Conference Papers Nihilism and Human Rights
by Ra’is Abu Bakr Rieger
From the 8th International Fiqh Conference held in Pretoria,
South Africa on the 18-20 October 2003
When we talk about modern terminology, about political and legal concepts and concepts relating to the state, then we must bear in mind that the victor not only rewrites history but also terminology. For this reason, from our Islamic perspective and experience, we should regard the dominant conceptual terms of today (such as ‘human rights’) with a good measure of scepticism. Moreover, we must do this especially because, as we are all aware, the reality of the modern world is characterised by the loss of any real ethic.
This is of course not a theoretical or aesthetic reflection, rather it is from the practical experience of need. All scholars of law are united in their concern for the fate of the Muslims in this age. There is no doubt that the Muslims, during the brief history of the modern era, have not been the perpetrators but rather much more often the victims. Our own community in Germany has played host to Muslims from all over the world, Muslims who have been affected as victims. We have thus been forced with intensity to experience and witness their fate in the various stages of its unfolding. Together we have repeatedly reflected upon the human situation of the Uighurs, Kurds, Turks, Chechens, Bosnians and Albanians in this age of ours.
Now today, unfortunately, almost every continent must bear witness to its own particular tragedy involving Muslims. As a European I would like briefly to touch upon our portion of this tragedy, so to speak, and to point out our European sphere of experience: the Bosnian war. By briefly examining the generally applicable aspects of this war we will understand the necessity and the consequence of taking our experiences in Europe seriously. By means of the actual situation in Bosnia we will then be able to approach the actual subject under discussion, namely the role of human rights in the age of nihilism. Let us briefly remind ourselves of what we had to bear witness to during the Bosnian War:
– A Muslim people was suddenly attacked, interned and slaughtered by its former neighbours and friends.
– A Europe supposedly committed to humanity and whose spiritual foundations appeared to be based on preventing religious persecution remained silent and ignored this war.
– Concentration camps appeared in the Balkans alongside the modern, bio-political use of force in the form of mass, silently executed rape.
– The UN tolerated Srebrenica.
– With the Dayton Agreement, the Bosnians were robbed of any chance of retaining their own territory or sovereignty.
– The mass of the Muslims found themselves ending up a minority.
In the period immediately after the war, I myself became a witness to some important and painful events. I would like to mention just two examples:
In The Hague I was witness — and by the way, I was the only Muslim present — to how the generals of the Bosnian army were accused before the War Tribunal of having violated ‘human rights’ in 23 instances. During the same period, as President Izetbegovic told me, more than 100,000 Muslims lost their lives in Bosnia. When the prosecution gradually realised just how outrageous the proceedings were, these men were sent back home for the time being. While on a visit to Sarajevo one of the generals complained that his family still had to sleep on Red Cross beds.
In Berlin, a female representative of the Organisation for Traumatised Women of Srebrenica, in response to my question as to why the documentation gave no indication as to the Muslim identity of the women, informed me while weeping that they would otherwise have received no support from the EU. I do not want to dwell any further on this example of the actual experiences of the Muslims in the modern age. Rather let us approach the subject in hand, namely, what is the meaning of these terrible and painful events? What lessons may we draw from them?
Paradoxically these pressing questions were mostly resolved, or not resolved as the case may be, by the Bosnian Muslims in the following manner:
– During the war NATO, the EU and the USA were supposed to protect Bosnia from destruction.
– After the war the human rights organisations were to alleviate the suffering.
– The international courts of justice were to see that justice was done.
– The UN was to help the country to acquire its rights and state sovereignty.
Basically, without any real success, the Bosnians were calling on precisely those organisations and institutions which had previously ignored the fate of the Bosnians, or had even helped to bring it about. To a certain extent the Muslims had therefore accepted the erroneous assessment that the European-western Bosnian policy was a kind of ‘operational accident’ or an ‘exceptional case’. However, in reality these events were neither accidents nor exceptions.
At this point we must therefore attempt to reflect upon the matter more deeply. As we have already said, there is no description of the Bosnian war which is more false than that of accepting it as an ‘operational accident’. One must take into account two particularly important geopolitical components in connection with the events of the Bosnian war: the elimination of Turkey as a regional protecting power, and the prevention of a sovereign Muslim state in Europe. Indeed what we are encountering here is one of the necessary phases within the global history of the world state. In order for the world state to emerge, territorial space and geopolitics must assume a particular importance. From today’s view point one thing is clear: in the logic of the development of the world state there is absolutely no room left for sovereign states, let alone for sovereign Muslim states. Any nationally motivated resistance to the world state, whether or not it is Islamically motivated, must fail in the face of the combined, titanic forces of this world state.
The German intellect had foreseen this at an astonishingly early point in time. Right back in the late nineteen-fifties the German poet Ernst Jünger wrote that “The world state must come as it is a fact of destiny.” While since the Second World War the non-Muslims have been adapting or have adapted themselves more or less voluntarily to this destiny, the Muslims are unfortunately fighting — necessarily in vain — against this inevitable turn of fate.
It would be a fatal illusion to believe that the world state is governed by moral or humanistic principles. We must face up to the following fact in order to understand the humane, or let us say rather the inhumane, modern situation: the world state and its technological project have been constantly and dramatically misunderstood on the part of the Muslims. While the Arab world rushes childishly towards mobile phones and exotic cars, Islamic thinking has failed to see that the world of technology is not only a powerful phenomenon but that it forms an ‘inauthentic spiritual unity’ with the internet as a kind of inauthentic revelation. Added to this, technology transforms the human situation in a dynamic way. The unification of living conditions and the demise of all cultures are the outward signs of this change. The driving inner force in the process of the coming into being of the world state is the symbiosis of technology and capital, i.e. the technique of finance. For Walter Benjamin and many other German thinkers capitalism is a religion and consumption is its defining way of life. However, Muslims and non-Muslims realise at the same time that in this globally dominant reality the Qur’an reveals itself as a different reality, one which cannot be integrated, and as a last refuge and source of law.
One would not be exaggerating if one asserted that the thinkers of the West have been better able to historically classify the event of technology. So it is that European philosophy has inquired after the nature of technology, after what technology means for the human destiny. The clear consequences for the human situation are catastrophic. According to Ernst Jünger, ‘The Worker’ is the new genus of the ideological human being which is emerging on a massive scale, and whose fitting attire is technology. In 1949 the European death camps were described by Heidegger as ‘the technological production of corpses’. From this point on Heidegger speaks of the ‘danger of technology’ and the way mankind has ‘abandoned being’ (Seinsverlassenheit). In the world of technology, the political will of man, and thus his freedom, become meaningless. This same philosopher speculated that “We do not have technology in our hands, it has us in its hands,” and then added, “Only a god can save us.” Heidegger was searching for revelation, for a clearing. The “language which speaks to us” became for Heidegger the place of the last possible kind of freedom. Only the person who finds his source and origin in language is still capable of receiving revelation.
In the political realm, Giorgio Agamben wrote a seminal work in the late nineties entitled Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. In the book, the philosopher introduces the concept of the concentration camp into the centre of the political discourse. According to Agamben the goal of modern power-politics is no longer the national, sovereign state but, shockingly, the concentration camp. He portrays the camp as the true symbol of the modern age. The ultimate worldly-political sovereignty and power is revealed in the camp, that is, in the decision to strip speech, law and space from ‘bare life’. This prophecy is being fulfilled in Guantanamo and in the known and unknown camps of that world state which is emerging today. To Agamben the camp is now an integrated and long-term component of the global nomos.
The famous definition of Carl Schmitt regarding political sovereignty, namely, “Sovereign is the one who decides on the state of emergency” is thus given a terrible extension of meaning: “Sovereign is also the one who is able to set up a camp.” In this manner, seen from the secular point of view, the legal transition from ‘state of normality to state of emergency’ is complete. Likewise mankind’s totalitarian rule over life is perfected: the apes end up in the cage. The person interned in the camp is a person without rights and stripped of every dignity. He is nothing more than a person, and for this very reason a non-person.
Let us pause a moment in order to introduce a reflection upon terrorism. We must not forget that the ‘international war on terrorism’ has given an important impetus to the furtherance of the development of the world state and its global domestic politics. In the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Agamben defined the terrorists as the decisive helping force of the coming world state. Why? In his view they ensure the ‘permanent state of emergency’ and thus the israelisation of world politics. The revolt of nihilistic terrorism is leading to the final technical perfection of the world state. Of course, terrorism also legitimises the necessity of the concentration camp and the state of emergency. The terrorist and the world state necessarily appear together on the world stage.
The consequences for law are catastrophic. A jurist who has not been rendered speechless by these consequences might also add that this development naturally renders invalid any idea of European international law, and indeed any idea of those civil rights borne of a nation state. Without these civil rights, the legal status of the former citizen is eroded such that the person becomes a mere bearer of human rights, and the nation states which had earlier been the guarantee of his civil rights are transformed into the international community of states — that cold and inhospitable house of humanity. Let me give just one example: a Muslim, a German citizen whose parents are not German is already de facto a second-class citizen. Thus Germany refuses the extradition pleas of Muslims with German citizenship who are interned at the behest of the USA in the camps of the Arab states in order to be tortured there. Once the human being ends up in a camp, his nationality is also rendered invalid. Let us reflect a moment upon the meaning of the world state, about which Carl Schmitt rendered another interesting definition. According to him, nihilism is the separation of order from location. In other words, to him the world state is nihilistic as it separates order from location. Or, as the Italian philosopher Negri defined it in his work The Empire: “The world state is an empire without any recognisable centre.” If we now think of Agamben’s and Schmitt’s insights together, the following remarkable, almost mathematical equation is revealed. Again we are departing from the principle that nihilism is the separation of order and location. The following conclusions may be made about the concept of the ‘camp’ and the ‘state of emergency’:
– The camp symbolises location without order. It is a bio-political nomos which transforms life into ‘bare life’.
– The state of emergency, on the other hand, symbolises order without location, a nomos devoid of legality and without a centre.
The consequences of these new political equations can today hardly be ignored. Let us try to envisage them: democraticcapitalism creates a new bio-politique and thus the ongoing production of ‘bare life’, that is the creation of masses of poor people, nameless people, refugees, displaced persons, and starving people. The state itself now claims sovereignty only in so far as it decides in the final instance who is to live and who is to die. For instance, according to the Director of the World Bank, the European states subsidize European cows with more money than that received by the millions of starving people of this world. The global phenomenon of democratic capitalism tolerates permanent states of emergency and tolerates the phenomenon of the camp, with protectorates assuming a form similar to that of the camp.
It is quite shocking to observe just how opposed the picture emerging here is to the Islamic nomos. And of course, it is clear what kind of Dasein the person who believes he is preparing to overcome this world must have: as we have described above, he is naturally neither a terrorist nor someone who commits suicide. If one understands the monstrous contribution made by terrorism to the spread of nihilism then one will be able to comprehend an episode such as the following:
A Hamas leader was asked on German television about his ‘activities’. To be explicit, he was asked about a suicide attack which resulted in many deaths, among them women and children. Confronted with this the man smiled, saying, “Yes, it is a total war.” In saying this he revealed not only that he was the spiritual child of a western-influenced ideology, but also his absolute ignorance of the rules of Jihad, which is not a total war but rather a war with limits.
If the terrorists are the active supporters of the nihilistic world state, then their spiritual counterparts are to be found in the modern ‘ulama who have accepted the western terminology of the world state in an almost complete and uncritical manner. One has only to think of their incorporating, without any reflection whatsoever, the concepts of politics and state law into the Islamic terminology. “All concepts of state and constitutional law,” teaches Schmitt, “are secularised theological concepts.”
Western thinkers are often more sceptical about their own terminology. Thus it is that the European intellect recognises that in a world without God, legal concepts which stem from Christianity must necessarily disappear. Agamben described the political concept of human rights as a decayed form, and as the deprivation of the old civil rights. Civil rights arose from a citizen’s belonging through birth to a territorial state. This formula is no longer valid in Europe or anywhere else. With the decline of the nation state, civil rights decline into the more nebulous human rights. Outside of the nation state the bearer of human rights is completely without rights — one only has to think of the refugee. Thus devoid of rights, the bearer of human rights is, with the decline of the nation state and the gradual disappearance of civil rights, dependent solely on the good-will of the world state. He cannot even prevent his own genocide by legal means, such as by obtaining a temporary injunction. It goes without saying that there is no court responsible for the fate of the Uighurs or Kashmiris or for the innocent people torn to shreds by the American bombs. And yet however terrible the situation becomes, the world state remains beyond moral and legal question, since it insists it is only responsible for what ‘should be’ and not for what ‘actually is’.
In 1998 Agamben published a shocking study about camp life in Auschwitz. In the book he tries to demystify the processes of the camp and to rethink them as a phenomenon of the modern age. In the jargon of the camp, the camp inmate who had been thrust into this ‘bare life’ and who had reached a state of total apathy was described as a ‘muselman’. Of course, this is a cynical insinuation and at the same time a gross misrepresentation of the vitality of Islamic life-practice, but it is also a warning that one should live one’s Islam as a ‘living reality’. When we think of the pictures of the Bosnian camps or those of Guantanamo then we must not deceive ourselves regarding the seriousness of our own situation within the reality of the world state.
Let us come to the concluding question: what opposes the planetary spread of this ‘bare life’? Heidegger’s philosophy, which is the final European philosophy, declared what he termed ‘Sein zum Tode’, or Being-towards-death, as the authentic form of life. In the face of death and one’s own mortality, life becomes necessarily more than just ‘bare life’. In Islam this way of living corresponds to that of the Sufi, who ‘dies before he dies’, a way of life which has absolutely nothing in common with the destructive nature of the person who commits suicide. Rather, in the meeting with Allah the Sufi acquires the freedom for a different beginning. Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir As-Sufi has reminded us of the Adab of such a person: he recognises that it is not man which has rights but Allah. In the fulfilling of these rights, an Islamic world emerges which not only strives towards justice but in which no-one other than Allah Himself is Master over life and death. This is not an idea as to how it should be one day, but it is a world in which Auschwitz and Srebrenica are de facto impossible.