Sunday, September 11, 2011

An excellent article by Olivier Roy on understanding contemporary Muslim societies

by Salman Hameed

Check out this article by Olivier Roy on The Immanent Frame: The Paradoxes of the Re-Islamization of Muslim Societies. It is a thoughtful analysis teasing out religion, politics and culture in Muslim societies. I will post here the beginning of the article, but please check out the full article:

The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West, fueled by the fate of the Palestinians and by Western encroachments in the Middle East; and if this wrath, which has pervaded the contemporary history of the Middle East, has been cast in Islamic terms, it is because Islam is allegedly the main, if not the only, reference that has shaped Muslim minds and societies since the Prophet. This vertical genealogy obscured all the transversal connections (the fact, for instance, that Al-Qaeda systematized a concept of terrorism that was first developed by the Western European ultra-left of the seventies or the fact that most Al-Qaeda terrorists do not come from traditional Muslim societies but are recruited from among global, uprooted youth, with a huge proportion of converts).
The consequence was that the struggle against terrorism was systematically associated with a religious perspective based on the theory of a clash of civilizations: Islam was at the core of Middle East politics, culture, and identity. This led to two possibilities: either acknowledge the “clash of civilizations” and head toward a global confrontation between the West and Islam or try to mend fences through a “dialogue of civilizations,” enhancing multiculturalism and religious pluralism. Both attitudes shared the same premises: Islam is both a religion and a culture and is at the core of the Arab identity. They differed on one essential point: for the “clashists,” there is no “moderate” Islam; for the “dialogists,” one should favor and support “moderate” Islam, with the recurring question, what is a good Muslim?
Then came, just ten years after 9/11, the Arab Spring, in which Islam did not play a role, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, whose death went almost unnoticed among Muslim public opinion. What about the “Muslim wrath”? Suddenly, the issue of Islam and jihad being at the core of the political mobilization in Muslim societies seemed to become, at least for a time, irrelevant. So what went wrong with the perception of the Western media, leaders, and public opinion? Was the West wrong about the role of Islam in shaping political mobilization in Muslim societies? Yes. The essentialist and culturalist approach, common to both the clash of and dialogue of civilizations theories, missed three elements: society, politics, and more astonishingly . . . religion.
Read the full article here.

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