By YOUSEF DRUMMOND
ANY serious student of science these days propose ideas or conceptual assumptions about natural phenomena, only to discard them when systematic empirical observation can no longer support it.
The history of science is replete with exceptional persons who, in light of overwhelming scientific evidence, discarded conceptual assumptions about the workings of the Universe. Western philosophers of science often point to the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who in 1610 stirred the wrath of the Catholic Church when he demonstrated, with empirical evidence, that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of the Universe. To illustrate his point, he allowed prominent philosophers and mathematicians of his day to see with their own eyes the reality of Jupiter’s four moons.
If we turn our attention to the realm of psychoanalysis, its progenitor, Sigmund Freud, introduced a concept called the “ego”, which he assumed in convincing fashion is responsible for maintaining our natural impulses that originate from biological imperatives and moral injunctions we learn from our parents and the society at large. The problem, assert experimental developmental psychologists, who routinely conduct ethical experiments with children, is that there is no empirical evidence to support the “ego”; there is, to date, no empirical evidence to ascertain what an “ego” “is”. Even though this concept has entered our every-day conversation when speaking of others, empirical psychologists have largely discarded this concept.
Extend this analogy still further, this time, to modern philosophy. It was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who asserted that “knowledge” is not possible unless the human mind actively constructs it. Here he departs radically from rationalist philosophers such as Plato and Leibniz, who assert that our sense sometimes deceive us and thus “knowledge” from the senses are not reliable and sound. Other philosophers such as the German philosopher Hegel assert that Kant’s philosophy is not “radical” enough. While Kant is correct in suggesting that concepts are grounded in experience, he is incorrect in asserting that the mind is passive in relation to what it experiences. Hegel asserts that concepts are concretely grounded in experience when the mind is constantly active Concepts are not abstractions, but grounded in historical and social reality. with respect to what it experiences.
Earlier I asserted that Barack Obama’s rise to be the first African-American president of this nation is due exclusively to his masterful rhetorical training; this was evident in his campaign for the presidency, wherein he showed us an uncanny ability to use lofty concepts couched in phrases that are not grounded in historical and social reality. The progress of history, according to Hegel, is a dialectical process, and new concepts, which are grounded in and is a product of experience, arise from a synthesis of diametrically opposite concepts, and until we know for certain that new concepts arise from such a synthesis correspond as close as possible with historical and social reality.
In 1992 Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, an influential American philosopher, an admirer of Hegel’s philosophical thought and whom neo-conservatives champion as their ally, published an interesting work called The End of History and the Last Man, in which he argued that the progression of history as a struggle between ideologies is largely at an end. The world, including the Middle East, will eventually settle on a political strand of liberal democracy. Mr. Fukuyama is among the forty co-signers of a 2001 letter to President George W. Bush, suggesting that the U.S. “capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates”, and “provide full military and financial support to the ‘Iraqi opposition’ for the purpose of removing Saddam Hussein from power ‘even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack’”.
This little book is the neo-con’s inspiration for transplanting representative democracy throughout the world (including Iraq and Afghanistan), and its importance on the world stage became crucial after the horrific events of the 9/11 attacks on American soil, with the then-president implementing an aggressive campaign to wage a “war on terror”.
To set the stage for “war”, throughout history governments often use words and phrases to define the problem set before them but in the end the very phrase takes on a “mind of its own”. This is because the conceptual framework embedded in such phrases turn out to be more harmful than they are beneficial, both for the society whom the government wishes to insulate and for other societies that face the devastating consequences of such a war. The U.S. government, in its efforts to insulate its society from future terrorist attacks, has justified far-reaching unnecessary military campaigns and intensified a potential “firestorm” of future attacks. We have already witnessed the devastating consequences of this war on “terror” on Afghan and Iraqi society, with thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians dead and millions upon millions of tax-payer dollars wasted.
This war on “terror” implicates a war without end. This is because “terror” implies a conceptual framework rife with absolutes, such as “light” and “darkness”, or a war of “good” against “evil”.
When will this war against “evil” end? The sad implication of this concept is that this war will never end, because “good” and “evil” are abstract concepts. The war does not target specific enemies, who in reality form groups with conflicting aims.
We are witnessing a war on abstract concepts that are not grounded in material reality.
Some governments are now painfully aware of this error, with the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, saying that the phrase should never have been adopted because it gives “the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda” when “the reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate”. In fact, the concept “terror” has instead unified disparate terrorist groups, like moths to a flame.
DailyMuslims columnist Yvonne Ridley wrote more than a year ago an insightful article, telling its readers that the world community must negotiate with Hamas (November 13, 2007). I invite readers to read this article again. Western governments are slowly gravitating toward this prospect.
If the war is to end, the war should focus on specific enemies who commit murderous acts in the name of a glorious religion by minimizing collateral civilian and material damage, and utilize diplomatic weapons aimed at negotiating future political settlements.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org