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Chapter Seventeen: Nemesis of Betrayed Ideas

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Chapter Seventeen: Nemesis of Betrayed Ideas


A dead idea one whose origins have been betrayed, has deviated from its archetype and no longer has any roots in its original cultural plasma. In contrast, a deadly idea is an idea that has lost both its identity and cultural value after having been cut off of its roots that are left in their original cultural universe. On both sides, there IS a question of a betrayal of ideas, which makes them either passive or harmful. Such unfaithfulness is not particular to Muslim society. The same psycho-sociological factors have caused the same inhibiting effects in other societies at different periods in history.

It appears that it was as a precaution against such effects in a society still enjoying all its strength that Socrates was denouncing what he called the ideophages, the killers of ideas. However, what history has added to the wisdom of Socrates is that the killed and betrayed ideas take revenge in a terrible way.

We know since the discoveries of Pasteur in France and Koch in Germany that the diseases considered as contagious are transmitted from one individual to another through particular bodies: the microbes. Yet, the millennial history of mankind has put us face to face with another genre of diseases that affect the institutions, organization and life of human society. The contamination of this kind of disease is transmitted from one generation to another. Here is a new problem that imposes upon us the following question: what are the agents that transmit organic diseases in social life?

If we are to be guided by this analogy, we must adopt the approach of medicine in the field of pathology as it deals with the deficiencies of the body's physiological functions. A special branch of sociology is needed to deal with social pathology, that is, the defects affecting social organisms and public institutions in the same manner medical science treats organic disease. This analogy should not, however, be pushed too far in order not to be driven, like the philosophers of antiquity, into anthropomorphism. In this respect, we can wonder whether the germ of the disease that attacks social institutions and finally ruins them is directly generated within the concerned institution, or transmitted by means of a certain kind of osmosis from a seat of contamination. The way we locate the causes of the disease will help us to properly pose the problem we address here.

No doubt, the Republic of Rome was an old and noble institution. In order to save its institutions from any blows by its victorious generals, Rome had already taken the necessary measures according to which those generals were not allowed, upon their return from the battlefield, to cross the Rubicon River without the Senate's permission. Yet, despite those prophylactic measures, its republic died on the very day Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and entered Rome without any authorization from Cato and the members of his Senate.

Several hypotheses can be put forward to interpret the significance of such an event from the sociological point of view. There are institutions that grow old and die peacefully in old age. Thus, had it not been abolished by men in the nineteenth century, slavery would have been wiped out by twentieth century machinery. But, it IS Important to point out that its end had occurred in the world of ideas before it took place in the world of things. This is, therefore, a presumption that can be put as follows: an institution that no longer enjoys the support of ideas seems to be doomed to disappear.

This is not yet a proof, but only a presumption that indicates a certain direction of inquiry. There are institutions, such as marriage, which do not grow old. If marriage had been abolished in a society, we should not say that this institution has grown old, but that the society is rather a sick society. In such a case, the origin of the disease is rooted in the cultural universe itself in some North-European countries, the cultural crisis, which has engendered the hippies, tends towards replacing conventional marriage by a free union; or rather a more complex and abnormal union as it is a homosexual one! These are psychological transformations that bring economic and political transformations to the surface of the social life.

Thus, the psychological precedes and conditions the sociological. By any means, we are thus always led out to the very principle expounded by the Qur'an in the form of a maxim:

"Verily, Allah does not change men's condition unless they change their inner selves..." (al-Ra'd 13:11).

The Quranic verse contains the gems of all the conclusions one can draw as to the nemesis of betrayed ideas.

Accordingly, it was not Julius Caesar who had killed the Republic of Rome. Rather, its death was the result of the unnoticed transformations that had been taking place at the level of the Roman spirit itself it is significant in this connection that the death of Julius Caesar, who was stabbed by Brutus and the plotters, could not restore the Republic of Rome. Similarly, the Republic did not die in Athens because of a certain 'Julius Caesar'; it was rather a casualty of the same psychological transformations that had led to its death in Rome.

Similarly, the psychological transformations unfolding in the process and manifesting themselves in the social and political domains first occur at the level of the motivations that determine the human behavior. This is what we can observe vividly in the process that led Muslim society, after the year 38 of the Hijrah, to the decline of the democratic spirit. The symptoms of such a transformation are noted in the half-heartedness, indeed disaffection of Aqil, the brother of 'Ali b. Abul Talib, during the struggle in which Mu'awiyya opposed Ali. Aqil justified his strange stand in an even stranger way by stating that: "Praying with 'All is more commendable but eating with Mu'awiyya is more substantial. Here we clearly see the breakdown of the initial motivations that had animated the early companions of the Prophet. This breakdown will again become obvious when, twenty years later, al-Husayn b. Ali, yielding to the insistence of the people of Kufah, the old followers of his father, started marching to Medina. His cousin, Abd Allah b. Abbas who had accompanied him for a part of the journey, tried to dissuade him from that enterprise by saying: "These people will betray you as they did with your father. Behold, their hearts are with you but their swords are with Yazid!

This explanation given by the most objective witness of the time, whose testimony has been confirmed by history, today provides us with the key to the causes of the breakdown of motivations. It thus pinpoints the dichotomy that has ever since divided the Muslim into two parts: his prayer on the one hand, and his meal on the other; his heart, on one side, and his sword, on the other. Similarly, we are only at the beginning of the degradation process. However, the two cases mentioned above enable us to measure the deviation from the principle established by the Qur'an:

Say: Behold my prayer and [all] my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for Allah [alone], the Sustainer of all the worlds. al-An'am (6:162)

It is in the light of this verse and, therefore, with regard to an established principle, an idea or an archetype of the cultural universe founded by the Qur'an, that we started recording the early shifts or, as it is said in our time, the first deviations in the Muslim behavior. We therefore know that if we judge any kind of inefficacy in the Muslim behavior such as the two historical examples mentioned above, we should take care not to pin them right away on Islam. This is, but, the most common mistake of Western Orientalists and sociologists in their studies devoted to the contemporary Muslim world.

Be that as it may, if we admit that every action is subjected to the order of ideas in both its motivations and operational modalities, it must be mentioned that social activity depends on the idea not in its pristine state, but in the state in which it is integrated with our behavior, that is to say, in the manner we interpret, comprehend and assimilate it. When we assess a society's deficiency or efficacy, we actually assess the positive effects of its 'world of ideas' in its actual state. On the other hand, we know that it is the betrayal of the assimilated ideas, that is, the discrepancy of the common ideas from the fundamental ones that represents in a certain manner the inefficiencies of a society. These inefficiencies slip from one generation to another through certain psycho-sociological complexes and types of behavior.

Mimesis in human behavior takes place through the vehicle of ideas. Its pathological aspect is reflected in the social contagion transmitted from one generation to another by the osmosis of those ideas when they are separated from their archetypes in the original cultural universe. Thus, ideas stand for the 'microbes' transmitting social diseases. An idea of this kind is always an idea that has betrayed its archetype. The diseases are spread in the society as it undergoes the effects of any degeneration affecting its cultural universe. Sometimes, the repercussions of betrayed ideas occur at the end when their falsehood is discovered.

The day Umer b. al-Khattab burst out laughing after he had appeased his racking hunger by devouring his sugar-made idol was but the indication that the cultural universe of the Jaihiliyyah had already been shaken. Its archetypes had to disappear soon with the idols of the Ka'bah on the capture of Makkah, in the sixth year of the Hijrah, in order to give way to a new cultural universe and a new society.

Infidelity to the archetypes may still have other aspects and even more serious implications for society. The consequences of such infidelity, whether with regard to our own cultural universe or that of another society whose ideas are betrayed in the process of borrowing, may be much more harmful. Muslim society at present is precisely facing this twofold problem. It is undergoing both the nemesis of the archetypes of its own cultural universe and the terrible revenge of the ideas it has been borrowing from Europe without taking into consideration the conditions that would preserve their social value. This has resulted in the devaluation of both the inherited and acquired ideas, thus generating the most pernicious harm to the moral and material development of the Muslim world.

All that we see in the form of inefficacy, that is, in diverse deficiencies in OUT social activities, reflects the social consequences of that devaluation. On the one hand, the ideas that manifested their efficacy in the construction of Muslim civilization one thousand years ago have today proven to be inefficacious as if they have lost their adherence to reality. On the other hand, the ideas of Europe that have edified the order we call European civilization, in turn, are losing their efficacy in the present Muslim world.

Accordingly, we are plagued with twofold unfaithfulness. Muslims have lost contact with the archetypes of their original cultural universe. They have also failed to establish, as Japan did, a genuine contact with the cultural universe of Europe. Similarly, we are experiencing the effects of this double depreciation, as the betrayed ideas on both sides take a terrible revenge. We are at the moment suffering from the effects of an implacable nemesis!
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