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June 1, 2012

The Global Awakening - I
Developing a Consensus Paradigm
through a Common Language of Normative and
Compassionate Justice

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

Jurisprudential  Metaphysics

 I. Introduction

During the last week of May, 2012, at the Ritz-Carlton in Doha, the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy convened the 9th annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum under the title, “New Voices – New Directions”.  This was organized under the leadership of Martin Indyk, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997, and was sponsored by the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) representing the 57 Muslim-majority countries.   The concern was primarily the extent to which the so-called Arab Spring might undermine stability during the coming year. 

A closed follow-on conference was held that same week at the Qatar Foundation in Doha sponsored by Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College and by the Center for the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies, as part of the Qatar Foundation’s Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.  This mini-conference addressed the origins, current dynamics, and future possibilities of an awakening that started in Tunisia a year and a half ago and may continue to play a historic role in many countries all over the world for years to come.

This conference of experts examined the past, present, and future of transitional change in many individual countries as background for a possible long-range global awakening toward the vision of justice as a higher goal than stability.  Of course, justice in an enlightened sense found in all the world religions, is the strongest force for stability.

As a professional long-range global forecaster, I distinguish between the short-range of weeks and months and the long-range of years and decades and even centuries.  For the short-range it may be sufficiently reliable to use mere trend analysis and dozens of quantitative techniques to predict the future, though trend analysis did rather poorly in predicting the results of the May, 2012, presidential elections in Egypt or indeed of the Arab Spring that led up to it.

Forecasting the future of the so-called Arab Spring, if any, and of the Arab world must go beyond trend analysis, because the only certain thing in long-range forecasting is that as one looks out further into the future the exogenous variables become increasingly important, namely, those that were not included in the forecast because they were not considered important or probable enough to consider or had not surfaced clearly enough to be recognized.

The only part of the Brookings mega-conference directly relevant to long-range forecasting and planning within a framework of justice, rather than merely of power, compassion, and civility, was a special town-hall session toward the end of the conference.  This session focused on the following question: “Given the importance to many of religion and religious values as the fundamental basis for determining right from wrong, what are the respective roles of the state and religious institutions in shaping, implementing, and enforcing both religious norms and secular affairs”.

II. Short-Run Predictions

Over the short run, the most pressing question at the end of May, 2012, was whether Egypt would return to the reliable extremes of the past, now that the initial forces behind the popular revolution seemed to have lost out in the battle for the presidency?  A more fundamental question is what the election might mean for the future of justice, not necessarily this year or next, but in the decades ahead and throughout the world.

The two winners in Egypt’s May presidential elections represent two competing paradigms of justice.  In the first paradigm or frame of reference, justice is used as a synonym for imposing and enforcing stability through law.  This is the secular paradigm common in the West, where the state creates law and where law exists only to the extent that it is enforced.  The come-from-behind winner, the former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, warned of chaos.  He asserted, "The country has fallen", and he concluded, “Egypt needs justice, and the safety for its citizens.” (NYT, May 26, 2012)

The second paradigm was voiced by the candidate of the Ikhwan al Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, who introduced and called for norms or principles of human dignity, but within a narrow religiously ideological framework.  In the more enlightened perspective represented by the breakaway candidate, Abdel Moneim Fotouh, who split the Muslim Brotherhood vote, law is meant primarily to educate.  If it has to be enforced, the law has failed.

Shafik and Morsi each won a quarter of the votes.  Shafik is moving to pick up the liberal vote, while Morsi is moving to pick up the conservative Salafi vote.  Significantly, the 3rd and 4th place candidates also did well, each getting 20% of the vote, namely, the liberal Islamist, Abdel Moneim Fotouh, and the liberal socialist, Hamdeen Sabahi.  The question then became who would the losers support, who in combination won 40% of the vote, if they would vote at all, or would the organizational power of the Ikhwan win the presidency in the run-off.

In hindsight, the immediate results of the May 2012 presidential election were perfectly predictable well over a year earlier, though few people predicted it.  Power politics usually is easy to predict, but the larger question is whether power politics alone can determine the future of civilizations.  Are there other forces that can work toward a middle-way consensus, a mizan and wasatiya, in the form of an awakening to a common language of compassionate justice, perhaps not immediately but through an Arab and universal awakening in the future.

One can argue that the intellectuals in Egypt blew it, because they were not ready to provide leadership to transform revolutionary reaction into proactive proposals for institutional and policy reform.  One can further argue, as a Georgetown University conference did at the Qatar Foundation on April 14, more than a month before the May presidential election, that the only hope is for a second Arab Spring ten years in the future.

III. Forecasting and Planning for the Long Run

The question has arisen who can provide the vision, mission, and creativity to gain leverage over the future by thinking beyond current probabilities in order to plan for future possibilities.  For example, there may be reason to place one's hopes on Shaykha Mozah's Qatar Foundation with its $500,000,000 annual operating budget designed to bring the best of all civilizations and religions together in order to universalize and return the plurality of their wisdom to the world as a means to promote global peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith harmony of transcendent and compassionate justice.

Furthermore, there is reason to think that Tunisia, under the leadership of Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi as the long-time enlightened head of the Muslim Brotherhood there, can provide a suggestive model for the rest of the Arab world and even for awakenings in Persia, Russia, and China.  The unknown is whether anyone would follow it?

Having followed his career for some decades now, my view is that Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi is preparing a down-to-earth example of what can be.  I was one of the two former ambassadors who, for reasons still unknown to me, were invited to attend the trial of the twenty leaders of the Nahda party in 1987, whom Bourguiba had already condemned to death.  Fortunately, Bourguiba was overthrown by his own followers as a madman totally incompetent to run a country, and Shaykh al Ghannouchi was spared for his mission to institute justice as a governing policy paradigm and model for the world.

Three issues or questions will determine whether such optimistic hopes can be turned into reality.  The first is the metaphysical question, basic to the survival and revival of civilizations, whether there is a common essence of justice that all can understand.  The next two questions, which are basic to Ibn Khaldun’s and Arnold Toynbee’s paradigm of civilizational challenge and response, as explicated in my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Santa Fe, New Mexico, The Center for Civilizational Renewal, 1997, 159 pages, as well as in my book, Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia: A Model for Achieving National Priorities, New York and London, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, CBS, 1978, 241 pages, are whether the broad middle in the spectrum of reformists can agree on how to turn principle into practice, and whether they can reach effective agreement before anarchy and oppression resume their role of civilizational destruction?

IV. The Metaphysics of Justice as a Common Denominator

More difficult than merely revolting against injustice, which is a negative phenomenon that can boomerang to devour its protagonists, is to develop or flesh out a paradigm of justice based on common understandings of its essence and practical applications.  This is the architectonic task of translating higher purposes, goals, and objectives into programs of action.

This normative task of inducing higher norms or principles and then deducing from them the goals and objectives needed to implement the higher purposes requires development of what might be termed the metaphysics of a global ethics, as first proposed by the Christian theologian, Hans Kung, at the Second Parliament of the World Religions in 1993.  In 2010, he was reinstated by Pope Benedict XVI with authority to teach in Roman Catholic institutions, despite his view, first clearly articulated by Meister Eckhard, the immediate successor at the University of Paris to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that the Trinity is at the level of Being and that the Ultimate, God, is Beyond Being.

The major issue in this regard is whether there is such a thing as a higher essence of truth that must be perpetually sought.  The alternative is for those with power to declare what is true as a means to acquire more power, together with all its attendant injustices.

If justice is to become a common denominator for a global reawakening, the revivers of classical wisdom must address three metaphysical challenges.

Continued on page two