the future, and shortcuts to such a state will inevitably be plagued by corruption that renders this project defective.
By contrast, those Salafis who belong to the Islamist or Politico camp meld a commitment to Salafi theology, law and social practice with a vision of religiopolitical change through explicit critique of the status quo and electoral competition. While they are aware of the Quietist concern with compromise, they reject it in favour of the opportunities offered by state power and an urgent desire to change the status quo. This understanding of religiopolitical change, in turn, is a legacy of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly the ideas of its founder, Al-Banna. In Saudi Arabia, such Salafis emerged in the 1960s and ’70s under what is known as the ‘Awakening’ (Sahwa) movement, though the Awakening’s political prospects have been severely limited by the restrictions of the Saudi political system. In Egypt, on the other hand, this camp arose in earnest post-2011 to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the transition after the president Hosni Mubarak. Most prominently, a leading Salafi preaching organisation, the Salafi Call (al-Daʿwa al-Salafiyya) in the coastal city of Alexandria formed the Nour political party, which contested parliamentary seats and captured the second largest bloc next to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Nour thus retains Salafi views of theology and law, but shares the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of establishing an Islamic state.
Finally, the Jihadi camp is most prominently represented by groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Such groups meld Salafi theological and legal positions with a set of political concepts inspired by Sayyid Qutb in the 20th century on the one hand, and the 18th-century Arabian reformer Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab on the other. In particular, this movement is distinguished by an emphasis on God’s sovereignty (hakimiyya) and declaring other Muslims to be infidels (takfir). Unlike the mainstream Sunni position that only acts of ‘flagrant disbelief’ (kufr bawwah), such as questioning God’s essential oneness, justify such excommunication, Salafi-Jihadis take the view that the mere act of living under the authority of a secular state and paying taxes to it renders a professing Muslim to be an infidel.
Fascinating reading. Click here to read the rest.
We end this weekend’s SCR by exploring ‘Simulated Universe Theory’:
The simulated universe theory implies that our universe, with all its galaxies, planets and life forms, is a meticulously programmed computer simulation. In this scenario, the physical laws governing our reality are simply algorithms. The experiences we have are generated by the computational processes of an immensely advanced system.
While inherently speculative, the simulated universe theory has gained attention from scientists and philosophers due to its intriguing implications. The idea has made its mark in popular culture, across movies, TV shows and books – including the 1999 film The Matrix.
The earliest records of the concept that reality is an illusion are from ancient Greece. There, the question “What is the nature of our reality?”, posed by Plato (427 BC) and others, gave birth to idealism. Idealist ancient thinkers such as Plato considered mind and spirit as the abiding reality. Matter, they argued, was just a manifestation or illusion.
Fast forward to modern times, and idealism has morphed into a new philosophy. This is the idea that both the material world and consciousness are part of a simulated reality. This is simply a modern extension of idealism, driven by recent technological advancements in computing and digital technologies. In both cases, the true nature of reality transcends the physical.
Click here to read the rest.
Thank you once again for checking out my Substack. Hit the like button and use the share button to share this across social media. Leave a comment below if the mood strikes you. And don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
And don’t forget to join me on Substack Notes!