Elizabeth Dickinson, March 11, 2012
During the Tunisian elections, one of the places I often visited for interviews was the party headquarters of Al-Nahda, the dominant party in the country’s new constituent assembly. Al-Nahda was often described as being “Islamist” (as opposed to “secular” parties on the political left.) I couldn’t really figure out a better term, but that alone never seemed to describe Al-Nahda, I thought. “Islamist” — and its contrast with “secular” — never seemed to capture the whole picture of what I saw at the party offices: An incredibly slick political machine interested first in winning political office.
Now a few months later, Tunisia’s Islamists have been back in the news. As home to the Arab Spring — and the broadest political transition in the region so far — Tunisia has often been looked to as a bellwether where a post-revolutionary Middle East is headed. And the question of how Islamist and secular strands of thinking will be braided together into the state is front and center. Will religion dominate politics and law? Will democracy prevail above all? What about a somewhat mixed model like that of Turkey or Indonesia?
Much seems to hinge on that dichotomy: who will win and who will lose the intellectual Arab Spring. But the choice between all-religion or all-state neglects the very real third option that I saw emerging in those party offices in Tunisia: a cadre of Islamist Technocrats. [ed. Emphasis added]
Can Technocracy and Islam co-exist? Absolutely. Islam is a religion while Technocracy is an economic/social control system. The global elite don’t care if you are an Islamist, Catholic or evangelical so long as they have control over the economic system.
Speaking earlier this month, one of Tunisia’s most prominent men and the head of the Al-Nahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, offered a vision that reads to me pretty much like that. An analogy he offered sums it up:
One day the Prophet passed by a group in Medina cross-pollinating palm trees and said: ‘I do not see the benefit of doing so.’ The Medinan people thought that that was divine revelation and stopped treating their trees which made their harvest of that year of a lesser quality. They asked him why he ordered them to do so, and he replied: you are best placed to know what is beneficial for you in your worldly affaires. Therefore, it is not the duty of religion to teach us agricultural, industrial or even governing techniques, because reason is qualified to reach these truths through the accumulation of experiences. The role of religion, however, is to answer the big question for us, those relting to our existence, origins, destiny, and the purpose for which we were created, and to provide us with a system of values and principles that would guide our thinking, behavior, and the regulations of the state to which we aspire.
It’s a different kind of Islamism that that word usually conjures, to be sure — one that is opposed both to state-imposed religion and state-mandated non-observance in the public sphere. It’s not afraid to hold elections, hire external consultants, or ask tough economic questions. In a word, it does all the things a functional government would do. Yet it happens to be inspired to this political construction by Islam.