"Islamic Law, Human Rights and Neo-Colonialism" in Oxford Amnesty Lectures 2006: The `War on Terror', ed. Chris Miller, Manchester University Press, 2009.

7. Islamic law, human rights and neo-colonialism

Khaled Abou El Fadl


My lecture will focus on the interface and tensions between the human rights tradition and the Islamic tradition, particularly Islamic law. What is the `Islamic tradition` and, more particularly the Islamic legal tradition? Islamic law stands in a paradoxical position vis-à-vis the human-rights tradition. Western scholars have argued that the roots of the human-rights tradition are to be found in Judeo-Christian natural law, and more specifically, in the natural rights tradition.[1] In my view, after post-enlightenment Christian thought, the Islamic legal tradition has contributed most to the emergence of the human rights tradition.[2] Today, however, Islamic law is often invoked against the universality of human rights. Many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Islamic law is fundamentally at odds with modern human rights.[3]  They contend that the two systems of thought and institutions cannot be reconciled.


Saudi Arabia, for instance, often specifies that it will comply with a human-rights treaty only insofar as it is consistent with Islamic law. Western commentators suggest that these reservations make such treaties meaningless; Saudi Arabia claims that without such reservations, Islamic law is nullified.[4] The issue is whether either system is assumed to be immutable. If Islamic law is expected to accommodate the ever-increasing `territorial` claims of human-rights regimes, will it necessarily lose its integrity? If the space in human life occupied by Islamic law is all-encompassing, does this make human rights marginal and irrelevant?  


For the purposes of this presentation, when I refer to the human-rights tradition I am not referring to international human-rights treaties, which are vehicles for generating positive legal commitments. Nor am I referring to statements of aspiration by sovereign states such as those made in the Universal Declaration. A human-rights commitment is a an intellectual conviction given reality by protecting and serving the well-being, dignity, and autonomy of human beings—simply because they are human. It is important to distinguish civil from human rights. Recognising only the rights of the citizens of a particular democracy is a form of civil-rights commitment.  Recognising only the rights of particular groups distinguished by race, ethnicity, religion or national affiliation does not amount to a human-rights commitment. Nor should that commitment be affected by the attitude of a majority. On the contrary, only if the majority decides to honour the rights of all human beings is it considered to have acted morally. This is the anti-majoritarian thesis.


A human-rights commitment entails a belief in the universality of rights. Attribution of these rights is not contingent on the values that a particular group adhere to. Those who make a human-rights commitment are duty-bound to honour the human rights of all people. Reciprocity of conduct or treatment has no bearing on the binding nature of that commitment. A person who has made that commitment will not resort to torture even s/he has herself been maltreated or tortured. 

And people cannot be coerced into making human-rights commitments. The very logic of human rights precludes coercing people into changing their habits, customs, and social practices. Social practices cannot be coerced without traumatic social upheaval. More importantly, the use of coercion against socio-cultural convictions is inconsistent with the individual and collective right to self-determination.


Coercing governments raises different ethical questions.  For example, attempting to coerce governments to comply with the convention prohibiting genocide or the Geneva Conventions on armed conflicts is in many cases morally defensible.  However, attempting to coerce governments to force their citizens to alter their socio-cultural practices is in most cases not morally defensible.

If my analysis thus far makes sense then the idea of universalism versus relativism is a false paradigm. Those who commit themselves to human rights must believe in universal standards but must also respect the right of others to be different; they might be offended by the practices of particular cultures, but feeling revulsion is one thing; failing to respect the right to be different is quite another. The variability of rights raises the same type of challenge and requires a similar response. Proponents of a particular scheme of human rights are bound to believe that at a minimum all human beings must be afforded the set of rights propounded by that scheme. They should not oppose people being afforded more rights than those supported by their own scheme.  But any additional rights are then treated as privileges and not universal rights. 




These abstractions mean very little unless backed up by a conviction firmly embedded in the individual conscience. But the level at which such commitments produce recognizable results is not law but culture. Many laws honouring human rights are mere rhetoric. Political systems, particularly constitutional democracies, may be necessary for the implementation of human-rights commitments but do not engender them. It is at the socio-cultural level that individual commitments turn into a collective sense of entitlement, denial, or outrage. Before becoming effective laws, human rights are embedded in individual consciences and expressed as cultural practices. By emphasizing the role of culture as a foundation for human-rights practices, I do not mean to marginalize the role of doctrine. Theories of universal human rights are in perpetual dialectic with cultural practices. But this does not mean that human-rights paradigms are endlessly negotiable. For example, the growing acceptance in the United States of preventive detention in secret prisons and of the use of torture in the war against terrorism is fundamentally inconsistent with any human rights scheme. I will say more on this point later.


What is or has been the impact of human-rights practices on Islamic beliefs and doctrines? It would be fallacious to speak of a single Islamic socio-cultural practice. But any commonality can be ascribed to Islamic doctrines, which originate in textual sources such as the Qur’an and in theological beliefs. Of particular interest to me is the unifying impact of Islamic law on Muslim cultures and particularly on the possibility of Islamic human-rights commitments. For most Muslims, Islamic law is the normative system to which they willingly defer. There are also countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, where a particular interpretation of Islamic law enjoys mandatory authority.  In these states, governments perform a considerable amount of socio-cultural engineering under the pretence of applying God’s law.




What is the Islamic legal system? In modern times—especially in the Colonial and post-Colonial eras—it has been consistently misrepresented. The massive corpus that represents the Islamic legal system—the cumulative determinations of diverse interpretive communities through many centuries; the encyclopaedic reference sources of the different schools of thought; the judicial hornbooks; the collections of responsa (fatawa), the texts documenting judicial precedents and notable judgments , the many texts on legal reasoning, philosophy, and hermeneutics, the large number of texts on ethics (akhlaq), morality, principles of governance, administrative law—these have been essentialised into a very simplistic image. Such views often result from treating the Islamic legal system as a politicized symbol. (Of course, no legal system can avoid being manipulated and exploited as a political tool but there is a difference between respecting the integrity of a legal system and ignoring its integrity in order to serve political interests.) No set of legal determinations authoritatively represents the Islamic legal system.  It is a cumulative system of juristic investigations by interpretive communities into the Divine Will and the public good. It is represented by several competing schools of jurisprudential thought.  These schools diverge on legal methodology and hermeneutical approaches but all of them are considered equally authoritative. When we speak of Islamic law we are speaking of a vast micro-history that presents a rich and complex picture. I emphasize this to counter the stereotypical portrayals of Islamic law as an immutable, code-based system. But I do not want to give the impression that Islamic law is entirely fluid. A specialized linguistic and methodological practice unites the various schools under a single systematic tradition. 


It is ironic that with all this diversity the most uniform determinations in the Islamic legal tradition are those most inconsistent with contemporary human rights.  These are the laws of hudud, dealing primarily with the punishment of criminal offences. Because they are adopted by the majority of the different schools, they pose the most formidable philosophical challenge to Muslims who wish to make a commitment to human rights. Most human rights advocates would consider the severing of the left hand of thieves or the stoning of adulterers to be serious human rights violations—at least as serious as the use of torture.


Paradoxically, the laws of hudud are the most difficult to apply. From the time of the Prophet, hudud penalties have been permitted only under the strictest procedural requirements, limiting the application of these measures. Moreover, the Qur’an also sets up ethical barriers to hudud penalties by persistently exhorting Muslims to be merciful and forgiving.[5] The practice of the Prophet indicates that where there is any doubt, the hudud penalties cannot be enforced. For most of Islamic history, the hudud penalties have had a very limited impact on the socio-cultural practices of Muslims. This serves to illustrate the methodological error committed by cultural fundamentalists Muslim or non-Muslim, who tend to conflate Islamic law with Muslim cultures—or do the exact converse. They assume that all components of Muslim cultures (such as honour-killings or female genital mutilations) are dictated by Islamic law. The example of hudud penalties suggests how politicized discourses about the role of Islamic law have become. This politicization has had a devastating affect on efforts to seek a proper balance between the two formidable normative systems of Islamic law and human rights.




Today, fundamentalist groups often treat hudud penalties as the symbolic embodiment of the Divine law. They have become a symbol of cultural autonomy and resistance to Western hegemony. Consequently, Islamic activists are often suspicious of any attempt to understand these penalties in their socio-historical context. In this regard, the penalty for apostasy, one of the hudud punishments, is an ideal example.  Although the Qur’an explicitly provides that there should be no duress in religion, most medieval Muslim jurists argued that an apostate, after being given a chance to repent, ought to be put to death.[6] In the medieval context, this was unremarkable.  Among the Abrahamic religions, Jewish law punished rebels and apostates with death while Papal law and procedure prescribed the burning or execution of heretics and apostates.[7] The followers of the nascent religion of Islam experienced a rude awakening when the leaders of the Christian Byzantium Empire arrested the Chieftains of Arab tribes from Judham, Ghassan, Kalb, and Kinda and had them crucified, mutilated, and eventually executed for the crime of converting to Islam.  Not surprisingly, this context impacted on medieval Muslim jurists, who could not transcend the limitations of their time.[8] In the modern age Islamic activists have tended to treat any effort to re-examine the socio-historical dynamics of this law as assaults on the integrity of the Shar'ia; they are viewed as disingenuous attempts to appease the West at the expense of the Divine Law.[9]  


Through this dynamic the many universalistic and inclusivist orientations within Islamic law and theology have been superseded by a defensive cultural particularism. Of course, this new theology selectively reinvents much of the Islamic intellectual tradition. Other doctrines are ignored or maligned. In some cases, the offending historical material has simply been destroyed. Exclusivists maintain the pretence of being devout and conservative protectors of the one and only true Islam: they alone (they claim) have the will to withstand the cultural onslaughts of Western Colonialism and Imperialism.[10]


But this approach ignores Islam’s substantial humanitarian tradition and aborts any potential for the emergence of human-rights schemes founded on the Islamic legal and intellectual tradition. Exclusivists re-engineer the classical legal tradition in response to the onslaught of Colonialism and the ideological aggression of the proponents of human rights. They construct Islamic law such that it becomes a symbol of opposition to Western interventionism.[11]


Muslim cultures have not proven themselves to be uniquely resistant to human rights.  Many Christian or simply non-Muslim societies have been no less resistant.  But is the obstacle contemporary Islamic beliefs, not least those relating to Islamic law? Or is the West’s promotion of a suppositious culture of liberty and human rights one of the main contributors to the rejection of human-rights culture outside the Western world? Has the war on terror helped to promote human-rights cultures?




Recently, a number of prominent Saudi jurists shocked the Muslim world when they issued responsa (pl. fatawa, sing, fatwa) declaring that it is sinful for Muslims to believe in the illegality of slavery; that the abolition of slavery was a Western heretical innovation (bid’atun fasida) which it is incumbent on Muslims to reject. They also declared that the many Muslim jurists living and dead who condemned slavery as consistent with Shar'ia thereby forfeited their status as Muslims. They concluded by acknowledging that all Muslim countries have become signatories to and ratified the Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, but have done so only because they were coerced by the West. 


The timing of these responsa was disconcerting. They coincided with allegations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that boatloads of children taken from disaster- and poverty-stricken areas such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia had been taken to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and sold into slavery.[12] Of course, this created a strong suspicion that the responsa were issued to legitimate a gruesome social practice. It is deeply troubling to entertain this possibility.     


A fatwa issued by a qualified jurist is a non-binding legal opinion. Unless enacted into law—when it becomes a hukm or a tashri’—a fatwa invites Muslims to submit to the Divine Will as it applies to the case at hand.[13]  Islamic responsa have played an important and complex role in Islamic history. The slavery responsa, however, are not likely to have much influence outside Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.  What makes these responsa interesting is that they attempt to reopen an issue long settled in Islamic law. It has always been an affirmative objective of Islam to end slavery as an institution. The Qur’an and classical Islamic law had for centuries promoted the manumission of slaves. But in the second half of the twentieth century, Muslims accepted that stamping out slavery was a moral objective of the Islamic faith. It was therefore unlawful for Muslims to own or deal in slaves.[14] 


The attempt to re-open the issue of slavery clearly illustrates a certain kind of dynamics between Islamic law and human rights. This is not a cultural and ethical divide between Muslims and the West. Abolition was initiated by Western states but the Muslim environment was very receptive. When these responsa were issued the United States was pushing for the liberalisation of the Saudi political system and for religious reforms. These efforts generated considerable resentment among the Saudi clerical class. American efforts to compel the overhaul of the religious educational institutions of several Muslim countries by exerting pressures on the governments of these countries reinforced their sense of disempowerment. The American government was perceived as attempting to engineer an Islamic faith that served American political interests. This American pressure has undoubtedly had its effect; in a number of Muslim countries, for the first time since the Colonial era no courses on Islam are taught. Islam has been replaced in school curricula with courses on akhlaq (good manners).[15] The Saudi responsa on slavery exemplified a strategy of resistance to American hegemony in the region.       




As a religious tradition, Islam shares with the human-rights tradition its emphasis on the sanctity of human life. The Qur’an, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sunna), and the interpretive communities of Islam all place a high value on human life. Humans are considered viceroys (khulafa’ fi al-ard); they are said to have entered into a symbolic covenant (amana) with God by which creation is entrusted to their care. All human beings are bearers of the Divine trust. But Muslims have the additional duty of bearing witness for God (shuhada’ li-Allah). They are not only expected to safeguard the God’s creation but to defend the moral and ethical principles of Islam. They must all times enjoin the good and forbid the evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘ann al-munkar).[16]


The law (the set of Divine directives)[17] is a sacred trust at the core of this covenantal obligation. Muslims have an obligation to establish justice (‘adl). This includes the upholding of equity (‘ihsan), compassion (rahma), fairness and equality (musawa) and principles such as the presumption of innocence (bara’at al-dhimma) and the prohibition against the use of coercion or compulsion (man’ al-ikrah).[18] As early as the eighth century, diverse interpretive communities maintained that the moral obligation of any Muslim state—and the objective of the Shar'ia—is to promote the people’s welfare or well-being. Of course, such concepts are highly negotiable. The Muslim classical age,[19] however, refined this concept. The juristic interpretive communities agreed that the protection of dignity (al-karama), rationality (al-‘aql), personality (reputation) (qiwama), and privacy (al-satr) were among the core values for human well-being.  Life, property, dignity, and reputation enjoyed a level of sanctity (‘isma). Classical jurists also developed legal doctrines rejecting practices such as the mutilation of corpses, torture (al-ta’dhib, al-mithla, al-musabara), defamation (al-qadhf), collective punishment, excessive taxes (mukus), and the killing of non-combatants during rebellions or wars. 


Although these doctrines had clear humanitarian overtones, they did not constitute significant contributions to the formation of a human rights culture.  Compared to other (non-Muslim) legal cultures, they afforded an advance in the degree of respect afforded human beings. But they did not constitute a developed system of ethical reasoning or a coherent set of ideological convictions.[20] Of course, it would be anachronistic to fault Muslim jurists of the tenth or twelfth centuries for failing to articulate coherent humanitarian ideologies.[21] But one wonders why later generations of Muslims did not develop these legal orientations into doctrines that could support a cultural commitment to human rights. 


The Arabic word for a moral or legal right is: haqq. As early as the ninth century, Muslim jurists recognized the idea or concept of a right. They classified rights as: belonging 1) to God; 2) to humans or 3) shared by God and human beings.[22]  Rights were recognized as protected spheres and most jurists agreed that the spheres protected by law were: life, intellect, lineage, honour, and property.[23] Classical Muslim jurists recognized that there was a significant bifurcation between the moral consequences of actions in the Hereafter and the legal consequences of actions on this earth. The rights of God were vindicated by God in the Hereafter while the rights of people were to be vindicated by the legal system on this earth.[24] Furthermore, according to the classical juristic tradition, rights belonging to human beings could not be abrogated by the state or even God.[25]


The classic discourses on huquq (rights), in combination with Islam’s emphasis on the sanctity of human life, afforded promising orientations. Indeed, some Muslim commentators cite the huquq discourses to proclaim that Islam developed a Natural Rights tradition like that developed by the West. This claim is problematic at many levels. The huquq tradition, unlike that of natural rights, was not primarily focused on exploring inalienable immunities or entitlements. But these discourses are very similar to the early European debates on natural law; huquq too referred to what properly belongs to God as opposed to what is left to human jurisdiction. 


I ought to note another important classical jurisprudential discourse in Islam. As early as the ninth century, Muslim theologians and jurists developed a field of ethics comprising the investigation of good and evil (al-husn wa al-qubh) and the obligation to do good and refrain from doing evil (al-ilzam).  The most promising insights into the natural entitlements of human beings are found in this field. The classical discourses on husn and qubh investigated the extent to which right and wrong is rationally derived or defined by revelation. It also investigated imperatives born of ethical values such as justice and compassion.[26]


A few examples: a tradition attributes to Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and fourth Caliph of Islam, the saying: `If I heard a voice from the sky announce that lying is good, I would not lie’, meaning that lying is inherently evil. The import of this tradition is that no text can render human inquiry into right or wrong superfluous. However, the implications of this saying remained unexplored except by the Rationalist schools, which developed interpretative communities exploring the notion that moral obligations do not begin or end with the revealed text.


Another example more directly pertinent to human rights: according to a very well-known tradition, Umar bin al-Khattab, close companion of the Prophet and the second Caliph of Islam, criticised the inequitable conduct of one of his appointed governors with the words: ‘By what right do you enslave people (through oppression and injustice) when they were born free!’  This statement too left little imprint outside the writings of the Rationalist jurists. Exploring its implications, the Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar, a tenth century Mu’tazili scholar and author of a remarkable multi-volume work titled al-Mughni[27] (which rivals Aquinas’ Summa in size, sophistication and insight), reached the conclusion that slavery is inherently immoral (huwa qubhun li dhatih wa laysat min makarim al-akhlaq). This was true even when retaliating against the enslavement of Muslims during a war. The Qadi was no outsider to the Islamic tradition. Islamic jurisprudence and theology have long emphasised the desirability of manumitting slaves out of charity or repentance.[28]  But Rationalists such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes) or much later, Muhammad bek Shafiq, in many ways went beyond the literal words of the Quran in condemning the institution of slavery as immoral and therefore un-Islamic (tunafi makarim al-akhlaq wa hiya ithmun wa fasad fa laysat min al-Islam).[29]


The Rationalists of Islam made substantial contributions to human thought—to the ethical legacy of humanity and not just of Islamic culture. They did not conceive of the religious text as supplanting reason but as a firm moral foundation that propels ethical investigation. In doing so, they contributed to the idea of a universal truth both accessible and accountable to human beings and binding upon them. They made Islamic civilization part of a historical progression from Greek philosophy to the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.[30] Ibn Rushd (Averroes), not Thomas Aquinas, was the first to argue systematically that the a priori principle of moral obligation is to enjoin the good and avoid wrong.[31] This was also Aquinas’ First Principle—often credited with opening the door to the Natural Rights tradition.  And Aquinas was quite familiar with the thought not just of Averroes but with that of prominent Muslim rationalists such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Baja (Avempace), and al-Ghazali[32]. In his Summa, evincing his familiarity with the micro-discourses of the Muslim Rationalist scholars, Aquinas frequently takes sides with one Muslim philosopher against another.


My point is not to make the typically apologetic and historically inaccurate claim: Muslims did it first! Quite the opposite. Although the Islamic classical tradition was rich with ideas well-suited to a cultural trajectory favouring human rights, it did not bear this fruit. In the West, in part by co-opting Islamic intellectual achievements, the Natural Law tradition eventually gave birth to the Natural Rights tradition, which in turn was instrumental in developing the revolutionary idea of universal human rights.[33] And it should be emphasised that the human-rights culture is not secular in origin. Many Western historians tend to ignore the fact that natural rights emerged from deeply religious (notably Christian) perspectives.[34] The most prominent jurists of the Natural Rights tradition from William of Ockham and Jean Gerson through Pufendorf, Vitoria, Suárez, and Grotius to Locke and Rousseau and more recently Karl Barth, Germain Grisez, or John Finnis were all deeply religious people. Christian ethics influenced their commitments, choices and priorities.[35] Till the end of the nineteenth century, Natural Rights theorists continued to invoke the Divine as the ultimate source of obligation; even if rights are said to exist in nature, it is the Divine that is the source of obligation.


In Islam, the classical Natural Rights thesis was philosophically developed by Rationalist jurists such as the Andalusians: Ibn Baja (d. 1138), Ibn Aqil (d. 1185), Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), and Ibn Tufayl (1185).[36] The same thesis was treated by Rationalists such as: Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi (a.k.a. Mulla Sadra) (d. 1641), Ibn al-Hasan al-Tusi (d. 1067), Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274), Ibn Aqil (d. 1119), al-Suhrawardi (d.1191, founder of the school of Illumination), Abu Bakr al-Razi (d. 925), Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209). The Rationalists had a profound impact on the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence but their influence on Islamic Civilization as a whole waned after the twelfth century. This was a pivotal point; Islamic Civilization, under siege by the Christian West, had now to defend itself against renewed waves of Crusaders. It suffered the loss of Andalusia[37] and the sacking of Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, by the Mongols in 1258. Defensive, conservative orientations tend to thrive in times of socio-economic and political unrest. But from the twelfth century onwards a fateful and ironic exchange seems to have taken place—as Rationalist forces retreated in the Islamic civilization, these same intellectual orientations started on their laborious progress in the West.    




Rationalist scholars made genuinely original contributions to the classical Natural Rights thesis during the Ottoman and Safavid periods in both Sunni and Shi’i Islam. But for the most part their works were isolated achievements. The growth of conservatism and anti-rationalist theological orientations eventually culminated in the ultra-conservative and uncompromisingly anti-rationalist Wahhabi movement in contemporary Islam. This was due to a variety of historical reasons that cannot be adequately described in this essay. In brief, the more than a dozen Crusades waged against the Muslim heartland, after assuming a secular veneer, culminated in the humiliating Colonial experience, which methodically undermined the institutions of Islamic law.[38] More significant than the military occupation by the West of most of the Muslim world were the economic and cultural concessions forced on Muslims.  The abolition of the Caliphate in 1922 and the wholesale adoption of Kemalist secularism in Istanbul, the former capital of Ottoman Empire and symbol of Muslim unity, was an act of unprecedented historic significance.  Of course, long before it was formally abolished, the Ottoman Caliphate’s legitimacy was seriously undermined; it had ceased to offer effective governance; its governors were often intolerably oppressive; towards the end of its existence, it was unable to protect its provinces. But the abolition of the Caliphate marked the end of an institution symbolising the idea of Islam not just as a religion but as a civilization. Muslims had succumbed to the new reality of nation-states. For centuries the Turks had played a critical role in defending different parts of the Muslim world from invasion and forcible conversion. The Turkish counter-offensive led to the siege of Vienna in 1683.  But the Treaty of San Stefano, signed in 1878, extracted humiliating concessions from the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire might have been the ‘sick man of Europe',[39] but its allegiance and identity were clear.  Despite the many Arab rebellions, often supported by Western colonial powers, the Turks were allied with Muslim political causes and, at least in principle, Muslims as a whole remained united against Western colonialism.


But Ataturk’s Turkey did not just secularize; it switched sides. It rejected Muslim culture and law as inferior to that of the West. Attaturk actively sought to Westernise every aspect of Turkish life. Turkey declared itself a European country. The Turks also decided to stay out of the ongoing conflict between Muslims and Christian colonial powers.[40] Like many reform-minded nationalists, Ataturk legitimated the colonial fantasy of the ‘White Man’s Burden’—the disingenuous idea that Western powers colonised Muslim countries for their own good. Western colonisers claimed to help the colonised rid themselves of traditional social systems by establishing representative systems of governance.  Far more significant were the economic and political structural realities within which both the colonier and colonised were forced to function. 


This structural reality was the challenge of modernity and the Turkish response seemed to confirm a painful reality: that the Muslim umma (the united Muslim nation mentioned in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) had moved from the realm of inspirational ideal to superstition. The whole Muslim world was undergoing a massive socio-political transformation that altered the nature and role of religious beliefs and practices. For only the second time in Muslim history,[41] the status of Shari’a was openly challenged.  But many Muslims contended that while the re-negotiated status of religion in the West was the product of historical processes and needs, the debates in the Muslim world took place within the coercive contexts of Colonialism and a Western-defined modernity. At the heart of all these debates was a basic anxiety as to whether surrendering to the demands of modernity in effect meant the end of the Muslim tradition. The dominant role of Western educated elites in Muslim societies exacerbated this anxiety. Modernity has forced a nationalistic culture on all Muslim states. Citizenship status has come to define the political treatment likely to be afforded a person—the miserable fate of stateless Palestinians has amply demonstrated this. Modernity also imposed a de facto secularism on Muslim societies since secular modern epistemology defined the developmental aspirations of the third world.[42] The logic of development purportedly displaced the authority of religion. Traditional societies, it was claimed, disintegrate when humans realise that divine sovereignty is fundamentally at odds with their own sovereign will. Human perceptions of their wellbeing and needs are shaped by the aspirations created by Western technologies.


These ideas—and the anxieties that persistently accompany them—continue to have serious consequences on human rights discourses. The nation-state was a defining component of the world order in the post-colonial era. And after gaining independence, most Muslim states ended up with secular political orders. From the eighteenth century on, Western culture and its institutions continued to replace the institutions of Muslim culture.


One of the most profound changes was the systematic displacement of Islamic law. This was achieved through a long process of forced commercial concessions, special privileges for foreign nationals, the right of intervention on behalf of non-Muslim minorities, courts of special subject-matter jurisdiction, mixed courts such as the Anglo-Muhammadan courts in India, scholarship programs for members of the ruling class to study in European law schools, the construction of secular law schools that increasingly monopolized the legal market, and the implementation of numerous legal reforms. The end result was the replacement of Islamic law, in most cases, with the Civil Legal system. The institutions that had once supported the development of Islamic jurisprudence became entirely marginal. Most schools of Islamic law were closed primarily due to the shortage of clientele. The death warrant of Islamic law was the co-optation by the state of the private endowments that funded the largest and oldest institutions for the study of Islamic law.[43] A paradoxical duality developed in Muslim cultures: from the age of Colonialism to this day, Muslims have mostly been governed by the French legal system. At the same time, the very experts who implemented foreign legal systems would write books exalting the superiority of the Islamic system. In effect, modern Muslims transformed Islamic jurisprudence from a dynamic living system to a relic admired but never used. The reality today is that modern Muslims have been completely deracinated from their own legal tradition. Muslim legal experts are woefully ignorant about the institutions and epistemologies that informed Islamic jurisprudence. As a final irony, Western scholarly discourses on the Islamic legal tradition nowadays have considerable authority in Muslim secular academies.[44] 


Some countries attempted to Islamize their legal systems in the nineteen-seventies and eighties by implementing specific measures mostly derived from the hudud laws. But these politicized measures were not geared to providing legal solutions to existing problems but to reinforce the appearance of Islamicity; such campaigns were high on propaganda but did little more than reinforce the perception that Islamic law is fundamentally at odds with the natural rights of human beings.  Consider the obscene examples paraded before the world: Pakistani and (later) Nigerian rape laws. The unflattering views of Islamic law in the contemporary age are hardly surprising. In part, the sensationalism and apologetics that plague the field of Islamic law are explained by the feeling throughout the Muslim world of being under siege. Given Western interventionism, this was probably unavoidable.[45] This sense of being under siege, combined with an intense sense of alienation from modernity, generated sharply reactive tendencies including the conservatism and intolerance of the Wahhabis. Clinging to idealised prototypes (`the Golden Age’) led to a superficial Islamicity that was fundamentally rejectionist.


The discussion thus far explains why Muslims failed to develop the full potential of the natural- rights strain in their own tradition. Contrary to prevalent stereotypes, the Muslims of today do not reflect the normative systems of their forefathers. Wahhabism, the dominant creed of Saudi Arabia (founded on the intolerant theological views of Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, d. 1791), has popularized the most anti-rationalist and despotic trends within the Islamic tradition. Ironically, Wahhabis would agree with the secularists that there is no place for human autonomy in the light of God’s sovereignty; they would go on to argue that whatever limited rights humans may earn are contingent on the fulfilment of their religious duties.[46] From the eighteenth century to this day, the Wahhabis have formed an alliance with the Al Saud family and rule over Mecca and Medina.  And throughout its history, the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance has depended on Western aid and protection, first British then American, for its very survival. Moreover, since the formation of the alliance, Wahhabi militants have slaughtered thousands of Muslims as, with British support, they fought against the Ottoman Caliphate, then turned to massacring Shi’i populations in south Arabia and southern Iraq. Since the founding of the Saudi state in 1932, Saudi governments and Wahhabi theologians have exploited Islam to defend one of the worst human-rights records in the world. Wahhabi-Saudi Islam, far from being authentically native, is a fanatic aberration raised and sustained by Western Colonialism. The Islamic law applied in Saudi Arabia today is a bizarre blend of nationalistic, pragmatic, empiricist, and amoral influences. In another context, I have argued that Wahhabi Islam is effectively a secularized faith in which religion is confined to a peripheral role.[47] And the Saudi legal system belongs to neither the Islamic tradition nor the Western tradition; it is a mangled deformity born of the worst elements of both traditions.




Here we come to an important point. The fact that Muslims have become disconnected from their own legal tradition and failed to develop the Natural Rights potentialities existing in the Rationalist orientation does not explain why human rights cultures have not developed in any case in Muslim countries. With the waning of colonialism, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights arguably represented a transitional moment in history. Muslim states could have developed human rights cultures on the basis of: 1) the natural rights tradition represented by the Universal Declaration; or 2) the consensual model that governed human rights conventions. It is true that representatives of some Muslim countries such as Egypt, Indonesia and part-Muslim countries such as Lebanon played an active role in the passage of the Universal Declaration. (Saudi Arabia was the only Muslim country not to vote in favour of the Declaration on the grounds that some provisions were fundamentally inconsistent with Islam.) But at the very point when the Universal Declaration was issued by the General Assembly, most Muslim countries were still subject to colonial rule. Egypt, which had taken such an active role, had not yet gained full independence from Great Britain. The issue of self-determination was complicated not just by de-colonisation (some Muslim countries gained their independence only in the nineteen-sixties) but by the partition of Palestine. The individual-rights portions of the Declaration were championed in Muslim countries by a Western-educated elite, indifferent or hostile to religion in general. The UN Charter placed effective powers in the hands of the Security Council, giving a majority of the world’s countries a mere advisory role. No Muslim country is a permanent member of the Security Council. This reinforced the perception that the Charter marked a continuation of Western hegemony. The power of veto enjoyed by the permanent members (especially in the context of the Cold War) greatly diluted the impact of the Universal Declaration.    

In the nineteen-fifties, sixties and seventies, Muslim countries signed many human-rights instruments of the consensual positivist model. But (as we have seen), the signature of treaties by authoritarian governments does not necessarily reflect the cultures of that people. Moreover, these conventions and treaties were signed as a means of gaining favour with the superpowers during the Cold War. The U.S. could refuse to sign major human-rights treaties with impunity but few Muslim countries dared do the same. Instead, some Muslim countries signed but entered reservations; they would comply with the provisions only to insofar as they were consistent with Shari’a,[48] thus allowing them to interpret Islamic law in any way that they wished. In repeated declarations, such as the Cairo, Doha and Casablanca Declarations,[49] Muslim governments affirmed their commitment to human rights. But the governments most active in passing these declarations were the ones with the worst record of human-rights abuses. None of the countries affirming the incompatibility of international human rights with Shari’a actually enforced the Islamic legal system. 


Because of the limited effectiveness of worldwide conventions, the nineteen-eighties witnessed the enactment of regional human rights conventions such as the European, African and American conventions.[50] It is often argued that regional conventions were designed to reflect the customs of the regions that enacted them. But this really holds true only of regions where governments represent the normative choices of their people. Far from affirming the integrity of international human rights, regional conventions represented concessions to particularism and cultural relativism.




The moral and ethical logic informing human rights treaties did not influence the normative commitments of Muslims. From the Muslim point of view, the whole field seemed somewhat farcical. Even if superpowers such as the United States agreed to be held accountable, they often zealously backed governments with abysmal human rights records, such as the Iran under the Shah. The U.S. was willing to pretend that friends like Israel and South Africa did not engage in discrimination. It verbally condemned but in effect ignored human rights abuses by countries such as Saudi Arabia. Inconsistency, hypocrisy, or multiple standards infected the foreign policies of the supposed champions of rights.[51] Muslims have swung back and forth between the idealism and realism of the West. If Muslims had identified ethical goals and anchored them in their own intellectual heritage, the effect of Western double-standards might have proved negligible. But one reason why Muslims have not developed a human rights culture is undoubtedly that they have never experienced them as a living reality. 


How have they experienced human rights? What has been the impact of human rights in the life of the common Muslim? Here we must return to the fatwa issued by the Saudi jurists. They claimed that believing in human rights is so heretical as render a Muslim an apostate. What was their intended audience? What induced them to construct a fatwa apparently designed to antagonize and offend?  Answer: they were flouting the perceived sanctities of the West. However, the intended assault on Western sanctities is done at the expense of Islamic tradition. This repulsive fatwa had more to do with cumulative political frustrations than any authentic Islamic tradition. A partial list of those frustrations would include: the presence of American troops on Saudi soil; the Saudi government’s execution of 160 reputable Wahhabi jurists who dared sign a petition opposing the presence of American forces on Saudi land and the United State’s silence about the massacre; the occupation of Iraq and the shocking conduct of the US forces and government in the war on terror, in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.


This pattern of politicization is a microcosmic example of the Muslim experience with the paradigm of human rights, which has been advocated by first colonial powers and then one superpower. These powers preached human rights but what they practiced were civic rights. They acted as if observing civic rights meant upholding human rights and then assumed that this authorised them to preach human rights to the Muslim world. But the problem goes much deeper. Colonialism systematically destroyed local Muslim initiatives to develop the kinds of institutions theoretically recommended by the West—unless such initiatives derived from the Colonial power. One example: the 1906 Iranian Constitutional Revolution was pioneered by Shi’i jurists and was remarkably liberal. It was thwarted by a British-Russian agreement threatening that an invasion would follow the first session of its newborn parliament.[52] The lesson imparted by Colonialism was clear: human rights is an exercise in hypocrisy; rights and democracy are completely subservient to realpolitik; and national norms trump moral norms. Instead of rehabilitating the human rights paradigm, everything that followed colonialism tended to reinforce these negative impressions.


I have already commented on the impact of the Cold War. The CIA aborting the second Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1953;[53] the 1956 invasion of Egypt; the humiliating 1967 defeat;[54] Kissinger diplomacy and the 1973 war;[55] the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1985; the Russian invasion of Afghanistan: was this environment conducive to the development of human-rights cultures in the Muslim world?  However, the period of real possibilities was the nineties. The Cold War had ended. Local NGOs emerged on a very large scale. Some of these NGOs in the Muslim world ran huge risks to generate substantive doctrines of human rights and substantive commitments to them. True, these NGOs were for the most part founded by Western-educated elites. But there were encouraging indications that on issues such as torture and due process, they were building a discourse shared with the societies in which they worked.


Alas, the end of the Cold War coincided with the beginning of the Bush era.  And the parallels between Bush era and the Colonial age are unsettling. As in the Colonial age, we find lip service given to Islam but a profound alarmism about the living tradition; Islam can be as patriarchal and ritualistic as it likes, as long as it does not challenge the existing power structures. This is why the Bush administration is comfortable with Saudi Wahhabism; in all political matters, Saudi Wahhabi theology is entirely pragmatic. Saudi Wahhabism (as opposed to the Wahhabism of Bin Laden for instance) makes obedience to rulers, however unjust, a theological duty. As in the Colonial era, at the social and cultural levels religious tolerance tends to disappear. In Western societies, there is a tendency to equate Islam with reactionary historical forces. This tends to legitimate culturally-led religious bigotry. In the Colonial era, Islam was regularly caricatured. In the United States of today, the flood of bigoted literature and films has risen in proportion to the aggressiveness of U.S. foreign policy. Few weeks go by without one or more Islamophobic books appearing on the New York Times’ Bestsellers List.

Islamophobia is a necessary adjunct to a foreign policy of social and cultural engineering. The Bush administration and its neo-con ideologues believe that Islam needs social engineering to save Muslims from themselves. This was clearly in evidence in the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. In both instances, think tanks, and lobbying organizations felt free to discuss whether the new constitutions should identify the country as Islam; allow a role for Sharia; be obligated to grant Christian missionaries visas or not.  They knew that the Bush government believed it had the right to directly influence the choices of Muslims; it regarded the incorporation of Shari’a law as inherently dangerous.[56] Like the old colonialists, the neo-cons felt free to shape how and what is taught about Islam in Muslim countries’ school systems. The Bush administration did this Afghanistan and Iraq. Egypt, Jordan, and the Yemen all revised their secondary-school curriculum in response to pressure from the U.S. Today, in the heart of Mecca, no imam would dare give a sermon about jihad; this is not permitted by the Saudi government because talk of jihad makes the American government nervous.   


The policies of the Bush era are similar to Colonialism in two other respects: exceptionalism and protectoratism. The Bush administration is convinced of its moral superiority; it believes that this superiority justifies abhorrent violations of human rights. Neo-cons act as if the killing and torturing of innocent people is qualitatively different when performed by the U.S. government. The logic of exceptionalism has made what was unthinkable a few years ago if not acceptable then at most a regrettable technocratic infraction. Before the occupation of Iraq, the U.S. government was already engaged in the practice of proxy torture—the `rendition’ of suspected terrorists to countries where they are tortured. It perceives resistance to American occupation as reactionary and this attitude serves to remove moral and legal inhibitions. It was therefore not long before the U.S. government moved from proxy torture to practising torture not just at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib but at special U.S. detention centres in Iraq, the Arab world, Europe, and South America.[57] Predictably, it refused to allow the Red Cross to inspect those detention centres. The U.S. has also engaged in the abduction of Muslim dissidents from several countries including, most notoriously, Italy and the Netherlands. It has performed extra-judicial killings. France won infamy as a Colonial power because it had killed one to two million; according to several (non-U.S.) estimates, between the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. and its allies have killed over one million Muslims. Of course, this figure is not comprehensive; it does not, for example, include the half-million lives, mostly children, lost in Iraq as a result of the U.S.-led embargo.[58] Few Americans can even conceive of the level of violence inflicted on the countries of the Middle East in the name of bringing democracy. By the United Nations’ estimates, because of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and other U.S. policies involving the use of force, there are currently eight to ten million refugees in the Arab world alone (this does not include Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran).[59] The trauma inflicted on the region does not simply concern the victims of occupation and violence. Trauma also creates collective memories, narratives of suffering and humiliation that generate rehabilitating mythologies of past heroism. These are steps in a polarizing process, which is unlikely to aid the acknowledgement of universalities. Bin Laden and those who dream of taking vengeance against the West are, like the neo-cons, believers in the Clash-of-Civilisations thesis. Like the neo-cons, they are also firm believers in exceptionalism; they claim to espouse the values of Islam, but commit the most heinous acts.  Bin Laden and other radical Islamists are hostile towards human rights advocates, whom they consider agents of foreign powers;[60] but nothing could have undermined the cause of human rights as much as the exceptionalist policies of the U.S. and its allies.


Consider ‘the Yamama deal’. The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia struck a secret agreement involving a 70-billion-dollar arms deal conditional on the British government surrendering two prominent Saudi dissidents, Sa’d al-Din al-Faqih and Muhammad al-Mis’iri, both naturalized British citizens and well-known human rights activists who have exposed the numerous abuses of the Saudi government. Relying solely on evidence provided by the Saudi government, the British government arrested both and charged them with supporting terrorism. The purpose of the proceedings was to denaturalize al-Faqih and Mis’iri as a prelude to surrendering them to the Saudi government, though there can be no doubt that once surrendered to Saudi Arabia both men will be tortured and killed.[61] The pragmatism of a deal like this rests leads to cynicism about the very paradigm of human rights. It taps into collective Muslim memories of Western exceptionalism and selectivity. Even the most basic and fundamental human rights are not, it seems, always applicable. This is the theory of the occasionality of rights[62] and it never seems to be invoked in favour of Muslims.           


The harm that befalls Muslims from this politically oriented manipulation of human rights is immeasurable. Very often it affects the Muslim sense of dignity and honour. Protectoratism is a particularly humiliating form of the occasionality of rights and a mirror image of the Colonial practice of special privileges. Acting like a traditional or Colonial power, the U.S. has privatized significant sectors of the Iraqi oil industry and then granted itself special oil concessions in Iraq. This comes after all Muslim countries, Iraq included, had begun nationalizing their oil industries during the nineteen-fifties and sixties in what was then celebrated as a major step towards self-determination.  And again, consistent with Colonial practices, American soldiers who raped a young girl and killed her family were not tried in an Iraqi court but prosecuted by an American tribunal. This behaviour replicates the policies of Colonial powers in refusing to submit their own citizens to the jurisdiction of native courts. American military tribunals have given out disproportionately lenient sentences to soldiers convicted of torture, rape, and murder. If these soldiers were to commit the same offences on American soil or if they were tried under Iraqi law their punishments would have been much more severe.[63] 


Even more troubling is the return to a dangerously imperialist form of protectoratism: to the idea that certain ethnicities or religious minorities must be protected by the U.S. I was appointed by President Bush to U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Having served as a Commissioner for three years, I became extremely concerned that there was a strong orientation toward the Colonial practice of wisaya—the placing of non-Muslim religious minorities under the protection of Western powers. In May 2006, American Copts held a convention in New York City calling attention to the purported persecution of Copts in Egypt.  The convention received a letter from President Bush stating the protection of Copts in Egypt was a matter of U.S. national security.  The letter did not explain why the protection of Copts, as opposed to, let us say, Muslims living in Israel, is a matter of U.S. national security.[64] Clearly, the U.S. is following the age-old rule of ‘divide and rule', replicating the Colonial practice of balkanization by playing off the Muslim world’s religious, sectarian, and ethnic divisions.     


All of the practices discussed above—exceptionalism, occasionality, the civilizing mission and so on—are means to something much more important. This is to provide the U.S. with its claim to high moral ground. It enables Americans to see their interventions as by definition benevolent and to react with shock and contempt when their interventions are resented. A narrow range of words is used to articulate this objective:  freedom-loving people, God-given rights, and God-given liberty. Symbolically, this language differentiates between the good and bad—it distinguishes friend from foe. It is a partly secularized version of the historical ‘God-fearing people’ versus `savage heathens’. Muslims are told that in order to become `freedom-loving’ they must accept democracy, human rights, and liberal values, institutions considered by the neo-cons to be the product of the Judeo-Christian tradition. When Muslims adopt liberal values, does this mean that Islamic Civilization has been defeated? Are Muslims being invited to join a universal humanitarian culture? (If so, the U.S. hardly seems fit to extend such an invitation.) Or are Muslims being asked to recognize the victory of Judeo-Christian over Islamic civilisation? A recent Rand Corporation report is rather instructive. It argues that liberal Muslims, even if committed to the ideals of human rights and democracy, are not natural allies of the U.S. and the West because they remain committed to an Islamic identity.[65] The U.S. ought therefore to only support secularised Muslims because they are more easily convinced of the value of U.S. strategic goals. The report then goes on to list secular Muslims deemed acceptable to the U.S.  Every single person on this list is either an Islamophobe or a self-hating Muslim. Examples include Salman Rushdie, a principled spokesman against Islamic convictions, Wafa Sultan, a proud atheist, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, the author of the bestselling book: ‘I, the Infidel.’[66] The report bolsters the suspicion that the current so-called civilizing mission is not a mission but a crusade. Cultures of human rights and democracy cannot grow in coercive contexts. There can be no true sense of dignity when a people live under foreign occupation. Cultures of occupation lead to endless cycles of resistance and repression that are hostile to human rights. 


The U.S., like its colonial predecessors, has been keen on building parliamentary institutions. Superficially, such institutions legitimate the occupier; elections may pre-empt revolutionary movements. But the imposition of democratic institutions does not create a democratic system. Neither authoritarian local rulers nor colonial powers have felt secure enough to forego power and thus allow the emergence of democratic constitutionalism. Institutions constructed under these conditions typically lack durability. Students of Colonialism will not be surprised if the electoral institutions of Iraq and Afghanistan crumble as soon as the U.S.-led occupation departs. The neo-cons seem unaware that this is not because of a lack of American power but because of its excessive use.


My point is to emphasize the counter-productiveness of policies that betray their own declared ideals. Understandably, the Muslim world is increasingly being asked to take responsibility for its self and to stop blaming the West for its own failures. But one cannot ignore the impact that the West has had on Muslims. In terms of historical memory, Colonialism does not belong to the distant past. Western countries have continued to be intimately involved with numerous aspects of the Muslim world especially the Middle East. Western politicians have resisted the idea that Muslims could be simultaneously committed to an Islamic identity and democracy and human rights. They have therefore adopted a policy of silent acquiescence in the repression of every Islamic movement that has successfully competed in fairly held elections (Algeria, Jordan) and the pre-emptive repression of Islamic activists or groups who seemed well placed in provincial elections (Egypt, Jordan);  they have remained quiet about the escalating levels of repression in countries where Islamic groups were believed to be particularly strong (Tunisia, Mauritania, Yemen, Bahrain); and failed to take decisive stands when popularly elected governments with Islamic proclivities have been overthrown by secular military juntas (Pakistan, Turkey). The same bias is responsible for wasted opportunities in dealing with liberal but Islamic orientations in Sudan and Iran and has led to the immoral practice of persuading one country to invade another either to bring the downfall of a purportedly Islamic government or to prevent such a government from coming into power, as in the invasions of Iran by Iraq and Somalia by Ethiopia. Part of the price tag for attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran was a decade-long silence on Saddam’s intolerable human rights record and his infamous genocide against the Iraqi Kurds.     


In short, it is difficult to ignore the reality of Western anxiety concerning Islam in power. It is difficult to explain to Muslims the ease with which Western countries deal with extremist Hindu parties coming to power in India or fundamentalist Jewish parties coming to power through coalition in Israel. Compare the attitude of Western states towards any Islamic political party regardless of its profession of democratic values: the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, and the Islamic Renaissance Party in Tunisia.[67] It is hardly surprising that the Muslim laity responds to these inconsistencies by tapping into its not too distant historical memory; its experience with the West supports arguments about double-standards, hypocrisy, and religious hostility. 


The despotic secular governments of Muslim countries certainly believed they had understood the nature of the game—they could avoid being pressured by Western governments about their abysmal human rights records if they limited their repression to Islamists, who just happened to be their most formidable foes. With the end of the Cold War, there was euphoria about the possibility of a new era for human rights. But in the Middle East this sense of hopefulness was shared only by a few secular thinkers. Almost all Islamists took a pessimistic view of this new period. During the Cold War, Western governments sought tactical advantages in supporting some Islamist movements—alas, not always the most humanistic or enlightened movements. With the end of the Cold War this incentive no longer existed. It is important to remember that most of the governments of the Muslim world are not only staunchly secular but have a well-founded fear of anything Islamic that they cannot control. Some governments, such the Moroccan, Sudanese, Libyan, Pakistani, and other states, wear a thin Islamic veneer in the belief that this bolsters their legitimacy, coupled with zero tolerance towards any competing claim to Islamicity.  This intolerance is even more severe in the case of Saudi Arabia, whose proclaimed raison d’être is its guardianship of the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina and of authentic orthodox Islam. A dissenting Islamist in Saudi Arabia is guaranteed to meet a grimmer fate than that of a dissenting secularist.   


The intensification of Western repression against Islamic thinkers or activists has at times been coupled with policies that seemed designed to change the religious trajectory of society—policies that ranged from banning the wearing of the veil in schools, universities, and governmental institutions to liquidating Islamic financial institutions, banning the use of loud speakers in the call for prayers, prohibiting unauthorized individuals from public preaching, or sharply decreasing the amount of religious programming in state-regulated television. These policies were undertaken in the hope of changing the popular basis for political legitimacy in Muslim countries. They only succeeded in convincing Muslims of the foreignness of their own governments. Predictably, the repression of Islamists led to the sense that there was a sustained effort designed to exclude Islamic values from the lived public space of Muslims. Thus at the end of the Cold War, when Western theorists enthusiastically predicted a new world order,[68] the experience of most Muslims, especially in Middle Eastern countries, was one of alienation. This was a direct outcome of the intolerable despotism of most Muslim governments, which had become alien entities holding on to power through brute force.




The ultimate consequence of this process was to create the setting for the irrational polarization that has taken place in the Bush era. The West’s tacit approval of the human-rights abuses committed against Islamists contributed to a disastrous process of disinformation about the relationship between the West and Islam. Polarization leads to the dehumanisation of the other, which is a necessary prelude to the breakdown of moral barriers to the use of force. The ideas of the neo-cons represented a true paradigm shift. Since 2001 there has been an elitist plutocracy that rules the world with a hegemonic power not seen in my opinion since the Roman Empire defeated Cartage. The world has regressed: a superpower or Empire, in the name of a religious truth (very much like the vulgar natural-law tradition), demands personal allegiance from the leaders of weaker states and treats such states as satellites. Nations are given a draconian choice: you are either with us or against us. This bears a painful resemblance to historical fundamentalist divisions such as the abode of Islam or Christendom versus the Pagans or Infidels.  These new plutocrats believe that God is pleased with what they do.[69] Of course, the Bin Ladens of the world believe the same.  What is completely lost between the two moralising but immoral camps is inalienable human rights. 




Why have Muslims not built polities in which human rights are upheld and respected?  If my analysis is correct, the question ought to be: How could Muslims have possibly done so! Human rights constitute a rare and remarkable development in human history. As Muslims entered the modern age, none of the political paradigms forming part of their reality afforded convincing human-rights models. The superficially promising post-Cold War period set the stage for the Bush era—an era that turned back to the paradigms of the Colonialism. In the field of human rights, Western Civilization—the dominant civilization of this age—has neither led by example nor exerted a positive influence on Muslim cultures. One way to see the experience through Muslim eyes is to consider the number of Muslims who have been killed or injured or made into refugees in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as a direct result of Western policies in Algeria, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries. The calculation must be made in the millions.


There is no alternative to developing human rights cultures through a cumulative process of education and internally generated pressure. Every society has its own epistemological and ontological sources; in the case of Muslim societies the most persuasive sources are those of Islam. But Muslims have been uprooted from their own tradition. The puritanical Wahhabi movement has, under the sponsorship of the Saudi state, succeeded in convincing many Muslims and non-Muslims alike that its intellectual and moral impoverishment represents the sum of what Islam has achieved. It has played a devastating role perhaps surpassed only by Colonialism in obscuring the richness, diversity, and humanity of Islamic tradition. Now the Bush policies have returned Muslims to the alienating policies of Colonialism and boosted the legitimacy of Wahhabism.  


Muslims must make their own way to human rights; they must do so by anchoring themselves in the elements in Islam that could have led to firm commitments in favour of human rights, and could still do so. The challenges appear insurmountable. But a true believer knows that God is capable of doing anything. Every observing Muslim knows the teaching: `If a people chooses to be with God, God chooses to be with them’.  What better way of choosing to be with God than to celebrate God’s creation by recognizing the inherent value of each of his viceroys on earth?





[1] See Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, James Nickel and Betsy Lamm, s.v. `Human Rights,` http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/ (accessed August 1, 2007).  See also Jack Donnelly, `Human Rights and Human Dignity: An Analytical Critique of Non-Western Conceptions of Human Rights,` American Political Science Review, 76 (1982), 303 (stating `most non-Western cultural and political traditions lack not only the practice of human rights but the very concept.  As a matter of historical fact, the concept of human rights is an artifact of modern Western civilization.`).


[2] See George Makdisi, The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990).  See also Mehdi K. Nakosteen, History of Islamic Origins of Western Education (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 1984) and Joel Kraemer, The Culture Bearers of Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam (Tel-Aviv: Tel-Aviv University, 1984).


[3] See Muhammed Sa‘id Al-‘Ashmawi, `Reforming Islam and Islamic Law,` in Islam in Transition, 2nd ed., ed. John J. Donohue & John L. Esposito, (New York : Oxford University Press, 2007), 181–3.


[4] Ann Mayer, Islam and Human Rights; Traditions and Politics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 13–14.


[5] See Khaled Abou El Fadl, `The Death Penalty, Mercy and Islam: A Call for Retrospection,` in Religion and the Death Penalty, edited by Erik C. Owens, John D. Carlson & Eric P. Elshtain (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004).


[6] See Abou El Fadl, `Law of Duress in Islamic Law and Common Law: A Comparative Study,` Arab Law Quarterly 2 (1991), 121 and Islamic Studies 30 (1991), 305.


[7] See Khaled Abou El Fadl, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).


[8] During the formative period of Islamic law (the first three Islamic centuries or the seventh to the tenth centuries A.D.), the charge of apostasy was typically invoked in cases in which the authority of a state legitimated by religion was challenged by seditious conduct that included collective abdication of the Islamic faith.  In the pre-modern era as a whole, charges of apostasy were rarely brought against private individuals. Before the Colonial period of Islamic history there are very few documented cases of individuals prosecuted on charges of apostasy and executed.  For a more detailed discussion, see Khaled Abou El Fadl, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).


[9] See Abid Ullah Jan, `The Limits of Tolerance,` The Place of Tolerance in Islam, edited by Joshua Cohen and Ian Lague (Boston, Beacon Press, 2002), 42–50.


[10] See Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft (New York: Harper, 2005).


[11] Ibid.


[12] See the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook report on Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia is a destination country for workers from South and Southeast Asia who are subjected to conditions that constitute involuntary servitude including being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, confinement, and withholding of passports as a restriction on their movement; domestic workers are particularly vulnerable because some are confined to the house in which they work and are unable to seek help…tier rating: Tier 3 - Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.


As reported by UNICEF, the tsunami created a substantial and significant possibility of increased human trafficking from South and Southeast Asia; see UNICEF, `Press Release on the Tsunami Disaster,` http://www.unicef.org/media/media_24721.html (accessed August 1, 2007).  These problems were also widely reported in the Asian press.  See Channel News Asia Report, `Criminals and opportunists take advantage of tsunami tragedy`, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/125654/1/.html (accessed August 1, 2007).  The convergence of these reports suggests that the Tsunami disaster greatly increased the number of slaves trafficked to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East.


[13] It is perfectly possible for a jurist to find no convincing evidence that God has any will concerning the situation at issue.  In these situation, jurists are supposed to rely on mandatory legal presumptions such as: Unless there is specific evidence of a prohibition, permissibility should be assumed, or: Every person is presumed to be free of obligation or liability unless there is evidence to the contrary, or: Individual harm cannot be presumed to constitute a public harm, but public harm is evidence of impermissibility.  For a more detailed discussion, see Khaled Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005), 9–169.   For a more detailed discussion of the Fatwa and the Islamic legal process in general, see Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Authoritative and the Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses, 3rd printing (Alexandria: Al-Saadawi Publications, 2002).


[14] See Mayer, Islam and Human Rights (note 4).


[15] In the wake of the genocide against Muslims in Bosnia the United States did not react by demanding that educational curricula in Serbia or Croatia be revised to remove bigoted teachings about Islam.  Likewise, the United States never admits the existence of racially prejudiced or religiously bigoted portrayals of Arabs and Islam in Israel.  Moreover, the American government itself has not been open to having conversations either with Muslim states or NGOs about the way that Islam is taught in public schools in the U.S.  These facts are well known in the Muslim world and contribute to the sense of disempowerment felt by many Muslims.


[16] All Islamic sects and schools of thought agree that enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is a solemn ethical obligation on Muslims.  There was, however, some theological disagreement as to whether this obligation was a sixth pillar of the faith.  All Muslims are in agreement that there are five pillars that define the Islamic faith: 1) the testament of faith; 2) five daily prayers; 3) fasting the month of Ramadan; 4) paying alms to the poor (the obligation of zakat); and 5) Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime for those capable of doing so.  The Rationalist school of thought (historically, known as the Mu’tazila) contended that the duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil was a sixth pillar of the Islamic faith. See Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft (note 10), 122–4 (note 10). 


[17] The term `law` here does not necessarily mean a detailed set of positive commandments; the law means the fundamental and basic Divine directives to human beings, directives not subject to the vagaries of time and place.  The Covenantal Law is absolute, immutable, eternal, and inherently good (Shari’a).  What is derived from the Covenantal Law is contingent, contextual, revisable, and experimental (fiqh).  On the distinction between Shari’a and fiqh, see Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name (note 14), 30–40; Irshad Abdal-Haqq, `Islamic Law: An Overview of Its Origin and Elements,` in Understanding Islamic Law, ed. M. Ramadan (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2006), 3–42.


[18] See Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name (note 14), 27–8.


[19] There are various definitions of the Islamic classical age, but in this context I use the expression to refer to the period from the time of the death of the Prophet to the ninth/fifteenth century.


[20] Modern day Islamists retort that the Qur’an provides a coherent ethical framework for a humanitarian ideology. This often-heard argument ignores the distinction between the potentially perfect realization of the Qur’an and a cultural realization of it.  The Qur’an may indeed embody the most perfect ethical and humanitarian message but this does not mean that Muslims today have fully understood its message.


[21] On humanistic orientations in medieval Islam and on their likely impact on the development of European humanism, see the works by Makdisi, Nakosteen and Kraemer cited in note 2.


[22] See Khaled Abou El Fadl, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2004), 23–30.


[23] Ibid.


[24] The important exception to this rule is the hudud penalties.  See below.


[25] See also, Ramadan ed., Understanding Islamic Law (note 20) 50–57; and Wael B. Hallaq, Islamic Legal Theories (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 85.


[26] See generally Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Search for Beauty in Islam (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).


[27] He also wrote a much shorter set of works known as the five epistles that in many ways are even more significant for the fields of natural law, natural rights, and ethics than al-Mughni, which is an encyclopaedic opus documenting in great detail the arguments of al-Basri’s opponents.  


[28] The Qur’an itself repeatedly urges Muslims to manumit slaves. Classical Muslim jurists almost always dedicate a chapter of their writings to discussion of the legal issues relating to the manumission of slaves, notably the rules concerning the possible right of a slave to buy back his freedom from the owner and the rights of a slave to own money or property (without which discussing the right of a slave to buy his/her freedom is otiose.)  These writers rarely dedicate a chapter to the topic of purchasing slaves.  


[29] See Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee (Reading: Garnet, 2000).


[30] Most Western (and even Muslim) scholars writing on the European heritage of faith and reason specify their purported Hebrew origins before going on to the Greek tradition, the Greco-Roman world, Christian Scholasticism, Humanism, Thomism, Renaissance, the so-called Cartesian revolution, the Protestant Reformation—including the Lutheran revolt and Calvinism. Then, if they are fair-minded, they proceed to the Catholic Reformation and thence to the birth of the Enlightenment and the reason-based progression to the age of modernity and secularism. This is somewhat inconsistently called the Judeo-Christian heritage.  In the absence of the Islamic connection, this tradition would be discontinuous yet the `Muslim link' is mostly ignored.  The Rationalist orientations within Islam not only influenced numerous Christian theologians and philosophers but exercised a considerable impact on Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides.       


[31] See Kraemer, The Culture Bearers (note 2).


[32] Although al-Ghazali was associated with the Ash’ari theological school of thought, he also wrote a very well-known refutation of the philosophical methods of speculative theology. In the later phases of his life his thought was marked by a distinctive blend of aesthetic rationalism or perhaps rational aestheticism. Al-Ghazali influenced a considerable number of Western thinkers: from Thomas Aquinas to Ramón Marti, author of Pugio Fides, and all the way to Pascal.    


[33] A number of scholars contend that the Western Civilization and all its ethical achievements, including human rights, originated from a uniquely Christian or Judeo-Christian foundation.  For instance see, Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing Inc. 2005), 197–215.


[34] I am aware that this is a controversial claim and that there are scholars (typically of the positivist orientation) who believe that universal human rights developed only when rights-theorists freed themselves from the shackles of religion.  In fact, some have argued that in an effort to make their theories accessible, accountable, and legitimately universal, Natural Rights theorists, in effect, got rid of God, and attempted to base their theories on reason alone or rationally justified basic goods.  But in doing so, it is argued that Natural Rights theorists entirely undermined their own coherence or plausibility. This is sometimes dismissively referred to as ‘the crisis of Natural Rights theory’ but criticisms of modern Natural Rights theories invariably seem to go back to the so-called ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’.  For instance, see Pauline Westerman, The Disintegration of Natural Law Theory: Aquinas to Finnis (Leiden: Brill, 1998), especially 231–85.  I cannot deal with this here. But note that the argument that rights-theory made sense only after it had discounted the divine as an authoritative frame of reference is obviously a normative and not a historical claim.    


[35] See Elizabeth Bucar and Barbara Barnett (eds.) Does Human Rights Need God? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Edermans Publishing Co., 2005) especially the article by Max Stackhouse, `Why Human Rights Needs God: A Christian Perspective,` 25–40.


[36] The author of al-Hayy bin Yaqdhan, a book that became widely influential in both the Islamic and Latin-language worlds.  Eventually, this tale was plagiarized into the famous Robinson Crusoe story. 


[37] The loss of Muslim Spain was gradual and protracted; not until the mid-fourteenth century was all of Muslim Spain (with the exception of Granada) conquered by the Christian Kingdoms. Granada was captured in 1492.


[38] Reportedly, the French general who led the military campaign against Syria made a point of visiting the grave of Saladin in July 1920 to declare: ‘Here Saladin! We have returned, but this time we are here to stay!’ See Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) and Karen Armstrong, Holy War (London: Macmillan, 1988).


[39] This meant that the competing colonial powers impatiently awaited the death of the Ottoman Empire so that they might rush in and grab its possessions.


[40] Many intellectuals from various parts of Muslim world, such as the well-known jurist Rashid Rida, argued that Ataturk’s reforms were intolerable to a Muslim people such as the Turks and that it was therefore only a matter of time before the Turks rose in rebellion against Ataturk’s policies.    


[41] In my view, the first time was when Shari’a established itself as the authoritative moral and legal point of reference for all Muslims in the first century of Islam, shortly after the death of the Prophet.  Of course, many Western scholars would take issue with this claim, and insist—without much evidence—that Shari’a only established its authority several centuries after the Prophet’s death. 


[42] This approach is quite widespread. It suggests that empiricism, realism, and individualism are the dominant philosophies of the developed world because they are necessitated by the logic of modernity.


[43] Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft (note 10), 26–45.


[44] This is demonstrable, for instance, in the often-repeated jargon about closing the gates of ijtihad in the tenth century and in the transplanting of Western discourse asserting that al-Shafi’i founded the field of usul al-fiqh—a position now uncritically accepted in Muslim scholarship.


[45] See generally Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation (note 40).


[46] For a fuller account of Wahhabi theology, see generally Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft (note 10).


[47] See generally, Khaled Abou El Fadl, And God Knows the Soldiers (Lanham: University Press of America, 2001).


[48] See Mayer, Islam And Human Rights (note 4).


[49] See `Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam,` art. 17(c), Aug. 5, 1990, Organization of the Islamic Conference A/CONF.157/PC/62/Add.18 (1993).  See also WTO, `Doha Declaration,` Doha WTO Ministerial 2001, Ministerial Declaration adopted on 14 November 2001, available at http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/mindecl_e.htm.  See also, `Casablanca Declaration,` released at the Middle East/North Africa Economic Summit, Casablanca, Morocco, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 1994, U.S. Department of State, Dept. of State Dispatch, Nov. 7,1994, available in LEXIS, GENFED Library, DSTATE File.


[50] See Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, `American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,` art. 13 (1948), available at http://www.cidh.org/Basicos/basic2.htm.  See also `African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,` art. 5, June 27, 1981, O.A.U. Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, reprinted in 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982) and the `European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,` Nov. 4, 1950, European T.S. no. 5.


[51] See Kenneth Anderson, `Secular Eschatologies and Class Interests` in Religion and Human Rights,  edited by Carrie Gustafson and Peter Juviler (Armonk, M.E.: Sharpe, 1999), 115. See also, Richard Falk, Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World (New York: Routledge, 2000).


[52] See Helen Chapin Metz, ed. `Iran: A Country Study,` Country Studies/Area Handbook Series, Library of Congress (1987).  Similar cases of the European powers actively aborting any movement towards constitutionalism and democracy occurred in Egypt and Tunisia.  See Helen Chapin Metz, ed. `Egypt: A Country Study,` Country Studies/Area Handbook Series, Library of Congress (1990) for a discussion of British attempts to prevent the emergence of any type of constitutional or democratic government in Egypt the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and Encyclopaedia Britannica, `Entry on Tunisia; The Growth of European Influence,` http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-46620 (accessed July 17, 2007) for an account of how Tunisia’s newly-formed constitutional government—the first in the region, which established equal rights before the law for all Tunisian subjects—was undermined by European intrigues and interests and finally terminated by the French invasion of 1881.


[53] For an extensive discussion of how the bloody CIA-sponsored coup that ended the Mossadeq era in Iran killed off the liberal constitutionalist trends in Iran and directly led to the birth of Khomeni’s illiberal theory of the vilayat al-faqih (the rule of the jurist-counsel) see Mark Gasiorowski, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Shah: Building a Client State in Iran (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).


[54] The humiliating 1967 defeat is said to have killed-off Pan-Arab nationalism, and severely damaged the cause of liberalism in the Arab world. However, defeat alone is not the issue here so much as the war crimes committed during and immediately following that defeat.  Much as the later American-led war to liberate Kuwait involved a proverbial turkey-shoot of retreating Iraqi soldiers, so Israeli soldiers not only shot withdrawing Egyptian soldiers in 1967 but massacred a large number of surrendered Egyptian soldiers and Prisoners of War.  Despite Egypt’s vocal and repeated complaints that Israel had committed war crimes by killing POW’s, the accusations were dismissed out of hand by the U.S.  However, a number of reports have emerged during the last ten years that strongly suggest that the murder of Egyptian POW’s by Israeli soldiers did in fact occur and was probably approved by the Israeli army’s command structure.  See Lisa Beyer, `A Soldier’s Confession; Admitting to killing Egyptian POWs in 1956, a veteran stirs a nation's conscience,` Time Magazine, August 28, 1995 (Volume 146, No. 9).   See also Katherine M. Metres, `As Evidence Mounts, Toll of Israeli Prisoner of War Massacres Grows,` Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February/March 1996, 17, 104-105.


[55] Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (New York: Verso, 2002).


[56] See Angel Rabasa et al., `Building Moderate Muslim Networks,` RAND Center for Middle East Policy Report (RAND, 2007).


[57] Remarkably, the Bush administration obtained a fifty-page memorandum from the office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice asserting that the President, notwithstanding the Convention Against Torture (CAT), could authorise the use of torture without violating international law—although CAT does not permit any derogations (exceptions). See Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel, eds., The Torture Papers (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


[58] The precise number of deaths caused by the embargo is a matter of debate but the half-million estimate cited above is probably on the low-side.  A number of academic studies have found that 350–500,000 Iraqi children died between 1991 and 2000 as a result of the embargo. See Mohamed Ali, John Blacker and Gareth Jones, `Annual mortality rates and excess deaths of children under five in Iraq, 1991-98,` in Population Studies 57 (2003), 217, which finds that 400-500,000 children under the age of five had died as a result of the embargo by 1998.  See also David Cortright, `A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions,` The Nation (December 3, 2001), which cites two earlier academic studies on the subject, indicating that approximately 227,000 children had died by 1998, and 350,000 children by 2000, as a result of the embargo.


[59] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/statistics/opendoc.pdf#zoom=100   (UNHCR Report on Refugees in the Middle East.


[60] In two statements made in October 21, 2001 and October 6, 2002, Bin Laden mocked the Western commitment to democracy and human rights, describing it as hypocrisy, and predicted that his war with the West would send both institutions `to the guillotine` as his war led the West to to show its true inhumane face.  See Bruce Lawrence, ed. Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (London/New York: Verso, 2005), 113 (`guillotine') and 170; and Khaled Abou El Fadl, `The Crusader; Why we must take Osama bin Laden's writings seriously,` Boston Review, March/April 2006.


[61] This was first reported by the Guardian sometime in January, 2006; recently, it has been reported on very widely.  At the time of writing, I have not been able to establish whether the two dissidents are still resisting their fate through the British legal system or have already been surrendered to the Saudi government.


[62] For an extensive discussion of the issues surrounding American exceptionalism and selectivity, see Michael Ignatieff ed., American Exceptionalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). 

[63] See Richard Falk, Irene Gendzier, Robert Jay Lifton, eds., Crimes of War: Iraq (New York: Nation Books, 2006).


[64] Further, the Commission’s most recent report similarly focuses on the alleged persecution of Copts in Egypt while completely neglecting the human-rights abuses committed against Muslims in Israel. See Nina Shea, Congressional Task Force on Religious Freedom, `Religious Freedom in Egypt: Recent Developments`, Congressional Testimony by USCIRF Vice Chair (May 23, 2007). The Commission’s report is at complete odds with the State Department Report, which paints a far rosier picture regarding the position of Copts in Egypt, pointing out that five of the twenty-five appointed members, as well as the president, of the quasi-governmental (Egytian) National Council for Human Rights are Copts and that a significant portion of the Coptic population have been able to travel to Israel despite the government’s longstanding ban.  See State Department Report, `Human Rights and Labor; Entry on Egypt,` International Report on Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy (2006).

[65] In effect, the report registers the fact that even liberal Muslims object to Muslim countries being made into Western colonies.  Of course, the report does not speak in those terms. Nor does it differentiate between Western/American and Muslim interests. See Angel Rabasa et al., `Building Moderate Muslim Networks.`


[66] The RAND report also includes individuals such as Ibn Warraq, the polemical, secularist author of Why I am Not a Muslim and Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out, who have explicitly denied being Muslims at all, and overtly non-or-anti-Muslim secularist websites, such as nosharia.com, based in Canada and Europe. Further, even though the report was written for the Center for Middle East Public Policy, barely half of the individuals and groups named in the chapter on secular Muslims are even originally from the Middle East.  In fact, based on region of origin, the majority of individuals named in the report are either Western-born or emigrants from Southeast Asia (i.e. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India).  In short, the report suggests supporting individuals who no longer consider themselves Muslim, live outside of the Muslim world, and are not even from countries in the Middle East, as a mode of changing Muslim and Middle Eastern political and religious culture from within.


[67] For an excellent discussion of the West’s knee-jerk intolerance towards any form of Islamic political party—even when that party’s particular platform is overtly liberal and democratic—see Mumtaz Ahmad, `Islam And Democracy: The Emerging Consensus,` Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 20, 2005.  For a discussion of the Muslim Brotherhood and the cost of the West’s near-irrational distrust towards it as a potential ally in curbing the influence of Islamic Puritans and Radicals in the Muslim world, see Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke, `The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood,` Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2007. For a discussion of the Islamic Renaissance Party and the West’s acquiescence in the oppression of the party’s leaders in Tunisia despite its relatively liberal political platform, see Linda G. Jones, `Portrait of Rashid al-Ghannoushi,` Middle East Report (July–August, 1988), 19.


[68] See Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im ed., Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992).  See also, John S. Nurser and David Little, For All Peoples and All Nations: The Ecumenical Church And Human Rights (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2005) and C.G. Weeramantry, The Lord's Prayer: Bridge to a Better World (1998).


[69] See Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Imperial Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia (New York: Verso, 2004).  See also, Jim Wallis, `Dangerous Religion,` Sojourner Magazine, September-October 2003.