Kurdistan: Pivot of West Asia?

I. The Role of Nations and Confederations in a World of States

The eruption of the oxymoronic Islamic State and related engines of destruction in desperate response to the abject failure of the Arab Spring has produced under Saudi leadership the paradigm of an all-inclusive Arab Confederation not only against a revolt from below but against the even greater threat of “the Persian and Turkish empires”.

Two key variables in this vision of the future are the power of Israel to protect its vision of the future by keeping the three postulated empires fighting against each other in a clash of civilizations, and the role of nations, especially Kurdistan, in a world of imperial states.

Global strategy requires the art of paradigm management, which requires the definition and application of ideas and entire frameworks of thought.

This fourth in a series in the Muslim500 on global long-range forecasting and planning addresses the paradigmatic re-assertion in both academia and public policy of national identity conceived independently of state sovereignty. This involves three definitional issues, “what is a nation”, “what is a state”, and “what are the past, present, and future of the modern construct known as the “nation state”. Their mutual incompatibility has been a major cause both of terrorism and of the development of international law whereby states increasingly are recognizing group rights though not to the extent of being bound by them.

The easiest to define, simply because it has been the center of primordial civilization for millions of years, is a nation. This is a large community of people, including what nowadays are called indigenous nations, with the same sense of their past, the same values in the present, and the same hopes for the future. The challenge is to develop for nations both the vision and a common language of group rights.

In more philosophically essentialist terms a nation shares the trinity of ultimate realty, consisting of: 1) the same ontology or sense of origin of reality as a source for absolute truth and power; 2) the same epistemology or methodologies in the search for knowledge of the truth, including both prose and poetry; and 3) the same axiology or art of translating this wisdom into practice through a holistic system of purposeful principles of compassionate justice.

Thomas Jefferson, who was perhaps the most advanced spiritual leader of America’s Founders and annotated his own copy of the Qur’an, defined a nation holistically when he stated, “A people can remain free only if they are properly educated. Proper education consists of teaching and learning virtue. A people can remain virtuous only if every individual’s personal and public life is infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence”. Like almost all the other Founders of America, Jefferson did not believe in Deism, which teaches that God created the cosmos and then disappeared from the scene. Instead he was a profound Theist in his conviction that God both created and sustains the universe and everything in it and that therefore it is human nature to think holistically of both the transcendent and the immanent.

The next issue is what is a confederation of nations? Nations in such a confederation each seek identity through pride in the best of their culture so that they can learn from each other. This is what Ibn Khaldun called the good asabiya as the opposite of the bad asabiya of religious tribalism, which seeks identity by looking down in hostility toward others in a zero-sum game whereby all lose.

The next critical issue is defining the modern state as a paradigm of thought? As I learned at Harvard Law School when I was the founding president of the Harvard International Law Society in 1958, a sovereign state refers to whatever force can impose its will on more than half of any given territory. This concept was invented at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to end the Thirty Years War between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism by dethroning God as the ultimate source of truth and justice and replacing the transcendent by man as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

The paradigm of progressive statism as a fine art was first developed by Robert McNamara when he was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and then as head of the World Bank, when he refined top-down decision-making in political economy, in contrast to the paradigm and principle of subsidiarity, as the ultimate in a beastiary of paradigmatic malware.

Finally, what is nation-building? This is the destruction of organic or natural nations in order to build an artificial state or states either by: 1) splitting nations, like the Kurds, the Vietnamese, and the Pushtuns, also known as Taliban, who traditionally inhabited the largest part of both Afghanistan and Pakistan and therefore posed a threat to British control of what was known as the Pivot of Asia in the Mackinder Doctrine and in Owen Lattimore’s book by that name published shortly after World War II as the Communists were consolidating their power in China; or 2) combining nations on behalf of an artificial state, like the Cyrenaicans and Tripolitanians in the Italian invented state of Libya, the French invented state of Mali, and the Egyptian and Saudi invented state of Yemen. A third strategy of statism is to invade and detach part of a nation, as when Ethiopia as a “south-south” colonial power, with U.S. support, occupied and incorporated the northern third of Somalia, known as The Ogaden.

The classic case of failed “nation-building” in a world of states is Libya, where each of the two component nations sees domination of the other as the only way to achieve its own independence.

Kurdistan is perhaps the best example of an organic nation that chose not to dominate others as a means of survival. By historical rights dating back a thousand years it would have been a leader of West Asia, which is why it was victimized by the European imperial powers after World War One, who split it among five states and simultaneously incorporated the remaining rump into the artificial state of Iraq.

In May, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s leading global-strategist in a widely distributed think-piece opined that, as a leader in combating Da’ish (ISIS) and marginalizing more general radicalization throughout the Arab Confederation, Kurdistan might liberate one third of the new “Turkish Empire’s” home territory.

II. The Islamic Concept of Organic Nations

The decision-tree of purpose in classical Islamic thought is explained by identifying four principles of guidance and four of application.

The four of guidance are the duties to respect: 1) haqq al din, divine revelation, including freedom of religion; 2) haqq al nafs, the sacredness of the human person, including the Just War doctrine; 3) haqq al nasl, the derivative sacredness of the family and the community at every level, including nations and entire civilizations; and 4) haqq al mahid, the physical environment within the paradigm of tawhid.

The four irreducible purposes or principles of application require respect for: 1) haqq al hurriyah, political self-determination, including recognition that economic democracy is essential for the political democracy of representative government; 2) haqq al mal, economic justice based on the rights of private property in the production of wealth as a universal human right of every human being; 3) haqq al karama, dignity and honor, especially through gender equity; and 4) haqq al ‘ilm, knowledge through freedom of thought, dissemination of thought, and assembly.

The ontological, aesthetic, epistemological, and normative premises of Islamic jurisprudence, and the source of their authority for principles of governance, raise the question whether there is a natural law of nations distinct from a positivist law of states, and whether there is a natural law of national unity and regional integration.

As explained in the three-volume textbook, Islam and Muslims: Essence and Practice, issued by my new Holistic Education Center for Civilizational Renewal, and peer-reviewed over a period of several years with the help and co-authorship of the first Pakistani mayor of a town in America, Muhammad Ali Chaudry, the entire history of Islamic thought and civilization can be summarized as either conflict or cooperation among the three sources of truth, namely, haqq al yaqin or divine revelation, ‘ain al yaqin or physical science, and ‘ilm al yaqin or rational thought to understand the coherence or nazm of the first two sources and of the Qur’an.

The raison d’etre or vision and mission of this Holistic Education Center, like that of Shaykha Moza when she founded the world’s largest think-tank, the Qatar Foundation many years ago, is to bring together the best of all civilizations and religions in order to universalize their spiritual awareness and plurality of wisdom by interfaith cooperation in pursuing the vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith harmony of transcendent and compassionate justice for everyone, so that this wisdom can be returned to the world as it was during the flowering of the Islamic civilization a thousand years ago.

The challenge for interfaith cooperation is to develop a common language of human rights for both persons and communities or nations based on the scriptures of the world religions and on the natural law or Sunnat Allah that they all share. One of the biggest issues is whether Islamic jurisprudence, known as the maqasid al shari’ah, can contribute to such a common language.

III. Developing the Architectonics of Transcendent Justice

The architectonics of harmony through compassionate justice consists of three elements: 1) an infrastructure of basic premises or characteristics, 2) a hierarchical architecture of purpose, and 3) a methodology for their application. Together these three can produce a universal language for all civilizations.

Islamic jurisprudence, known as the maqasid al shari’ah, is primarily a system of holistic education designed to guide individual persons and communities in the pursuit of compassionate justice. To the extent that Islamic law has to be enforced, the entire system has failed. This is the precise opposite of Western law in secular states, where law is considered to exist only to the extent that it is enforced by coercion through the penalties of civil or criminal law.

The reason for this holistic nature of Islamic jurisprudence is that its higher purpose is to provide guidance in understanding and applying the universal responsibilities and rights inherent in the essence of Islam, namely, truth, love, and justice.

God tells us in Surah An’am 6:115, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice”. The highest motivation for action is love, as shown in the favorite prayer of the Prophet Muhammad : Allahhumma, asaluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhibbuka wa hubba kulli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubbika, “O Allah, I ask You for your love, and for the love of those who love You, and for the love of every action that will bring me closer to Your Love”.

This is why the classical Islamic scholars and their followers today emphasize the janib al wujud or positive and constructive principles of affirmative action rather than the janib al adami or negative approach based on existential fear and punitive reaction.

The Prophet Muhammad said, “For every day on which the sun rises, there is a reward for the one who establishes justice among people”.

The higher guidance within the double wisdom of affirmative purpose and personal virtue was spelled out by two of the greatest Islamic scholars, Shamsuddin ibn al Qayyim (who died in 748 A.H., 1347 A.C.) and his mentor Imam Ahmad ibn Taymiyah (d. 728). Ibn Qayyim wrote: “The Islamic law is all about wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this life and the afterlife. It is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Thus any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to the Islamic law”.

In the classical hierarchical system of Islamic jurisprudence as a paradigm of holistic tawhid the five maqasid (al dururiyat al khamsah) or huquq (sing. haqq) of Al Ghazali in the 4th Islamic century were the protection of din (faith and religion), haya (life), mal (private property), karama (dignity and honor), and ‘ilm (mind and knowledge). Later scholars, especially Al Shatibi, added nasl or nasab (family and community) and hurriyah (self-determination or political freedom). Some twenty-first century scholars have added an eighth maqsad, known as haqq al mahid or respect for the physical environment, which was simply assumed throughout Islamic history.

The perspective of holistic tawhid relevant to the future of Kurdistan as a balancing wheel against extremism from both above and below gives rise to the question whether there is a natural law of nations distinct from an un-natural law of states and whether there is a natural law of national unity and regional integration.

The raises the prior question whether there is such a thing as natural law that must be discovered, as distinct from the positivist law that human beings create. This was the basic issue in the founding of the United States of America.

Almost all of America’s Founders were familiar with the so-called contract theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, who taught that the authority of government comes from a contract among people, but all of America’s founding men and women rejected this as the ultimate source of political legitimacy. Instead, they based their so-called Revolution, which actually was a reformation, almost entirely on the teachings of their real mentor, Edmund Burke, who led the minority Whig Party in England. He supported the American colonists’ demands for reform and taught that the source of legitimacy both in England and in its colonies comes from a contract between man and God, for Whom both persons and their communities can serve only as stewards. In Islamic jurisprudence, this is known as khilafa, which is the first of the four goals or requirements (hajjiyat) of political justice (haqq al hurriyah), the other three being shurah, ijma, and an independent judiciary.

The ultimate in illegitimacy, according to Edmund Burke, was the French Revolution, which denied all transcendent authority and was a perfect model of a so-called sovereign state based exclusively on the principle of might makes right.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1789, Benjamin Franklyn was asked, “What have you created”. He replied, “We have created a republic, if we can keep it”. He regarded the Great American Experiment in Self-Determination as just that, an open-ended experiment.

The essence of a republic, as distinct from a mere majoritarian democracy, is the reliance of the legislative branch of government on the divine source of its ultimate guidance. Simply put, a republic by definition is based on natural law.

What, however, is natural law? In the modern terminology developed in the 19th century, natural law is exclusively what one can observe in the physical world. This definition is designed to exclude any higher dimension of reality, including God.

This modern definition is the exact opposite of the traditional Christian teachings and of the Islamic teachings on the Sunnat Allah or the Way of God, as well as those of every world religion to the extent that it has maintained its purity against popular superstition.

IV. Qur’anic Dialectics of Community Harmony

Every person is created with a need and a corresponding intuitive capability to seek and to know transcendent reality and to submit lovingly to God in thought and action. This is why throughout history since the era of the first cavemen human beings have entered into community not primarily to hunt animals more effectively for mere physical survival but primarily to fulfill this transcendent need. The primordial purpose of law as a positive paradigm of compassionate justice is to give meaning to everything man can observe. And meaning comes from God, Who gives purpose to everything He has created.

Throughout divine revelation, but most insistently in the Qur’an, we are encouraged to appreciate the symbolic value of contingent reality, namely, of the physical world. The first order of symbolism is the coherent diversity of Creation, which points to the Oneness of its Creator. This is the essence of tawhid.

The coherent unity in diversity is perhaps shown best in the pairing of opposites as the basis of reproduction in animal and plant life. In Surah Ya Sin 36:36, we read, “Limitless in His glory is He Who has created opposites (zawjain) in whatever the earth produces, and in men’s own selves, and in that of which they as yet have no knowledge”.

The term zawjiyah means harmony in the mutual interdependence of opposites. This is shown in the positive and negative charges of electrons in modern quantum physics and perhaps even in the existence of parallel universes as a solution to the enigma of string theory. This dialectics of natural law is the foundation of the universe.

Another primary instinct in human nature is not only to form pairs but out of them to grow ever larger communities. This too is part of the structure of the universe, ranging from bees to galaxies. In Surah An’am 6:38 we read, “There is no beast that walks on the earth and no bird that flies on its two wings that is not a community like yourselves”. In Surah al Dhariyat 51:47-49 God tells us, “And it is We who have built the universe (sama’a) with Our creative power, and verily it is We Who are steadily expanding it”.

Of course, the natural and positive attraction to unity in diversity competes with a natural attraction to exclusivity. This is why the Qur’an again and again urges persons and communities to use their freedom of thought and action to compete constructively rather than destructively. In Surah al Ma’ida 5:48 we are warned, “To each of you have We prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed it, He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues”.

The term for “law” here is shira’ah, which means “universal ethics”, and the term for “open way” is minhaj, which means “universal process toward truth and justice”. The term shari’ah is a more restrictive term applying only to Muslims and valid only for them.

We are given the reason for diverse communities and even diverse religions in Surah al An’am 6:38, “We made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other”, whereby the purpose of knowledge is to cooperate for mutual benefit. This is the purpose of Ibn Khaldun’s differentiation between bad asabiyah based on exclusivist loyalties to oneself at the expense of others and good asabiyah based on pride in the best of one’s own community as a means to cooperate in bringing out the best of all communities.

This good community solidarity is based on the Islamic view of human nature expressed in the term infaq, which is the inclination to give rather than take in life. The human being is believed to be naturally virtuous, as distinct from burdened with original sin, but this good nature must be supported and shaped by a culture of holistic education and prayer.

V. Developing a Global Paradigm of Regional Integration

All aspects of human life, especially the permanent things in humanity’s past, present, and future, are covered from all angles in the Qur’an. The coherence of the Qur’an as revealed over a period of twenty-two years in different contexts is one reason why Muslims regard the Qur’an as a miracle.

The twin purposes and roles of traditionalist religions are the spiritual well-being and happiness of every person and the maintenance of consensus on the responsibilities and rights necessary to live in an ordered society. The purpose of every individual is to become the person that one was created to be, because that is one’s true identity. Therefore the greatest challenge in life is to become the person that one already is. The purpose also of every community from the nuclear family to the village and nation and on to entire civilizations as the highest form of group identity is the same.

As Charles LeGai Eaton has put it, this contrasts with the ultimate “false god”, the shadowy presence behind all others, namely, the human ego with its pretensions to self-sufficiency. This is the cardinal sin of every rigorously secularist paradigm in public policy.

Islam as a religion is a holistic product of truth, love, and justice. The broad purpose of public policy in the Islamic view of life is to encourage creative thought designed to identify and solve problems and to educate the citizens of a polity in pursuing good order, general prosperity, and freedom through responsible self-determination.

In conclusion, peace, prosperity, and freedom require respect for the organic human nation, based on its individual members’ sense of a common past, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future, as well as respect for a global paradigm of shared sovereignties both vertically and horizontally based on regional integration of nations both within and beyond the modern secular state.

This requires a regional confederation of polities in West Asia, not a clash of civilizations. This, in turn, requires a common language of compassionate justice, based on haqq al nasl or respect for family and community. as well as on all seven of the other human responsibilities and corresponding human rights as developed over many centuries by some of mankind’s greatest scholars and wise persons as paths to harmony and peace.

The centerpiece of such a regional confederation might be in its center, as recommended in my article, The Metalaw of Holistic Haqq: Building an Abraham Federation in the Holy Land, delivered in Vancouver, Canada, in April, 2014, and published in the Summer 2014 issue, No. 33, of Sacred Web.

The organic nations and diverse religious communities of the world have the opportunity to lead a spiritual renaissance and revival of all faiths leading to the harmonious transformation and integration of the entire world for the good of all humankind.


Dr Robert D Crane