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October 2008

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States Without Citizens: Understanding the Islamic Crisis

Reviewed by John M. Handley, Ph.D.

imageJohn W. Jandora, States Without Citizens: Understanding the Islamic Crisis, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Security International, 2008 [ISBN 978-0-313-35590-5] 91 pages.

Dr. Jandora, a Middle East scholar, earned his BA in Government and International Relations at Georgetown University in 1969, a master’s degree in Arabic and Islamic History from the University of Chicago in 1974, and a doctorate in Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago in 1981.  He is the author of Militarism in Arab Society: An Historical and Bibliographical Sourcebook, Saudi Arabia: A Cultural Behavior Handbook, and The March from Medina: A Revisionist Study of Arab Conquests.  A retired U.S. Marine Colonel, Dr. Jandora served in Vietnam and both Gulf wars.  As an intelligence analyst working for the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he deployed twice to Baghdad as a senior advisor in the Iraqi national security arena and also served as the senior advisor to the military and technical schools of the Saudi Arabian National Guard. 

His latest book, States Without Citizens, is not the usual broad brush macro view of the Middle East, but rather a relatively narrow and in-depth study of one aspect of Middle Eastern culture – citizenship – or more specifically the various reasons why many people of Middle eastern countries simply find it hard to identify with this term.  Dr. Jandora begins his explanation with the evolution of the terms “freedom” and “citizen” from Classical Greek and Roman works and explains how Muslim scholars, after translating the Classical literature into Arabic, attempted to fit these Western concepts into their belief system.  In most cases, the “fit” did not work very well.  For example, Constitutionalism in Islamic society differs from Constitutionalism in the West, in which in the latter, “citizens adopt constitutions to define the concept and capacity of the state,” while in the Islamic world, “states adopt constitutions to define the concept and capacity of  the citizen” (8). 

Dr. Jandora states that modernization efforts have replaced institutions but not values.  This disconnect between reforms and ethics “accounts for the disconnect between achievement and aspiration: the ultimate cause of the crisis of Islamic society” (11), which one can readily see through the violent resolution of communal differences in Algeria, Sudan, Pakistan, and Indonesia; the inability to create national reconciliation in Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan; the physical attacks on freethinkers in Egypt and Iran; and various loyalties and causes that defy state borders.  Among the latter, one should count the mujahideen who do not act as citizens of a state but as Muslim brothers who claim to fight for human redemption and their version of the “truth.”    

Dr. Jandora explains the evolution and development of Humanism in the West and the impact Humanism had on various Islamic scholars, most notably Ibn Khaldun. Unfortunately, Ibn Khaldun came to the conclusion, shared today by many Muslims, that the tribe, not the state (polis) represented the nucleus of society.  Ibn Khaldun and other scholars also had to deal with the very real problem that the ulema, or religious society, had already defined both what was knowable and what was worth knowing through “rational intellectual pursuit and mystical experience” (19), and all Islamic scholars agreed, lest one be called a heretic, that dogmatic theology superseded philosophy.  Ibn Khaldun even established a list of forbidden subjects which included philosophy, astrology, and alchemy.  These disciplines could only be studied if the scholar refuted them. 

Thus by the fourteenth century, with many cross-cultural contacts in and around the Mediterranean, the West was moving toward free thinking while the East was moving toward even greater dogmatism.  This conservative move was, and still is, reflected in the dilemma over bid’a, or innovation, a term not used in the time of Mohammad, which leads some of today’s Muslims to renounce scientific inventions to the detriment of attempts to embrace modernization and to manipulation by anti-Western ideologues. 

As Dr. Jandora points out, “the primacy of religious guidance marks the contemporary and enduring contrast between Islamic and Western sociopolitical thought” (32).  For those of the Islamic faith, survival is the way to salvation, for through survival Muslims accomplish their historic mission of the subjugation of all mankind under a just (read Islamic) form of rule.  This mission starts with the kin group, the tribe.  For a Muslim, the individual interacts indirectly with the state as kinsman or brother; this relationship is communalism (group-centric); ethically one must favor others over self; right conduct comes from kin-group loyalty; and kin-group loyalty amounts to kin-group exclusiveness.  To contrast with the West, an individual interacts directly with the state as a citizen; this relationship is citizenship; ethics (or right conduct) is reciprocity; the impulse to right conduct is civic virtue; and civic virtue amounts to involvement (34-35).

Although numerous Islamic reformers have attempted to modernize Islamic society by adopting Western institutions and models, most have failed in large part because they attempted to replace or redefine state power as opposed to addressing civic ethics.  The Islamic world has yet to embrace the ideas of civic activism or public service.  The Islamic moral ethic strives for salvation while the social ethic strives for clan domination.  In order to mitigate Islamic violence within the Islamic society and between that society and the West, Dr. Jandora recommends the West assist Islamic states in the creation of culturally authentic institutions that will instill a civic ethic of common cause and public service.    

States Without Citizens is an excellent, scholarly study of the difference between the West and the Islamic world over concepts Westerners usually assume have universal meaning, such as freedom and citizenship.  Yet in addition to explaining how the societies arrived at their differing positions, Dr. Jandora makes specific recommendations for establishing civic ethics and the concept of public service in Islamic societies that are based on Islamic cultural experiences.  For anyone in the diplomatic, military, business, or educational field dealing with any portion of the Islamic world, this small book will be truly invaluable.


Colonel (ret.) John M. Handley, Ph.D., American Diplomacy Publishers Vice-President for Outreach, is Adjunct Professor of International Relations for Webster University's Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB campuses. Col. Handley spent most of his Army career in military intelligence, including as Dean of the School of Attaché Training at the Defense Intelligence College, and Deputy, Resource Management, for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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