This essay simply presents limited findings of understanding whether there are elements of comparison between Islamism and Zionism. It will first introduce their history very briefly, then, survey some of selected thinkers and their contributions to the literature, and lastly, finding elements of tangency or mutual comparisons from their extracted histories and thinkers’ contributions between them. Further, the representation of findings are delimited due to the author’s ‘still’ lack of extensive knowledge regarding the field of Zionism and readers may find it having unequal treatment between the two concepts – mea culpa.
A Brief Historical Introduction and Evolution
One climatic historical event that caused discords and decline of a 6-century Islamic scholarship that later paved the way for the triumphant of legalistic interpretation of Islam, which later gave birth to a political ideology, i.e, Islamism, was the Mongolian invasion to Muslim lands in early 13th century. Although at the latter part, Mongols eventually converted to Islam. Islamic philosophy and mysticism became dormant while Islamic jurisprudence gradually dominated the debates and earned recognition and millions of followers particularly from major groups and sectors of Sunni and Shi’a.
The intensification of legalistic interpretation intermittently increased and materialized as result of exogenous events such as the colonial regimes of Western powers to Muslim lands, post-Nasserism era (the failure of Pan-Arabism), 9/11 event, the US-led ‘War on Terror’ against non-state terrorists groups and its networks and state-sponsored terrorism across the Broader Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) regions to Southeast Asia, which all had led to the ramifications and evolution of a new radical understanding often referred to as Political Islam movement and/or Islamism.
As for the Zionist movement, this transgressed over the canonical Jewish laws to political movements as a result of the increasing anti-Semitism experienced by Jews in European countries in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. It is a religious and spiritual struggle for more than 2,000 years of living in Diaspora and belief of a Messiah who will lead them to salvation from their current unpleasant state and conditions of having an oppressed and marginalized life. Zionism has many faces and forms, be they be religious, labor, revisionist, green or political, all conform to the same denominator of claiming a return to the Zion (Jerusalem) and taking what they have before, i.e., the Eretz Israel (land of Israel) as promised to them by God.
However, the political Zionist movement had dominated the debates and discourse in the Zionist literature and public life. Jews who long for emancipation and can no longer accept oppressions and humiliations they receiving from the Europeans have traveled from West to East and seek refuge to the former Ottoman controlled ‘Palestine’. The movement was also influenced by the idea of nation-state system referring to the Peace of Westphalia. They decided to take their destinies into their own hands and did not wait for divine intervention. Secular Zionist scholars like Theodor Herzl have led the movement and formed the first Zionist organization in 1890s. The primal aim of the organization is to seek a national homeland for Jews so as to transpire and materialize their aspiration for self-determination and security against the threats of anti-Semitism. They were also some small scale Zionist organizations formed in Muslim lands particularly in Morocco and some Jews from Spain and North Africa have contributed to the establishment of the city of Tel Aviv. Herzl further calls that without a national land and home for the Jews, they will always and never be secured.