The Qur’an is a reminder of old truths already known to us all: for humans to live together successfully society must practice compassion, justice and equity. This insight lies at the root of political Islam.
Instead of the preeminence of the market, to which other social and community objectives are subordinated, the making of a society based on compassion, justice and equity becomes the overriding objective – to which other objectives, including markets, are subordinated.
It is revolutionary in another aspect: Instead of the individual being the organizational principle around which politics, economics and society are shaped, this Western paradigm is inverted. It is the collective welfare of the community in terms of such principles – rather than the individual – that becomes the litmus of political achievement.
Islamists are reopening an old debate – one at the root of both Western and Islamic philosophy. Posed by Plato, that debate questions the purpose of politics. Some Westerners are troubled that after 200 years of settled opinion, the Western paradigm is being questioned anew. One American conservative commented to me recently that with Descartes, the West had discovered “objective truth” through science and technology. It had made “us” rich and powerful and Muslims could not bear that. They knew that ultimately they would be forced to acquiesce to Western “truth.”
But the Islamist revolution is more than politics. It is an attempt to shape a new consciousness – to escape from the most far-reaching presuppositions of our time. It draws on the intellectual tradition of Islam to offer a radically different understanding of the human being, and to escape from the hegemony and rigidity of the Cartesian mindset.
The Islamist revolution is a voyage of discovery to a new “Self” that is far from complete. It has many shortcomings, but its intellectual insights offer Muslims (and Westerners) the potential to step beyond the shortcomings of Western materialism. This is what excites and energizes.