By Zaman Asaduz
In the Autumn of 1961, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the preface to Ibrahim Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Sartre’s interpretive errors and simplification of Fanon’s writing on Algeria are well known to militant thinkers of decolonization. I don’t bring up Sartre to reassess his politics or philosophy. The only reason I recall this preface here is because of Sartre’s warning to his fellow Europeans. Sartre informs them that Fanon had stopped talking with Europeans. That, he is simply talking to them. Fanon had transitioned. Sartre wrote, “…Fanon has got nothing ‘in for you’ at all; his book… leaves you out in the cold. It often talks about you, but never to you.”
Almost six decades later, we find ourselves faced with a very different autumn, a very different world organized by a global War on Islam. But when I received this essay and read it with care, I could not help but think of Sartre’s preface. Zaman Asaduz writes clearly, effectively, and with composure. He talks about American-Muslims, but never to them. He is analyzing them. He is providing a diagnostic. His voice is a devastating yet calm condemnation of those in American-Islam who in the name of “strategy” reproduce Americanism. Asaduz states facts. He is not interested in correcting Americans. He leaves them out in the cold.
He locates in the tradition of Malcolm X, a potential for an interactive and dynamic struggle against American oppression. It is here that we see the possibility of a new understanding. Asaduz’s reliance on global Islam, brings him close to the Black militant tradition, not because of leftist solidarity, but as he states, because of an “ontological consensus.”
This text is an offering from the Islamic South. This text is an act of da'wah. This text is the spirit of jihad.
And, the best part about this text is that Asaduz is more than an individual. He is a voice, a tendency, a reminder.
Tanzeen Rashed Doha
August 29, 2019
Ali Al-Arian’s article published in Al-Jazeera produced significant debate in the American Muslimsphere. Prominent figures like Sherman Jackson and Imam Zaid Shakir took the time to respond, which gave further attention to the Al-Arian piece. Now, the American conversation has become a liberal name-calling game between different sides, figures, and personalities, and the entire debate appears to be within the domain of American power and reform. In other words, the discourse took a turn inwards, towards Americans and Westerners themselves.
However, prior to this debate within the American civil society, a different kind of conversation was taking place in various networks stretched out in global Islamic South. Those conversations were propelled by an article published in the independent magazine Milestones in which Shaheed Malcolm X was evoked to discuss the American project as a whole by relying on his brilliant and effective typologies of “the wolf” and “the fox.” Many of us also listened carefully to the roundtable discussion published in Facebook, which clarified for those of us located in the non-West the necessity of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz’s style of reasoning in dealing with the effects of a globalized War against Islam which America leads. I would like to briefly talk about the key points that resonated with many of us outside of the Western world. When I say us, I do not mean a few well-read Islamists, but rather, specific set of forces and networks who are keen on thinking and acting outside of the paradigm of modern states.
The article “The Wolf and The Fox: Message from the Grassroots on American-Muslim Leadership” produced conversations on several key points. Many in Islamist and mujahideen circles have an inadequate understanding of the problems inside America. In their struggle, because they had to deal with the military forces of U.S empire and the think-tanks of American soft-power, they had to objectify America as an evil with a singular program, which is the program of hindering Islamic Awakening. They were not incorrect as far as the Islamic third world is concerned, but they were unclear about the inside-story of America and how the American system oppresses a massive Black population in its prisons and ghettos, and how this inside-story is actually relevant for contemporary Islamism. The article “The Wolf and The Fox” forced those of us in Islamist and mujahideen line to think deeply about the contradictions inside American society, which is based on the struggle of Blackness against white power. We knew about racism in America, but most of us assumed, perhaps naively, that this was America’s internal affairs.
The Milestones article clarified for us the function of the police inside America. We are beginning to consider the similarity between the police and the U.S military. The article raised consciousness in Islamist networks about the contribution of our brother Malcolm X and others prior to him like the Haitian fighter Boukman. It helped many of us to see that the Muslims who were stolen from Africa through chattel slavery were forcibly re-programmed into whiteness through Christian and secular power. Islamists are keen to understand how the police functions in this re-programming process, and to consider how as an institution it engages in violent acts of kufr against Black Muslims, and places Black people in general in oppressive structures of jahili power. The police and prison combination is probably the largest force to hinder da'wah activities in Black communities. We are also realizing that inside America, Black people who engage in struggle are treated like terrorists. What Islamists are to America outside in the global War, Blacks are to white-power inside America. This relationship between Islamists and Black strugglers then, is not one of moral solidarity, but rather of an ontological consensus. This is why it is not surprising that the drone system that kills the students of Mullah Omar, is the same system that America uses to kill the Micah Johnsons.
As this important conversation was taking place among Islamists, within a few weeks Al Jazeera published an article titled “The Political Impotence of Muslim-American Community” which interrupted that process in some ways. The timing of this publication is instructive. Immediately, the internet discourse shifted to fights between personalities, celebrities, individuals, and collectivities who are fans and supporters of these figures. There is a contest now within the American-Muslim community. They are arguing about who is more connected to the American project. How embarrassing! Al Jazeera, as a massive liberal news media, in this sense, played a critical role in changing the direction of the conversation from examining the American project and its institutions, to identifying which American-Muslim is more (or, less) compromised. And, the end goal in these conversations (regardless of the use of words like “resistance” and “social justice” by some) is quite straightforward: American-Muslim reform. It has nothing to do with jihad. It has nothing to do with the ‘izzah of the ummah who are desecrated by American power and their postcolonial affiliate regimes.
Muslims who are not forgetful should know that this kind of undignified reform within the structure of oppression always received a profound critique that goes as far back as the Meccan period. In the modern period—between the zero point of white invasion to the ‘now’ of the War on Terror—this line of critical struggle has entailed multitudes of saint-warriors standing up to White invaders in South Asia to mass decolonial uprisings by the Malcolm X’s of Africa. The matrix of power that has been responsible for the desecration of non-White/non-Western beings’ epistemic agency, physical sanctity, and economic condition cannot be separated from this project. As previous colonizing men tried to assert their superiority and their “right” to rule/civilize over the “newly discovered” barbarians and convert (Basil Mathews, 1926) them into tolerable underling citizenry, the American project ended up mobilizing a ‘War on terror’ in the same spirit (nothing far off from their Founding Father Jefferson who didn’t mind owning African human beings as slaves while talking about “equality”). It has been complicit in and crucial for the anti-Islam axis worldwide under the ‘Islam is a threat’ banner which has dominoed a Nile of blood in worldwide Falasteens and Kashmirs. Citizens inside the political-geography of whiteness are domesticated, policed, racialized to maintain civic peace. This civic peace, which is nothing but a surrender to a new Divine (e.g. Secularism), has declared a war on Transcendence like Fir’aun did. The ontological validity of this project, essentially, lies in the coloniality of disciplining of Blackness and Islamicity.
Even though Al-Arian’s article provided some important empirical information on some state-sanctioned Muslim-American leaders and organizations, it not only remained silent on certain figures but also failed to demonstrate the collaborative interaction of the political and civil society, which the original Milestones article had done. In this sense, Al-Arian’s article performed a politically regressive function. In every ideological struggle, there are stages of argumentation. The Milestones article had advanced the debate from basic and easy criticism of state-sanctioned American-Muslims/organizations to civil-society leaders, and demonstrated how the civil society’s various maneuvers in the name of “social justice” (e.g. Omar Suleiman and Linda Sarsour’s interactions with the police are only two such examples) has devastating effects for Muslims, particularly for Black Muslims and Muslims with precarious immigration status. Civil society Muslims specifically positioned in the realm of “social justice” perform a direct counter-revolutionary role in misleading the masses, just like the “Big 6” did in the era of Malcolm. Malcolm X said the “Big 6” (civil-rights leaders who were integrationists) were placed against the “Black steam-roller” that would shut down a racist society.
The glaring conceptual error in Al-Arian’s article is the mobilization of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali as Muslim-Americans. We, in the Islamic South, after reading “The Wolf and The Fox” realized that Malcolm X was no American, nor was the radical Muhammad Ali of the younger days. They were essentially anti-American. Al-Arian in this sense makes the same mistake as Omar Suleiman. He thinks the radical legacy of Malcolm X can be appropriated and mobilized within the rubric of American-Islam, forgetting that such a move would be epistemically violent against the legacy of slave revolts. Why don’t American-Muslims resist? Because, they are American, stupid! Al-Arian disregards this ontological grounding of the American project, and without calling it such treats the problem of America, much like Omar Suleiman as “work-in-progress.”
Even though Al-Arian criticizes political quietism, Al-Arian’s article itself engages in a moralist criticism. Real ethico-political critique goes beneath the assumptions, economies, desires, anxieties, and contradictions of a society. Proper critique is not satisfied with declarative statements on “good” and “evil”; It informs us about not simply the operations of power, but also unveils epistemic assumptions that structure “good” and “evil” in the first place. When premodern Muslims like Ibn Qadi al-Jabal al-Hanbali said God alone defines the ontological foundation of ugliness (إذا أمر الله بفعل فهو حسن بالاتفاق، وإذا نهي عن فعل فقبيح بالإتفاق), they mention Him as being Hakim and Rabb, too – implying a powerful existential critique of ugly existentiality. In today’s so called political criticism the Real is bypassed for liberal notions of social justice, civic peace, and resistance. Liberal moralism fashioned in political radicalism is a distraction. It will not help Muslims. It will only make bourgeois civil-society Muslims feel good about themselves.
Al-Arian’s use of “political impotence” in the title is conceptually strange. American-Islam as a construction hyphenates Islam, the social consequence of which is open war against the Islamic South. The victims of war are dishonored, raped and penetrated. State-sanctioned as well as civil-society American-Muslims are not impotent, but rather, they are potent in the wrong way, as they aggressively attempt to step into the position of the White Man, the murderer, the rapist.
With regards to showing receipts of CVE and other kinds of involvement, Islamists are now wondering why Al-Arian did not name specific names like Omar Suleiman and Dalia Mogahed. Imam Zaid Shakir collaborates and works with Omar Suleiman, and as the Milestones article showed Suleiman’s position on the police is the same as Shakir’s. Of course, one cannot show all the receipts of all the culprits, but Al-Arian’s method of selection (whom to target and critique, and whom to stay silent on intentionally) remains unclear. It is contradictory to say the least.
Sherman Jackson and Imam Zaid Shakir, both prominent leaders of the American-Muslim community, responded to Al-Arian’s piece. Sherman Jackson, author of brilliant works like Islam and the Blackamerican, mobilized his response within the logic of American-Islam. Like Omar Suleiman, Jackson also prayed for the American politicians. Jackson offered an entire prayer at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. While Shakir tries to normalize anti-Islam and anti-Black police as a state function, Jackson tries to “undermine” white supremacy by shifting the blame to immigrant Muslims. While non-whites can be anti-Black (and it’s a real issue in the community) in their attempt to mimic the colonizers, Jackson’s framing appears to be based in an American patriotism. Shakir says, “The ideas of Marx, Lenin, Habermas, Horkheimer, Adorno, Gramsci, Sartre, Marcuse, Foucault, etc. undergird his [Al-Arian’s] analysis while any reference to the Qur’an, Sunna or the interpretations of Muslim scholars is tellingly absent.” It is unclear why Shakir would assume that Al-Arian is influenced by such critical thinkers. Al-Arian’s article appears to have its basis in a (radical) liberal tradition, so this charge by Shakir seems odd. Perhaps he’s targeting the Muslim Brotherhood’s style of intervention which he thinks is a product of Marxist mode of modern nihilism. It is unclear, however, why Al-Arian is considered part of that tradition. If anything Al-Arian’s polemics indicate a post-Brotherhood secular pragmatism in which Islam is minimally relevant. Shakir’s friend Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, in the past, discussed the history of Muslim Brotherhood in this manner as well. His student Mohammed Ghilan similarly deployed this labeling for critical race theorists. While some of their concerns vis-à-vis materialism and methodological nihilism hold truth, their conception of “being political” is severely flawed. Jackson remarks, “But as many know, while politics is important, I do not believe that our biggest challenge in America is political.” As Salman Sayyid argues, westernese (discourses of Eurocentrism embedded in Western power today) sees itself as a universal vocabulary through which epistemological superiority is marked. Westernese necessitates civic peace as a process of policing the Other. Marking itself as exceptional, it enables the production of the whole of History in a white lab. The American project centers around this exceptionality to build its identity. Any potential claim to dethrone this very unique idolatry of whiteness will be marked as a threat (i.e. Blackness, Islam). Muslims, particularly, pose a definitive threat as a counter-History which cannot be reasoned with. Thus, the articulation of a Muslim being in the West becomes essentially political because it occurs as an interruption of white supremacy (dominant discourse), it draws ‘ignoble’ attention to the institutionalization of it. Such rupture subverts the mechanism that exists for transforming political antagonisms into social differences. The rupture is thus significant in the sense that it is caught up in a field sustained by the distinction between friends and enemies.
Also, their [Jackson, Yusuf, Shakir, et al] solution to not being an “Islamist” (we recognize it has different connotations but we define it as being existentially aware of the taklifability of the vertical Caliphate and will-fully engage in counter de-godding) seems to be cognates of mahdism, fatalism, and a declinist conception of history. Thus, their supposed reverence for tradition loses its meaning in its very unwillingness to manifest as part of the Divine Real. In the Muqaddimah of his Tahqīq of Hazrat Kashmīrī's Tasrīh, Shaykh Abu Ghuddah calls this making of the future “deviated and evil” (الفكرة الضالة الخبيثة). He, rahimahullah, then proceeded to comment with which I’ll conclude:
“فترك الجهد والعمل في نصرة الدين الإسلام جريمة، وترك دفع المبطلين الظالمين الكافرين المستولين علي المسلمين - بسبب هذا الإعتقاد الباطل - جريمة فوق جريمة، ومصيبة عظيمة أصيب بها العقل المرضي بهذا الإعتقاد، ويجب الإسراع بعلاجهم”
Translation: “Abandoning striving for the sake of Allah and actively working to champion his Din al-Islam is a crime. And to abandon neutralizing/averting the lying oppressors (dhalimun) and disbelievers who (unlawfully) occupy Muslims is a crime greater than the previous one. This line of theology is a massive calamity for those rational beings afflicted by it. It is imperative that we don’t lose a second to rectify this […]”
Zaman Asaduz is interested in anticolonial Islamism, Islamic theology, and jurisprudence.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Milestones' Editorial Board or the Editorial Collective.