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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘political Islam

Engaging critically with Islamists

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My recent “light reading” hasn’t turned out so well, but something from the cover (as far as I got) of Graham Fuller’s The Future of Political Islam struck me—in a good way.

According to reviewer Professor Fred Halliday:

Fuller argues persuasively that Islamic political movements are, above all, an engagement with the modern world, not a flight from it, and that it is possible to engage critically with their ideas.

I don’t yet know if this is really what Fuller argues—or if he does so persuasively—but if it is, I preemptively applaud him for his effort. As I have expressed previously, it is a common belief that Islam cannot be reasoned with. Or “engaged critically with,” for that matter.

This belief is tantamount to what I have called, in one case, “pleading insanity on behalf of … Islam.” And it may very well be one of the most destructive attitudes in Middle East foreign policy today.

I am not optimistic about reviewing Fuller’s book in the near future, but if the reader has some patience, I’m sure I will get to it eventually

Written by M. James

June 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm

An irony of Islamism

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So to follow up on this post, I read Robert R. Reilly’s Closing of the Muslim Mind in hopes of gaining a better understanding of what Reilly is all about. But before I start criticizing his understanding of Sunni Ash’arite occasionalism—something to be saved for later posts—I’ll say that he wrote a pretty good book. Not only is it an extremely accessible primer on Mu’tazilism and Ash’arism, but it also has an interesting take on modern Islamism as a totalitarian ideology. The only real problem is his thesis—that there is a causal link between Ash’arite ascendancy and modern Islamism.

But, ignoring that for a moment, here’s an interesting bit that relates to a recent post about Turks’ inability to break out of a Western framework, even when criticizing the West. Reilly seems to think that this inability plagues the entire Muslim world (p. 176):

As already stated, the Islamic world was jolted out of its several centuries of torpor only by intrusions from the West. By the early nineteenth century, the West had demonstrated such a decisive superiority over Islamic culture that Islam’s defensive attempts to recover from its influences have been indelibly marked by the very things against which Muslims were reacting. To resist the West, they became, in a way, Western. As Raphael Patai pointed out in The Arab Mind, the very standards by which Muslims measure their own progress are Western. This is amply evident in the UN Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arabs themselves. In a final irony, the most rabid ideological reactions against this state of affairs in the Muslim world are also infused with Western ideology. Islamists practice a perverse kind of homeopathy which uses the very disease from which they are suffering to combat it, but with dosages that are lethal.

Written by M. James

June 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

The Saudi dilemma

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Below is crucial analysis for understanding the ideological difficulties faced by Saudi Salafism (Wahhabism) within the context of the Arab Spring. I urge readers to access this article in its entirety before Stratfor re-erects its paywall.

Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood: Unexpected Adversaries
Stratfor; Mar. 5, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood has factored prominently into nearly every case of Arab unrest. The strength of the MB branches varies greatly from country to country, but even after decades of political repression, the MB and its affiliates have been able to maintain the largest and most organized civil society networks. When power vacuums are created in autocratic states, the MB networks are typically best positioned to convert public support for their social services into votes. This dynamic was most clearly illustrated in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing emerged as the single-largest party in the parliament. More liberal incarnations of the MB in Tunisia and Morocco also made significant political gains in 2011.

The unrest in Syria represents yet another complication for the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia is certainly enticed by the prospect of undercutting Iran’s leverage in the Levant, but it also cannot ignore the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as a powerful force in the opposition movement. The Sunni armed resistance operating under the label of the Free Syrian Army takes care to publicly distance itself from any Islamist ideology in the hopes of attracting Western support, but local anecdotes and the limited polling that has been done by journalists embedded among Sunni protesters has so far revealed strong support for the MB should the political struggle come to a vote.

Saudi Arabia is thus caught between a geopolitical imperative to contain Iran and a domestic strategic imperative to contain Islamism as a political force. This dilemma has put Saudi Arabia directly at odds with Turkey, the rising regional counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s co-collaborator in backing the Syrian Sunni opposition against the al Assad regime. Turkey’s own liberal Islamism, shaped by Sufi Islamic culture, Ottoman religious values and Kemalist secularism, is distinct from the MB’s conservative model of Arab Islamism and allows far more room for secularist practices, but the two strands share a basic ideological principle in using Islam as a path toward governance. Whereas Turkey is actively trying to mold the MB in Syria according to its own moderate Islamist vision, Saudi Arabia would like nothing more than to see the MB marginalized in the Syrian opposition.

Written by M. James

March 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm