Saturday, September 03, 2005

Islamism and Democracy (Harry's Place & Bassam Tibi)

Here are some points I was thinking about making, but I see that David T at the (mostly-British democratic-left) group weblog "Harry's Place" has already made them quite well. (I have inserted some bolded comments of my own in brackets.)

The piece by Bassam Tibi discussed in David T's post (linked to at Normblog) is also worth reading in full, so I have reproduced it below. Tibi's conclusions strike me as essentially correct:

What can be done to counter jihadism? As a Muslim immigrant living in Europe, I wholeheartedly reject the idea of a "clash of civilizations." But it would be naïve to overlook the reality of an ongoing "war of ideas" - a struggle between global jihad and democratic peace as competing directions for the 21st century.
Instead of giving in to talk of a "clash of civilizations," what is needed is an alliance between Western supporters of democracy and enlightened Muslims against jihadist Islamists.

And he goes on to make a crucial point that is too often overlooked.
It is important to realize, however, that democracy is a political culture and not simply a procedure.

Yours for democratic political culture,
Jeff Weintraub

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david t at "Harry's Place
August 31, 2005

Islamism and Democracy


Norm links to three short articles.
The first is a Guardian Comment piece by Adam Curtis - the director of the "Power of Nightmares" documentary - who proposes the following thesis:
"We may not agree with [Islamism's] reactionary vision of the political use of Islam and the pessimistic, anti-progressive beliefs that lie at the heart of Qutb's teachings, but it is essential to realise that there is no inherent link between these ideas and terrorism."
Andrew Anthony provides a neat answer to Curtis's objection to linking classical Qutbism with jihadism:
"This makes sense, but only insofar as it makes sense to draw a distinction between the political ideas of fascism and those minority of fascists who turn to terror."
Professor Bassam Tibi, in a similar vein, sketches the close ideological link between Qutbism and BinLadenist jihadism:
"The jihadists are followers of the ideas of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, who laid the foundations of Islamism as a political and military interpretation of Islam. Islamism aims not only to purify Islam but also to establish the "Nizam Islami," or Islamic order."
Professor Tibi goes on to argue that the essential point of departure between classical Islamists and those who have taken the 'jihadist' path is that the former "honored Qutb's distinction between two steps, the local and the global, in the jihadist strategy": first, topple non-Islamist regimes at home, and then move on to global jihad. Tibi's argument is that Al Qaeda has confused "the two steps in the jihadist strategy".
I do not think that confusion is the best word for that process of conflation. [JW: This is quite right.] Bin Laden and Al-Zawahri, from 1998 onwards came to the conclusion that the "near enemy" - chiefly but not exclusively Arab regimes - and the "far enemy" - chiefly but not exclusively the United States - had to be fought simultaneously, not because they were millennial nihilists, but because they are tacticians who believe that fighting the far enemy will assist in the battle against the "near enemy". [JW: In fact, al-Qaeda's terrorist campaign against western societies is intended above all to influence internal struggles within the Islamic world, not least by undermining and isolating political regimes in Arab countries--which were mostly able to crush direct attacks by Islamist radicals during the 1990s. Al-Qaeda's tactical innovation was in large part a response to that defeat.] The near enemy defeated, the focus would then turn to global jihad, and the establishing of God's just order over all humankind, and so on.
We are now offered a choice between two perspectives on Islamism.
The first sees in Qutb's writings - in Curtis's words - "a powerful critique of modern western culture and democracy": not an attractive species of utopianism, but not a particularly dangerous one either. That view regards the triumph of Islamism - despite its global aspirations - as an event the impact of which will be limited chiefly to the Middle East, and which will in any event be short lived, and that accordingly it is not a source of serious concern to anybody outside Arab and other Muslim lands. Some appear to have come to the conclusion that an alliance with the Qutbists of the Muslim Brotherhood is both a strategic necessity if the BinLadenists are to be denied recruits, and even desireable, because they provide an "anti-imperialist" counterbalance to US foreign policy goals. That is essentially, I think, where Ken Livingstone ends up: which is why he seeks to champion and promote the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Qaradawi, as a Mandela figure. The Socialist Workers' Party ploughs a similar furrow.
Then there is George Galloway, who is the lynchpin of the formal alliance with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers' Party and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. He was happy to enter into such a pact, even though he is a Stalinist who still casually deploys the word "Trotskyist" as an insult, who aligns himself with the Morning Star's pro-Soviet position on Afghanistan, who enthusiastically supported a Baathist tyrant and who is still carrying a torch for his deputy. The fact that Galloway advocates a particular position is no reason of itself to oppose it. But, given his uncanny ability to back the wrong side, it is a very good reason to think twice about sharing it.
The alternative perspective is to treat Islamism - in both Qutbist and BinLadenist forms - as a species of totalitarianism, which should not be bargained with.
Curtis' conclusion is as follows:
"The real danger is that, by suppressing Islamism, we will make its ideas more attractive to already marginalised young men."
That claim may, empirically, be right or wrong. However, there is a world of difference between Livingstone's soft embrace of Qaradawi, or Galloway's hard coalition with Islamists on the one hand, and merely opposing clumsy attempts to defeat Islamism on the other.
In any event, I am certain that the "war of ideas" - the "struggle between global jihad and democratic peace" of which Professor Tibi speaks - cannot be won if Islamism is regarded as no more than "reactionary", "pessimistic", or "anti-progressive". If the argument in realm of ideas is to be won it is, at the very least, essential that the challenge which Islamist political beliefs represents to democratic values is not minimised.
It is the tendency to play down the nature of Islamism, rather than the temptation to build up the the threat which it embodies, which makes alliances between left-liberals and their theoretical antithesis possible.
Posted by david t at August 31, 2005 10:10 PM | TrackBack


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International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jihadism's roots in political Islam
By Bassam Tibi

(Bassam Tibi is a professor at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and a professor-at-large at Cornell University. He is the author of "Islam between Culture and Politics." )
Gŏttingen, Germany. After any terrorist attack by jihadists - from the Sept. 11 attacks to those in Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004 and London in July - two contradictory views are usually heard. Some people claim that such religiously legitimated terror has its roots in Islam; others, principally Muslims and politically correct Westerners, say such terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
The truth can only be reached by putting aside both extreme views and by recognizing the difference between Islam, the religion, and Islamism, the religious-political ideology. Although jihadism may not be Islamic, it is based on the ideology of Islamism, which has emerged from the politicization of Islam in the current war of ideas.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of recognizing this truth. Jihadism will continue to be with us for decades to come, as long as the movement related to it within Islamic civilization continues to thrive and to disseminate its deadly ideas.
Jihadists see themselves as non-state actors waging an irregular war against "kafirun," or unbelievers. They see their struggle as a just war legitimated by a religious, political and military interpretation of the Islamic concept of jihad.
Jihadism's relation to Islamism can be stated in a nutshell: Jihadists read the classical doctrine of jihad in a new mind while reinventing Islamic tradition.
Although the Koran allows Muslims to resort to "qital" (physical fighting) for the benefit of Islam, this is clearly for reasons other than terrorism, because the Koran allows qital only under strict rules, while terrorism, by definition, is a war without rules. The new interpretation of jihad adds an "ism" to it, jihad becoming jihadism (jihadiyya), an irregular war that is a variety of modern terrorism.
It is wrong and even deceitful to argue that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam, because the jihadists believe that they are acting as "true Islamic believers" and learn the Islamist mind-set in mosques and Islamic schools, including those of the Islamic diaspora in Europe.
It follows that the debate over whether these terrorists are "Islamic" or "un-Islamic" is meaningless. The fact is that jihadism is a new direction in Islamic civilization, an expression of the contemporary "revolt against the West" that enjoys tremendous popularity in the ongoing war of ideas. In order to combat the deadly idea of jihadism successfully, it is necessary to seek Muslim cooperation to determine who the jihadists are, rather than engaging in empty arguments.
The jihadists are followers of the ideas of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, who laid the foundations of Islamism as a political and military interpretation of Islam. Islamism aims not only to purify Islam but also to establish the "Nizam Islami," or Islamic order.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, some commentators said that jihadists were now targeting the West because they were "fighting somebody else's war." This is utterly wrong. The intellectual father of jihadist Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in Cairo in 1966, made the message crystal clear: Jihadism is a "permanent Islamic world revolution" aimed at decentering the West in order to establish "Hakimiyyat Allah," or God's rule, on a global scale.
Early Islamists honored Qutb's distinction between two steps, the local and the global, in the jihadist strategy: First topple secular regimes at home, and then move on to global jihad. What Al Qaeda has done is not to fight somebody else's war, but rather to confuse the two steps in the jihadist strategy. This confusion continued to manifest itself in the terrorist attacks in Madrid and in London, because of the existence of a Muslim diaspora in Europe that has its own problems.
[JW: "Confusion" is the wrong term here; see my previous comments above.]

What can be done to counter jihadism? As a Muslim immigrant living in Europe, I wholeheartedly reject the idea of a "clash of civilizations." But it would be naïve to overlook the reality of an ongoing "war of ideas" - a struggle between global jihad and democratic peace as competing directions for the 21st century.
Instead of giving in to talk of a "clash of civilizations," what is needed is an alliance between Western supporters of democracy and enlightened Muslims against jihadist Islamists.
It is important to realize, however, that democracy is a political culture and not simply a procedure. Shiite clerics in Iraq, for example, have failed to recognize this - and as a result they are unable to provide an alternative to Sunni jihadism.

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