Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rose Wilder Lane's Give Me Liberty

I have just finished reading Rose Wilder Lane's splendid little book Give Me Liberty. Here are some of the key aspects that attracted my attention that I wish to shed some light on:

(1) On the Separation of "Mosque and State": I came across this passage on pp. 10:
The Reformation reduced the power of the State, the priests, so that common men were free to think and speak as they pleased.

This sentence inspired me to think of a proposition many Western non-Muslims (and some Western and non-Western Muslims) make in attempt to reform Islamic nations: Islamic countries have to separate religion from state to attain a liberal democracy. At first sight, this statement may make sense, even among Muslims, but especially among Westerners. However, eventually, many a Muslim will be baffled by such a statement. For the Muslim will ask: How can we separate religion from the state if the mullahs/imams are not supposed to (1) be heads of state, nor (2) have any religious and nonreligious authority over us? Unlike, say, the Catholic Church, imams are not supposed to hold power and construct a structure called "The Mosque" that rules over people. In Islam one speaks directly to God, without the need for any intermediaries. However, there are wise elders among the people. Their virtue of wisdom may imply that they would naturally be religious persons (e.g., imams), especially when virtue draws a lot of substance from religious scripture. However, religious scholarship has rarely been a prerequisite to "state leadership".

In fact, most caliphates were hereditary, except for the first four "rightful Caliphs" (according to the Sunni tradition), who themselves have been, strictly speaking, elected (through a democratic process called bay'aa). The first four Caliphs were indeed individuals of virtue and possessed religious knowledge, but two were, for example, also businessmen (Abu Bakr and Othman). While their highest virtue is probably religious expertise, they also were excellent statesmen and successful and popular individuals in society. Later Caliphs simply came to power through hereditary systems, regardless of their religiosity, virtue, or success as people in society. In essence, I believe, many of the Caliphs did not have to have a certain prerequisite amount of religious knowledge and virtue. To many Muslims, they only had rules, pretty much like Europeans had kings. The only (major) difference is that Muslim Caliphs never had "divine support". While a Caliph is to be followed as the leader of Muslims, the Caliph could be deposed and replaced, his authority challenged or ignored. Neither could Caliphs, for example, and in contrast to European Kings, endow any person or entity a monopoly. As such, Caliphs had limited powers unlike their European counterparts, which brings me back to my original point. In many ways, it does not make sense to demand that Islamic Nations separate "Mosque and State", because they simply were not supposed to be integrated in the first place. The role of religion in the "state" is only through legislation (through consensus [shoura] and the input or religious scholars, which is exactly how much of Western democracies make laws [i.e., through the legislature]), but I hope to comment on that in the future.

(2) On the Abrahamic Faiths and Liberty: Another interesting passage that mentions Islam is this (pp. 17):
I began at last to question the value of this personal freedom which had seemed so inherently right. I saw how rare, how new in history, is a recognition of human rights. From Brittany to Basra I considered the ruins of brilliant civilizations where peoples had never glimpsed the idea that men are born free. In sixty centuries of human history that idea [that men are born free] was an element of Jewish-Christian-Moslem religious faith, never used as a political principle. It has been a political principle to only a few men on earth, for little more than two centuries. Asia did not know it. Africa did not know it. Europe had never wholly accepted it, and was now rejecting it.

In this passage, after Ms. Lane had described her experience in fascist Italy in 1927, she highlights how the idea of Liberty, while it is new in the political sense, has been in existence and appreciated among the three Abrahamic faiths in a religious sense. I will probably return to Ms. Lane's ideas on, specifically, Islam and Liberty after I am done reading her book Islam and the Discovery of Freedom.

(3) A Comment to My American Friends: In this small book there are gems of wisdom, written in a warm story-telling style, on how very radically different this American phenomenon is from its European counterparts. This book is a must read for every American (and non-American) who wishes to preserve American liberty and American individualism. Rose Wilder Lane is one of millions of reasons to be proud to be American.

(4) Ms. Lane and Ludwig von Mises: Interestingly, on pp. 50, Ms. Lane also has a quote from von Mises' Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and the Total War (pdf). Apparently, Rose Wilder Lane was a Misesian!

Finally, let me close this post with a quote made by Ms. Lane (pp. 57) that many Muslims (and, in fact, many theists and atheists) could benefit from:
Americans are thinking politically again, as they have
not thought for eighty years [the book was written around WWII], and they have not forgotten that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. They are answering the question I should have known better than to ask, ten years ago. They are answering it now in Europe and Asia, and tomorrow they will answer it at home. The answer is:
Yes, individualism has the strength to resist all attacks.

But, for some reason, many Muslims seem to have forgotten that resisting tyranny requires as a prerequisite a retention of individualism. For many of the troubles Muslims find themselves in today are due to, mainly, the collectivist obedience some young radical Muslims have when they give up their individualism and blindly listen to the extremist ideology advocated by a few to control the minds of the young and weak at heart, similar to what Fascist and Nationalist European dictators did leading up to WWII.


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