U.S. Foreign Policy in the Muslim World

Justice as Grand Strategy: The Missing Dimension in American Foreign Policy Toward the Muslim World

The ancient Roman philosopher, Cicero, wisely advised that before one begins to discuss anything whatsoever one should first define terms. This would apply to perspectives and entire paradigms of thought. Perhaps the most illusive words in the world today are the terms “American” and “Muslim World”.

Was there, is there, and can there be an essence of America that constitutes its identity? This issue of identity is developed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (#44, p. 95) in his recent book, The Garden of Truth: Vision and Promise. He begins by generalizing that humans, both as individuals and as communities, act according to the image they have of themselves.

American foreign policy emphasizes freedom and democracy, but does this self-image translate universally? What about justice, particularly as a governing paradigm for action? Freedom and democracy both focus on the pursuit of individual human rights, but what about human responsibilities to pursue justice, from which human rights are merely a product?

President Barack Obama attempted to inaugurate a new American identity in his Cairo speech shortly after taking office. He wrote the first draft by emphasizing justice as America’s new foreign policy paradigm. In the process of vetting by the White House, however, his professional advisers and speech writers deleted the word “justice” from five successive drafts. Each time President Obama inserted it again, and each time it disappeared from the text. On the flight to Cairo he found that the final text presented to him had no mention of justice. He therefore inserted it impromptu seven times in his oral delivery. Unfortunately, that was the last time he even attempted to present justice as the basis of a rational foreign policy strategy for America.

Two questions emerge from this episode. Why has this higher dimension of policy become radioactive? Does official America have a grand strategy to pursue the image of America as a model of justice, which motivated America’s Founders?

One answer may be found in the Neo-con paranoia of fear first formalized by Robert Strausz-Hupe in the first issue of his journal, Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs. His article, “The Balance of Tomorrow”, forecast that Communism would disappear before the end of the century and that it would be replaced by a period of global chaos triggered by a population explosion in the Third World accompanied by radical ideologies and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

Strausz-Hupe, Leo Strauss, and other grand strategists of what became known as the Neo-Conservative ideology and movement cultivated an image of themselves as the guardian of global stability in reliance primarily on the military power of the United States of America. Unfortunately, this effort to preserve the status quo, with all of its injustices, was an inherently impossible quest.

These injustices include, for example, the maintenance of artificial states divorced from organic nations composed of people with a common sense of their own history, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future.

Most dramatically these injustices include the inevitably escalating wealth gaps within and among countries that result from a system of money and banking based on privileging past accumulated wealth rather than on future profits from productive capital as collateral for credit, best explained at www.cesj.org and www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us. Reversing these wealth gaps requires institutional reform of money and banking through a third way beyond socialism and capitalism. As a by-product, this would address a major cause of global terrorism and terrorist counter-terrorism.

Unfortunately, the seekers of truth perhaps wisely remain in the background because they know that in order to preserve their own integrity and for political reasons of public relations the truth must be compromised in action by such fictions as “nation building” and “democratic capitalism”.

The ironic dilemma of American foreign policy is that America’s attempt to maintain the alleged stability of the status quo by calling for freedom and democracy engenders an image of injustice throughout the world contrary to its own self-image. This was most clearly demonstrated by a survey conducted by a think-tank based in the United Emirates and presented at a think-tank in the Qatar Foundation, which recorded hundreds of the placards and graffiti in Syria during the so-called Arab Spring. All of them called for justice, but not a single one called for freedom and democracy.

Why this gross disconnect between American foreign policy and the rest of the world? There is a conflict of paradigms within every civilization, but in recent centuries the conflict between the spiritual and the material has been cast as a civilizational conflict between the “West and the Rest”, sometimes referred to as the “East and the Beast”. The conflict centers on the importance of justice.

Since justice resonates so well almost everywhere except in America and Europe, the question arises what is justice and what are true freedom and democracy.

American positivist law, which has reigned since the time of America’s Civil War in the mid-19th century, restricts the term justice to the enforcement of law created by human fiat. This differs from its opposite known as natural law, which defines justice as a system of spiritual and moral guidance based on a search for the noumenal, sapiential, perennial, and primordial truths that gave rise to the first human communities millions of years ago. When justice-based law has to be enforced its very purpose has failed.

Justice as defined by the greatest Islamic scholars in opposition to the positivist law declared by various Muslim tyrants is based upon and is a product of tawhid, which is untranslatable in English but refers to the coherence of the diversity in creation that points to the Oneness of its Creator.

Within this ontological and epistemological approach to reality all of the maqasid al shari’ah (the objectives of Islamic law) are interdependent in a peaceful harmony, so that each must reflect the others in a transcendent beauty. They may be divided into four principles of guidance and four of application. The guiding principles are haqq al din, respect for freedom of religion, haqq al nafs, respect for the sacredness of the human person, haqq al nasl, respect for the human community, and haqq al mahid, respect for the physical environment. The principles of application are haqq al hurriyah, respect for political self-determination, haqq al mal, respect for individual ownership of productive property, haqq al karama, respect for gender equity, and haqq al ‘ilm, respect for freedom of access to knowledge.

What then are true freedom and democracy? The ultimate freedom is freedom from ignorance of transcendent truth and justice. The ultimate in political freedom is not democracy as a technique of decision-making but recognition that democracy is a reliable guardian of human rights only in a “republic”, which by definition acknowledges that justice is not a product of human will but must be discovered from a higher source of truth.

This concept of justice and of freedom as its product is contrasted by Seyyed Hossein Nasr with the “outwardness, forgetfulness, selfishness, and falsehood” (page 6) that gave rise to “secular humanism, rationalism, empiricism, behaviorism, and deconstructivism”.

The essence of this amalgam of power, prestige, plutocracy and rampant pleasure as the ends of existence is necessarily the opposite of justice, because it seeks meaning superficially and contextually from the bottom up, from “facts on the ground”, rather than from the essence of the whole, that is, from what Nasr calls the “spiritual hermeneutics” (pages 14, 31, and 49) and consequent awareness of the reality embodied in the existentiation (pages 15, 18, 40, and 45) of the ultimate Beyond Being (pages 6, 38-42, and 50), known as Al Haqq, through the emanationist metaphysics of the Great Chain of Being (page 41), which is found in all the world religions.

To my knowledge, no-one has yet studied the connection between this source of ultimate truth and its manifestation in the system of justice in classical Islamic thought known as the maqasid or irreducible and universal principles and purposes of Islamic jurisprudence (the shari’ah).

The first person to develop both of these systems systematically was Imam Jafar al Siddiq in the second Islamic century. Exploring the common origin of these two systems, the spiritual and the jurisprudential, as a source of both truth and its application through justice might illuminate the missing dimension in 21st-century American foreign policy as first articulated by the author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

This perhaps spiritually most profound author of the “Great American Experiment” in self-determination through one’s Ultimate Self, wrote, “No people can remain free unless they are properly educated. Education consists of teaching and learning virtues. And no people can remain virtuous unless both the personal and public lives of the individual person are infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence”, by which he meant God.

This wisdom is encapsuled in Surah 6:15 of the Qur’an, tama’at kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Word of your Lord is completed and perfected in truth and justice”. Jesus Christ, ‘alayhi al salam, spoke the truths so much needed in the world today, respectively in John 14:6 and 8:32, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”, and “the truth shall set you free”.

– Dr Robert Dickson Crane
Full professor, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies,
The Qatar Foundation