Chapter Fourteen: Ideas and Politics
According to Clausewitz, war is "but the continuation of politics by different means". Taught for one century in military academies, this definition of war is worth teaching in the faculties of political science. It incidentally makes politics part of an order in which the ideas leading a war represent a superstructure, in contrast to an infrastructure consisting of the ideas which represent the body of the political doctrine per se. This relationship means that the solidity of the military superstructure depends on the strength of the political infrastructure.
A superficial military critic, contemporary of the campaigns that followed immediately after the death of the Prophet, would not have failed to consider as a fatal mistake Abu Bakr's launching of the Muslim army in three simultaneous wars: one inside the Arab peninsula and two abroad, on its borders. However, in addition to ignoring the circumstances that had left no choice for the caliph, such a critic would certainly have forgotten the fact that accurate calculations had been made on the basis of the political facts and realities of the time. We should also not lose sight of the fact that there were, in Medina, men of high caliber such as Ab^a Bakr and 'Umar. The strength of the Islamic army actually stemmed from the confidence in the political base that was protecting the army's rear and providing for its front.
In this connection, the historian Will Durant has reported an enlightening dialogue on politics between Confucius and one of his disciples, Tsze-kung, who was questioning his master on political power:
Tsze-kung asked about government. The Master said, '(The requisites of government) are three: that there should be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler'. Tsze-kung said, 'If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be forgone first?' 'The military equipment', said the Master. Tsze-kung asked again, 'If it cannot be helped, and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which of them should be forgone?' The Master answered, 'Part with the food'. From of old, death has been the lot of all men; but if the people have not faith (in their rulers) there is no standing (for the state).
Islamic jurisprudence has solidified this philosophy by means of a reciprocal relationship between the ruled and the ruler. The citizen owes listening and obedience to the ruler, but he ceases listening and obeying as soon as he observes any deviation from the rules of the shariah on the part of the ruler, for the reciprocal relationship is thus broken and no longer binding for him.
'Umar b. al-Khattab was very aware of this; When a Bedouin one day refused to listen to and obey him, he did not look for a way to intimidate such a recalcitrant person. Rather, he tried to justify himself on a piece of cloth he had to take from his son's share and add it to his own tunic because he was a tall man. Thus, the ruler was not the only man of moral integrity, since all the companions of the Prophet enjoyed this quality.
One day, Abu Dhar al-Ghifar, one of the noblest figures of the Prophet's time, asked to be appointed as governor of one of the Islamic provinces. The Prophet, however, declined to accept such request despite the profound esteem he maintained for the great companion until his last days. Moral integrity alone is not enough. It has to be complemented by competence and, still more, compatibility.
More than one governor was dismissed by 'Umar, but "neither for lack of integrity nor for lack of competence" as 'Umar himself used to say. Even Abu Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah, "the trustworthy man of the ummah" as the Prophet named him, was dismissed despite his competence and integrity. Yet, it was of Abu 'Ubaydah that 'Umar, on his deathbed, was thinking when he was facing the problem of his succession under the circumstances surrounding his own end. "Ah! he said, if Abu 'Ubaydah were alive, I would entrust him with the destiny of the ummah!" Was this a contradiction on the part of Umar?
No doubt, integrity and competence are necessary qualities for the man of power in the Islamic polity whatever his position. But a particular degree of compatibility between the person and the position is also required, a quality which 'Umar found in Abu 'Ubaydah. The Islamic city is founded on a set of such virtues that qualify both the ruler and the ruled.
In order to see to the preservation of those virtues, Islamic jurisprudence has established the institution of hisbah. Resembling, though from a distance, what is at present called self-criticism and criticism, hisbah is a system aimed at ensuring the effective continuity and efficacy of those values in public life. Henceforth, the Islamic city is not merely a more or less motley collection of various social groups. Rather, it is the home (foyer) of a community whose members, rulers as well as ruled, are unified by reciprocal trust. Yet, it has nothing to do with Plato's republic more or less plagiarized by al-Farabi in his ideal city.
Its model is Medina itself, at the time of Umar. It is to this high classicism that we should compare our political structures and ideas in the present Muslim world so as to measure our discrepancies with regard to it. Indeed, we are far from it in both types of present Muslim politics: that which we see in the so-called conservative countries and that which we find in the self-claimed progressive countries. In both versions, the ruling elites show no preoccupation to gain, as a major concern, the confidence of the people whom they govern.
Alone, Ayub Khans could set for his people the best example in democracy and magnificent political humility when he, voluntarily and freely, abdicated the post of presidency. With this exception, the present Muslim world has never experienced, in its political life, any gesture like that of Charles de Gaulle after the referendum of 1968 which did not give him a majority.
In order for it to acquire its historical significance, politics has to be ethical, aesthetic, and scientific. "Our politics is never mistaken because it is science", said Chou En Lai recently! In so far as science is not erroneous, this statement is correct. Indeed, politics has to be a science, an applied sociology.
In this connection, the Chinese intelligentsia has invested in the country's revolution a thirty-year experience of sociological and historical thinking. A politics, which assimilates such a considerable amount of knowledge, must necessarily become a science being applied to the vital problems of China. For this, that is to say, independently of its Marxist ideological orientation, which has helped in introducing the fecund principle of self-criticism, China has acquired, thanks to its intelligentsia, the methods of scientific work.
If such methods have proven their effectiveness under the Maoist regime, this would only mean that this regime was aware of what to expect from them. It was equally aware of what to borrow from China's high traditions while remaining faithful and responsive to the requirements of the revolution, as in the case of the legend of Yuking who is believed to have moved the mountains!
By virtue of its very quest for the truth, science is also an ethics. Thus, it cannot tolerate ongoing mistakes without bringing the needed correctives for them. Muslim countries, however, do not seem to have the will to take a look backwards despite the fact that it is sometimes necessary to retrace our steps when there is a possibility to learn from our errors through an open dialogue on them between the rulers and the ruled. The best example of returning to the sources to restore confidence and trust, has also been provided by Popular China through the "Cultural Revolution" which encompassed all its social strata and cultural universe from top to bottom, thus renovating the whole country.