Air-conditioned Islam
October 9, 2003 10:24 AM   Subscribe

The new Islam. Husam Tammam and Patrick Haenni in Le Monde (English version) describe the new forms of Islamic culture taking shape in Egypt. I follow the Islamic world fairly closely, but this was news to me. Does it herald an Islam that can live with the rest of the world (and vice versa)?
This entry, both with the hijab [veil] and the nashid [religious chant], into consumerism and syncretism with non-Arab models, has led to an implicit questioning of the old puritanism of the 1970s and 1980s - and above all a questioning of the principle of the ideologisation of religion. The change is important: we could trace similar patterns in the Islamic economy, increasingly affected by the ups and downs of international finance; or in Islamic charity, which has been rethought, within a framework of neoliberalism, as a security net to replace the state's withdrawal from this area (a withdrawal the Islamists have widely supported).
(Via Path of the Paddle.)
posted by languagehat (9 comments total)
It's important to remind people that radical Islam is really a political beast, and not so wholly rooted in cultural continuity as many think. Interesting read, 'hat.


Does that word now officially have a new definition? I thought that it meant laissez faire economics. Ridiculous.

posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:36 AM on October 9, 2003

There was an article in Time about Islam in South East Asia (in about 1996-7), which said more or less exactly the same thing, although in a somewhat more middlebrow way...

Islam has always been able to live with the rest of the world, and Malaysia, with its synthesis of Muslim, Chinese and Indian cultures, is a fair (although not perfect) example. As Ignatius says, radical Islam is essentially a modern phenomenon, rather than something that's been around forever.
posted by plep at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2003

The difference is that Malaysia has always had a lax, syncretistic Islam, like most of Southeast Asia (and West Africa), which is now threatened by Wahhabist "strict" interpretations. What struck me about this article is that Egypt shows signs of going in the other direction: the strict anti-Western formulation inspired by Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood may be losing steam, which would be good news all around. (Of course radical Islam is essentially a modern phenomenon, but that doesn't really help; people live in the present.)
posted by languagehat at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2003

very interesting--thanks.

Too bad it's not yet reaching (or helping) the lower classes who are most susceptible to the radicals. (It also sounds a little like what jim and tammy faye baker were doing here with their PTL stuff.)
posted by amberglow at 2:30 PM on October 9, 2003

(Of course radical Islam is essentially a modern phenomenon, but that doesn't really help; people live in the present.)

It help because it can knock down the fatalistic and uninformed viewpoint within which much of the west frames the whole Islam/Modernity thing. It makes Us vs. Them a little less tenable.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:38 PM on October 9, 2003

saw this reuters article on yahoo! recently :D and there was this post last year...

also saw louis cantori of the center for the study of islam & democracy speak on c-span's washington journal about egyptian leadership a while ago. he said some of the extremism, western resentment and anti-americanism is a reaction to our support of mubarak. interestingly he didn't espouse going the other way and completely removing our support, but instead held out hopes for mubarak's son.

radical Islam is essentially a modern phenomenon

not so recent according to beeman!
The Middle East offers a wide spectrum of examples of fundamentalist revivalist movements of which the contemporary "Islamic Movement" is perhaps the most important. The movement originated around 1875. Throughout the previous century, European powers, fueled by wealth of the Industrial Revolution, had usurped economic and military power throughout the region. This change in the political and economic order of the world was devastating to Muslims. The leaders of the consequent Islamic movement spurred their followers with idealizations of the Golden Age of the great Islamic Empires stretching from the 8th to the 18th Centuries when Muslims were wealthy, independent, pious and militarily strong.

The principal originator of the Islamic movement was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an Iranian political leader who aroused Muslims throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Afghani advocated a return to personal piety, reform of Islamic law to meet the requirements of a modern age, and violent resistance to Westerners who had usurped power from the Islamic world. He saw the governments in the Middle East as hopelessly corrupt-- undermined by Western forces and Western values. His solution was a three-pronged effort consisting of a renewal of personal religious piety, reform and modernization of Islamic law, and resistance of foreign influence.
and not just islam :D
posted by kliuless at 8:55 PM on October 9, 2003

Thank you for that wonderful historical synopsis! Seriously, great links and a great read.

I have to second amberglow's sentiments regarding the poorer classes and their position on Egypt's air-conditioned Islamic ladder. The fact that these educated young, from privileged backgrounds are listening to these super-cool preachers who also come from "solid middle-class backgrounds" maybe not surprising. Like being drawn to like for approval and acceptance. In this case, under the umbrella of Islam.

I'm not against the values of self-realisation that are part of liberal modernity [ambition, wealth, success, hard work, efficiency and self-awareness], but
"as one of his followers explains bluntly: "Wealth is a gift from heaven and a rich Muslim will spend his fortune in the cause of God and in charitable deeds." That is Khalid's intention. In a rush of enthusiasm, he told his followers: "I want to be rich so that people will look at me and say 'You see, rich and religious', and they'll love God through my wealth. I want to have money and the best clothes to make people love God's religion.""

troubles me as being another form of extremism. Yes, he mentions other values of ambition, but the overall tone by that quote sets the pace, somehow.

I'm certainly all for change, but the trickle down will take a few generations. It also depends on the present new generation and successive generations' method of education to those who can't afford higher education. As Irshad Manji mentioned, ...what is happening on the ground. Onto the ground....

Egypt's economy relies a lot on tourism. Witness tour buses with police escorts between archaeological sites. Government snipers on the rooftops along those same bus routes and at all archaeological sites.

Watching the news after the American invasion in Iraq, there was a lot of anger directed at Americans in Egypt. Not only at the invading soldiers but all and any, including tourists. Those angry Egyptian protestors at the US embassy may not have been part of that middle class, but part of the poor or working poor. Is there a "middle-class"?

Recently we saw statistics of countries' corruption levels. Egypt was way down on that list of less corrupt.

On a recent trip to Egypt, Feb. 2003, someone I know well, said the tour director tell them how some rich Egyptians live in hovels near historic sites [Valley of the Kings] who tunnel into them, steal artifacts and treasures, sell them, while their kids attend private schools abroad. They look the part of beggars. Seems the government is rather powerless or unable to stop this practice or corrupt.

Tomb robberies.
Interpol estimates that art theft is the fourth largest criminal activity after drugs, money laundering and illegal arms trading.

From The University of Cambridge, The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre [IARC] and from their newsletter, Culture without Context. Some news....

Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, smuggled numerous antiquities (in fact, reportedly over 3000) out of Egypt.
Same guy as above in the Smuggler's story may return to work on an unfinished doctoral thesis on ethics. WTF?

Lara Croft would have something to say about these tomb raiders. See Egyptian action for the numerous thefts.

In the Schulz indictment, Frederick Schultz, president of the Frederick Schultz Ancient Art gallery in New York and co-conspirator 1, widely believed to be convicted British antiquities smuggler Jonathan Tokeley-Parry: see In The News CWC issues 1, 4 & 6) who travelled to Egypt between 1990 and 1994 purchasing ancient artefacts from farmers and builders and illegally exporting them.

Read Smuggling in Egypt how Egyptian authorities have arrested Sheik Taj Al Hilali, the controversial Mufti of Australia's Muslim community, for alleged involvement in archaeological smuggling.

Read about Strong antiquities sales to get the breadth of the market.

For an update to the Mufti

In more News from Egypt identity of the thieves was not revealed. Like trying to nail jello to a sarcophagus.

As I mentioned, the reality on the ground and the privileged middle-class have a large chasm to bridge. Still, by all means, I'm all for it.
posted by alicesshoe at 10:52 PM on October 9, 2003

kliuless: Irshad Manji and Tariq Ramadan are interesting people with important ideas, but they're intellectuals with no necessary impact on the way ordinary people think and behave. What I thought was heartening about this story is that large numbers of Egyptians appear to be turning away from Wahhabi-style "angry Islam" and finding a path compatible with modernity. Speaking of which, the word was "modern," not "recent"—1875 is well into modern times. The point is not that it was invented yesterday but that it is not, as it claims to be, the revival, or continuation, of the "true" Islam of the seventh century (as if it were possible to recover that) but a modern (post–Industrial Revolution) development pretending to antiquity, on a par with other forms of "invented tradition" that arose in the nineteenth century to shore up, for example, the British Empire. (Is this what you meant by "and not just islam"?)

alicesshoe: Thanks for all the great links! But as for "troubles me as being another form of extremism": come on, being extremist in the pursuit of wealth may be less than saintly, but it's infinitely preferable to being extremist in the pursuit of blowing people up.

Incidentally, the Nobel for Shirin Ebadi is an encouragement for exactly this sort of modernizing Islam. I must say, the fact that that post has only gotten two comments so far, both about the Pope, is kind of sad.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on October 10, 2003

tangent: neoliberalism?

In the parlance of Le Monde Diplomatique, it basically means "market-worshiping, 'Third Way' politics that masquerades with appalling success as a left alternative: Clinton, Blair, Schröder" (approximately = the way Naderites speak of Democrats, or what Dean meant before he stopped speaking of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party").

The late, great patron saint of the Monde diplo, Bourdieu (who actually got something of a real political movement going towards the end of his life) published an article in the more mainstream daily Le Monde entitled Pour une gauche de gauche, which means, "For a left [political movement] [that is actually] on the left." The neoliberals over at Le Monde didn't understand what Bourdieu meant and "corrected" the title, in the actual published newspaper, to "Pour une gauche de la gauche," which is "for a [political movement] on the left side of left." In other words, they thought Bourdieu was asking to go farther left than/within left, when he was asking merely for a left that could properly be characterized as "left." (Of course, here in the USA you are irrelevant if you even mention the word left, but that's another story.)

If you thought your question was a tangent, how about my answer? But since this is languagehat's thread, it somehow seemed right. :)

If you can hack Bourdieusian style, you can read P.B. on The essence of neoliberalism.
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2003

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