At issue | Various articles, columns and editorials on Mideast revolts
The turmoil in the Middle East is affecting everyone, including us in America. Egypt is boiling over, having forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah toppled the elected government by demanding that Lebanese courts pretend that Hezbollah operatives did not assassinate the previous prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
In Iraq, al-Qaida is bombing civilians. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has temporarily suppressed the popular protests against the fake figures he used to declare himself democratically elected. Food prices are rising everywhere due to global warming, precipitating further protests.
How can the Middle East survive this "perfect storm"?
We all should look back at the difference between the French and American Revolutions, using the stages of religious sophistication described in James W. Fowler's Stages of Faith.
The theoreticians of the American Revolution stated their case in the Federalist Papers, using arguments on the Stage 5 (social contract) level. They called for a balanced separation of powers. The authors became leaders, creating and guiding the stable new government.
In France, the revolution was taken over by Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins, a political club, using much less sophisticated Stage 3 (mutuality) arguments. The French Revolution rapidly deteriorated into a reign of terror.
We have seen in the Middle East how easy it is to remove one tyrant, only to bring in another. The revolution in Iran morphed into a fundamentalist regime supporting the lying tyranny of Ayatollah Mohammed Ali Khamani and Prime Minister Ahmadinejad.
In the Gaza Strip, the Gazans voted out the corrupt Fatah, only to get a Hamas regime that has "volunteered" them to be martyrs for Islam, whether or not they wanted this.
So, with the euphoric enthusiasm at present in Egypt, how can the Egyptians avoid a new tyranny?
Stage 3 groups often think a society is an individual writ large. They assume that removing culprits will automatically bring needed changes. After all, we all accept the Golden Rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the legislator of the Iranian revolution, expanded the prophet's permission that an endangered individual may deceive (taqiyya) to survive, by claiming that a government could lie to survive. Khamani and Ahmadinejad have fully misused this decision. In contrast, we must understand that social change needs more preparation than individual changes, and must obey more careful rules.
An ocean liner needs a trained crew, and takes much longer to turn than a speedboat.
Stage 3 thinkers do not need to fall into tyranny.
There are two levels within Stage 3 thought: those who "know" the truth and despise those who lack that knowledge; and those who can think beyond the box. The former are closed-minded, while the latter are willing to walk in another's shoes.
The Hebrew Bible parallels the Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:18) with a Greater Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:34), "The stranger who lives with you shall be treated like the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself." for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Jesus put the same idea in different words when he stated that the Good Samaritan treated a "stranger" as a "neighbor" (Luke 10:29-37).
People can advance only one stage at a time, since arguments two or more stages more sophisticated than theirs will go over their heads.
The prophet Muhammad led the Arab tribes from the Jahiliyya ("ignorance") Stage 2 thinking, that of instrumental hedonism, to Stage 3 thought. Muhammad, throughout his life, understood other people's perspectives, but only during his last years did he find a public language for the more sophisticated open stance.
Most of the Qur'an reflects the absolutist certainty of early Stage 3. It confirmed previous revelations without distinguishing them (cf. Sura 2:285): "We make no distinction between any of His messengers."
However, the latest Suras recognize many perspectives (Sura 5:51, cf. Sura 3:199). They state, "There is no compulsion in religion" (Sura 2:256). Muhammad removed the Sura prescribing the stoning of women and added that four witnesses (not two) were needed to bring an adultery conviction (Sura 24:4).
He recognized ahl al-kitab, other monotheistic religions, and maintained the verses (Sura 5:23; 7:137; 17:7-8) indicating that Banu Israel had first rights to the Holy Land.
Islam has the religious resources to support the more sophisticated levels of thought. Egyptian graduate students can supply such sophistication, understanding that higher stages need complex arguments beyond tweeting and soundbites.
With Stage 5 sophistication they can formulate a real representative democracy.