Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006: The year secular nationalism handed the anti-colonialism torch to jihadi Islam

Syrian writer Hakam al-Baba writes in Al-Quds al-Arabi:

If 1996 was the year of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes that depended on it, 2006 deserves to go down in history as the year secular Arab nationalism finally passed away, after a lengthy struggle with illness, overcome by Islamist ideology which during the year cemented its control over the whole region, and was finally joined by the remnants of the Communist and the Arabist movements that had earlier been competing ideologies in this matter of opposing Western colonialism.

The collapse began a long time ago, with the 1967 defeat, and the process continued with the Egyptian recognition of Israel, the Jordanian expulsion of the Palestinian leadership, the creation of substitutes for the Arab League including a North African organization, one for the Gulf states, and so on, the various forms of support for the US in its attack on Iraq, and many events in between. There continued to be efforts to breathe life into the Arab secular-nationalist idea, including the [1972-77] Federation of Arab Republics [Libya, Egypt, Syria], the attempted union of Syria with Iraq, various treaties and so on, none of them successful.

All the while, Islam was silently at work, both in its "wilaya al faqih" version and its "caliphate" version [I am not exactly sure what he is getting at with this pairing; he suggests one is like a "government" party, the other like an "opposition" one]*, within Arab societies, distributing earthly and heavenly rewards and bribes, particularly after the definitive losses of the Iran-Iraq war and the various Arab-regime confrontations with fundamentalist jihadi groups. And it was finally in the year just past, 2006, that Islam was able to declare its final victory over that type of Arab nationalism that had been based on civil or secular concepts and projects, and the remnants of these earlier movements incorporated themselves into this new dominant form of anti-Western anti-colonialism, with for example the AlQaeda emirate in Iraq, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine.

[*Commenters helped out here. What this probably means is that both Shiite and Sunni Islam ("rule of the jurisprudent" of Iranian origin; and "califate" of Arab origin) generated jihadi movements that took over the ideas of anti-colonialism from the secular predecessors. An example of the first would be Hizbullah; and an example of the second would be Hamas. See the comments.]

Certainly, part of the reason for the triumph of jihadi Islam in the Arab world has to do with the ground having been prepared by the centuries-old wilaya al faqih and caliphate traditions, but another very important reason was that jihadi Islam offered to Arab populations a sense of confidence that they have been much in need of. The secular movements had limited themselves to "wars" in the radio-and-television sense. By contrast, the jihadi Islam movement was responsible for the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and later on the steadfastness of Hizbullah in the recent war; for the 9/11 attack on the America in its stronghold; for the serious losses inflicted on the American armed forces by AlQaeda in Iraq; Hamas has been able to show it can undermine the Israeli prestige; and so on. In these ways the jihadi organizations have been able to consolidate their control of the Arab street, and turn it (the Arab street) into an important power in the region for many years to come. And in the process, they have turned the earlier secular movements into so many museum exhibits, objects of no more than sympathy and pity.


Anonymous Vladimir said...

In regard to the different strains of Islamism I think he is pointing out that one is Pan-Islamist like Pan-Arabism and the other rule of the jurist strain is more similar to pluralistic nationalism.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Throughout all of these events, the Islam of the rule of jurisprudence (the ruler) [Shia] in Iran, and the Islam of the Caliphate (the opposition) [Sunni] in the Arab states."

I think al-Baba is getting at the simultaneous emergence of Shii and Sunni non-secular movements over secular movements (pan-Arabism, Arab socialism for example). At any rate, he asserts that groups such as Hamas, Hizballah, and al-Qaeda in Iraq have picked up the banner of anti-colonialism from their more secular antecendents.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous GJ said...

An interesting aspect of the Islamic revolution that goes un remarked upon is its echoes of the christian fundamental protestant revolution of the 15th and 16th centuries and the rise of Puritanism in the 17th.

As now, the movements were driven then by the external pressures to modernise caused by underlying economic imperatives. The big issue of the day was usuary (interest) so it had an element of judophobia as well. The pressures led to the widespread, multi national "back to basics" revolt against the existing order which was seen as decadent and corrupt and increasingly susceptible to secularisation.

The state apparatus Calvin set up in Geneva bears interesting parallels to that in Iran today, as do the strict social codes he imposed.
The Calvinists also exported their revolution to neighbouring states, eg Hugenots in France, rather echoing Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Having established the psychological security blanket provided by fundamentalist social values, Calvin was then able to write a treatise justifying usuary which in turn powered the protestants into leading the western world in modernisation and they became the vanguard of capitalism.

All this occurred about 15-16 centuries after the inception of christianity. How old is Islam today? About 15 centuries. Maybe what we are witnessing is the early stages of a significant Islamic leap forward?

Just a thought!

3:44 PM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

A better analogy would be Savonarola. It's also deeply unwise to assume that an orthopraxic religion will follow the same path as an orthodoxic one. The internal dynamics are very different. Westerners do this a lot. "Oh Islam will be fine when it grows up" is the unspoken and subtly contemptuous underlying assumption.

Yes Muslim societies are under great pressure and yes there's a very good case in Sunnah jurisprudence for the 'gates of ijtihad’ to be reopened - that's already happening. We need to always keep in mind that Islam is, as Gellner put it, the blueprint for a society and is thus intrinsically political. The gates were closed for internal political reasons they can be opened again for the same reasons.

What's entirely possible is the emergence of a school combining several strands of jurisprudence. It is profoundly unwise to assume that such a school would be either pro-western or inclined to take western developments as a role model.

Secularist nationalism was never anything more than a reaction to external pressures, and one that took an alien one social model as its basis at that. Al Baba is simply pointing out the obvious.

3:32 AM  
Blogger badger said...

thank you Doctor for this orthodoxical reportage on the disiecta membra of your orthopraxical elucidations

jg: please do not be deterred. yours was a thought-provoking post.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear that what's happening is the evolution of a modern secular Islamic culture. That's where reformation ends up. It's the final explosion of religious thought as such before it fades from relevance. It's also a flowering of course. Times of crisis produce active minds.

"It's also deeply unwise to assume that an orthopraxic religion will follow the same path as an orthodoxic one."

That's actually a great, really interesting thought (though it took me a minute).
As a secularist and a craftsman I look forward to the orthopraxic as opposed to an orthodoxic Enlightenment!
The age of novelists and lawyers and not of scientists. Its where we're at. I tell you, everything I've been arguing over for the last 20 years is dovetailing. Wouldn't it be a laugh if secular Islamic scholars were the next bunch to kick the Christian world into the future? The Jews did it last time.
Islam and the return of humanism. Bet on it.

10:16 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

Yes it was thought provoking and provoked a lot thought on my part. Given jg's other postings elsewhere I doubt that any discouragement will be felt. :-) Nevertheless the bane of western analysis is it's failure to recognise some very deep seated differences. First of all in the nature of the society under discussion and secondly in the nature of the religion which is the essence of that society.

I'm well aware of (and revel in) the benefits of western secularism, apart from anything else it gives me the freedom to live my life according to my religious beliefs and grants the same freedom(s) to others be they of a different religion/sect or of none.

There are similar traditions in Muslim thought. For example one of the most impassioned defenses of both freedom of thought and freedom of expression was written by Mullah Sadr. The key word though is similar. The values may be universal how they'll be applied isn't. Muslim societies are built upon Islam that's their core. Secularists simply fail to acknowledge that and think through all its implications. That's why secular analyses and any policy based upon such analysis fails.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

Thanks to all of you!

I certainly had to grab my dictionary when the word orthopraxical popped up. But I actually think I might be beginning to "get it." :-)

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Muslim societies are built upon Islam that's their core"
That's your generalization. But the core of Indonesia is not the core or Iran, or Saudi Arabia.
And the Italian communist party if it had ever taken control would never have committed mass slaughter on the scale of Stalin, though many people seem to think otherwise.

It's not impossible to make generalizations about culture and behavior, but policy wonks and political 'scientists' are not anthropologists, and rarely understand the difference.
I'd also never call secular culture western as such.

"That's why secular analyses and any policy based upon such analysis fails."
Again a generalization. And I don't know what 'secular analysis' is opposed to.
Is is a discussion of the policies of the PRC without an understanding of confucianism?
If so we agree, but again China is not Korea.
But it's perfectly reasonable to say the modernity and social and political individualism go hand in glove, on any continent. The question becomes how different societies under different conditions respond to the drive to modernize.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous GJ said...

MarkofIreland Thanks for your comments. I take your point about the pitfalls of looking at these issues through westernocentric eyes. However you should notice that I used the term "revolution" not "reformation" in relation both to the protestants and Islam. This was an attempt to indicate my theory was not suggesting the results of the Islamic revolution would be a mirror/apeing of the protestant one, but rather an Islamic "version" or interpretation of it? ie I was not seeing either as a "reformation" as Western/Christians would.

Also, I very much take your point Islamic values might be similiar/universal but the manner of their application might not be.
Indeed, one would hope not, given the examples of the excesses of western capitalist culture they will have the opportunity to steer clear of! To me, a revival of Islamic values and its injection into this world we live in is the hope of the future.

A few quibbles and request for clarifications:

"Muslim societies are built upon Islam, that's their core" - Wouldn't the same observation have been made about christian societies prior to the enlightenment?

Mullah Sadr. Your reference was Very Interesting. Do you have a link to his writings (in English translation?)

Savanarola. Well, yes. He'd be a patron saint of Wahhabism as practised by the Taleban? My sense is this is quite different to the Shiite Islamic revolution, although I am open to being corrected. For eg my understanding is the Shiite Islamic revolution provided for direct elections and is based on a notion of egalitarianism whereas Wahabbism does not and is not? Ergo my Shiite/Calvin equation.

Secular analyses. As I understand it, Judaism is another Orthopraxic religion? It was the first to secularise even before the expulsion to the Diaspora accelerated the process. If so, why should Islam not eventually follow the same path? Especially as secularism and religion are not mutually exclusive - from your account of your own experience you seem to agree with this proposition?

Maybe am still a '60s romantic idealist but I'm with d.ghirlandaio on the proposition Islam and the return of humanism!
A Golden Age beckoning for the end of this century? Maybe that's the meaning behind the myths of the return of 12th Imam and the second coming?

Finally, Mark, you were so right about my imperviousness to discouragement!

Badger: I too had to dive for the dictionary for "membra disiecta". Perfect. More please!

4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1996 wasn´t year of collapse SU, but 1991. Leon

3:06 PM  

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