But the post-colonial state didn't stop at merely seizing control over the law; it sought to attain a much more far-reaching goal – a revolution in ethics and morals and an abolition of all "reactionary" values and traditions.

Targeting the moral order of society

This project found legitimisation in the ideology of modernisation, according to which the state was a revolutionary and highly advanced instrument for transforming and renewing a society that was considered outdated and backward. On this basis, the state took aim at society's moral order, trying to restrict it to the smallest possible niche in the form of matters of personal status and family law, which remained under the purview of the Sharia, or religious law.

Cover of Michel Seurat′s ″Syria – The state of barbarism″
Michel Seurat′s book pinpointed certain characteristics of authoritarian Arab statehood, which acts and exercises its power beyond the rule of law or institutional checks and balances. Its treatment of its own citizens – opponents or otherwise – is marked by unprincipled and unscrupulous behaviour

At the same time, the state instituted the legal framework that would govern the interests of the general public, conceiving it as the revolutionary instrument par excellence for the modernisation of society. This in turn meant that society, its moral and ethical value system, would henceforth no longer be independent of the state.

That said, the process did feature a couple of positive aspects. After all, the objective was not only to rationalise the law and morality, but also to place them under state authority. Rationalisation and growth formed the framework for the image dreamt of by the theorists of modernisation, inspired as it was by the ideal model offered by the Western states.

Yet, just as the return on an investment all too often falls far short of the original outlay, our states would not end up enjoying anything resembling this hoped-for and imagined condition. On the contrary, the state degenerated instead into an ugly monstrosity.

The problem is that the post-colonial Arab states had no moral or legal foundation that might have kept their own actions and their internal conflicts in check. Instead the ruling elites preferred to base the consolidation of their hegemony and power on brute force and the fanaticism of their particular communities.

Power relations have thus become the unofficial factor regulating the allocation of influence and wealth, along with a written canon of laws that no one actually heeds. In this way, the state has been able to unleash its prisons and security forces on the public, while degenerating into a condition of general venality and corruption, where bribery is the order of the day and theft is regarded as a sign of prowess.

The dissolution of the Arab state

The distinguishing feature of the Arab state, as Michel Seurat said of Syria at the time, is not its presence but rather its absence. This is also the case if we understand the state as the expression of an entity organised by a code of law, even one that may be flawed, inadequate and unjust. In our current situation, such a legal code is lacking altogether, as is an institutional form of any kind that might be able to put "fanatical tribal thinking" and ruthless violence in their place.

What is really tragic, though, is that society has been left bereft of its own moral system – one that might serve it as a higher authority and in which it could take refuge in order to regulate its own affairs and do so independently and detached from the state, in particular at a time when the state is in the process of dissolution or in agony.

It doesn't even matter what the standards and rules prescribe, or whether these meet our notions of justice or not. The main thing is that moral standards exist at all as a reference point and this is precisely what distinguishes the pre-colonial societies from the post-colonial states.

Today, however, these societies have no moral authority anymore on which their members might base their behaviour, which is why they have long been left exposed and naked in their confrontation with the state. At the same time, the barbaric state itself has no law or morality to supply to its own societies; it has nothing to give them. The barbaric state has thus succeeded in creating a society in its own image and paradigm.

Morris Ayek

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Morris Ayek is a Syrian publicist. Having gained a master's degree in electrical engineering and IT at Munich's Technical University, he went on to study the science and technology of philosophy.

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