A critique of state and power

In traditional societies, a government would rely on a specific person or dynasty for its legitimacy. The king would search for a sacred foundation, but the search was actually about real people. Japan’s emperor, who was referred to as the son of the sun; the Persian ruler Chosroes, who was believed to have God’s blood in his veins; the Roman emperor Julius Caesar or Egypt’s pharaoh, who claimed to be a god; and European monarchs whose bodies and spirits were consecrated were all human beings. Based on such assertions, they could say, “L’État, c’est moi.”

The only exception to this rule is Islam’s conception of politics, which does not vest rulers with any sanctity. However, the Umayyads incorporated the concept of God’s caliphate into their system, taking inspiration from the Byzantines. Following in their footsteps, the Ottomans affixed to the sultans the designation, “God’s shadow on Earth,” which was an epithet of Justinian. There are a number of fabricated stories about this title. The fact that there is a higher law that is independent of caliphs and sultans saved Islam’s historical forms of government from becoming absolutist or monarchic. This, of course, does not mean that rulers always rule their countries in strict compliance with Shariah.

There are real people at the heart of absolutist administrations. The modern concept of state has made administration impersonal, giving rise to the idea of the impersonal state. The modern state is actually a secularized version of Christian theology. According to theological assumptions, God was embodied in Jesus and the church is the body of Jesus. The philosophers who sought to take power from the church focused on absolutism, and those who wanted to strip absolutist rulers of power placed emphasis on parliaments. But the impersonal character of the state prevailed. Hegel saw the state as God’s will on Earth and history’s intrinsic purpose. To him, salvation was possible not through civic affairs that had nothing to do with spiritual transcendence, but through devoting oneself to the transcendent and immanent mission of the state.

As they imported the Western form of state, the proponents of the Tanzimat, constitutional monarchy and the republic easily translated this form into the ideal of “the eternal preservation of the state” and the sultan’s being “the shadow of God on Earth.” In their search for power, Islamists have failed to ponder and criticize this modern concept of the state, which is derived from the West and furnished with divine essence, and to which some components were added from our history. They see the state as a savior. Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani almost translated the concept of the modern nation-state into a salvific messiah myth. Just as early Christians fought against the tyrannical Roman Empire for some 300 years but eventually brought Rome to the Christian creed and revived the Vatican as the “religious Rome” in the wake of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Islamists made the modern nation-state part of Islam’s political philosophy. With its historical and philosophical adventure, the modern state challenges God. Just as God does not accept partners, neither does the modern state. This was exactly what Bekir Bozdag, who has a religious background, asserted recently. When necessary, the state shows its power and purges its rivals by killing them, with political justification.

When you accept the state as is, without weighing it against Islam’s philosophical and legal heritage, you cannot affix any attribute to the state if you cannot affix it to God. The state needs you for its protection. It submits itself to your embrace readily, but when you believe you have complete control of it, it has already taken complete control of you, nationalizing you and embodying its spirit in you. It is like the ancient Chinese legend: A hero enters a cave to save treasure that belongs to everyone in the village from a dragon. Before him, hundreds of heroes had entered the cave, but none returned. He kills the dragon, and as he touches the treasure, his body begins to change. He turns into a dragon to protect the treasure. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is this hero.