Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh on Islamism and Human Rights

Arabic original here .

Divine Right and Human Rights

In his book General Freedoms in the Islamic State (Markaz Dirasat al-Wahda al-Arabiyya, 1993),Sheikh Rached el-Ghannouchi dedicates an entire chapter to "the Islamic conception of freedom and human rights". After affirming that Islam is "a comprehensive revolution of liberation," he places limits on human freedoms, saying, "what must be understood about freedom in the usual sense of the word is that it is merely permissibility or permission. In the logic of rights, it does not appear that the liberating mission of Islam can be active... that God permits you to do what you want-- no! The rallying cry of this mission is completely the opposite of that. God, your Creator, forbids you from following your inclinations and your ignorance and He commands you to follow-- fully conscious and with sincere intent-- the path that pleases Him for your life. Only there lies your happiness and your advancement, in this life and the next."

El-Ghannouchi curtails human freedom with Islamic dogma and law, "Man is granted vicegerency by God, and within this covenant of vicegerency-- Islamic law-- fall all his rights and responsibilities." He likewise considers that "the theory of human rights in Islam is based on permitting individual freedom in all things that do not conflict with right or with the common good. If it goes beyond this, it becomes an offense that must be stopped and curtailed." We believe that by "right" el-Ghannouchi means "divine right".

The problem with these words begins with determining who decides about a given behavior and whether it conflict with "right". El-Ghannouchi believes that "the highest legitimacy in the state belongs only to God as represented in His law and that the nation is granted vicegerency-- not an individual or an institution." He himself believes that "the authority and highest legitimacy of the text prevent there from being a religious authority in Islam (a church), just as they prevented the ruler from being the shadow of God on earth."

The words of Sheikh el-Ghannouchi, leader of the Nahda Party that took power in Tunis, gives reason for us not to be surprised at the restriction of general freedoms that is occuring in that country and the limitation of freedom of expression. From the assault on the television station because it aired a film that "offends the Divine" to the strike by professors in the faculty of arts and letters in Manouba, to the attack on an art exhibition in Qasr el-Abdaliyya that some considered to "violate holy things".... All of this makes us wonder about the degree of openness that the Islamists have with regard to general rights.

Despite what el-Ghannouchi says, it appears that "religious authority", the "church" (as it was in the Middle Ages), is present in force and imposes its opinion on people and society, deciding what is and is not permissible to do.  If divine right is an absolute right that cannot be discussed, the human reading of that right remains relative, governed by the political whims and narrow interests of those responsible for the state. It is not right for any party to havea monopoly on "divine right", since in doing so they make themselves into partners with Him, equal to Him in ruling people and their intentions.

No to any commandment from a religious authority that imposes itself on society. We say this out of our fear that the infection will spread from Tunisia to every country where Islamists come to power, and out of fear that the Arab Spring will become an Autumn were the leaves of freedom fall and are trampled upon.

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