CRCE Briefing Paper
The Roots of Islamist Ideology
by Robert R Reilly
Introduction by Ljubo Sirc
The Constitution of the CRCE requires that its Trustees and Advisers dissociate themselves from the analysis contained in its publications, but it is hoped that readers will find this study of value and interest.
© Robert R Reilly & Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies
All Rights Reserved
Robert Reilly’s effort to disentangle the psychology behind the Islamist aggression is most instructive. The closest I have come to having any thoughts on the influence a religion can possibly have on political behaviour was when I was writing my first doctorate thesis (never completed) on the Nuremberg Trials. The problem arose on how to explain the non-application of the legal principle nulla poena sine lege to the National Socialist leaders and their crimes, since no punishment had ever been decreed for those starting a war or killing people because of their race.
The European Convention on Human Rights has resolved this problem by providing in Article 7, paragraph 2, that the prohibition of punishment without law ' shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to general principles of law recognised by civilised nations'. To put it briefly, punishment of crimes is allowed without written law if that crime is condemned by morals. This was my initial deduction but then I ended up in a court myself and was forced to reflect on punishment without law (even against law) in my own case.
In other words, I was confronted with the question of whether law has to be in accordance with morals and further what was the nature of morals (either supporting law or valid without it). My conclusion was that morals must necessarily be based on reason and that religious morals had a moral-logical quality with which quality Kant's categorical imperative can easily be aligned.
After having escaped communist Yugoslavia, I no longer pursued the problems of the Nuremberg Trials, but continued to be interested in the relationship between moral teachings in different surroundings. It so happens that I landed up at the University in Dhaka in the early 1960s. Not that I had time to go into details of morals as adhered to in Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, but I was in daily contact with people, primarily students and lecturers, belonging to these religions, and I never encountered behaviour (or statements for that matter), which could be considered different from what I believed with my Christian background. When it came to precepts of practical behaviour, to me all religions were in agreement.
One could not expect any agreement with rational morals in the political movement of National Socialism. This movement was dominated by der Wille zur Macht (the will for power, the will to command), for people who considered themselves superior to others on the basis of their alleged racial origin. Without denying that human beings differ from one other in many ways, there is no perceptible difference that elevates one human being above another. Any pretension to this effect must make the perpetrator, particularly if the perpetrator pretends to have power over the next person's (his ‘neighbour ') life, deserving of punishment if his immoral pretence is put into practice.
What attracts attention is Lenin's – and Leninists – assumption that they possess knowledge, which entitles them to consider themselves superior to those who do not possess this knowledge or refuse to accept it. While reason, knowledge, deserves respect and acceptance, as far as it goes, there are certainly parts of the world and life that we do not understand and which we may not be able to encompass at all. From this incomprehension it follows that life, as it is, imposes humility on humans and respect for one's neighbours. To pretend that one's understanding of this world is superior to the understanding of others, so he should actually eliminate dissenters must certainly be deemed a crime if implemented.
The surprise is that the condemnation of racialism is almost general, while the pretence to exclusive knowledge is not. This attitude is the more astonishing, as the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe proves that Marxist Leninist ideas are at least dubious, if not entirely wrong. Yet, their apologists say that the intentions of Marxist-Leninist perpetrators were good although their practice was criminal. Even disregarding for the moment the old wisdom that finis non sanctificat media, wanting too much good, desiring Utopia, may not be human. Part of our limited rationality must be caution: do not seek better solutions if you cannot be certain that they will be better. Moderation is an important principle in view of our limited rationality. The problem is not just a limited rationality, it is wrong that we can never be entirely certain of knowing all the premises when trying to reach conclusions.
Marxists-Leninists have thrown moderation and caution to the
winds, their initial aim actually was to achieve a better world.
When it became clear that their doctrine did not help to achieve
this they still continued this pretence. If one rejects
the myth of good intentions and the pretension to some kind of
Marxist perfect knowledge, what remains is simply the will to
power, the will to dominate. While racialism and communism are
being worn down, a new threat has made its appearance. It
is Islamism, a distortion of the Muslim religion, which Robert
Reilly explains in theological terms. Islamists proclaim that
God's ways cannot be known because God is not bound by any
reason or sentiment, but is a Will requiring meek human
The question arises: Will for what? The apparent answer is: God's will as expressed in the Koran. But any text, including the Koran, requires interpretation and interpretation is by necessity based on reason and logic, here excluded so that we are left with a pure Will. Worse, this pure Will can change so that submission can be expressed by a human being only by killing oneself and as many others as possible. The Islamist leaders, of course, do not themselves go and kill. For them the will to unlimited power is contained in their ability to order the killing by others and of others. It would seem that such an interpretation of religion is immoral and criminal and requires that all people of goodwill, whatever their beliefs, unite their strength to defeat such distortions.
The distortion may be expected as a consequence of one-sidedness, approaching life only from the aspect of the will. Surely, the will in human beings has to be continued with our capacity to reason as limited as that may be: in order to set aims for actions driven by will. And even reason has to be checked by human sentiments such as moderation and tolerance; in religious terms “love for our neighbour”. Human actions, hence, require the engagement of the whole human being to become reliable.
It follows that the will in combination with reason and sentiment must not be rejected. Its role is to help moral precepts to prevail and to defend human achievements. It will not do to allow crime to succeed. This struggle never ends.
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