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.

1 comment:

Eduard ten Houten said...

My thanks to Professor Sedgwick for the opportunity to respond to his criticism. There is much more in his post I'd like to discuss besides the following two points, but that will have to wait for another forum.

1. Separating “hard” and “soft” Traditionalism serves to make a distinction between those who openly acknowledge Guénon (which makes it Guénonian Traditionalism or “Traditionalism sensu Sedgwick”) and those who do not, yet who do appear to fit the conception of a Traditionalist sensu Sedgwick and (probably) took from Guénon. Hanifi Traditionalism is certainly not “hard”: it does not acknowledge Guénon directly. But is it a form of “soft” Traditionalism?

I asked if Hanifi Traditionalism could have come into being without Guénonian Traditionalism. My conclusion is that it did not need Guénon and that, therefore, it is not “soft”. I also think that it did need Mr. Dugin’s “hard” Traditionalism, but that this is insufficient for calling it “soft”. Drawing upon a “Guénonian” is not the same as drawing upon Guénon.

I also asked if there’s a paper trail and if Mr. Noukhaev and Mr. Jachimczyk owe an intellectual debt to Guénon. I concluded that there is some indirect influence and the trace of a trail (Mr. Jachimczyk may have read him much earlier than the late 1990s), but that both are very weak.

Writing history of ideas may take two opposite directions. In his book Mr. Sedgwick traces the influence of Guénon's ideas "up" through the 20th-century. I traced "down": not offspring, but the ancestry of a doctrine. Both approaches lead to a tree shape, one quasi focusing on the branches and the transfer of the family name (Guénon), the other on the roots and the blood.

Starting with Guénon might lead one to include it in a catalogue of Guénonian Traditionalism. But looking back, I find Guénon's contribution is simply too diluted, one among many other debts and trails (e.g. the Holy Quran, the Medina Charter, Friedrich Engels, Henri Bergson, Magomed Mamakaev, Montgomery Watt).

2. Mr. Dugin’s support for Kazakh neo-Eurasianism indeed shows that there is no need to add Traditionalist themes to Eurasianism to get Mr. Dugin’s support. My question, however, was not why Mr. Dugin collaborated with Mr. Noukhaev, but what led Mr. Noukhaev to adopt some of Mr. Dugin's ideas. Though I entertain the possibility in my thesis, I do not think that Mr. Noukhaev or Mr. Jachimczyk formulated their Traditionalism the way they did primarily to get his/Russian support.

Instead, they recognized that neo-Eurasianism’s theoretical love of difference allowed them to carve out a Chechen niche for their Barbarism to occupy. Their ideas had already begun to take shape, they had already begun to look to the past when they consulted Dugin’s works in the summer of 1998. Mr. Dugin's support for Kazakh Eurasianism says something about him, not about the genesis and development of Mr. Noukhaev’s ideas.