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the Message Continues i/57   -   Newsletterfor May 2006

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Justice Should not be Compromised:

Favoritism, nepotism, partiality and shutting up of mouths by big morsels, have always been the essential tools of politicians. Now a man had assumed power and captained the ship of the caliphate who profoundly detested these things. In fact his main objective was to struggle and fight against this kind of politics. Naturally, with the very inception of 'Ali's reign, the politicians with their hopes and expectations were disappointed. Their disappointment soon grew into subversive conspiracies against 'Ali's government, creating for him many a headache. Well-meaning friends, with sincere goodwill, advised 'Ali ('a) to adopt greater flexibility in his policies for the sake of higher interests. Their advice was: "Extricate yourself from the ruses of these demagogues, as is said, 'sewing the dog's mouth with a big morsel'. These are influential persons, some of whom are from the elite of the early days of Islam. Presently, your real enemy is Mu'awiyah, who is in control of a rich and fertile province like Syria. The wisdom lies in setting aside, for the time being, the matter of equality and justice. What harm there is in it?"

 'Ali ('a) replied to them:  Do you ask me to seek support through injustice [to my subjects and to sacrifice justice for the sake of political advantage]? By God! I will not do it as long as the world lasts and one star follows another in the sky [i.e. I will not do it as long as the order of the universe exists]. Even if it were my own property I would distribute it with justice, and why not when it is the property of God and when I am His trustee? (Khutab 126)

 This is an example of how highly 'Ali valued justice and what status it held in his opinion.

 The Rights of the People:

The needs of a human being are not summarized in the phrase 'food, clothing, and housing.' It may be possible to keep an animal happy by satisfying all its bodily needs; but in the case of man, spiritual and psychological factors are as important as the physical ones. Different governments following a similar course in providing for the material welfare of the public might achieve differing results, because one of them fulfils the psychological needs of society while the other doesn't.

One of the pivotal factors which contribute to the securing of the goodwill of the masses is the way a government views them, if it regards them as its slaves or as its masters and guardians, if it considers the people as possessing legitimate rights and itself only as their trustee, agent, and representative. In the first case, whatever service a government may perform for the people is not more than a kind of the master's care of his beast. In the second case, every service performed is equivalent to discharging of duty by a right trustee. A State's acknowledgement of the authentic rights of the people and avoidance of any kind of action that implies negation of their right of sovereignty, are the primary conditions for securing their confidence and goodwill.

The Church and the Right of Sovereignty:

At the dawn of the modern age there was a movement against religion in Europe, which also affected more or less other regions outside the Christendom. This movement was inclined towards materialism. When we examine the causes and roots of this movement, we discover that one of them was the inadequacy of the teachings of the Church from the viewpoint of political rights.The Church authorities, and some European philosophers, developed an artificial relationship and association between belief in God on the one hand and stripping the people of their political rights by despotic regimes on the other.

Naturally, this led to the assumption of some necessary relation between democracy on the one hand and atheism on the other. It came to be believed that either we should choose the belief in God and accept the right of sovereignty bestowed by Him upon certain individuals who have otherwise no superiority over others, or deny the existence of God so as to establish our right as masters of our own political destinies. From the point of view of religious psychology, one of the causes of the decline of the influence of religion was the contradiction between religion and a natural social need, contrived by religious authorities, especially at a time when that need expressed itself strongly at the level of public consciousness. Right at a time when despotism and repression had reached their peak in European political life and the people were thirstily cherishing the ideas of liberty and people's sovereignty, the Church and its supporters made an assertion that the people had only duties and responsibilities towards the State and had no rights. This was sufficient to turn the lovers of liberty and democracy against religion and God in general and the Church in particular.

This mode of thought, in the West as well as in the East, was deeply rooted from ancient times. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in The Social Contract, writes:

We are told by Philo, the Emperor Caligula argued, concluding, reasonably enough on this same analogy, that kings were gods or alternately that the people were animals.

During the Middle Ages, this out look was revived again; since it assumed the status of religious faith, it induced a revolt against religion itself. Rousseau, in the same book, writes:

 Grotius denies that all human government is established for the benefit of the governed, and he cites the example of slavery. His characteristic method of reasoning is always to offer fact as a proof of right. It is possible to imagine a more logical method, but not one more favorable to tyrants. According to Grotius, therefore, it is doubtful whether humanity belongs to a hundred men, or whether these hundred men belong to humanity, though he seems throughout his book to lean to the first of these views, which is also that of Hobbes. These authors show us the human race divided into herds of cattle, each with a master who presents it only in order to devour its members.  [2]

 Rousseau, who calls such a right 'the right of might' (right=force), replies to this logic in this fashion:

'Obey those in power.' If this means 'yield to force' the precept is sound, but superfluous; it has never, I suggest, been violated. All power comes from God, I agree; but so does every disease, and no one forbids us to summon a physician. If I am held up by a robber at the edge of a wood, force compels me to hand over my purse. But if I could somehow contrive to keep the purse from him, would I still be obliged in conscience to surrender it? After all, the pistol in the robber's hand is undoubtedly a power. [3]

Hobbes, whose views have been referred to above, although he does not incline to God in his totalitarian logic, the basis of his philosophic position regarding political rights is that the sovereign represents and personifies the will of the people and he actually translates the will of the people itself into his actions. However, when we closely examine his reasoning, we find that he has been influenced by the ideas of the Church. Hobbes claims that individual liberty is not contrary to unlimited power of the sovereign. He writes:

Nevertheless we are not to understand that by such liberty the sovereign power of life and death is either abolished or limited. For it has been already shown that nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject, on what pretence soever, can properly be called injustice or injury, because every subject is the author of every act the sovereign does, so that he never wants right to anything otherwise than as he himself is the subject of God and bound thereby to obscene the laws of nature. And therefore it may and does often happen in commonwealths that a subject may be put to death by the command of the sovereign power and yet neither do the other wrong-as when Jephtha caused his daughter to be sacrificed; in which, and the like cases, he that so dies, had the liberty to do the action for which he is nevertheless without injury put to death. And the same hold also in a sovereign prince that puts to death an innocent subject. For though the action be against the law of nature as being contrary to equity, as was the killing of Uriah by David, yet it was not an injury to Uriah but to God. [4]

As can be noticed, in this philosophy the responsibility to God is assumed to negate the responsibility toward the people. Acknowledgement of duty to God is considered sufficient in order that the people may have no rights. Justice, here, is what the sovereign does and oppression and injustice have no meaning. In other words, duty to (God is assumed to annul the duty to man, and the right of God to override the rights of men. Indubitably, Hobbes, though apparently a free thinker independent of the ideology of the Church, had ecclesiastical ideas not penetrated into his mind, would not have developed such a theory. Precisely that which is totally absent from such philosophies is the idea that faith and belief in God should be considered conducive to establishment of justice and realization of human rights. The truth is that, firstly, the belief in God is the foundation of the idea of justice and inalienable human rights; it is only through acceptance of the existence of God that it is possible to affirm innate human rights and uphold true justice as two realities independent of any premise and convention; secondly, it is the best guarantee for their execution in practice.

 (continued on the next issue)

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