One, we mean by Trust State the ruling and mature institution which administers its citizens’ affairs within a particular geographical area and period of time, guards their rights first, decrees their duties and represents them before neighbouring as well as remote nations and States. It is a legitimate institution which the people trust and have faith in. It also does not discriminate between its citizens on the basis of language, race, colour, religion or thought. All are equal. Since the Arab peoples are mostly Muslim, and whose Muslimness is expressed often differently, every Arab region can consider how to keep its religious identity represented and preserved through the State and its institutions. Some Arab countries derive their legitimacy of existence from religion and it is not easy to completely separate them; laws should even the ground among all religious minorities to be treated equally even when some religions or sects may have historical legitimacy and remain dominant. Broadly, in pre-modern times, minorities lived best in the Arab-Islamic world for the protection the dominant religion, Islam, itself guaranteed for them as a natural right; this has to be updated according to modern standards.
Some Arab countries make of religion one of their founding principles and identities, which reflects the experience of the Arab world with religion. Religion is what has created a human civilisation out of the Arab world in Late Antiquity, while Europe had had Greek and Roman civilisations before the Church became the embodiment of European political and cultural identity for centuries. Politically, the Church capitalized – though regressively – on pre-existing civilisations while the Arab peninsula and what came to be called later the Arab world grew up as a political entity in world history because of religion. That is the reason why religion has a special status in the history of the Arab political sphere and cultural identity, even when its facets change over time, and it would remain so at least in the foreseen future. As time goes by, modern conceptions of religion would affect “Arab reason,” and would thus slowly find new forms of its expression in the public sphere; this is an internal process that has to be respected; Europe had no Superpower to survey it and influence it, or block it, in its democratization process that has taken some two hundred years for consolidation, if we date modern democratization from the American-French Revolutions, not to mention the British political model that may appear the closest to the Arab process of change.
There is no modern democratic State in Europe for example which does not have its religious heritage still preserved in collective memory in a way or another, despite the reclusion of religion to the private sphere, and the widespread of secular constitutions and positive laws gradually over the centuries, and especially post-World War II. The modern West – however secular it may be politically and scientifically –is not so culturally; its past still influences its cultural sphere immensely, from public holidays, arts, literature, philosophy, to psycho- analysis, and so on. This is the case even in the most secular-laȉc country in Europe, France. So, in prospecting the future of “secularization” outside Europe, this marker of religion on the public culture does not have to be forgotten. State neutrality is relative.
Two, Trust State does not separate the religious and the secular authorities because Islam is secular, meant for this world in the first place; its law is pragmatically historical. Legal theories developed complex readings into it, and made of it this-worldly affair, however “divine” it may appear to some puritan literalists who read it as if it were revealed yesterday and has to be applied verbatim. Still, Trust State manages the relationship between the two authorities, which has become problematic since the advent of the European model of the modern nation State and its secular vs. religion dichotomy, in such a way as to clarify the place of each one of them in complementarity and harmony, rather than in opposition and separation. The foundation of this connection is that the human entity is a whole that cannot be brought apart: for instance, the intellectual is linked to the spiritual and to the psychological, which makes the existence of the individual in the public sphere just the same as their existence in the private sphere, even though each context has its own etiquette that the individual learns through public culture and state’s institutions such as schools. Thus, as the individual grows, they are provided with knowledge about the harmony of their entity, even when it expresses itself differently in the two spheres. No repulsion and no contempt result from expressing that which is religious or spiritual in the public sphere; it is a worldview as respectful and worthy of trust and consideration as scientific facts that may be overturned by new scientific facts at any moment.
In other words, in Trusteeship Paradigm which inspires Trust State, that which is metaphysical, spiritual or religious is not perceived negatively, nor is it regarded as uncivilised, regressive or irrational as various European schools approach it, for instance. On the contrary, religion is regarded as a human heritage worthy of respect as any other community choice such as prioritizing science or arts or philosophy, or individual choice like loving music or travelling, or reading/writing science fiction or fantasies, or visiting ancient historical and religious buildings that are full of religious denotations and connotations. Trust State treats religion as a public good within state sovereignty and a human good worldwide, seeing its contribution to human growth on various levels. As a public good, which has historical legitimacy in identity building, it is not to be only “neutrally protected” under the “Secular State” but has to be “invited” by “Trust State” to “contribute” to solving public as well as private issues of citizens, within recognized and established institutions, to avoid chaos and antagonizing authorities.
Three, if radical secularism in general claims the separation of the religious and the political authorities as being opposed to one another, this view of the world is not universal and there is nothing which imposes its generalisation on various world traditions. There was no one Church (i.e. Ruling Mosque or one Ruling Scholar) in Islamic “pre Euro-modern history.” European history is specific to Europe alone and should not be generalised; even the Christian world outside Europe – and inside it as well – is not homogeneous, and did not have the same relation of religion and politics. Liberation Theology in Latin America and South Africa went apart with the Catholic Church in fighting for liberation and independence from Euro-colonialism and apartheid. Euro-modernity tried to maim world-history but postcolonial-postmodern critique, which some still consider a modern critique, have stood in front of it, and the narrative is being severely challenged. Throughout the development of natural sciences and world discoveries, radical secularism, which smells of anti-religious feel, has generally and gradually designed the idea that the world could be ruled by reason alone, and not by God’s law or even reference to it. In a secular world, human reason has the right to possess the world which was in the past owned and controlled by the Church and the clerical mind. Hence, the issue is essentially one of struggle over power, followed by a view of control over the world, as if reason were a modern human discovery and everything else belongs to the non-modern God. This means that God did not create the human being to understand the world, but to apply God’s law on it, and since this Divine– clerical – law is retrograde and does not encourage science and free will, then it should be overcome by positive law of modern reason. This implies that the “modern reasoning man” is distinct from and opposed to the “clerical man” and the “religious traditional man”. As a further implication, God then does not love human beings because He has obliged them to not think, to only speak in His name and apply His orders-laws without critical thinking and intellectual efforts. In dogmatic secularism that has become a new religion in itself, we come to the damaging conclusion that God is against humans and humans against God, or that modernity is against religion and against God; no all Enlightenment philosophers held this view, especially that many of them were religious themselves or had a religious background when theorizing for non-Church ruled societies. This view of religion and reason is European. Islamic societies in particular medieval modern times encouraged science to unprecedented levels, and made a civilization out of their religious spirit; many Muslim philosophers were also judges, hermeneutists, mathematicians, physicists, and medical doctors, and they did not see a contradiction between science and religion; they knew how to manage their different spheres, when Europe had a regressive take on religion and science.
Contemporary fanatic secularism in Europe, which has in its memoir its own version of religion, has appeared mostly as a resistance dogma in the face of Islam and Muslim presence in particular, besides other factors (fear, insecurity, populism, ignorance, terrorism, etc.). Overall, the power relations simplistically described here is a struggle over authority in the world. This paradigm in the struggle over power is European, but is no longer just European; now it is also being lived in modern history of Islamic societies. Even though other cultures have undergone some of it, it retains a European specificity. Other civilizations and traditions have the right then to build paradigms of rule and sovereignty that are specific to their own history dynamics. The Arab tradition is one of these. And when we say Europe, we do not mean all Europe, nor do we intend to essentialize it: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, for example, have different approaches to the secular, let alone the USA. This internal diversity in the so-called modern world has to be born in mind when thinking about societies outside this geography and worldview.
Four, at the reverse of the struggle over power and domineering paradigm that Euro-modernity experiences, Trusteeship Paradigm (al-unmūthaj al-i’timānī) that is the background of this Trust State proposal is built on what has come to be known as “secular” paradigm for the last couple of centuries, learns from it, and transcends it. In its view of the world, modern Trust State is not seen as being in an existential conflict with religious thought because it does not define humans based on their rational capabilities alone; it views them in their completeness as a special creature able to improve constantly, without getting into clash with the metaphysical, with nature, and with the human unfathomable psyche – which is influenced by powers or desires that reason sometimes does not control nor is able to fully explain (yet). Rather, its existential perspective is open to the infinite, as humans still exist and are still as creative as ever. Trust, which is an ethical principle that starts as “good intent” and follows as “good act”, does not claim to subdue nature thoroughly by reason; nature is like mother-to-man and cannot nor should it be subdued, but harmoniously lived with for human internal growth and cooperation with the rest of humanity. Humans are workers, servants and masters of the world but not in the absolute, because the amount of the unknown is still big; humans are there to discover and explore it; they are trustees. Since reason is not the only master of humans, the place of the metaphysical and the spiritual is not to be despised; it is to be respected, because it seems that reason alone is unable to explain the world in such a way as to provide humans with inner peace and full answers; reason provides for action and external growth, and internal growth requires another type of reasoning that requires space in the natural-cosmic world. Humans are part of nature; they grow through it and along with it; their imagination flourishes within it, not in opposition to it or in excessive control over it. In other words, since humans are entrusted with nature and the universe, and since they see nature and themselves with the lens of trust, complementarity and compassion, instead of the lens of absolute materialism and utilitarianism, they get from the spiritual and the metaphysical inspirational nourishment that strengthens their highest values, such as love, equality, justice, solidarity, respect and beauty. The communion wo-man has with nature is transcendental, and religion shares minimally or maximally this transcendental dimension. When humans are reduced to the intellect, pragmatism overwhelms them, and anyone who seems less rational becomes the object of potential despise, disrespect and colonisation. Trusteeship equips reason with ethics, and the golden rule of altruism. The essence of man is ethics, measured by one’s outlook to the “Other” and the world. This is the metaphysics of Trust State and its ontological narrative. It frees wo-man from the “materialist ontology” that enslaves with finitude; infinitude is liberating. Trustees are more liberal citizens, free from finite utilitarianisms. The infinitude that enriches their finite life stems from the Trust they feel and abide by towards their conscience and the world around them.
Five, let us now look at what ideological secularism has produced in the Arab world. European secularism did not mature into mature liberal democratic polities until post-World War II. Religious and non-religious minorities’ rights, women’s rights, and trans-gender rights, have made their way into European society’s culture only gradually, which consumed clashing secular ideologies, some of which adopted a religious tone in their high days; Fascism and Nazism used all the scientific, secular-ideological and religious discourses possible for their supremacist campaigns. The two devastating and unprecedented World Wars are mainly a European unethical political growth, the terrible consequences of which are still lived especially in the Arab world, and elsewhere.
Outside of Europe, secularism was dealt with differently. Do we expect India, for example, the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country to adopt extremist secularism? Of course not. It is the largest democracy in the world despite all its social, ethnic and religious problems. As to Latin America, it is a religious society because some of the Church’s progressist men played an important role in the liberation of society from colonial and totalitarian forces. (This does not make them ideal secular states, however, since fundamentalisms keep resurging). Thus, religion maintains a special position in changing societies, despite all other socio-economic and political factors, be they centripetal or centrifugal. The point here is not only that these societies are democratizing or are already democracies – and not necessarily liberal-democracies – without secularizing radically. Religion plays a role in the public debate – sometimes negatively as secular ideologies fall into such negativity too – and is not considered a block towards change or democracy; on the contrary, it is a central force because its dictionary or at least inferences are invoked “secularly” in the public debate. Religion is not opposed to the future; it can in some debates, say on family and neuroscience, and that is a positive role to play for diversity; democracy is the management of diversity ethically, without making one’s worldview the “only right” worldview; diversity has to remain, and ideas that have transcendental references play a role in this diversity.
When it comes to the Arab world, it has neither succeeded in preserving its premodern traditional authenticity and worldview, nor has it succeeded in adopting a clear modern model, since it has not modified its epistemic outlook of the world and society to cope with modern challenges, which is the reason why it has been producing different discourses for two centuries-plus, without embracing any specific one, and sticking to it to flourish. More on this is based on the next point.
The predicament aside, the Arab-Islamic world has apparently become the “only” cultural geography that stands in the way of savage capitalism, unjust distribution of wealth, hegemony, and “Western cultural hegemony.” On this point, it is a living critique of the arrogant side of the “West,” which other cultures have not so much resisted or faced, because of various factors at the lead of which is economy. The resistance culture that persists in the Arab-Islamic world is legitimate, and has obliged us all to reconsider what secularism, liberalism, justice, religion in modernity, and Islam mean, among other issues. This is one of its merits that should not be denied, though it has been a costly merit for its own people who are ruined with oppression, hegemony and international interest in the region. We owe something so vital to the Arab-Islamic world; it keeps our critical intellect, and let me say our human soul, alive to probe other possible ways of life. The Arab-Islamic world, being the closest in history and culture to the European world, for their shared past, may be a contributing “corrector” of Euro-modernity if it manages to clean its internal mess and engage with the world at large. This internal mess is so much fabricated outside, in the modern world!
Six, the first modern encounter of Arabs with Europe was one of enmity during colonisation. And it was obvious that Arabs – and Muslims in general – would refuse the concept of secularism, mainly because it especially meant undermining religion and the Ottoman Caliphate and, broadly speaking, weakening the moral status and authority of religion. Most importantly, the refusal of the term of secularism in the Arab-Islamic world stems also from the way European secular Orientalists filled the term with Christianity – and also Judaism later on – and made modernity a product of a Christian culture, and put Islam in the box of intrinsic inability to modernize because its mundane and otherworldly authorities intertwine and are not separable. This deformed the history of the Church and Islam alike.
Now, intellectually, new ideas have awakened Arab reason to the modern world since the nineteenth century: from socio-politics to scientific changes and various philosophies: nationalism, liberalism, secularism, socialism, Darwinism, nihilism, existentialism, individualism, sexual liberation, etc. In front of these rapid changes, Arab reason finds it difficult to cope with the complexity of the tradition and the complexity of modernity all at once, modernity that is also political-hegemonic. Cultural change and evolution need a long time (longue durée) processing, but the Arab world lives under the pressure of the “cultural and political modern Europe-America, the so-called West. When the “West” was modernizing, it did not have external powers to block it or colonize it; it had to fight only internally with its own medieval dark tradition, its subsequent religious and imperial wars. Even in that case, it took centuries to arrive to its current modern stage, which is “unfinished.” When the modern Arab world tried to modernize and industrialize, for example by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849) and Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), it was blocked and punished for that attempt by the modern West!
At the aftermath of the Ottoman caliphate, the first debates over which model of State to adopt were animated by theses like the Islamic commonwealth, democratic socialism, and nationalist secularism. After the independence of Pakistan, the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and the failure of Arab nationalisms , the Islamic State and the civic State discourses emerged. This plurality is enriching to thought and daily politics to avoid having one leading dogma, with the condition that an appealing new inclusive social contract is agreed upon to manage this plurality. Under Islamic Empires the socio-political and spiritual concept of “umma” was the governing social contract, the “‘assabiyya” or “esprit de corps” of Islamic societies. Such a contract is not absent now, since the religious feel as an identity marker is present, and so emphasised, but it is not “aggiornato”, not updated to the modern paradigm at the mainstream level.
Following what is called the Arab Spring – which is apparently an expansive Arab devastation at the moment, even though its popular objectives are noble and still live as aspirations of the masses – the intensity of the Arab conflicting politico-intellectual disaccords have come to the surface. So-called ruling Arab seculars are authoritarian and non-democratic; they used secularism to secure legitimacy that especially Euro-American powers allowed them to enjoy as long as their interests were safeguarded. Some are known as liberals, but the Arab revolts have unveiled their illiberalism, for their support of dictatorial regimes and army leadership. These Arab seculars-liberals resemble some Euro-American liberals who are so only within their national borders, and do not care about what their hegemonic States do outside their national borders. Ethics in these political philosophies and ideologies do not go beyond one’s own interests and borders, that is why they cannot be universal models to export.
Confusing and confused alliances have spoilt politics in the Arab world. Religion is abused by both secularists and religionists alike. The former control it with an iron fist, and use it whenever they want, and the latter champion it as the only solution to all problems, since they have not managed to separate “doing politics through a religious reference” and “doing politics as religion.” Some Salafists have joined tyrannical seculars. Some others joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, “Daesh”, which should be treated as the “Impossible State ‘IS’”), a result of various factors, the recent of which is the sectarian conflict in the invaded Iraq post-Saddam Hussein, a Sunni tyrant replaced now by Shia tyrants and militias, and the devastating Syrian catastrophic War. Some other Salafis keep their eyes on moderate political Islam to delegitimize it if it liberalizes or democratizes beyond (Salafi) limits.
As to Muslim democrats of Political Islamic movements – like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia or PJD (Justice and Development Party) in Morocco – they have woken up from the utopia that they would direct the State as they wished, just because elections have gained them majority seats in parliament post-2011; they wanted to change a globalised, pluralist, and complex reality without modern political thought and without access to economic riches of their corresponding countries; identity politics was their major contribution and now they have realized that they cannot solve real socio-economic dire situation solely with identity politics. The interesting move in Ennahda’s recent tenth congress (on 20 May 2016) to separate its political line (political party) from its da‘wa line (religious movement) is a further democratizing step in the region, which can gradually lead to what we have termed here “trust” for a new social contract. The Moroccan PJD did that separation already in the late 1990s, but the overall political monarchical system in the country is different, that is why political Islam there is not comparable to its manifestations in Arab Republics. Diversity within the region helps for reciprocal political learning and for the growth of a new culture of doing politics. What democratizing political Islamic parties face, besides identity issue that they are adjusting to, are economic problems and social challenges: education, health services, housing, employment, the very basics that millions in the region lack. Democracy manages politics and does not promise economic prosperity, but if it does not do so, then it means it is not functioning; the rule of law and accountability can restore the wealth of nations to the people and limit the power of internal and external hegemons. This is the big and real challenge in the Arab world. Selling a discourse without content is what Euro-American politics has achieved most in the Arab world, and it has to change to “complete” its modernity, correct its ethical failures, and restore trust to its own people and to the Arabs.
Europe especially failed the Arabs twice in modern history: 1) faking, and capitalizing on, Arab’s independence from the Ottomans and Euro-colonialism, and causing the ongoing traumas of the Palestinian Cause, and 2) suspecting, consequently contributing to the abortion of, the Arab Spring revolts’ that sought dignity, liberty and social justice. That is too big an ethical mistake for a culture that defends modern values to do! Positive intervention of Europe in support of change in the Arab world is not a solidarity or charity act; it is a moral duty because it has messed up so much in the region! It is up to the Arabs to decide on this, if there is some trust in their memory to give to Europe. It is also up to wise Europeans to seek suitable ways of compensating for that damage – alongside with their American friends. The United States is historically bound to the Arab-European worlds, however far it is from them geographically. Its future is tied to the region, as is its past. It cannot stand alone – seeing the rise of China, the muscular exercises of Russia, etc.
Seven, the Arabs are asked to democratize, and when they try it themselves they are denied access. For the Arabs, the failure of the Arab revolts so far has shown that Euro-America, including Russia and its allies in the region, do not want to see democratic change in the region. A fee liberal-secular Arab would ask for his/her natural resources to be spent inside the country for social welfare, and would sue war criminals and also dig into history to judge hegemons, the way parliaments of consolidated democracies now dig into history and accuse, for example, Turkey of Armenian genocide. Democracy entails accountability, and in the least historical judgement of naming and shaming; the Arabs may do that too and revisit the terrible political history of Euro-America; who would want such liberal-democratic Arabs? Besides, Euro-America mainstream mindset and media continue to portray Arabs-Muslims in Euro-American societies as a “suspect” element unworthy of trust; externalizing them is horrifying to reason. Islamophobia levels are allarming, and reflect a high level of institutionalized ignorance that has become a phenomenon that deserves serious study – call it ignorology. Islamophobia inside Euro-America nurture the widespread idea that the incompatibility with democracy is intrinsic in the Arab-Islamic tradition, a fallacy that does not support internal dynamics for positive change, and astonishingly suspects it – as if constitutional (liberal) democracy were not the outcome of a couple of centuries of trial and error in Europe.
This dark side of the modern Europe-America makes their major concepts unwelcome in the Arab world in particular. Oppressed people have the right to reject the terms which offend their political movements and aspirations; for many of them, the adoption of concepts like secularism and liberalism sounds colonial. Therefore, we suggest the revision of terms, not only because they are controversial politically but also because they have a different history as referred to above. Western open critical thought itself has embarked on reviewing radical secularism’s mistakes and centralised, non-pluralistic discourses, and has been debating what “post-secularism” and “post-modernism” mean. Contemporary Arab philosophers already see that their tradition has been the most critical and resistant of the Euro-American machine; their resistance has opened up a horizon of a different worldview, though that worldview may not be realized in the near or foreseeable future in the Arab world, seeing the conflict of interests therein. The “political West” is a world of pure interests. It does not fall in the stream of its interests to see its geographically and demographically extended Arabs as strong, self-sufficient and independent neighbours. The Arab world has become the preferred backyard where Euro-America plays as it wishes; to ward off this arrogance, one should face it intellectually with terms other than its own. The liberation of peoples cannot take place unless one’s own language and concepts that are rooted in the tradition, but still open, are used to speak of sovereignty and will of the masses. Modern nation states are first and foremost local and practice cultural resistance, before they open up to the world; this right should not be denied to other traditions that are experiencing renewal.
Eight, neither secular-liberal nor religious camps can govern alone the current Arab world; they have all failed to seize their moment adequately. A new paradigm that is more pluralistic and more open needs to step in. It is true that the prevalent illiteracy in the Arab world might not help, but radical change is always operated and led by the elites, not the masses. The masses help with their adhesion and spirit of togetherness, their assabiyya, and not with their thought that may be open but not visionary and clear enough. This is not depreciative of the masses but respectful of their vital role in change from a particular position. And the elite that leads the people is from the people. It is aware of their hopes and aspirations, which it shapes into unambiguous ideas that go along with society aspirations and identity, and along with the movement of the external world. Since a great number of the Arab masses – as well as intellectuals – do not accept secular and liberal concepts, even when they defend a lot of their content, they have the right to have their own terms, terms they approve of and trust. That is how they would feel safe and would trust their political institutions and representatives. A trustworthy paradigm that secures security, social justice, and identity is a right, and is available from within.
Nine, the “Trust State” we propose as a new name backed up by a new paradigm does not view religion as a problem which undermines the authority of the modern State. The defragmentation of religious authority, since the colonial administration targeted it and was further damaged by the nation state, is a serious problem. The essential issue which Trust State tries to solve in this specific period of time of Arab history is social justice, liberty, equality, peace, and the inalienable rights that go with that. Arab masses are a minority even when they are a majority because the culture of rights is not leading the modern formation of the State yet; the culture of belief in the ruler or the manager is still present, and has to be replaced by a culture of rights-and-duties. Trust State institutions are not charity apparatus in the hands of the ruler and his entourage.
Arabs lack social and economic security, and human dignity in general. What has sustained them despite State oppression and institutional failures is human solidarity so much taught by their humanist-and-religious traditions. Religion has played a big role in sustaining people by providing for some of their basic needs of health care, education, employment, and spiritual healing in moments of despair, traumas, and catastrophes, when the State was absent or was the cause of these traumas. The elitist (middle-and-)upper-class has most often stood with the undemocratic State against the masses, and this has to change to make a balance in society. Without a “bourgeoisie class” that bargains with the “ruling-upper-class” for economic-political power, the process of change, and the empowerment of civil society may take too long to make a radical change. Without such a class, there will be only the religious activists that alone cannot make it, because the gaps in society among the masses and the ruling elite is so big, and also because if the religious camp stands alone in front of corrupt state apparatus that may keep the dichotomous thought of “religion” vs. “politics” alive, particularly that Arab debates are impacted by the intense debates inside European societies over religion in the public sphere, and that is dangerous and not healthy because it is easy to manipulate by both radical religionists and radical secularists alike.
Savage capitalism and neoliberal economy that is widespread now in most Arab states, championed by the rulers and their entourage, is making basic needs not easily accessible to ordinary citizens. Education, health services, public transport, water and electricity services are being privatized, and this is doing “public good” a serious damage that is not easy to heal. Seeing that the Arab population is young, not caring about these basic needs exasperates youth aspirations, and can lead to various non-controllable or non-desirable situations: further corruption, lack of trust in state institutions, trafficking in whatever can secure a living, excessive migration flows, nihilist and anarchist movements, and who knows what!
In Trust State, the ruler is trustworthy; s/he is trusted, and legitimate, either democratically elected, or enjoys historical legitimacy in a constitutional monarchy. Separation of powers, the rule of law, and accountability governs Trust State. Serving public good is what leads the State. Dissent is not only allowed but required for a healthy civil society in a democratic Trust State.
Minorities of various kinds have the right to call for their denominations and associations to be recognized, and treated equally before the law, or recover parts of their rights through affirmative action if they have been marginalized historically, or keep calling for cultural insertion in the public sphere if their rights are newly established and guaranteed in world global culture; civil society activism is fundamental in defending minorities against right-wing populism, racism, or religious discrimination.
Ten, last but not least, the richness of the term “trust” with its ethical, added to it modern institutional meanings, in the Arab-Islamic heritage makes of it a concept closely linked to Arabic language, land and people. It is neither hybrid nor foreign as the concept of “secularism.” Trust State is more melodious-poetic in Arabic “addawla al-i‘timāniyya,” and more importantly more meaningful as well. “Trust” bears meaning as a word already, even when not put in “Trust State” formulation, since it is already this-worldly oriented; trust happens in society, with people and institutions, in this world. As to its ethical élan, it emanates from an existential feel of responsibility, espoused with liberty and free will.
Historical and Contemporary Background of Trust State
Eleven, the background of Trust State which we are exposing here views the Prophet of Islam Muhammad not only as a prophet, as seculars and Islamists view him, each from their own perspective and for different reasons, but also, and here especially, as a unique Arab pioneer in political leadership in a society that was devoid of visionary leadership that is pluralist and universal. The genius of Muhammad is then to be considered mainly from its political aspect, as it unveils the great possibilities that its power opens in managing a society characterised by tribal and religious plurality, as well as a society where power and wealth were influential in categorizing people and ruling them. Muhammad the Arab did not only unite the Arab tribes who were fighting over power and riches, nor did he only offer the poor some of their resources, or demand the rights of orphans, slaves, women and others, he also gave an extremely important model of social contract, i.e. “The Medina Charter” which built an umma that is truly pluralist in faiths and moral orders and simultaneously united in politics; the idea of the umma was the culmination of political genius, and now time has come to stick to its spiritual meaning and adapt its political one to modern political epistemology. Every State in modern society has its own founding ancestors and its first theorists. The Arab State has the right to have a central model of its own, without evidently ignoring regional models in the pluralistic Arab space, models which history has built or is building. The community established by Muhammad in Medina was not purely religious, but rather civil. That medieval civility has to be updated, otherwise the original model which was then elevating would become regressive, as some rigid Salafis now appropriate-interpret it. Medina Charter was progressive, and so should be its reading in modern times, progressive and not regressive. This political genius, Muhammad, was, however, first and foremost a man of morals. This made his politics special. Current politics lack such a combination, minimally or maximally.
Some passionate seculars might argue that the modern State does not take political models from religious ones. This is not true. When the first Europeans left towards America, they were aspiring to found the religious kingdom on earth. If we look at Israel, hasn’t it established its strong military-modern State in accordance with its religious heritage –the massacres that accompany that bracketed here? Scandinavian and British monarchies were also established on a religious basis, from which they acquired their historical legitimacy, however constitutionally liberal democracies they have become now. There is no state that is built without heroes that become its moral icons.
Moreover, we focus here on considering the political model in the life of Muhammad the Arab as a basis that should be updated according to the development of human thought and to the changes Arabs have undergone over the centuries, as his religious model is universal, not just Arab. The point here is that moral orders, often religious, unite societies, especially when they have charismatic leaders. Even when a State is so “secular” it remains based on religious or mythological icons that its masses adhere to and believe in honestly. The political cannot stand without the religious, however so political (secular) the governing institutions might be. The Soviet Union could not wipe out religion from the heart of its people, though it did so in institutions. In Islam, institutions have always been secular-religious, including legal theories whose sophistication developed some century after the death of Muhammad to respond to social complexities. One can say that Islamic law has become “sacralized” only during the encounter with Euro-modernity as a defensive response and as a refusal to divide wo-man into either/or, secular or religious binary opposition. The Quran is full of calls for social justice; so, it is quite normal that believers stick to it more in times of injustices.
The Islamists should understand that Trust State’s culture is not only theirs because of historical legitimacy, and that the majority is not systematically on their side, though Trust State acknowledges religion as an essential human component that must not be despised or discarded from people’s lives and popular culture, but should be considered a public good to be preserved and protected.
At certain moments, historical legitimacy may not always win in politics but it can provoke public debates and drive it to undesired and inacceptable treatment of difference. Look at current Europe. However secular-liberal it may be, in moments of identity crisis or rise of populism, the historical religion returns as “the” identity marker that should have over-presence compared with the newly arrived or minority religions. The Arab world will not be an exception in this regards, especially that its historical birth was inspired by religion.
The same thing applies to so-called secularists. If with time state institutions and popular culture worldifies, i.e. secularizes its concepts, this should not be understood nor considered a sign of the withdrawal or failure of religion in the public sphere and in engaging in political discourse. It is erroneous to expect that people can keep their religious ideals in the private sphere alone. What can be kept at home is the worldview that guides a particular religious (or secular, etc.) worldview, and certain laws that are associated with it. But the ethics that guide one’s life cannot be left in the private sphere alone. When one does her/his work with dedication, we cannot know from which moral perspective s/he is doing that; so, however secular the outlook may appear, we cannot say it is the secular that has won the public debate nor can we know it is only the religious; they intertwine; that is why dichotomous thought is helpful especially and only in the beginning stages to reach a certain level of the debate to arrive at the ideal “trust social contract” that guarantees perpetual stability. “Transformative dialogue” leads to this stage.
Trust State appeals to the people, to the laws which people agree upon and approve, all while opening up and recognising universal declarations of human rights, so that Arab societies – with Kurds, Amazigh, religious and non-religious minorities – meet the threshold of human rights protection, practice local politics with an international attitude, without this engendering their identity specificities; laws do not necessarily homogenise cultures; homogeneous laws ideally facilitate communication and understanding, and do not necessarily breach one’s core culture and worldview. “Transformative dialogue” pacifies the debate and overcomes dichotomous thought.
Trust State preserves people’s ethics as they wish to define and approve them: ethics which they agree on, depending on time, space and any other intertwining factors that redefine them. Public ethics are “historical ethics” because they are the product of convention, while religious and non-religious “ideal ethics” constitute a barometer to be appealed to for guidance whenever the social debate about certain issues becomes controversial, without making of these ideal ethics the purpose that the State itself should pursue; it pursues them only so long as they are a public good. The State has its own logic in sovereignty and its own view of the world, even when it speaks in the name of religion, or any other ideology or moral order, uses it or manipulates it. The ideal “non-historical ethics” become everyone’s property or the property of the traditional majority that inspires its identity and its supreme reference. The State has no right to interfere in these meta-ethics because they are outside of its authority and beyond its capacity; the State should never be entrusted with defining ideal non-historical ethics because it is not its role nor does it have the ability to do that, even when it enjoys historical legitimacy or is blessed by the clergy or religious scholars. Non-historical ethics inspire humanity at large; all humans defend “love” and “justice” but each culture or religion or ideology colours it with its own specificities. Elsewhere I speak of “ethics of oblivion” (akhlāq annisyān) as an important step in changing people’s way of thinking and in moving from an old thought to another one, which is more modern, more open and more multiple; this can bring further trust among different traditions, let alone among differences within the same tradition. Trust State accommodates further worldification – which I may use interchangeably as an equivalent of secularization – of ethics.
Twelve, Trust here basically concerns the supreme values that nurture humanity and human flourishing: life, reason, liberty, equality, justice, family, land, nature, and the feel of human dignity. A society may be liberal but the feel of human dignity in it may be absent or weak if human ethics are endorsed only so far as to secure state control for example. A society may be internally just but externally unjust; if citizens of such a state still feel fine with that then their ethics, historical and non-historical, are thin and not thick, and thus lack the supreme values of reason and equality, for example.
Human reason is able to reinterpret these supreme values depending on time, space and scientific and psychological human developments. The timeless and abstract world plays an important role in bringing in other values like serenity, compassion and solidarity with which they enrich existing ones. Humans are entrusted with each other and with nature, just as they are entrusted with themselves, their reason, dignity, family and their land. In this way, trust moves from practical rationality for self fulfilment to a rationality that is more open to altruism, the human soul and to non-material values that bring inner peace to it. The historical Arab person enjoys these values stored in his tradition and collective memory, which have now to be contextualized in the changing globalized world otherwise they may appear obsolete however noble and well-intentioned they may be. Arabic poetry and literature, past and present, oral and written, have always chanted these humanist values.
Thirteen, if the term of Trust State is new, its fundamentals exist in parts in premodern and modern Arab-Islamic thought. In premodern Arab-Islamic political theology, it was not “sharia law” that was the State apparatus that had to be applied by hook or by crook, simply because there were different schools, and there is no one single Islamic authority; diversity of legal theories played a positive role in Islamic social life, and the nation State now has turned this diversity into a serious problem; the nation State requires one single authority, one law for one land. In premodern times, overall, it was sharia ethics, not law per se, that mattered; it was for society and moral judges who had their ways of flexibility to uphold them; law meant ethics and vice verse; religion was a civil society matter in the first place. This premodern idea of morality as the élan of religious law is fundamental in societies that aspire for change because it plays a dynamic role in combating corruption and injustices. “Thick sharia ethics,” i.e. moral rectitude and good deeds for public good, are the driving force of civil society in Trust State.
In modern and contemporary eras, we find that most of critical [read progressist] theologians, philosophers and political theorists that have emerged in the Arab world during the last two centuries have tried to adopt the concept of secularism without totally wiping out religion because of its moral strength; the nation State does not care about ethics if they do not impact its standing; hybrid modern Arab States could not solve this predicament with genuine political and legal theories, also because the colonial administration intervened for its own interests to maim social laws and religious authority where it saw fit and abolished it where it saw fit for its own interests. Endowments that were fundamental in sustaining autonomy of religious authority and various social services were abolished by the colonial administration since that threatened its power and also since that brought a lot of wealth to the state through confiscation (of endowments).
Modern Arab theologians and philosophers could not, however, propose a new name for the modern State they theorize; they have generally kept the dichotomous terms of “secular” vs. “religious” running though they are critical of them since they have gained negative meanings in the Arab-Islamic domain for various reasons, as seen above. For this reason we propose here a new concept: “Trust State.”
“Trust State” is generally a synthetical and analytical result of both Arab socio-political and intellectual debates of especially the last half century. It is particularly one possible political manifestation of “Trusteeship Paradigm” that is proposed by the “formidable” and challenging work of the Moroccan logician-philosopher Taha Abderrahmane (b. 1944). In his philosophy, he critiques both (Euro-)secularism or what he calls (addahrāniyya, a term close to what I have earlier called worldification) and deformed political Islam that sticks to law and disregards the fundamental part of ethics in the tradition.
We believe that Taha Abderrahmane’s defence of renewing Arab philosophy, his philosophy of ethics, his defence of ethics as the essence of wo-man and their interaction, have played a substantial role in finding in his concepts and their content an answer to worrisome questions that we have been carrying and constantly examining for years. However, an important note has to be made. While his project stands unique in the vast Arab-Islamic world, we have borrowed from it only what concerns us most: the future of Arab politics and political philosophy. Seeing that Arab politics and intellectual production are pluralist and belong to various trends, we have still borrowed the concept of Trust, and conceptualized Trust State since that fits our analytical reading of modern Arab political thought. That is why Trust State as we conceive of it here is pluralist, and cannot claim to be building on one particular Arab philosophical project of those that have been in the scene for the last half a century, not to say for the last two centuries-plus of encounter with the modern Europe.
Trusteeship paradigm of Taha Abderrahmane focuses on the individual human being and on the integrity of their morals first, before that of society. His theory of ethics equates religion with ethics, ethics with reason, and reason with doing or practice. That is, the essence of religion and the aim of reason for him is ethical practice. Because the individual is what society counts on first in its reforms, we see that this part of his work answers what a new and modern state in the Arab world requires, a new individual, a new spirit that is able to build a new society based on its own tradition.
Still, the multiplicity of ethical interpretations in Arab pluralist societies where the individual has to be free to adopt her/his own ethical model or worldview oblige us to make ethics a negotiated topic in the public sphere based on what we have termed “transformative dialogue”, which Abderrahmane calls “attahāwur” (from the Arabic root H-W-R). Ethics in our Trust State moves from being primarily an individual concern to being the driving force for a new social project; ethics becomes the energy of “trust social contract” to which various orientations contribute, be they religious, philosophical-moral, or ideological. Trust becomes the social ethic of the new state to reach perpetual stability despite diversity. That is why Trust State is inclusive of other political-philosophical projects in the Arab world, especially those led by visionary political theorists like the Moroccan Mohammed Abed al-Jabri (d. 2010), who had a clear view of how the modern Arab state should look like, and who had a complementary impact in conceptualizing this “trust social contract” through his [Gramscian] concept of “historical block”, the Egyptian Hassan Hanafi (b. 1935) and the Syrian Tayyeb Tizini (b. 1934), to name these leading examples from various geographies of the Arab world, that all aspired to bring back Arab (political) philosophy to human history and world scale but always by starting locally from the tradition itself. These are free Arab philosophers since they have freed their philosophical projects from both the “premodern past” and from the “Euro-modern present.” As to some Arab Euro-liberal philosophers, the Arab philosophers that call for a total break with the tradition which they do not examine in its totality and in-depth, they are actually only half-liberals; they free themselves from the Arab tradition to embrace the European one without critique; there is no liberty in this; they could not see hegemony in Euro-modernity that blocks change elsewhere; they missed to play the important role of being critical, and of being close to their societies. Still, they cannot be excluded from “trust social contract” because their intellectual contribution to the debate is respected and they have their follows that are correcting-reading them according to social needs; they contribute to the internal diversity of the new Arab world.
Freedom and plurality in modern times and the multiplicity of ethical references make what we have called above “historical ethics” more likely to avoid the trap of the State as the guardian of ethics or religion or human morality in general. Transformative dialogue would prevent the ideological manipulation of religion or any moral reference. We are convinced that strongly linking religion and ethics in contemporary political thought is too hard a wish to realise to the extent of impossibility. Ethics inspired by the idea of transcendental infinity are becoming more and more a need for ordinary human beings because transcendence ideally liberates and does not enslave, unless blindly or irrationally followed; infinitude keeps human reason alert against exploitation that markets and corrupt institutions sell to ordinary people. Religious ethics will, and should, remain a source of inspiration for individual liberty, ethical internal growth, and civil society solidary engagement, independent of, or in the least in parallel with, Trust State institutions.
Fourteen, we come then to the conclusion that our Trust State leaves the field of ethics and its elementary determinants to individuals and religious and non-religious groups, while focusing on public ethics that frame society and bring it out of rulers’ injustice and the oppression of the corrupt, according to what the nation’s majority agree upon. Ethics are here conventional, because the State’s role is not to define ethics, but rather to preserve them as the people want them. Societies in transition or in periods of deep conflict need ethics the most to build trust. There is no trust without ethics, and no ethics without trust.
Fifteen, the Arab world might fall into another external project of division, and there are various signs that do not speak otherwise, especially that (a) the multiple interventions in Syria-post-2011 have complicated the region and intensified its sectarianism as never before in modern Arab history, that (b) “Daesh” is being used as the new only threat in the region, which all big powers and small countries are fighting with no success, to the surprise of the intelligent and the naive, and that (c) the Kurds have taken action for regional autonomy, an act which may pave the way for the establishment of Greater Kurdistan in the region, or at least for the revival of the idea. That is something which we do not wish to see, because it complicates further the situation of the region and pushes it into future lasting wars and resentments. It is not easy to forget the long lasting limitations of the Sykes-Picot agreement. Even if it is a colonial heritage, the nationalisms that were later formed post-Sykes-Picot have remained controversial but have also traced an identity in the concerned Arabs’ geographical memory; offending this modern collective memory and re-dividing it again would plunge the region in discourses and movements “against neo-imperialism”, borders’ conflict, long-term enmities, and instability for decades to come. Any new division of the region would prevent progress in Arab political thought, and overall Arab culture, and pull it back again to the defensive; this is already the case. The masses’ resentment for the ethical downfall of the “political West” would increase, which terrorists, extremists and populists from various camps capitalize on. Neighbours would not trust then any new political formation in the region; regional and international coalitions would be redesigned; safety and security would be lacking; and the wished for modern sovereign nation State, constitutionally democratic, would be impossible to establish – however fragile may be this modern nation State in global times and within global-international institutions and corporations that hijack the basics of democracy, i.e. representation of citizens. For the sake of reinforcing what remains of the internal order so as to build a stable first and a better future next, it is necessary to work with the different opposing intellectual and ideological tendencies in the Arab world; this internal dialogue has to be sincere to build “trust social contract”, where difference is recognized and accepted for the sake of public good. This has to take place locally, regionally and nationally. Trust starts home. Internal democratisation and guaranteeing the trustees’ rights is the basis of Trust Sovereignty. Without a consolidated Trust State, external and regional hegemony would prevail and expand, religion and local traditions would be targeted as the cause of all trouble, and more human lives would be lost in the age of extreme opportunism, nationalistic-opportunistic modernity, human superficiality and thingification of wo-man.
May trust reign and rule, East and West, North and South!
Photo Credit Marwan Naamani / AFP
 So far, I have briefly introduced this paradigm here: “Taha Abderrahmane’s Trusteeship Paradigm: Spiritual Modernity and the Islamic Contribution to the Formation of a Renewed Universal Civilization of Ethos,” Oriente Moderno, Volume 95, Issue 1-2, pages 67 – 105; “The Question of Ethics: Taha Abderrahmane’s Praxeology and Trusteeship Paradigm,” Resetdoc, 17 November 2014, https://www.resetdoc.org/story/00000022452
 M. Hashas, “Revisiting Historical Relations between Europe and the Islamic World: Three Fertilizing Periods,” Resetdoc, 03 January 2014, https://www.resetdoc.org/story/00000022324
 M. Hashas, “Optimism as a Moral Duty: Overcoming Mutual Suspicion in Europe,” Resetdoc, 24 October 2015, https://www.resetdoc.org/story/00000022595
 “Does the Arab Spring Think?” Resetdoc, 25 February 2014, https://www.resetdoc.org/story/00000022352
 M. Hashas, “Mohammed Abed al-Jabri: the Future of the Arab World?” Resetdoc, 27 December 2014, https://www.resetdoc.org/story/00000022474