Yazan Badran

Blogger and commentator

“The political emancipation of the Jew, of the Christian, of the religious man in general, means the emancipation of the State from Judaism, from Christianity, from religion generally. In its form as State, in the manner peculiar to its nature, the State emancipates itself from religion by emancipating itself from the State religion, that is, by the State as State acknowledging no religion.”

Karl Marx – On the Jewish Question, 1843

The factual answers to most of the questions brought up in this topic are overwhelmingly clear. Yes, minority rights in Islamic states are being restricted, if not completely repressed. But, the answers themselves are neither complete, nor are the questions accurate.

Is it not true that the political and civil rights of the whole society are being confiscated by the state? Is it not true that these concerns are not particular to Islam, or any other religion, as a faith or ideology, and thus should not be posited as such?

To better understand the issue, we must look at Islamic states not as Islamic, but as representatives of the theological model of the state (one that still prevails in many other countries, at different levels). Even a superficial overview of most Islamic countries (from the most openly theological as in the case of Saudi Arabia, to the pseudo-secular and pseudo-constitutional ones such as Syria) provides us with plenty of examples of the inherent theological nature of these states. In this vein, the talk of equal rights for the minority becomes rather meaningless, because it presupposes a universal formula of rights that is based on citizenship, one that abstracts the citizen, and regulates his relation with the state. This formula, in our case, is at best archaic and theological in its nature, and at worst, completely non-existent.

The Syrian civil code, in a country that officially subscribes to values of secularism, is an anachronistic collection of texts designed to treat each sect/religion separately, as opposed to a universal one. The citizen, if we can label him as such, is therefore defined by his religious affiliation, rather than his status as a citizen. How could one then embark on comparing the rights of a “majority” and those of a “minority” within such an archaic structure?

In most, if not all, of these cases, religion is relegated into an arm of the state, the tool that is best suited to exercise complete hegemony over society. Islam, as a religion, is not fundamentally different from any other. To say that Islam is inherently more susceptible to being a tool of oppression than any other religion, is to ignore a long and dark history of European Christianity. Conversely, to say that it is less so, is to ignore the present. The fact of the matter is that Islamic texts and interpretations of these texts hold within themselves the contradictions that allowed Islam to be as inclusive (as any theological state could be) as it was in the case of Córdoba, and as exclusive as it is the case in modern day Riyadh. Contradictions which, and one cannot stress this enough, are found in every other religion, or ideology.

If you agree with me thus far, then you must agree that shaping the debate in such a narrow format and such an exclusive narrative (the religious rights of the minority as opposed to the more inclusive civil rights of the whole society), is hypocritical, and selfserving at best. For those who labor to take the debate in this direction are the same voices that use this argument to explain, and advocate the “death of multiculturalism.” As if Islamʼs evolution, as a religion and ideology, is completely independent from the path of all other religions, and as if the oppressive nature of the theological state has not been traded back and forth throughout the history of mankind.

As one reads through the piles of op-eds written on the nature of Islam, one begins to wonder how people who are completely ignorant of Islam as to assume that its nature is any different from the nature of religion itself, could hold so much contempt toward it. And the answer is that they really donʼt. Their contempt is really leveled against the people. It is the people that they donʼt like. It is the people that they feel are inferior to themselves, even in their status as humans. For it is much easier, and more acceptable in this day and age, to label these people as Muslims, and as such, believers of a primitive faith (as opposed to all the progressive faiths out there), and run away with the ubiquitous “Islamophobia” slap on the wrist, than to confess to your real object of contempt. But, I digress.

Modern day states of Saudi Arabia and Israel are just two examples of different levels of theological tyranny. The fact that the oppressive nature of a theological state is easy to quantify and describe vis-à-vis its disenfranchised minorities should not lead us to think that the majority is better off. The struggle for political, and eventually, human, emancipation in our societies must not be dictated, divided and hijacked by a contemporary sense of racism, but rather be professed as such: a struggle for a universal emancipation, a struggle for a state of citizens with universal rights rather than a collective of majorities and minorities each with its own set of archaic “rights”.