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Good Muslim, Bad Muslim
April 11, 2005 7:19 PM   Subscribe

...The presumption that there are 'good' Muslims readily available to be split off from 'bad' Muslims masks a failure to make a political analysis of our times. This book argues that political Islam emerged as the result of a modern encounter with Western power, and that the terrorist movement at the center of Islamist politics is an even more recent phenomenon, one that followed America’s embrace of proxy war after its defeat in Vietnam. Mamdani writes with great insight about the Reagan years, showing America’s embrace of the highly ideological politics of 'good' against 'evil.' Identifying militant nationalist governments as Soviet proxies in countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, the Reagan administration readily backed terrorist movements, hailing them as the 'moral equivalents' of America’s Founding Fathers. The era of proxy wars has come to an end with the invasion of Iraq. And there, as in Vietnam, America will need to recognize that it is not fighting terrorism but nationalism... Here is an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, and with one review, two review, three reviews hereafter. And here is author Mahmood Mandmani interviewed by AsiaSource.
posted by y2karl (38 comments total)

 
We have always been at war with militant Islam. We will always be at war with militant Islam.
posted by telstar at 7:38 PM on April 11, 2005


Nah, the West supported the genesis of the militant groups so they could be used to poke first the Ottomans and then the Russians. Useful they were too.
posted by Mossy at 8:07 PM on April 11, 2005


telstar, who is we?
posted by chunking express at 8:09 PM on April 11, 2005


Royal we!
posted by underer at 8:13 PM on April 11, 2005


What does 'we' matter or at this point who supported who in the past.

In the here and now, doesn't being 'militant' kinda by definition mean you're at war with somebody? That you have a war-like view of things? That you are prepared for war? That you are expecting to wage war? That you have death-dealing intentions?

I'd say 'we' is anyone, including non-militant muslims, who isn't a militant muslim.
posted by scheptech at 8:16 PM on April 11, 2005


chunking, scheptech :

GYOBFW
posted by Satapher at 9:04 PM on April 11, 2005


GYOBFW
posted by Satapher


Don't you mean RTFM?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:07 PM on April 11, 2005


Wow, that interview was great. I found myself agreeing with Mandmani in one paragraph and strongly disagreeing in the next. Thanks, y2karl. I thought this was particularly interesting:

the history of Christianity is very unlike the history of mainstream Islam which simply does not have an institutionally organized church. The Catholic Church is organized as an institutionalized hierarchy, as a prototype of the empire-state, and the Protestant Church hierarchy is organized as a prototype of the nation-state. Until Ayatollah Khomeini created a state-wide clerical authority in Iran, there was no such institutionalized religious hierarchy in Islam and it still does not exist elsewhere.

Is that really true? That historically Islamic states/empires didn't have heavily influential religious heirarchies? Fascinating question. Also, the "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" formulation makes me cringe, not least because it leads to sentences like this in your first review link:

The book examines the Western premise that "bad" Muslims practice terrorism, are "fundamentalists" and hate freedom, while "good" Muslims are modern, secular and support US foreign policy.

Is that really a "Western premise," given the overwhelming European opposition and 50/50 US split on invading Iraq? Hell, I don't know of any thoughtful Western observer, conservative or not, who considers support of US foreign policy a prerequisite to being a "good" Muslim. Most just want repudiation of the virgins-in-heaven justification of terror against civilians. And Mandmani's usage of "pro-American Muslims" confuses the two as well. What, exactly, is a "pro-American Muslim"? There are certainly "good Muslims" who dislike conservative Republican foreign policy and yet are comfortable with US-style non-theocratic pluralism - Muslims who value the idea of free expression while retaining a belief in Mohammed as God's messenger. Loving Dick Cheney isn't part of the equation at all.

These are fascinating questions, and I appreciate the way Mandmani raises them, but there are a couple of points at which my bullshit detector goes off. Like here:

So when political Islam develops - unlike political Christianity - it is not the result of the movement of religious intellectuals into a secular domain but rather the reverse move, that of secular intellectuals into the religious domain. Extremist political Islam, by which I mean Islamist thought which puts political violence at the center of political action, came into its own with Mawdudi and Syed Qutb. Neither was an alim or a mullah. Both had this-worldly pursuits. Mawdudi says, "Mere preaching will not do, it is not enough." Now which religious person is going to say mere preaching is not enough?

A religious person preoccupied with "this-worldly pursuits," I'd say. Every religion seems to have them. Mandmani seems here to be defining a priori any religious leader with worldly political ambitions as "secular," and seems to feel that Christianity has historically had more of that kind of leader than Islam. I'm not so sure that's something that distinguishes the two religions. Am I misreading?
posted by mediareport at 9:07 PM on April 11, 2005


Is it still considered a 'war' if the takeover is through other than directly violent means? If you end up losing your essential cultural identity, does it matter what means were used?
posted by HTuttle at 9:08 PM on April 11, 2005


Oh wait, you're quoting Orwell, you well-read son of a bitch. And just so I don't derail this thread from the get go with my ignorance: There is plenty of violence in the world, and I have my doubts as to whether Muslims of one form or another are the number one perpetrators of it.
posted by chunking express at 9:10 PM on April 11, 2005


Interesting that Mandmani credits Bernard Lewis with providing the "more durable version of Culture Talk," versus Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, considering Huntington poached the outline of his thesis, and its title, from Lewis.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:25 PM on April 11, 2005


Ty! Great to see you back. Please tell me you have time to waste here; lord knows the place could use you.
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on April 11, 2005


Interesting stuff, well worth the read. No comments yet, I'm still digesting it. I also found myself agreeing and disagreeing in each paragraph. I recommend that anyone who wants a new perspective read things links. Thanks,y2 Karl.
posted by cell divide at 9:47 PM on April 11, 2005


Yeah, from what I know of Middle Eastern history Western intervention around WWI and onwards (first Britain and France, then later America) means pretty much any Western action over there, even if it's well-meant, is going to get an imperialist overtone attached to it.

Fundamentalist Islam the way we see it now didn't really get started until the 70s, after the Arab nationalist movement collapsed with Nasser getting whupped in the Six-Day War.
posted by schroedinger at 10:01 PM on April 11, 2005


Excellent post y2karl. Mandmani's thesis is unlikely to play out as a serial on fox but it appears from all of this material that it will ultimately have an important place as historical commentary.

mediareport: "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" formulation makes me cringe.....
I think this was meant somewhat as an ironic title - choosing those words is meant to reflect, it seems to me, the very simple view that the Bush administration has of the 'Islamic World'.

There are swathes of writing through these links worth quoting/discussing/thinking about...

"As Mamdani makes clear, Iraq had been softened up for invasion by a decade of a new and utterly devastating weapon of proxy war: UN sanctions. Sanctions appear to have led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five, and they put severe stress on Iraqi state infrastructure. Thus, the threats cited by the US as an excuse to invade Iraq were bogeymen. The “Muslim terrorists” were in fact US creations, while the specter of militant nationalism in Iraq had been broken by a decade of extreme punishment by the sanctions regime. Thus, American boys are fighting in Iraq today because the occupation of Iraq is in fact an overt form of imperialism, reflecting US interests in the region, rather than the interests of the Iraqi people"
Interesting how he (elsewhere) cites complicity of western media in helping the sanctions remain in place so long.

Fascinating stuff. (I'm also ignorant about the Islamic Clerical heirarchy - Mamdani paints it as an important concept to understand when examining the recent history)
posted by peacay at 10:13 PM on April 11, 2005


Thanks Y2k! That was a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

media, I share some of your discomfort with the way Mamdani describes the dialectic. I think what he's describing is not so much the political realities, but the discursive realities of the current narrative of cultural conflict. In other words, he's talking about archetypes, rather than things actuall individuals might believe.

Middle-eastern culture has long been a discursive foil for the West's definition of its self. Mamdani rightly quotes Edward Said, perhaps the most eloquant theorist on this subject. These definitions of otherness typically say more about those who form them that those they supposedly represent. This leads me to believe that the increased emphasis on stereotyping eachother reflects deep insecurities and divisions within both groups of people.

On Preview: schroedinger's right about the 70/'s beeing a turning point, especially for the West, when our narrative of the barbarous and premodern (but easily dominated) Orientals was shaken to the core by the Iranian revolution. That's probably when many in the West began to think of Middle-easterners as actively anti-modern.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 10:15 PM on April 11, 2005


Finely put by pieisexactlythree, "...what he's describing is not so much the political realities, but the discursive realities of the current narrative of cultural conflict." Even this we assume, being entirely ignorant of the existential matters at hand.

But even on the discursive level, when he says, for instance,
"...so that those convinced that freedom was a value higher than life were willing to sacrifice life for freedom." the unsaid ramification accordingly is that death is freedom?
posted by semmi at 10:36 PM on April 11, 2005


Referring to this quote:

The book examines the Western premise that "bad" Muslims practice terrorism, are "fundamentalists" and hate freedom, while "good" Muslims are modern, secular and support US foreign policy.

mediareport asks:

Is that really a "Western premise," given the overwhelming European opposition and 50/50 US split on invading Iraq? Hell, I don't know of any thoughtful Western observer, conservative or not, who considers support of US foreign policy a prerequisite to being a "good" Muslim.

I agree with you that there's a wide range of opinions on this subject among the general population in this country. However, I do think it's true that the premise is accepted pretty much without hesitation by the mainstream media (from the New York Times to Fox News) as well as those holding office in the federal government (yes, both Democrat and Republican). It's an implied assumption every time they talk about Iran; they always mention the old, conservative religious leaders who oppose a U.S. invasion of Iran... and then start talking about the younger, more secular Iranians, with the implication that they will, naturally, be more in favor of an American invasion. Yes, it's totally absurd. ("I love American music and clothes! So please, pretty please; invade my country! I can't wait for Tehran to look like Baghdad!"). But that's what I hear on CNN and FOX News every damn day of the week.
posted by Clay201 at 10:53 PM on April 11, 2005


I'd say if anything it's Islam that's been shaken to the core. Awakening to a wider world, very slowly, in many of the smaller countries with less well educated populations especially, peoples are coming to understand just how tiny they really are relative to the rest of the planet. I think this tweaks their essentially medieval male-dominated macho view of themselves and they think they need to do something about it.
posted by scheptech at 10:54 PM on April 11, 2005


Sanctions appear to have led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five.

Okay, now he's lost all credibility, and I've lost interest in reading further. Do people still use those figures? They've been pretty thoroughly debunked. What tripe.

Mawdudi says, "Mere preaching will not do, it is not enough." Now which religious person is going to say mere preaching is not enough?

Um, any Islamic religious person? Islam recognizes no distinction between the secular and the religious: all law is God's law. God’s will “prevails in the cosmos” and his commands must be “established and obeyed in man’s society” (to use Mawdudi's words). Muslim theories of the State therefore do not question why the State exists; the discussion begins with the assumption that rights and obligations are determed by God and that therefore He is the ultimate sovereign, expressing His commands through Shari’ah. The State in Islam is therefore fundamentally a religious community.

It's true that, historically, the jurists preferred to disassociate themselves from the taint of exercising secular power directly. But to explain why that changed, you have to examine history and Islamic fundamentalism, rather than just blaming the US and glossing over the question.

The sort of separation between religion and State power that Mandmani seems to be advocating is an echo of the arguments of ‘Ali ‘Adb al-Raziq, in his book "Islam and the Roots of Government" (Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm), published shortly after the abolition of the caliphate (1925, I think). Al-Raziq’s claims (that Muhammad was a prophet and not a statesman, that Islam is a religion and not a state, and that the caliphate was from the beginning based on force) still provoke outrage in the Muslim world today, even among the more liberal Islamists.

In my view, for what it's worth, the theological mistake driving radical islam is two-fold. First, the fundamentalists have collapsed the distinctions between required and recommended, and between acts which should receive temporal punishment and acts which should receive punishment by God in the hereafter. Thus, the classical formulation of Islamic law placed activites into one of five categories: acts which are compulsory (fard wajib), acts which are recommended (mustahabb), acts to which Islam is indifferent (mubah), acts which are objectionable in Islam (makruh) and actions which are forbidden (haram). The fundamentalists, however, call nearly everything either forbidden or compulsory, leaving no ground for human discretion, and then they assume that the State must enforce this law.

Al-Ghazali, for example, argued against those who would deny that their religious doctrines are mediated through fallible and unavoidably secular processes of human thought: If theological doctrines are not seen as flowing from interpretive presuppositions that are, in turn, rooted in history, then God's revelation and man's interpretation become conflated. The result is the fundamentalist belief that to go against any of their doctrines is unbelief and heresy. Ironically, in so holding, the fundamentalists are repeating the historical mistakes of the Khawarij, who the fundamentalists despise for killing 'Ali, the cousin of the Prophet. Diversity and differences of opinion are a gift from God – “In difference is mercy,” according to a hadith of the Prophet.
posted by gd779 at 11:24 PM on April 11, 2005


Wow, that was scattered. The point is that the Islamic community has an obligation to pursue God's justice and the spread of Shari'ah. So, of course (on an unsophisticated reading of Islam) merely preaching isn't going to be enough!
posted by gd779 at 11:27 PM on April 11, 2005


scheptech, "Islam" is hardly a monolithic entity. As the Said quote in Y2karl's first link points out, "the clash is more inside civilizations than between them." The representations of the other are a function of that society's cultural imagination. After all, there is a reason why societies generate these discursive straw men. If you're unsure of this, just peep Fox News for a few minutes.

In the case of Islamic societies, what we have is a very fragmented society with gread disparaties in wealth and education. Resource driven conflicts with the West have caused widespread upheaval in many of these societies, and the ensuing polarization and reactionism are a lamentable, if predictable concequence. The reference to a "medieval male-dominated macho view" is both a vast oversimplification of reality and and a handy, pre-packaged cliche which fits into the premodern/antimodern master narrative. This master narrative obfuscates the real complexity of the situation; there is indeed as much conflict within both societies in question as there is between them. I'll just invoke the running conflicts between educated urban elites and rural plebs and let your imagination fill in the rest.

Moreover, the Islamic world, or at least the Middle Eastern portion of it, has been exposed to the West for a long time. Does the Crusades sound familiar?
posted by pieisexactlythree at 11:28 PM on April 11, 2005


telstar, who is we?

oh, man, is Orwell that hard a read these days? Try it and see, you may just get some shivers resonating up your spine.
posted by telstar at 2:31 AM on April 12, 2005


Pieisexactlythree has it. You can't think of the Middle East as a solid cultural entity--I mean, one of the reasons Iraq is in so much trouble was because when Britain was drawing the border lines it decided to stick three completely separate groups (well, technically more than that, but now there are three major ones) under inside one border and call them all Iraqis.

Really, in many ways Islamic fundamentalism is simply serving the purpose Arab nationalism did--it is an attempt to establish a widespread regional identity among many different identities to stand against Western military, economic, and cultural invasion. The whole region gets tired of feeling like the West is invading them all the time, so they attempt to unite under one banner--first it was Arab nationalism, now it's Islam.

Of course, like Arab nationalism it's split up into a whole bunch of factions. But it's more successful in that it allows people to keep their national identity (Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, Iranian, etc) while also assuming that larger, regional identity.

Mandmani's thesis isn't really a new one, but it's awesome that it's gaining a bit of publicity to offset the "GRAH EVIL MUSLIMS BLOW UP INNOCENT WHITE PEOPLE" tripe that gets thrown around.
posted by schroedinger at 2:34 AM on April 12, 2005


Here this might help, oh, those-who-need-to-catch-up-on-their-reading. All snarkiness aside, Orwells works seem to become ever more current as the years go by.
posted by telstar at 2:41 AM on April 12, 2005


"grah"?
posted by matteo at 2:58 AM on April 12, 2005


Telstar, I read 1984 when I was in highschool. I'm just get so wound up reading metafilter that I read way too many comments way too literally. Man, I shouldn't have posted in this otherwise good thread.
posted by chunking express at 6:13 AM on April 12, 2005


Sanctions appear to have led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five.

Okay, now he's lost all credibility, and I've lost interest in reading further. Do people still use those figures? They've been pretty thoroughly debunked. What tripe.
- gd779

Please do enlighten us if it's not too much trouble. I missed that debunking. Not saying I think it untrue, just that I would like to have reliable references.
posted by nofundy at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2005


Great post, great discussion, with a surprising lack of knee-jerk snark. Like others here, I find Mamdani occasionally irritating but consistently thought-provoking, and I definitely want to read his book. This, for instance, is an important point that needs to be emphasized:

We are sometimes unaware of the ways in which we are shaped by the enemies we choose to fight to the finish. We need to think of the ways in which the US became like the Soviet Union. We need to remember that America in the 1980s was no longer a classical imperial power, interested in exporting just commodities or capital; America developed aspirations like the Soviet Union: that is, it was interested in exporting entire social systems. America developed an ideologically empowered self-righteousness as it mimicked Marxism-Leninism.

gd779: You obviously know a lot about the history of Islam and Islamdom (to borrow Hodgson's useful coinage), but I think you're awfully quick to dismiss Mamdani because he quotes a dubious figure (that bothered me too) -- his basic point is absolutely correct, regardless of exactly how many tens or hundreds of thousands of children were killed, and if all of us were to be ignored if we quoted a bad statistic, there would be nobody to listen to.

Also, I have to disagree with this:
Islam recognizes no distinction between the secular and the religious: all law is God's law... The State in Islam is therefore fundamentally a religious community.
"Islam recognizes" is a lazy formulation; Islam is a religion, not a person or a unified community. There are and have always been many varieties of Islam. But the "all law is God's law" crowd, which we can loosely call "fundamentalist" (and whose first organized form was the Kharijite movement of the late 7th-early 8th centuries), has always been a minority and usually a powerless one. The standard Muslim view, since the establishment of the Umayyad state ruled from Damascus, has been that God is the ultimate ruler of all things but in practice men must submit to the secular power (sult) unless that power actively harms Islam. The first attempt in modern times to merge secular and religious power was that of Khomeini in Iran (and Khomeini's idea of the "guardianship of the jurisconsult" was a complete innovation in Shi'ism, traditionally quietist when it came to worldly power), and that hasn't worked out very well and serves as a warning to others who might want to institute godly rule.
posted by languagehat at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2005


The standard Muslim view, since the establishment of the Umayyad state ruled from Damascus, has been that God is the ultimate ruler of all things but in practice men must submit to the secular power (sult) unless that power actively harms Islam.

True, but that was only out of necessity, and out of a desire to prevent fitna (unrest, disorder) that would harm the community. It was a political compromise. In principle, Shari'ah has always been in the place of primacy over all. Indeed, even the sultanate was expected to be bound by Shari'ah, in word if not in deed, in exchange for the acquiescence of the people.

I think the better way to proceed is to restore the law/fact distinction: the religious leaders have, by virtue of their mastery of Islamic law, the right to say what the law is. But they cannot specify how the law is to be applied. The Prophet himself is reported to have admonished his followers that in matters of this world he was only a human being; that he was as fallible as anyone else. And so the Maliki jurist Ibn al-Qassar, for example, stated that while Muslims should accept the authority of the jurists when they proclaim that the decline of the sun triggers an obligation to perform the noon prayer, the declarations of the jurists should not be granted special authority to declare when the sun has actually declined. Thus, even taqlid (following) should not treat the jurists as authoritative on issues of fact, such as the fair and reasonable length of an implied warranty or the customary formula used to initiate a divorce. As Al-Qarafi argued, “Holding to rulings that have been deduced on the basis of custom, even after this custom has changed, is a violation of unanimous consensus (ijma’) and an open display of ignorance of the religion”.

This approach would allow Islam to adapt to changing circumstances while still remaining faithful to tradition and the sunna, and without opening the gates of ijtihad.

But you're right, "Islam recognizes" was a lazy formulation. And you're right that fundamentalist conception of Islam (the "all law is God's law" crowd) is a fairly unsophisticated reading of the religion.

if all of us were to be ignored if we quoted a bad statistic, there would be nobody to listen to.

If you or I quote a bad statistic, it's an understandable mistake, because we're not professionals. But when you put yourself in front of the public to make an argument as a professional, and get paid for it, then quoting a statistic which is widely known to be bad is either gross negligence, bias and blindness, or a deliberate attempt to deceive. Either way, he should be held to a higher standard, and it's a great big red flag to treat everything else he says with suspicion.

But the "all law is God's law" crowd, which we can loosely call "fundamentalist" (and whose first organized form was the Kharijite movement of the late 7th-early 8th centuries)

Actually, as I mentioned above, the contemporary fundamentalists hate the Kharijites, because they killed the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph (and cousin of the Prophet) ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Their rhetoric is the same (right down to the slogans such as “Dominion belongs to God” (la hukma illa li’llah) or “The Qur’an is the judge” (al-hukmu li’l-Qur’an)), and there are certainly similarities, but they're not the same group.

But again, I'm not Muslim, and I'm not particularly well informed about this subject (I just read a lot), so if someone wants to correct my interpretation of Islamic law, I will certainly defer.

Please do enlighten us if it's not too much trouble. I missed that debunking. Not saying I think it untrue, just that I would like to have reliable references.

The "500,000 dead Iraqi children" line comes from one of two possible sources. The first was a five-day Saddam-controlled study conducted in Baghdad, the results of which have been repudiated even by the study's authors. Richard Garfield, a public health specialist at Columbia University, wrote in his own comprehensive 1999 survey of under-5 deaths in Iraq, "The 1995 study’s conclusions were subsequently withdrawn by the authors....Notwithstanding the retraction of the original data, their estimate of more than 500,000 excess child deaths due to the embargo is still often repeated by sanctions critics." Even the Iraqi Ministry of Health under Saddam claimed that the number was less than half that, and I think you have to assume that even this lower, official claim was greatly exaggerated.

The second possible source for the claim that "500,000 Iraqi children died" is a UNICEF study, which was quickly taken so far out of context by the anti-sanction activists that UNICEF started sending out corrective press releases, pointing out that their estimate of 500,000 deaths was attributed to: the two wars, Saddam's reduction in social services spending, and the sanctions, (mostly before international aid was accounted for).

So all of this is before one considers what Saddam was doing with the oil-for-food dollars and the international humanitarian aid dollars that were intended to help the populace deal with the effect of the sanctions (hint: under Saddam, the money wasn't going to reduce infant mortality; it was going into new palaces).
posted by gd779 at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2005


From last year:

Since Cambodia, the tendency of the media has been to -- since Cambodia, the tendency of the media has been to listen to and relay the administrations’ version of their atrocities and this trend came to a glorious conclusion with embedded reporters in Iraq. Partly the result has been a change in the marketplace, and the change in the marketplace is a change of ownership. Big corporate media has come to be owned in some cases by Hollywood, in other cases by defense contractors. For Hollywood, news has become entertainment, and defense contractors are shy of debates... I noted that in the debates, neither Abu Ghraib nor Guantanamo nor Fallujah were ever matters of discussion. More and more political issues are framed in a language of no choice. They are framed in a language of evil. They are framed in a language of religion. The language of evil also began, I believe, the current round of the language of evil follows defeat in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan, speaking before the American Association of Evangelicals, recast the Soviet Union as an evil empire, and I think we should be quite aware, quite alert to the political uses of the notion of evil, the fact that evil is something with which someone cannot co-exist, the fact that the war against evil is a permanent war. It must go on until either victory or death. You can hear echoes of the War on Terror in this. And the language now, of course, is much more a language of culture. After 9/11, I was struck by reports in The New York Times about how the Koran had become a best seller item, about how more and more Americans were going to bookshelves to buy the Koran to get an understanding of the motivation of those who had hit the Twin Towers. And I wonder if the people of Fallujah are trying to find Bibles to read to understand the motivation. And I think not. I think not.

The Failure of the Corporate Media's Coverage in Iraq

Islamist violence has increased outside the Middle East, however. The question is why, and why specifically in the West? The answer, Roy ventures, is that the violence of al Qaeda is politically, not religiously, inspired. After all, "al Qaeda did not target St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It targeted modern imperialism, as the ultra-leftists of the late 1960s and 1970s did with less success." Furthermore, the cliche "that in Islam there is no difference between politics and religion ... works in favor of the political," making it easier to redefine the core content of religion and subordinate it to a political project, as the jihadists have done.

Even the contemporary notion of jihad is a marked departure--perhaps even a rupture--from its traditional forerunner. It too has been reinvented according to neofundamentalist principles: personalized, secularized, and turned into a political tool. Roy points out that, contrary to Western popular belief, traditional jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islam and that it has long been understood as a defensive, collective duty. But modern radicals now hail jihad as "a permanent and individual duty" to fight the West to the death.

This modern understanding of jihad goes hand in hand with a revamped notion of community, or umma: no longer bound by traditional solidarity, the umma is the "reconstructed" product of the "free association of militants committed to the same ideal." The umma now plays the same role as did the proletariat for Trotskyist and leftist groups in the 1960s: it is "an imaginary and therefore silent community that gives legitimacy to the small group pretending to speak in its name."

Roy observes, moreover, that most contemporary Islamist ideologues are neither clerics nor ulema but former leftists, yet he offers no explanation for this fact. These politicos were able to move into the religious domain despite poor theological credentials, partly because, unlike Christianity, mainstream Islam has no institutional backbone. Catholicism is organized on the model of Rome, the empire state. But Sunni Islam has no organized hierarchy, only a prayer leader. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's creation of velayat-e faqih (The state of the jurist), with the clergy as constitutional guardians, is a relatively recent development that goes against the thrust of Shiite tradition. And judging by events in Iraq, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's insistence that the ulema are a moral force outside, not within, the state, it does not seem to be taking well in non-Iranian Shiite milieus.


Whither Political Islam?

Also,

Jihad in Islam And Its Real Meaning

Greater And Lesser Jihad
posted by y2karl at 9:42 AM on April 12, 2005


Actually, as I mentioned above, the contemporary fundamentalists hate the Kharijites, because they killed the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph (and cousin of the Prophet) ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Their rhetoric is the same (right down to the slogans such as “Dominion belongs to God” (la hukma illa li’llah) or “The Qur’an is the judge” (al-hukmu li’l-Qur’an)), and there are certainly similarities, but they're not the same group.

Of course they're not "the same group," and I didn't say they were -- I said they represented the first organized form of what we can call Islamic fundamentalism. And of course people who accept Ali as a righteous caliph are upset with them, but from their point of view Ali was an apostate, having reneged on his divine duty to right the wrongs committed by Uthman. To quote Hodgson:
Most of the first group who seceded were wiped out by 'Ali's forces, but their movement spread, inheriting the more uncompromising claims for egalitarian justice which had arisen among the opponents of 'Uthmân. When the arbitration did take place, in 658, the position of the mutineers was condemned, and hence implicitly 'Ali as well. 'Ali rejected the decision (but without repenting of having awaited it, and so without reconciling the Khârijis, who now saw him as acting purely for personal power)... In 661, 'Ali was murdered by a Khâriji; his son, Hasan, was elevated by his still loyal following at Kûfah, but came to an accommodation with Mu'âwiyah whereby he retired in wealth to Medina. Mu'âwiyah, who was a brother-in-law of the Prophet, was then accepted in all the provinces as caliph.
Not a very edifying story, once we rid ourselves of the retrospective and unhistorical glow shed by the idea of "righteous caliphs" (reminiscent of the retrospective quasi-worship in America of the all too human Founding Fathers), and one can understand why the Kharijites "believed themselves the only true Muslim community, the only genuine supporters of divine justice." The fact that they picked different enemies than do today's Wahhabis is irrelevant; the cast of mind is identical.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on April 12, 2005


We are sometimes unaware of the ways in which we are shaped by the enemies we choose to fight to the finish. We need to think of the ways in which the US became like the Soviet Union. We need to remember that America in the 1980s was no longer a classical imperial power, interested in exporting just commodities or capital; America developed aspirations like the Soviet Union: that is, it was interested in exporting entire social systems. America developed an ideologically empowered self-righteousness as it mimicked Marxism-Leninism.

Frustrating stuff, I read no more than 3 or 4 sentences of the man's material and start wondering what his overall agenda or grand point is or if he even has one, maybe he's just stringing ideas together (some of them good) at random to see what happens?

... What do you call this sort of logical fallacy:

Yes, one of the things America was doing during the second half of the 20th century was engaging in a cold war with the Soviets.

Yes, America changed during the second half of the 20th century.

Therefore the former must have caused the latter.

... No, the cold war hardly represents a complete, accurate, or exclusive explanation for what was happening in America or how the country changed over this period. What a negative, twisted assessment... if I understand correctly of course, I could be misreading, it's hard to tell.
posted by scheptech at 1:00 PM on April 12, 2005


The fact that they picked different enemies than do today's Wahhabis is irrelevant; the cast of mind is identical.

Well, you do have a point. However, not to be argumentative, but you might also say that their cast of mind is also similar to those of certain segments of Christian fundamentalism, and I don't consider the Kharijites the precursers of Christian fundamentalism. It seems to me that the content of their beliefs matters at least as much as their style of reasoning, and while there may be similarities between the Wahhabi and the Kharijites in their style of reasoning, the content of their beliefs are different.

And if you want to understand the Muslim world, it's no good trying to peel back the "retrospective and unhistorical glow shed by the idea of "righteous caliphs". Though prophecy ceased with the death of the Prophet, the Rightly Guided Caliphs remain the starting point in any Muslim discussion of Islamic government. Telling the Muslim world to just grow up and be good modern secularists isn't going to get the job done, and in fact it just fans the flames for people like Mawdudi.
posted by gd779 at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2005


grah
interj.
Onomatapoeia of incoherent scream of rage: GRAH! Hulk smash!

Wasn't there some business about the CIA backing fundamentalists instead of moderates because they fought better? Because, see, that would be a really good example of how certain Islamic viewpoints grew in popularity and power as a result of America messing around.
posted by schroedinger at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2005


... What do you call this sort of logical fallacy:

Yes, one of the things America was doing during the second half of the 20th century was engaging in a cold war with the Soviets.

Yes, America changed during the second half of the 20th century.

Therefore the former must have caused the latter.


I believe that would be a post hoc argument. You can disprove that argument by asserting that change occurs over time in all societies and that change would have, therefor, occured in the 20th century in America with or without the cold war.

However, I think evidence supports the idea that the cold war is one of the things that caused change in America in the 20th century. So long as one doesn't assert that the cold war was the only thing that changed America in the 20th century, there is no logical fallacy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:54 PM on April 12, 2005


And if you want to understand the Muslim world, it's no good trying to peel back the "retrospective and unhistorical glow shed by the idea of "righteous caliphs". Though prophecy ceased with the death of the Prophet, the Rightly Guided Caliphs remain the starting point in any Muslim discussion of Islamic government. Telling the Muslim world to just grow up and be good modern secularists isn't going to get the job done, and in fact it just fans the flames for people like Mawdudi.

I wish you'd stop 1) misreading my arguments and 2) oversimplifying the Muslim world. I never said or implied that we should "tell the Muslim world to just grow up and be good modern secularists"; my point was that we can't understand the first century (hijra era) if we accept the one-sided view of standard Sunni Islam. To quote Hodgson again (sorry, but he's one of the few scholars who have taken a genuinely objective look at the period, and if you haven't read him, you should):
Marwân is usually regarded as the legitimate caliph and Ibn-al-Zubayr as an 'anti-caliph' because in the end the Marwânids won. At the time, however, there was no question of legitimacy, and Ibn-al-Zubayr was in fact the nearest to an effective successor to Yazid's power, or at least to his status. Ignoring this fact has caused some authors to misevaluate the meaning of 'Abd-al-Malik's victory, which can appear merely as suppression of rebellion. The error results from projecting backward, without warrant, an alien notion of dynastic legitimacy.

This has been done not only in the case of Marwân, but throughout the early period: writers have marked off the periods of the caliphate according to extraneous criteria. Following later Sunni Muslims, they make the reign of 'Ali (with that of Hasan) a fourth Medina (or 'Orthodox') caliphate, set off from the reign of Mu'âwiya, who (with his son) is lumped—as an Umayyad—with the Marwânids, though 'Uthmân is not (despite his pro-Umayyad nepotism). For the older Muslim historians, the distinction between 'Orthodox' and 'Umayyad' caliphs had a symbolic value. When 'Ali came to be lumped with the three Medina caliphs (quite late), Mu'âwiyah was correspondingly lumped with the Marwânids. This allowed the Muslims to split the work of establishing the caliphal structure into two parts: into the 'good' side of that work (including whatever was approved of the work of subsequent caliphs), which was ascribed to 'Umar; and into the 'bad' side (including much of what 'Umar did), symbolized in the setting up of 'kingship', which was ascribed to Mu'âwiyah and the 'Umayyads'. For this purpose, 'Uthmân was 'Orthodox' and not 'Umayyad'. But such considerations need not bind the modern historian. They are of the same order as the inclination to see as 'heretical' any forms of Islam which were not later received by the majority (or rather by certain widely respected later Muslim authors).
I have bolded the last two sentences, which should be thoughtfully read and digested. You say you are not a Muslim; you clearly respect and want to understand Islam, which is all to the good, but I get the sense that (like many well-meaning outsiders) you bend over backwards in your eagerness not to offend. It does Muslims no honor to treat them as so tender-minded and truth-fearing that the history of the religion cannot be touched on except in reverential terms.

And with regard to my second point, I draw your attention to the fact that not all Muslims accept the standard Sunni—or Twelver Shia—view of early Islamic history. By describing events according to the "Orthodox" view, you cut "heretics" out of the discourse. Since you have no allegiance yourself to any sect, it would seem to make sense not to take sides.

I don't consider the Kharijites the precursers of Christian fundamentalism

Oh, come on. I'm not casting some wide net that would take in anything that might be called "fundamentalist" (I don't even think the term is particularly useful for Islam, but it's too well entrenched to be ignored), I'm talking about a specifically Islamic form of discourse brought to its classical form by the loathsome (if you will allow me my own prejudices) Ibn Taimiyya, inspiration for the Wahhabis and other idol-smashing, thief-mutilating, woman-repressing modern variants on the theme. If you're not willing to compare things unless they're identical in all respects, you're going to find it hard to understand history.

(Regarding the Kharijites, you might find this overstated but thought-provoking article of interest: The Kharijites and their impact on Contemporary Islam, by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks.)
posted by languagehat at 3:35 PM on April 12, 2005


my point was that we can't understand the first century (hijra era) if we accept the one-sided view of standard Sunni Islam.

I see your point. And I think I see the root of our difference. You seem to approach this question from the perspective of history; I approach it from the perspective of law. Your goal seems to be an objective understanding of the past; my goal is a justification of the future, while remaining true to the authority of the past.

The question I'm interested in is, within the tradition of Sunni Islam itself, what are the theoretical prospects for change? So, for me, the actual truth of history doesn't matter; what matters is what contemporary Muslims think about their history, how they view it from within the context of their religious beliefs.
posted by gd779 at 5:46 PM on April 12, 2005


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