Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Critique on Salwa Ismail’s The Paradox of Islamist Politics

One thing that I would like to argue in this article is the meaning of “Islamist Politics.” What criteria (if there’s any) constitute the politics of Islamists within the context of Islam? Are we inclined to say that being political resembles the meanings of art of governance and/or procedural matters of organizing communities, governments or states? Is there a demarcation when we say Politics of Islam or Islamic Politics? My hunch is that it is problematic when certain (Muslim or stealth Muslim) groups present its case and validate and color their agenda based on personal interests and expediencies by extracting text(s) from Islamic sources, thus in turn politicizing Islam (a new form of Islam takes place, whereby the pristine message was immensely distorted). I have no sheer problems with the use of Islamic politics for, historically speaking, Islam and socio-politics is deeply integrated concerning human conducts and morality.
     Ismail outlined the findings of Olivier Roy study entitled The Failure of Political Islam, whereby Roy accounted three reasons: 1) A shift from internationalism (espousing the idea of Pan-Islamism or ummah) to nationalism, 2) Domestic movements focused on ‘neo-fundamentalist’ ideals such as morality concentrating on Shari’ah law, and 3) At the individual level, Islamists are swallowed up by cultural consumerism. Thus he concluded “Islamization is no longer a project involving takeover of state power but a process unfolding at a distance from the state.” However, Ismail contended his view that Islamist Politics still remain within the fulcrum of Muslim civilization through apolitical activities and that is what he called a paradox in itself, e.g., social and economic activities from the outskirts of political outcomes. Influencing the societal grassroots through hands-on activities, for example, financial support to martyr families, imposing what is morally ‘haram’ or ‘halal’, and giving advices to social and psychological problems of different member strata of the society. I would concentrate whether Islam is in itself political or there are other variants that may categorize it as parcel of other disciplines.  
     Fred Halliday[i] presented some unrelenting arguments that Islam cannot dictate politics because Islam itself is politically and socially contingent. He opined that “Islamic movements, e.g. Iranian Revolution, which uses Islam as a justification for political action, do not represent the essential origins or causes of the problem, but, it is rather a response to current problems often of a social and political nature. Ali Shari’ati has an interesting view why movements of such nature like this occur, he emphasized “epistemological privilege of the poor,” differentiating the oppressed from the oppressors.  Shari’ati’s thinking was based on an analytical distinction between two alternative types of Islam: a static Islam characteristic of the oppressors and a dynamic, liberating Islam committed to the oppressed. It is the duty of what he calls the “free thinker,” who is conscious of his own human condition and the condition of his society and of the period in which he lives.[ii] 
     Halliday raised mythical issues of Islamic incompatibility with democracy, of terrorism, and of the ‘necessary enemy’ of the West. On the other hand, Nazih Ayubi[iii] refutes the Western invented myth that Islam by its very nature a ‘political’ referring to some unfair historical accounts, e.g. Islam was a religion that established itself by military conquest. I opined that such distortion of historical facts based on who is telling the story and for what purpose lead to varied misinterpretations of what is true and not. This creates psychological effects, disturbances and nuance perceptions toward the other (referring to the Middle East). One problem that I also see here is the lack of supreme authority or the common Western question ‘who speaks for Islam’. For example, when a group of Muslims from the Far East inquire regarding confusing conceptions and notions about Islam, who will decide on the matter? I would argue that the highest possible decision making system in the Muslim world will be based on consensus, agreement of the majority from different ulamas, scholars and experts. But this premise is also delimited by fragmented representations of Muslim scholars from different parts of the world; in this case you can cite examples like the London-based International Institute of Islamic Studies, the Royal Institute in Jordan, Iranian’s clergy and other institutions vying for supremacy about who should lead them and be crowned the supreme authority in Islam. 
     The traditional meaning of Jihad was also altered due to the underlying circumstances besetting the socio-political environments of the people living in the Middle East, and consequently, Western media sensationalized and selected words that justify their claims. Lisa Anderson[iv] talks about the circumstances that foster radical political strategies, and not confine in Islam alone, conceivably resort to violence, foster radical movements and independent of the content of Proletariate. Olivier Roy[v] presented the different views of neofundamentalists (Salafis and Wahhabis) and the Islamists stating that the former reject all that of West (modernization, democracy, human rights) and maintain as tool for deculturation and deterritorialization while the latter accept consciously some borrowed notions on Western political sciences (revolution, freedom, nationalism). Peter Mandaville[vi] talks about broad-based Islamists ideologies derived from Jamaat al-Ikhwan al Muslimin movement from Egypt (based on the teachings of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al-Banna that had precipitated the establishment of Muslim Brotherhood, HAMAS, al-Nahda in Tunisia and the National Islamic Front in Sudan as prominent Islamist ‘political’ parties) and Jama’at-I Islami movement from Pakistan (based n the teachings of Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi that had precipitated the establishment of the Islamic Foundation and Hizb ut-Tarir in UK).
     Consequently, the state of difficulty I can see here is how the media framed Islam in a way that makes it an existential threat to the West or any countries that believed in democratic ideals and equating it to several human problems, i.e. terrorism, poverty, human rights’ violations, and etc. I shall leave this concern to the readers and hopefully we may cite or suggest measures on how to counter this appalling situation besetting the Muslim world.


[i] Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris, 1996), Ch. 1.
[ii] See Amr G.E. Sabet, Islam and the Political: Theory, Governance and International Relations (London: Pluto Press, 2008), p. 50.
[iii] Political Islam (London: Routledge, 1991), Ch. 1.
[iv] “Fulfiling Prophecies: State Policy and Islamist Radicalism” in John L. Esposito (ed) Political Islam: Radicalism or Reform? Boulder: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1997.
[v] Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (London: C. Hurst and Publishers, 2004), Chs. 6 and 7.
[vi] Global Political Islam (New York: Routledge, 2007), Chs. 8-10.