Sunday, February 28, 2010

Schuon's "connection with Islam" not "absolutely essential"?

A correspondent has drawn my attention to an interesting article, and asked an interesting question.

The article is Renaud Fabbri, "The Milk of the Virgin: The Prophet, the Saint and the Sage," which appeared in Sacred Web 20 (Winter 2007). It is available directly from the Bloomington "World Wisdom" website. Given this, it certainly does not contradict the current consensus of the Bloomington community.
The central argument of the article is that Schuon should be "understood neither as the founder of a new religion (a prophet in the classical sense of the word) nor as a Muslim saint, but as a universal sage." The article disagrees with my analysis (in Against the Modern World) that Schuon progressively moved away from a starting point in Sufi Islam as "typically modernist and psychological" in its assumption that Schuon's positions evolved. In fact, argues Fabbri, there was "a progressive unveiling" of what had always been there. "The growing emphasis of the late Schuon on primordiality and universality did not represent a deviation but corresponded to a final, yet perfectly natural crystallization revealing that, to some degree, Schuon's connection with Islam was not absolutely essential." In fact, the "undeniable connection of Schuon with Islam did not mean however that his message was intrinsically Islamic."

The difference between Fabbri and myself is partly about timing and partly about method. Fabbri and I seem to agree on how Schuon was seen and saw himself at the end. The question is whether this position evolved, or was always there. The method of the historian assumes that nothing is pre-ordained, and everything develops, to some extent by chance. Fabbri's method assumes the contrary.

Now to the question:
As a Muslim (but by no means an 'aalim/scholar), I am surprised that, in spite of works like yours and other recent ones which shed more light on Schuon's beliefs and practices, there has than been so little response from traditional Islamic spiritual authorities as to the standing of Schuon as a Shadhili "Shaykh" and the Maryamiyyah as a Shadhili "tariqah". It now seems there is little doubt as to how Schuon viewed his function and message; articles such as Rennaud Fabbri's "The Milk of the Virgin: the Prophet, the Sage, and the Sage" emphasise that, due to Schuon's "supra-confessional" starting point and standing, it would be a mistake to confine the Schuonian message and function within Islam and subject to the Islamic criteria for judging orthodox Shaikhs and Tariqahs. To me the Perennialists' writings that have appeared after Schuon's death effectively place Schuon's "religio perennis/pure esoterism" beyond the criteria and authority of Islam/traditional sufism and basically ask us to accept whatever Schuon said ultimately on the basis of his own authority (or, for the Perennialists, the authority of the "Intellect"). Such being the case, where is the response of traditional Islam/Sufism? Is it because Schuon's/Pernnialist writings have not been translated into Islamic languages and therefore generally not known? Or is it that Pernnialism is/was not taken that seriously in such circles and thought not worth responding to?
I think the answer to this may come in two parts. One part is that "traditional" Muslims, in contrast to Salafi Muslims, are very cautious indeed when it comes to takfir, to charges of heresy that potentially have the effect of excommunication. This is partly because of numerous hadith warning against this, partly because of adab, partly because of reluctance to cause fitna--and partly precisely because of Salafi enthusiasm for takfir.

The second part of the answer is that one has to make a distinction between the Bloomington community and the Maryamiyya as a whole. In Schuon's lifetime, Bloomington was more universalist than the worldwide Maryamiyya, which was more Sufi and Islamic, but the authority of the figure of Schuon kept these two trends from producing a split, rather as the authority of the figure of Tito kept Yugoslavia together. Since Schuon's death there seems to have been a clear split--I say "seems" because I have not researched this properly. What are best known today are not the universalist Bloomington positions but the Islamic positions. The universalist Bloomington positions are so universalist that they need not concern Muslims, any more than the positions of--say--the Mormons need concern Muslims. And, given the split, the Islamic positions can be--and are--taken separately.

Whether this is as it should be is another question, and one that is not really the business of this blog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dugin's influence in France

A good survey of Dugin's influence in France: Stéphane François, "Alexandre Douguine et la droite radicale française," Fragments sur les Temps Présents, 9 avril 2009.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Hanifi Traditionalism Traditionalist?

Now we have the results of some research announced in 2007, a new thesis on someone who may be one of the most colorful Traditionalists ever, Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev, the founder of so-called "Hanifi Traditionalism." For those who know their Islam, "Hanifi" refers here not to the Hanifi madhhab but to the conception of the hanif, those such as Abraham who came before Islam but practiced a perfect monotheism.

Noukhaev is a Chechen, famous in Russia as a former mafia boss who played a leading role in the Chechen wars and in all manner of other murky events. He is of interest to this blog because his Hanifi Traditionalism was promoted in Russia by Alexander Dugin, and at first sight looked pretty Traditionalist.

Eduard ten Houten, the author of the new thesis, started off seeing Noukhaev as a Traditionalist, but his research led him to a different conclusion. Ten Houten’s thesis, “Blood, Power, Islam: The Life and Opinions of the Exemplary Chechen Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev,” (University of Amsterdam, 2009) is a beautifully written and exhaustively researched biography of Noukhaev that shows the origins, uses, and fate of his doctrine of Hanifi Traditionalism, developed in cooperation with Mansur-Machiej Jachimczyk, a Polish convert to Islam.

Wondering whether Noukhaev might be what I call a “soft” Traditionalist, ten Houten asks whether Hanifi Traditionalism could have come into being without Guénonian Traditionalism. This is a good question, and a good additional test of what is and is not Traditionalist.

And in ten Houten’s view, Hanifi Traditionalism fails the test. Noukhaev hardly needed metaphysics to tell him that something was wrong with the modern world: the appalling bloodshed and destruction in Chechnya certainly indicated a problem. Engels is a possible source for Noukhaev’s replacement of the standard two-part division into tradition and modernity with a three-part division into barbarism, tradition and modernity. Note that for both Engels and Noukhaev, barbarism is a positive, not a negative, concept. While Traditionalists commonly find their tradition in books and apply it in fairly abstract ways, Noukhaev found his barbarism in his own experience and applied it to a very concrete end: finding a basis for a possible settlement between the Russian state and the Chechen people that could be equally acceptable to both sides.

I am not so sure. Kazakh Eurasianism, in contrast to Hanifi Traditionalism, fits well enough with Dugin's ideas for an alliance, but without any Traditionalist elements. So there is no need to add the Traditionalist themes of decline, anti-modernism and religion to Eurasianism to get Dugin's support.

First finding something wrong with the modern world on a basis other than metaphysics does not stop someone being a Traditionalist. For nearly all Traditionalists, it is not Traditionalism that draws attention to the fact that there is a problem with the modern world, but Traditionalism that makes sense of that problem. Using other sources in a synthesis is also quite common: consider Dugin's use of Eurasianism, Schuon's use of Native American religion, and Evola's use of Nietzsche. And as for concrete ends, consider Evola, and Dugin himself.

If ten Houten is right and Noukhaev developed independently a doctrine which just happened to fit extremely neatly into Dugin’s Traditionalist conceptions, then we would need to rethink Traditionalism. Instead of a more or less unique philosophy developed by Guénon, Traditionalism would be one instance of something pretty widespread.

Even though I have just been challenging ten Houten's conclusions, I am still a fan of the thesis. Almost every available piece of the jigsaw seems to be there. It will, I hope, soon be published.

Kazakh Eurasianism not Traditionalist

A new thesis on Eurasianism in Kazakhstan: Nataliya Ludanova, "Kasachische Mission: Das eurasische Konzept in der Konstruktion der nationalen Idee in Nursultan Nazarbaevs Kasachstan" (University of Mainz, 2009/10).

Ludanova argues that under Nursultan Nazarbayev (pictured, president of Kazakhstan since independence and First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party before independence) Eurasianism has in effect become the official Kazakh state ideology. She shows the close links between Kazakh Eurasianism and Dugin, and explains why Eurasianism is attractive for the Kazakh regime.

What is most interesting is that what Kazach Eurasianism takes from Dugin's Eurasianism is really just the geopolitics. Though Ludanova does not say this explicitly, it seems that the esoteric and properly Traditionalist elements in Dugin's Eurasianism find no real echo in Kazakhstan. Neo-Eurasianism, it seems, has Traditionalist origins and underpinnings, but can function without them.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr and...

Question: Who, apart from Seyyed Hossein Nasr, has really used the intellectual tools of Western modernity to attempt to defend classic conceptions of Islam against Western modernity?

Many people have, of course, used the intellectual tools of Western modernity to try to bridge the gap between it and Islam, from Sayed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Abduh to Mohammed Arkoun and Abdullahi An-Na'im. This is the so-called “modernist” stream of Islam, and what emerges from it is rather different from classic conceptions of Islam. Many people have simply refused or attacked Western modernity and then moved on to (or back to) something else, but who apart from Nasr has produced an intellectually sophisticated justification for this?

Answer: All sugegstions welcome.

My thanks to TK for the conversation during which this point emerged.

New articles on Dugin

Several new articles (if you read Russian) in Форум новейшей восточноевропейской истории и культуры vol. 6, no. 2 (2009), published by the Eichstaett Institute for Central and East European Studies in Upper Bavaria, Germany. These include:
  • Marlene Laruelle (Institute for Development and Security Policy, Stockholm), "Aleksandr Dugin, ideologicheskii posrednik: sliianie razlichnykh doktrin pravoradikal'nogo politicheskogo spektra," p. 63
  • Leonid Luks, "'Tretii put'' ili nazad v 'Tretii reikh'? O 'neoevraziiskoi' gruppe 'Elementy'," p. 88
  • Anton Shekhovtsov (National Technical University of Sevastopol), "Palingeneticheskii proekt neoevraziistva: idei vozrozhdeniia v mirovozzrenii Aleksandra Dugina," p. 105
  • Andreas Umland (The Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt), "Patologicheskie tendentsii v russkom 'neoevraziistve': o znachenii vzleta Aleksandra Dugina dlia interpretatsii obshchestvennoi zhizni sovremennoi Rossii," p. 127