Political Islam and social movements

Political Islam and social movements

The prevailing image of Islam in Western media and intellectual circles is one that reiterates the political nature of this religion. Islam is said to embody an authoritarian polity in which concepts such as freedom, democracy, and openness, have very little place (Bayat, 2007:4). Political Islam especially is perceived as the main vehicle of this brand of politics predicated on a revival of an authentic Islamic political tradition. This sociopolitical phenomenon embodies for many Westerners what they fear most about Islam.

By the early twentieth century, the autonomy of Muslim societies was greatly diminished due to the consolidation of colonial power in the Muslim world. Strong central governments, answerable to foreign imperial regimes, had replaced the old political system. In this new reality, “the traditional forms of Muslim religious organization were often suppressed” (Lapidus, 1988:7). Massive economic changes, unprecedented migration to the cities, and the emergence of new social strata accompanied the collapse of the old sociopolitical system. “The new era was marked by efforts to define new modes of political action as well as new modes of Islamic religious belief” (Lapidus, 1988:7).

Although there is a general consensus in Western academia that the historical roots and the development of this Islamic revival should be studied, the overwhelming majority of these studies tend to focus only on certain aspects of it, at the detriment of all others (Burke, 1988: 18). While the diverse political projects of Islamist groups is often discussed at length, almost nothing is said about their underlining social agendas. The capacity of these groups to mobilize consensus by addressing social grievances, while redefining the political spectrum, makes them at once political and social reform movements.

“As one engages this issue, one notes important differences over even so basic a matter as the definition of the subject. Is it Islamicpolitical movements? Or socialmovements in Islamic societies? These contracting questions frame a basic difference in the field” (Burke, 1988: 18).

The emergence, development, and diversification of Islamism correspond to the trajectories of state formation and socio-economic development in the Middle East. The popularity of modernization theory, and class analysis in the 1960s and 1970s, eclipsed any possible focus on Islamism in the political analyses of the Middle East and other Muslim majority countries. “When it was considered, it tended to be dismissed as rear-guard battle from traditional social forces heading for the dustbin of history” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). In the wake of the Iranian revolution, Islamism was defined primarily as a political phenomenon concerned mainly with “the establishment of an Islamic state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). Often compared to movements from the left and the right, it was described as a nationalist and revolutionary movement implementing a top-down approach to seize the institutions of the state in order to establish a new social order (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278).

Statist Islamism and political activism

“In its high degree of generality, Islamism emerged as the language of self-assertion to mobilize those (…) who felt marginalized by the dominant economic, political, and cultural processes in their societies (…)” (Bayat, 2007:6). For these individuals neither capitalist modernity, nor socialist utopia offered concrete answers to the political and economic woes of their nations. It was not however the working class that brought Islamism to the center-stage of Muslim politics; it was rather the Muslim middle-class that sought to find within Islamist discourse a viable dissident narrative. It was a way for them of rejecting the increasingly rigid control of the elite, while proposing an alternative to their western-centric political, economic, and social project. “In a quest to operate within an authentic nativist ideology, Islamists tried to articulate a version of Islam that could respond to their political, economic, and cultural deficit” (Bayat, 2007:7). Therefore, Islamism was conceptualized as a system with a distinctive political project, a religiously inspired cultural code, and a strong populist language.

“Two simultaneous but contradictory processes pushed Islamism toward its hegemonic position: opportunity and suppression” (Bayat, 2007:7). In the 1950s and 1960s throughout the Muslim world massive educational growth, economic expansion, increase in wealth, and social mobility co-existed with “continuous political repression, marginalization, a sense of humiliation, and growing inequality” (Bayat, 2007:7). The members of this highly educated middle-class increasingly became aware of their marginalization in their societies where a small but affluent elite held all the political and economic power. Often allied with Western powers, these elites enjoyed the protection and the support of these nations. Political repression and social control were widely used by these regimes in order to quell any attempt at political dissidence. Political Islam became widely popular amongst those searching for an alternative to what they perceived as the rapid decay of their societies. Through its populist rhetoric and religious sociopolitical project Islamism quickly gained traction.

The term statist Islamism refers to the brand of Islamism that implies an “institutionalized participation in the politics of the nation state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). In this category, one can find groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who seek to reconcile Islamic doctrine with liberal forms of democracy. Their variant of Islamism evolved over time to become a reformist discourse. It appealed equally to members of the middle class and the working class eager to find a “broader popular constituency” to challenge the assertions of the more affluent, more secularized establishment claiming to speak for the nation (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). The model of political action and the ideological program detailed by the Muslim Brotherhood served as an example to follow for a wide range of organizations throughout the Muslim world. Groups such as Ennahda in Tunisia, the Salwa movement of Saudi Arabia, and Islah in Yemen, have “Brotherhood roots or links” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). Socially, these movements have often emerged within the middle class and are fundamentally linked to the spread of education and urbanization in their respective societies.

Statist Islamism sought to improve rather than destroy the existing system. Their narrative was not so much predicated on challenging social hierarchies and the economic model, but rather on attacking corruption and moral laxity seen as the very cause of the socio-economic ills plaguing the community. “The economic problems were to be solved not by a drastically new system of governance or redistribution of wealth but by elites recognizing and acting upon their obligations to Islam and sharia” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). What explains the resilience of statist Islamism is its capacity to adapt its aim and strategies to the shifts in models of governance and forms of social activism.

Non-statist Islamism and grassroots activism

The major models theorizing collective action never really focus on how collective action can transform into a revolution. They mainly explain the causes of social discontent without however pondering on how these same causes trigger revolutionary crises. James Davies claims that when prolonged periods of economic and social development are followed by a period of sharp decline, revolutions are more likely to occur (Bayat, 2007:18). According to Ted Gurr’s relative deprivation thesis “what seems to mediate between these objective processes and the occurrence of revolution is the psychological mood of the people, their expectations, and frustrations” (Bayat, 2007:18). Resource mobilization theorists have stressed out however that the people’s mood and their frustrations may not be enough to trigger action “unless they are able to mobilize the necessary resources by creating appropriate opportunities” (Bayat, 2007:18).

Popular frustration can give rise to two types of mobilization. One type seeks to dismantle the existing order and replace it with an alternative structure. This was the case in Iran where shortly after the revolution a process of massive Islamization of the nation was undertaken. Through a top-down process driven by the state a concerted effort was made to “Islamize the nation, state apparatus, public space, and individual behavior” (Bayat, 2007:50). The second type of mobilization seeks to revamp and amend the dominant order through the action of social movements. These movements are attempting to create “alternative institutions and value systems before a total change” (Bayat, 2007:18). Whereas in Iran Islamization spread through a top-down process, in Egypt the Islamic revival was born of a bottom-up social movement that first appeared in the 1920s (Bayat, 2007:33).

The economic restructuring of the 1970s diminished tremendously the state’s capacity to care for the marginalized and vulnerable groups within many Muslim societies. To compensate for this exclusion at the state level, vast sections of these societies relied increasingly on “self-help strategies, kinship networks, and other informal mechanisms” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This created an environment conducive to the rise of a type of Islamism rejecting any institutionalized participation in politics in favor of changes in lifestyles and individual behaviours.“Non-statist Islamismis not so much apolitical as it is infra political: local-level organizational, preaching and charitable activity” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 282). Grassroots activism is central to their brand of Islamism. While groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have also centered their activism on charity work and preaching, non-statist grassroots Islamism tends toward a more conservative interpretation of the Islamic doctrine. Salafism, which over the past decades became the most popular movement in the grassroots Islamist phenomenon, encourages its adherents to focus on the community rather than the state. “Salafis tend to promote an ascetic lifestyle and consider consumerism to be a distraction from religious duties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015:283).

The Salafi’s eschewing of all forms of political engagement has worked in their favor at the grassroots level. Unlike statist Islamists and Jihadists who often attract the ire of the state, Salafis are generally tolerated by these regimes. The post 9/11 crackdowns on Islamic organizations in the Middle East were mainly targeted toward politicized, and armed Islamists. “In allowing or facilitating the expansion of Islamist grassroots infrastructure, regimes signalled their limited capacity to govern peripheral, rural or informal urban areas” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This has allowed Salafis to have a greater control over the social field. Governments have actively encouraged members of politically active Islamists groups to join instead the less overtly militant Salafi movement. The contemporary Salafi movement arose from the student movements of the 1970s in Egypt. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Salafism was often promoted as the safer alternative to the more militant Islamist movements. “Yet, even if many grassroots activist, for principled or pragmatic reasons, eschew politics, their activism has played a role as part of a broader Islamist movement in building constituencies for Islamist parties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283).

Jihadi movements differ form both statist Islamists and non-statist groups like the Salafis by their endorsement of violence as a mean of establishing an Islamic state. Some of these groups call for violent tactics in their attempt to further the cause of an idealized form of Islamic community. Many more however are not motivated by a desire to promote armed struggle as a meaningful strategy, but are rather forced to adopt violent actions as a response to state repression; as it was the case in the Algerian civil conflict of the 1990s (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 284). These types of movements tend to find a fertile ground in areas where the state power is greatly diminished, and communities are marginalized. They usually emerge in places where the legitimacy of the state is widely contested, and its presence is all but absent or greatly undermined (Volpi and Stein, 2015:284).

 

Advertisements

ISLAMIC HISTORIOGRAPHY

ISLAMIC HISTORIOGRAPHY

One of the greatest blessings Allah ‘aza wajal bestowed upon our Ummah is our scholars. Muslim scholars dedicated their entire lives mastering several fields of knowledge and advancing those disciplines to new heights. Contrary to many nations whose history was primarily written by Westerners, the history of Islam (and Muslims by extension) was already written centuries ago by our very own scholars: Urwah ibn Zubayr, Ali ibn al-Madini,Muhammad al-Bukhari,Ibn Wahshiyya, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Ibn Khaldun,Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, etc…)

The problem however is the existing divide between the contemporary Muslim populations and the vast and rich historiography left by these scholars. For a multitude of reasons (Westernized education systems, language barriers, illiteracy, political agendas) most Muslims know either very little or nothing at all about their own history. This of course leaves them vulnerable to just about any attempt made to re-write Muslim history by folks whose sole desire is to tarnish and destroy the legacy of previous Muslim generations.

One such attempt was spearheaded by a notorious Egyptian “Academic” called Youssef Zeidan who specializes on Arabic and Islamic studies. He stirred controversy when he called one of the most beloved historical figure of Islam, Salahadin Ayyubi, “one of the most despicable figures in human history.” His statements ignited a heated debate on social media and in Egyptian newspapers.

We live in times of confusion, manipulation, and propaganda. Knowledge is the best possible protection against this. Get to know your history folks, read the multitude of books left behind as a legacy by the scholars of Islam. The best remedy against lies is the truth. Let us not become people who simply fall for the latest trend, let us instead be people of substance with a firm Iman.

May Allah ‘aza wajal rescue us from the perdition of ignorance.

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

While developing a nationwide consciousness through the rise of a national culture holds many revolutionary and therapeutic promises, it is also riddle with many pitfalls. Fanon was far too aware of the lurking dangers of “fixity and fetishism of identities within the calcification of colonial culture” to fall into to the trap of either romanticizing the past, or homogenizing the unfolding history of anti-colonial resistance (Bhabha, 1994:9). According to him, the discourse of cultural essentialism can reiterate and legitimize the insidious racialization inherent to the violent rationale of colonialism. The process of historical and cultural rehabilitation is an essential step in overcoming the rhetoric of the colonial civilizing mission, and its narrative consigning the colonized to barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. In Fanon’s understanding however, these aggressive assertions of cultural identity at a national level should eventually lead to wider international solidarities dedicated to the same anti-colonial struggle. “Ideally, national consciousness ought to pave the way for the emergence of an ethically and politically enlightened global community” (Gandhi, 1998:123).  It is crucial to move beyond the colonial moment by imagining a renewed social consciousness transcending the fixed identities and rigid boundaries inherent to nativism. “Postcolonialism, in other words, ought to facilitate the emergence of what we might, after Said, call an enlightened postnationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:124).

The vast majority of contemporary postcolonial critics and theorists agree that postnationalism proposes not only a more accurate reading of the colonial experience, but also a more creative framework for a postcolonial future. The perspective offered by the previous generation of anti-colonial activists (Fanon, Memmi, Césaire, Cabral etc.…) is often criticized for describing the colonial encounter through “the rigid binary of colonizer and colonized, center and periphery” (Archeraiou, 2011:150). Despite the historical and political truth of the antagonism underlined in their writings, their anti-colonial perspective neglects to recognize “the corresponding failures and fissures which trouble the confident edifice of both colonial repression and anti-colonial retaliation” (Gandhi, 1998:124). The colonial onslaught, despite its violence and systematicness, was never successful in completely obliterating colonized societies. In fact, Homi Bhabha argues that the encounter with colonial powers was far more ambivalent in nature then exclusively oppositional. The early political visions of Said and Spivak differ tremendously in their understanding of colonial history. Whereas Said presents colonialism as an uninterrupted narrative of oppression and exploitation in Orientalism, Spivak tends to offer a more complex image of the effects of Western domination. While she never dismisses the destructive impact of imperialism, she nevertheless insists on acknowledging its positive effects. According to Spivak, imperialism is endowed with a paradoxical nature that generates what she refers to as “an enabling violence” (Spivak, 1996:19).

Postnationalism investigates the precarious nature of the colonial encounter by bridging the old divide between Westerner and native through a less beleaguered—and more politically amorphous—account of “colonialism as a cooperative venture” (Gandhi, 1998:125). This rather softer outlook on colonialism seeks to produce a postcolonial ethos capable of creating an inter-civilizational coalition to challenge the institutionalized suffering and oppression of our current world (Gandhi, 1998:125). In order to do so, the colonial encounter is showcased as a process of mutual transformation. The old tale of conflict and confrontation is replaced by an anecdote of transcultural exchange. As Harish Trivedi states:

“It may be useful to look at the whole phenomenon as a transaction…as an interactive, dialogic, two-way process rather than a simple active-passive one; as a process involving complex negotiation and exchange” (Trivedi, 1993:15).

Three main factors seem to have heralded contemporary postcolonialism’s discursive turn toward postnationalism. The advent of globalization as an academic field with a growing body of work, insisting on the economic and technological homogenization of the world, reinforced the impression that national boundaries are no longer sustainable in the modern world. The current flow of global capital goes hand in hand with an unparalleled movement of peoples, technologies, and information across borders hitherto perceived as impermeable (Appadurai, 1990:295). Due to its global reach, colonialism became the harbinger of this free-flow that exemplifies the disconcerting relationships characterizing modernity. “The imperial gaze, in other words, delivered a distinctively globalized perception of the disparate world” (Gandhi, 1998:126). The colonial encounter caused the overlapping of diverse and reciprocally antagonistic national histories by accelerating the contact between formerly distinct and autonomous cultures. The colonial onslaught became a common experience to countless cultures connected by nothing else. Therefore, the condition of the postcolonial aftermath pertains “to Indians and Britishers, Algerians and French, Westerners and Africans” (Said, 1993: xxiv). The globalization of cultures and histories is the very matrix through which postcoloniality emerges.

A second factor that leads to the “postnationalisation of postcolonial theory” is the mounting critical distrust of identitarian politics (Gandhi, 1998:126). A variety of critics suspect that essentialized racial/ethnic identities are deliberately being maintained and proliferated in the neocolonial context. Stuart Hall details the insidious process through which “the convenient Othering and eroticization of ethnicity merely confirms and stabilizes the hegemonic notion of Englishness” (Hall, 1989:227). In these circumstances, ethnicity is always defined as peripheral to an Englishness or Americanness conceived of as the mainstream. This leads critics such as Rey Chow and Gayatri Spivak to question the enduring longing for the “pure Other of the West” (Spivak, 1990:8). The dissatisfaction with identitarian politics is driven primarily by the conviction that the narrative based on racial/ethnic affiliations has been co-opted by a devious partnership between neo-orientalism and postcolonial pragmatism.

Finally, to complete this account of the growing discursive turn toward postnationalism, we must take into account the pervasive exhaustion with the previous embattled approach to colonial history. The desire to transcend the older pattern of confrontation and conflict fuelled the belief that the antagonistic basis of old solidarities lacks contemporary credibility. “In conservative Britain, for instance, old racial oppositions come in the way of other more urgent alliances organized along the axes of class, gender, sexuality” (Gandhi, 1998:128). Said denotes an analogous impasse in old national enmities. His disenchantment stems from what he labels as a ”rhetoric of blame”, which he claims is responsible for the violence and confusion escalading hostilities between the Western and non-Western world (Said, 1993:20). These antagonistic relationships are exploited and manipulated by a throng of fundamentalist and reactionary movements taking cover under the rhetoric of anti-Western sentiment to, in Said’s words, “cover up contemporary faults, corruptions, and tyrannies” (Said, 1993:17).

“Finally, for all the blindness of unequivocal anti-nationalism, postcolonial theory has been susceptible to the general disillusionment with national cultures. Caught between the harsh extremes of ethnic cleansing, on the one hand, and the militaristic American purification of the un-American world on the other, postcolonialism ponders a ceasefire. Its hope, via postnationalism, is this: that it be possible to inaugurate a non-violent revision of colonial history, and that politics may become genuinely more collaborative in times to come” (Gandhi, 1998:129)

Hybridity and mutual transformations

Much like the culturalist turn of the 1970s that became a leading trend in the social sciences, the non-binary models promoted by Bhabha, Young, and Gilroy gained traction in the early 1990s in postcolonial studies. They have become the principal modes through which colonial and postcolonial cultural encounters are conceptualized and understood (Acheraiou, 2011:150). The previous models predicated on binary modes of theorizing and resisting colonialism/neocolonialism have been relegated to oblivion. Postcolonialism opts instead for a postnational reading of the colonial encounter, putting the emphasis on the amalgamation of cultures and identities touched by imperialism. To do so, it deploys various conceptual terms and categories of analysis to examine the elusive relationships between colonizers and colonized. “In this regard, the terms hybridity and diaspora, in particular, stand out for their analytic versatility and theoretical resilience” (Gandhi, 1998:129). As a critical term, hybridity is often tackled in connection with a series of concepts indicating the advent of an “intercultural transfer”, as well as the forms of identity emerging from such an exchange (Hiepko, 2001:118). This process of creolization implies that the various groups implicated in this event will adapt themselves to each other and to their new environment, allowing for a new identity to arise.

The origins of the term hybridity can be traced back to the discourse of the biological sciences. In botany and zoology, the hybrid is said to be a cross between two different species of plants or animals. However, in the context of colonialism and its racializing discourse, the term was primarily understood in a negative manner. By blurring the distinction between different races, the process of hybridization was seen as a potential danger to the alleged superiority of the White race, and white colonizers by extension (hiepko, 2001:118). Since the usage of this concept is traditionally entrenched in the narratives of evolution, “the hybrid was originally conceived of as infertile and often as an inferior copy of the original” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:4). Within Western thought, hybridity was usually interpreted in the framework of racial thinking. This generated a great deal of reluctance amongst those wary of its usage in postcolonialism. They were mainly concerned with the nineteenth century notions about race and miscegenation embedded in the term. Robert J.C Young who discusses the link between the concept of hybridity and the racist idea of mongrelity has argued for this perspective. He claims that the usage of the term reiterates and reinforces the contentious and divisive dynamics of its nineteenth century ideological baggage (Young, 1995:14).

“Today, therefore, in reinvoking this concept, we are utilizing the vocabulary of the Victorian extreme right as much as the notion of an organic process of the grafting of diversity into singularity” (Young, 1995:10).

For the most part, the language of hybridity seems to derive its theoretical incentive from Fanon’s judicious reading of colonialism as a catalyst for the accelerated transformation of colonized societies. He states that the constraints of the decolonization project radically unsettles and alters traditional cultural patterns in colonized societies. “The shifting strategies of anti-colonial struggle, combined with the task of imagining a new and liberated postcolonial future, generate a crisis within the social fabric” (Fanon, 1965:64). The revolutionary endeavor undertaken in the struggle for liberation provokes profound political and cultural transformations that change these societies irrevocably. Fanon proclaims that it is “the necessities of combat that give rise in Algerian society to new attitudes, to new modes of action, to new ways” (Fanon, 1965:64). His analysis of the Algerian Revolution highlights the transformations observed in the status of Algerian women as well as the changes occurring in the family structure and its values. Significant modifications in the customary attitudes toward science and technology can also be observed during the same period. While the rise of a national culture requires the uncovering of a native identity, invoking the myth of pure origins, the experience of colonial oppression must bring profound changes in the consciousness of the colonized to help them transcend the limitations of nativism, so they can instead embrace wider international solidarities.

“The challenging of the very principle of foreign domination brings about essential mutations in the consciousness of the colonized, in the manner in which he perceives the colonizer, in his human status in the world” (Fanon, 1965:69).

Fanon’s remarks pertaining to the “instability and consequent inventiveness of anti-colonial conditions” were revisited by a variety of postcolonial theorists who later formulated the discourse of hybridity (Gandhi, 1998:130). Most of them focused on the fact that the colonial encounter led to the transformation of the colonized into a political subject of decolonization. The contact between two conflicting systems of belief produced a whole new cultural identity. Stuart Hall argues that anti-colonial identities “do not owe their origins to a pure and stable essence” but are instead the byproduct of a traumatic and disruptive fissure in history and culture (Gandhi, 1998:130).

Homi K. Bhabha contributed to the discussion on hybridity by bringing forth the idea of intercultural space. According to him, this expanse of in-betweenness and liminality is where hybrid identities are formed. In what Bhabha calls the ‘Third space of enunciation’, the transitional space between the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized, as well as migrants and other post-colonial subjects, go through a process that alters their fixed sense of identity (Bhabha, 1994:37). While this recasting of previously fixed identities can be positive and empowering, its transgressive nature and location in the liminal space, poses nonetheless potential dangers as it produces “a new, and hybrid subjectivity” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:8). While this Third Space possesses the ability to generate non-fixed identities, there is always the possibility that these new identities might at first glance resemble the old ones, without being quite the same however (Bhabha, 1994:4). What is involved in the creation of a hybrid identity is an “estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations”(Bhabha,1994:9). Colonialism is read, in Bhabha’s perspective, as the trigger of a new politics of un-homeliness.

“In this sense, colonialism is said to engender the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiation. Not surprisingly, diasporic thought finds its apotheosis in the ambivalent, transitory, culturally contaminated and borderline figure of the exile, caught in a historical limbo between home and world” (Gandhi, 1998:132).

The role of hybridity in the production of contemporary identities is particularly of significance when one takes into account how this process frames them along cultural borderlands as hyphenated entities. Mary Louise Pratt extends Bhabha’s analyses by arguing that both the colonizer and the colonized are involved in the transcultural subtleties of the colonial encounter. She describes it less as a violent interaction and more as a contact requiring innovative forms of communication to overcome the existing ideological/cultural/linguistic barriers. This interaction amidst “radically asymmetrical conditions of power, invariably produces an estrangement of familiar meanings and a mutual ‘creolisation’ of identities”(Pratt, 1992:4).

“Some critics of Bhabha, such as Aijaz Ahmed and Benita Parry, criticize his theory for its poststructuralist/postmodernist and textual emphasis” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:9). Ahmed argues that Bhabha is situated in the same material conditions of postmodernity that ascertain and reiterate the benefits of modernity; it is this very location that informs Bhabha’s judgments of the past, as well as the “anti-historicality of his post-colonial theory” (Ahmed, 1996:291). Others however, have argued that the ambivalence of Bhabha’s Third Space can be used to inspire emancipatory aims, and unearth new narratives pertaining to nation. “Hybridity is a threat to colonial and cultural authority; it subverts the concept of pure origin or identity of the dominant authority through the ambivalence created by denial, unsettling, repetition, and displacement” (Mabardi, 2000:6).

The possible existence of these locations of hybridity theorized by Bhabha, where the traditional and the new co-exist, challenges the standard narratives pertaining to modernity and postmodernity. It proposes the likelihood of “mixed times where premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity coexist” (Pieterse, 1995:51). This outlook on time occupies an important place in Bhabha’s work. His concept of time-lag intimates that the colonial past still exercises a certain hold on the postcolonial present, that is,  “in the colonialist stereotype that surfaces in the present and troubles the linearity of modernity by repeating the past” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:10). Hybridity’s ability to question and challenge what might appear as natural borders is probably its greatest aptitude and influence.

“Acknowledging the contingency of boundaries and the significance and limitation of hybridity as a theme and approach means engaging hybridity politics. This is where critical hybridity comes in, which involves a new awareness of and new take on the dynamics of group formation and social inequality. This critical awareness is furthered by acknowledging rather than suppressing hybridity” (Pieterse, 2001:239).

The notion of in-betweenness implied by the term hybridity is further explored through the concept of diaspora. While this term usually evokes the specific dynamics of human displacement, postcolonialism is generally more concerned with the idea of cultural dislocation. Although it is often used interchangeably with the concept of migration, “it is generally invoked as a theoretical device for the interrogation of ethnic identity and cultural nationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:131). The notion of hybridity elucidates those processes of “cultural mutation and restless (dis) continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents” (Gilroy, 1993:2). This concurrence between diasporic thought and the discourse of hybridity allows postcolonialism to reveal the process of mutual transformation experienced by both the colonizer and the colonized. “For all its hyperbolic claims, the discourse of hybridity and diaspora is not without its limitation” (Gandhi, 1998:136). While postcolonialism attempts to understand the mutual transformation of colonizer and colonized, hybridity usually implies the destabilizing of colonized cultures. In all these cross-cultural conversations the West remains the primary meeting ground. Furthermore, in the metropolis, the positive outlook on multiculturalism is often used to disguise serious economic, political, and social disparities. In this context, it is crucial to remain cautious of claims which favor hybridity as the only enlightened response to racial/colonial oppression.

“The dangers of ‘enlightened hybridity’ are amply demonstrated in Ashcroft et al.’s recently announced objections to the aggressively postcolonial claims of the indigenous peoples of ‘settled colonies’ which, arguably, compete with the corresponding claims of ‘white settler’ Australians and Canadians.” (Gandhi, 1998:136).

Hybridity and mimicry

The complications pertaining to Bhabha’s attempt to think beyond the traditional binary modes of analysis become evident in “his account of the issue of political engagement, resistance and agency” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). He views the political sphere as an area where dominant and subordinate cultures engage in a process of constant (re)negotiation and political (re)positioning. This cognitive ambivalence on the part of both “partners” permits the advent of new, and hitherto unknown methods in which the native can circumvent the weight of colonial power. Bhabha compares this process to a “psychological guerrilla warfare” that gives the colonized a certain edge over their colonizers (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). His reassessment of the spaces, the times, and the modes of political engagement in the colonial relationship is an attempt on his part to find a way of reformulating subaltern agency in terms other than those elaborated by either late Fanon or early Said. For Bhabha, the portrait of the violent native insurgent found in The Wretched of the Earth reestablishes the Western model of the individual as an autonomous subject, “by which Western modernity—and the history of colonialism which accompanied it—is underwritten” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:131).

Unlike Fanon, Said establishes the subaltern as devoid of any real agency, and a mere consequence of the dominant discourse. Within the power dynamic presented in Orientalism, the subaltern is only ever the West’s silent rival. While some have criticized Said for “constructing too hegemonic a picture of Orientalism’s discursive formation, Bhabha points out to the way in which Said himself shows that such a discourse is constituted ambivalently” (Young, 2004: 181). Said tackles this ambivalence by mentioning a single instigating intention. In his analysis, Orientalism is reduced primarily to a Western projection designed to rule over the Orient. He posits an antagonism born out of the binary opposition between power and powerlessness. This emphasizes “the supposition of an exterior controlling intention and leaves no room for negotiation or resistance (…)” (Young, 2004:182). However, Bhabha believes that Europe’s intents toward the East were not merely motivated by imperial greed. “There is always, in Said, the suggestion that colonial power is possessed entirely by the colonizer which is a historical and theoretical simplification” (Homi, 1983:200). He argues that this is a reductive analysis of a far more complex relationship. According to him, the representation of the Orient in Western discourse displays a deep ambivalence toward an Other viewed simultaneously as an object of desire and derision (Bhabha, 1994:19). Both the colonizers and the colonized enter a process of mutual transformations and engage in mutual mimicry.

Bhabha defines the concept of mimicry as “one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge”(Bhabha, 1994:85). The case of the nineteenth century adventurer Richard Burton, who passed himself off as a native in India and other British colonies, is no doubt one of the greatest examples of cross-cultural impersonation through mimicry. “His fluency in several languages and easy ability to consort with natives led him to adopt indigenous dress” (Godiwala, 2007:59). Burton’s act of mimicry was a subversive one that allowed him to regularly warn colonial powers against insurgent activities, burgeoning rebellions, and underground anti-colonial mobilizations. Said’s definition of the orientalist as a Westerner who establishes himself as an “authority in the texts of the colonized peoples applies to Burton’s writing as it does to the Egypt-based Burkhardt” (Godiwala, 2007:60). As pointed out by Parama Roy, in Burton’s travelogues, letters, and journals he is always posited as the authority on the native subject having “penetrated and participated in every exotic and forbidden mystery”(Roy, 1998:26). Mimicry is used here as a camouflage allowing the colonizer to fade into the background while still occupying a privileged position as an observer.

However, in the case of the colonized, Bhabha theorizes that the act of mimicking the colonizer’s habits, behaviors, mannerisms, and attitudes contains simultaneously an element of mockery as well as a certain threat in the resemblance to the values of the colonizing culture. The colonized subject engaging in the act of mimicry is effectively refusing to return the colonizer’s gaze, which, “Bhabha suggests, destabilizes colonial authority just as effectively in a different way” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). The colonizer’s ambivalence toward the colonized is conveyed in the “narcissistic colonialist demand” that requires the recognition of his authority, priorities, and references by the Other (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). By refusing to satisfy the colonizer’s need for such recognition, the subaltern is effectively engaging in resistance. This defiance arises from the subaltern’s calculated attempt to escape the process through which he is to be confined to a subordinate position in order to confirm the dominance of the colonizer.

“Here, the Anglicization of a colonial subject makes the subject familiar and yet, for Bhabha, emphasizes the difference from the English subject which is a process that mocks the authority of the latter” (Godiwala, 2007:60).

According to Dimple Godiwala, Bhabha is making a false assumption by equating the mimicry of an Englishman such as Burton to that of an Indian mimicking English values and attitudes. While Burton’s mimicry is endowed with the power bestowed upon him by his status of colonizer, to the colonized subject this mimicking Englishman represents a danger in his role as a spy of the empire. “Burton’s impersonation gives a him a thrill and a pleasure as his role as consummate actor is mingled with the knowledge of his own power” (Godiwala, 2007:61). Bhabha’s projected equivalence on both sides is simplistic and foregoes completely the impact of the power wielded by the colonizer’s culture. Young echoes Godiwala’s argument by pointing out that “such an analysis cannot be equally applicable to colonized as to colonizer” (Young, 2004:145). Burton’s motivations are part of the larger ‘colonialist desire’ to insinuate oneself into the lives of the colonized in order to render it accessible and manageable. The colonized however, mimic because they have internalized the notion that their cultural values are inferior to that of their colonizers. Therefore, the “subject-positions” of the colonizer and the colonized are fundamentally different and mimicry is used for very different reasons. The colonized is primarily motivated by a desire to imitate values they regard as superior to their own (Godiwala, 2007:61).

 

Bibliography

  • Acheraiou, Amar (2011). Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ahmed, Aijaz (1996). The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 277-293. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Alfred, Taiaiake (2005). Wasase. Indigenous pathways of actions and freedom. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
  • Appadurai, Arjun (1990). Disjuncture and Differences in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory and Culture, Vol. 7, pp. 295-310.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1988). Out of Africa: Topologies of Nativism, Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 1 (2), pp. 153-178.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1991). Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Post-colonial? Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), pp. 336-357
  • Asad, Talal (1992). Conscripts of Western Civilization, in Christine Gailey (ed.) Dialectical Anthropology: Essays in Honor of Stanley Diamond (1992), Vol.1, pp. 333-351. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (1995). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, New York: Routledge.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (2000). Post-Colonial Studies. The Key Concepts. London: Routledge
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1983). Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism, in Francis Baker et al., Literature, Politics and Theory. Papers from the Essex Conference, London: Methuen.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1992). Postcolonial Criticism, in Stephen Greenblatt and Giles B. Gunn (eds.), Redrawing the boundaries: the transformation of English and American literary studies (1992), pp. 437-465. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1994). The Location of Culture. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1998). Caliban Speaks to Prospero: Cultural Identity and the Crisis of Representation, in Philomena Marini (ed.) Critical Fictions: the politics of imaginative writing, pp.62-65. Seattle: Bay Press.
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K (2007). Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination. New York: Palgrave.
  • Blackey, Robert (1974). Fanon and Cabral: A Contrast in Theories of Revolution for Africa, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 12 (2), pp.191-209.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (1996). The State Nobility: Elite Schools and the Field of Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1961). Guinea and Cabo Verde Against Portuguese Colonialism, in Revolution in Guinea: selected texts by Amilcar Cabral. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1972). Identity and Dignity in the National Liberation Struggle, Africa Today, Vol.14 (4). Pp. 39-47.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (2016). Resistance and decolonization. London, New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000). Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Chatterjee, Pratha (2013). Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Childs, Peter & William, Patrick (1997). An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. London: Prentice Hall.
  • Davidson, Basil (1978). Africa in Modern History: The Search for a New Society, London: Allen Lane.
  • Dirlik, Arif (1994). The Postcolonial Aura: Third World criticism in the age of global capitalism. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1952). Le syndrome nord-africain, Esprit Nouvelle serie, 187(2), pp. 237-248.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1958). Toward the African Revolution: political essays, New York: Grove Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press
  • Fanon, Frantz (1967). Black skin, White mask. New York: Grove Press
  • Gandhi, Leela (1998). Postcolonial Theory. A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Godiwala, Dimple (2007). Postcolonial Desire: Mimicry, Hegemony, hybridity, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition (2007), pp.59-79, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Hall, Stuart (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.110-121, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Harris, Wilson (1974). History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas. Georgetown, Guyana: Ministry of Information.
  • Hiepko, Andrea Schwieger (2001). Creolization, in John C. Hawley (ed.), Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, pp. 116-123, Westport: Greenwood Press.
  • Irele, Abiola (1970). The Theory of Negritude, Political Theory and Ideology in African Society, proceedings of a seminar held at the Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh University, pp. 162-190.
  • Kuortti, Joel and Nyman, Jopi (2007). Introduction: Hybridity Today, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition, pp.1-18, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Mabardi, Sabine (2000). Encounters of a Heterogeneous Kind: Hybridity in Cultural Theory, in Rita De Grandis and Zila Bernd (eds.), Unforeseeable Americas: Constructing Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, pp.1-17, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Memmi, Albert (1967). The colonizer and the colonized. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Memmi, Albert (1968). Dominated Man: notes toward a portrait. London: Orion Press.
  • Mishra, Vijay & Bob Hodge (1991). What is post(-)colonialism? Textual Practice, Vol. (5), Issue 3, 1991, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp. 276-290, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McClintock, Anne (1992). The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the term “Post-colonialism”, Social Text, 31/32, 1992, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp.291-304, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McCulloch, Jock (1983). In The Twilight Of Revolution. The Political Theory of Amilcar Cabral. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Mongia, Padmini (1997). Introduction, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 1-19. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Moore-Gilbert, Bart (1997). Postcolonial Theory. Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso.
  • Parry, Benita (1994). Resistance Theory/Theorizing Resistance, or Two Cheers for Nativism, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.84-103, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (1995). Globalization as Hybridization, in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities, pp.45-68, London: Sage.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2001). Hybridity, So What? The Anti-Hybridity Backlash and the Riddles of Recognition, Theory, Culture and Society, 18.2-3, pp.219-245.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1990). Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third Word: Perspectives from Indian Historiography, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32 (2), pp. 383-408.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1994). Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism, American Historical Review, 99(5), pp.1475-1490.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise (1992). Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Rabaka, Reiland (2010). Forms Of Fanonism. Frantz Fanon’s Critical Theory And The Dialectic Of Decolonization. New York: Lexington Books.
  • Roy, Parama (1998). Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Said, Edward (1989). Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s interlocutor, Critical Inquiry, Vol.15 (2), pp. 205-225.
  • Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Said, Edward (1994). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Sartre, Jean Paul (1964). Le Colonialisme est un systeme, in Situations V: Colonialisme et neo-colonialisme, Paris: Gallimard.
  • Scott, David (1997). Refashioning Futures. Criticism after Postcoloniality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Scott, David (2005). The Social Construction of Postcolonial Studies, in Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Matti Bunzl, Antoinette Burton, and Jed Esty (eds.), Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, pp.385-400, Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.
  • Shohat, Ella. (1992). Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial’, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.321-333, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorthy (1990). Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value, in Peter collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds.), Literary Theory Today, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1993). Outside in the teaching machine. London: Routledge.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty; Landry, Donna; MacLean, Gerald M. (1996). The Spivak Reader: selected works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York; London: Routledge.
  • Steinmetz, George (2008). The Colonial State as a Social Field: Ethnographic Capital and Native Policy in the German Overseas Empire before 1914, Sociological Review, Vol.73, No.4, pp. 589-612.
  • Steinmetz, George (2014). The Sociology of Empires, Colonies, and Postcolonialism, Sociological Review, Vol.40, pp. 77-103.
  • Terdiman, Richard (1985). Discourse/counter discourse: the theory and practice of symbolic resistance in nineteenth-century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Trivedi, Harish (1993). Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Calcutta: Papyrus.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (1995). Colonial Desire: hybridity in theory, culture, and race. London: Routledge.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (2004). White Mythologies. Writing History and the West, London, New York: Routledge.

 

 

 

 

Political Islam And The Pearl Clutching Of Moderate Muslims

Political Islam And The Pearl Clutching Of Moderate Muslims

Political Islam or Islamism—that is Islam as a political ideology instead of a religion or theology—is a relatively contemporary phenomenon in the history of the Muslim World. Although Western Academia coined the term, the distinctive forms of Muslim politics that later came to define Islamism emerged in the nineteenth-century as European colonial incursions into Muslim territories increased. For many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Political Islam represents what they fear most; a brand of aggressive, politicized Islam hell bent on bringing about autocratic theocracies. Of course this is nothing short of a cartoonish portrayal of a complex sociopolitical phenomenon, but nevertheless this caricaturization continues to plague any conversation pertaining to the role of Islam within politics. In an attempt to explain the ongoing political upheaval observed in many Muslim countries, some Muslim intellectuals, scholars, and politicians often resort to facile and simplistic explanations.

According to them, the proliferation  in the Muslim world of ideologies and movements that strive to establish some kind of an “Islamic order” is due primarily to an increasing religious illiteracy. This particular outlook on the ongoing anomie in the Muslim world is especially prized by contingents of the Muslim community who label themselves as progressives and/or moderates. In this narrative, proponents of political Islam are portrayed as ignorant, fundamentalist, regressive forces battling against the very idea of progress and development. Interestingly enough, this perspective is also one that authoritarian regimes are often quick to reiterate in an attempt to delegitimize any broad-based opposition to their rule. After all, both Muslim personalities in the West, and officials of authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries were quick to point out the glaring religious illiteracy of ISIS’s foot soldiers, while remaining mum on the political factors at play in the very emergence of ISIS.

 

SILENCING ISLAM ON MATTERS OF POLITICS: WELCOME TO CORPORATIZED DA’WAH.

Using the existing problem of religious illiteracy amongst Muslims to sweep under the carpet the very real political, economic, and social grievances of this Ummah is not only fallacious, it is down right disingenuous. At some point this community of ours will have to drop the groupie mentality and start holding folks accountable for their words and their actions. At some point this community of ours will have to take a long and hard look at people’s motivations and loyalties. Islam, is and always was, a complete way of life encompassing all aspects of human existence. Those who—in this dire moment in the history of our Ummah—are quick to preach that Muslims should turn away from politics and confine their practice of Islam to mere rituals are for all intent and purposes telling Muslims to not only accept their own oppression, but somehow find purpose and contentment in it.

Those who are window dressing the acceptance of our humiliation and oppression as a religious edict cannot (and should not) be allowed to hide behind the title of scholar (‘alim) to avoid the much deserved criticism levelled against them. No scholar is infallible, and no human being is above criticism. Yes Muslims suffer from religious illiteracy. However, to surreptitiously omit mentioning that this problem is a direct result of the Western colonial onslaught that destroyed and dismantled much of the Muslim world’s institutions is nothing short of historical revisionism. To somehow pretend that religious illiteracy is the primary reason we are observing an uptake in extreme forms of militancy in Muslims countries, and not the direct result of Western imperialism and its murderous forays into Muslim land is the epitome of hypocrisy.

Here is the thing: THE STATUS QUO IS NOT AN OPTION ANYMORE. There comes a moment where remaining silent, turning the other cheek, and hoping for the best won’t cut it anymore. When in the absence of viable options to address the very real grievances of our Ummah, some of our brothers and sisters turn to the only groups—albeit problematic, and often flawed in their approches and methods—that seem to be offering a semblance of resistance, a promise to change the tide and bring about change, why do we collectively clutch our proverbial pearls and pretend not to understand what compels them to do so? We—by our indifference to the plight of our Ummah, our cowardice that prevents us from speaking truth to power, our selfishness that makes us so enamoured with our own confort that we keep silent in the face of mounting injustices—create the very conditions that lead so many of our youth to embrace this path. Our disconnect from the political realm as a community has left a void that sadly has been filled by groups lashing out in anger and despair. It is so easy and oh! so convenient to look at them with disdain, point the finger at them, and label them the bane of our existence and the root of all our problems. It is easy to ascribe to them all the evils of the world in an attempt to wash away our own guilt. For we are guilty my brothers and sisters. Guilty of not living up to the true potential of Islam. Guilty of remain deaf, dumb, and mute to the cries for help emanating from the four corners of the Muslim world.

Silencing Islam in all matters other than rituals, repeatedly downplaying the political and social grievances of Muslims, while vehemently criticizing those who engage in political and social resistance has become a staple of an increasingly corporatized form of Da’wah. Many of these scholars have turned into media personalities with massive platforms and millions of followers. They repeatedly use their platforms to plead for the need to maintain the status quo, while demonizing those who criticize and question it. While being implacable critics of what is often dubbed in the West as “political Islam”, they have no qualms cozying up to the same forces that generate the existing political crisis of the Muslim world. While they have no problem becoming the “poster child” for a brand of state approved Islam getting the thumbs up from Washington to Dubai, empathizing with the pain of their fellow Muslims and standing in solidarity with them in their grievances is apparently where they draw the line. In Islam, scholars are said to be the inheritors of the Prophets. As the custodians of Islamic knowledge, they are supposed to be a source of guidance not only through their teachings but also through their actions. To see so many Ulama become deeply entrenched in corrupt power structures, and Da’wah turn into a increasingly lucrative industry should alarm us all.

Look, the very first act undertaken by the Muslim Ummah in the moment of its birth was of two fold; religious and political. When Muslims gave their Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to our beloved Rasulullah (saw), they recognized him as both their spiritual leader and their political leader. He became their Imam and their Amir. To pretend today that somehow Islam has nothing to say on political matters, or solutions to offer to the political problems plaguing the Muslim world is nothing short of delusional. Asking Muslims to prove that they are peaceful moderate people by endorsing their own oppression is a sacrifice one only asks of subjugated people. When the very forces occupying and exploiting much of the Muslim world are also the one’s fabricating the labels that exalt or demonize us, we should realize that utilizing them only furthers their interests. Ignoring politics only services the forces that are seeking to subjugate, oppress, and exploit our Ummah.

 

 

Postcolonial Nativism: Culture And Resistance

Postcolonial Nativism: Culture And Resistance

The long history of resistance to colonialism is well known and documented in Postcolonial studies. The extensive and often violent process of colonization never effectively pacified colonized bodies. However, theorizing this kind of resistance sparked vigorous discussions amongst those wishing to address it within the confines of postcolonial theory. Questions pertaining to subjectivity, identity, and agency created unavoidable fault-lines within the conversation concerning “the appropriate models for contemporary counter-hegemonic work” (Parry, 1994:84).  For some, relying on a simple inversion of terms outlined by colonial discourse—such as colonizer/colonized—hinders greatly any attempt made to reinstate the colonized as the primary subject of its own history. Retaining colonial assumptions based on “undifferentiated identity categories” prevents any real challenge susceptible of contesting “the conventions of that system of knowledge”, and in fact creates a whole new layer of complicity (Parry, 1994:84). The project of postcolonial critique should instead seek to deconstruct and displace the Eurocentric foundations of the “discursive apparatus, which constructed the Third World not only for the west but also for the cultures so represented” (Terdiman, 1985:36).

There is no lack of evidence when it comes to instances of native dissatisfaction and dissent under colonial rule. In fact, the various forms of institutional and ideological domination generated widespread contestation. Official colonial archives have recorded instances of insurgency and organized political contestations against colonial rule.  “Traces of popular disobedience can also be recuperated from unwritten symbolic and symptomatic practices in which a rejection or violation of the subject positions assigned by colonialism is registered” (Parry, 1994:85). However, these often anarchic bouts of defiance, accompanied by a discourse of identity-assertion, “which were sometimes nurtured by dreams, omens and divination, and could take the form of theatre, violated notions of rational protest” were not always chronicled or highlighted in the anticolonial discourse (Harris, 1974:14). For the intellectual elite of the various nationalist and liberation movements these events were neither motivated by a specific political program with predetermined political outcomes, nor capable of advancing the struggle for nation-building.

“When we consider the narratives of decolonization, we encounter rhetorics in which ‘nativism’ in one form or another is evident” (Parry, 1994:88). For those theorizing anticolonial resistance, nativism can be misconstrued as nothing more than an essentializing discourse, or worse a type of ‘reverse racism’. According to Parry, reducing nativism to a mere castigating of inequalities grounded in a repetition of imperialism’s conceptual framework, overlooks its role in the development of a narrative of resistance. Nativism is imbued with a discourse predicated on overthrowing the hierarchy, the stance, and the concepts of the colonial narrative, and also rejecting the position of subjugation reserved to the colonized. “A recent discussion of nativism condenses many of the current censures of cultural nationalism for its complicity with the terms of colonialism’s discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). While it allows the decolonized to write about themselves as subjects of their own literature, nativism remains for Anthony Appiah beholden to monolithic conceptions of identity.

“Railing against the cultural hegemony of the West, the nativist are of its party without knowing it. Indeed the very argument, the rhetoric of defiance, that our nationalist muster are…canonical, time tested…In their ideological inscription, the cultural nationalists remain in apposition of conteridentification…which is to continue to participate in an institutional configuration—to be subjected to cultural identities they ostensibly decry…Time and time again, cultural nationalism has followed the route of alternate genealogizing. We end up always in the same; the achievement is to have invented a different pas for it” (Appiah, 1988:164).

For those sharing Appiah’s trepidations, nativist topology based on dichotomies such as periphery/center, native/foreigner, Western/tradition, reiterates the idea of the colonizer as a dynamic agent of change, and the colonized as a passive observer. “Thus while the reciprocity of the relationship is stressed, all power remains with western discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). However, Parry argues that nativism possesses the ability to generate an empowering project based on the creation of a coherent identity transcending the need to simply “locate and revive pristine pre-colonial cultures”(Irele, 1970:170).  Fanon and Cabral, as authors of liberation theories—“which could today be accused of an essentialist politics”—recognized the inherent potential possessed by the creation of an insurgent, unified self, in furthering the revolutionary cause (Parry, 1994:91).

“For as I read them, both affirmed the invention of an insurgent, unified black self, acknowledged the revolutionary energies released by valorizing the cultures denigrated by colonialism and, rather than construing the colonialist relationship in terms of negotiations with the structures of imperialism, privileged coercion over hegemony to project it as a struggle between implacably opposed forces (…)” (Parry, 1994:91).

According to Stuart Hall, there are two ways of conceptualizing cultural identity. The first one defines it in terms of a unique common culture, creating a collective “one true self”, which people with a shared common history and ancestry identify with (Hall, 1990: 110). Within the confines of this definition, our cultural identities demonstrate the collective historical experiences and cultural codes that provide us the basis on which we build the frames of reference that identify us as “one people” (Hall, 1990:111). It reiterates the “stable, unchangeable and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history” (Hall, 1990:111). This perception of cultural identity played an important role in the postcolonial struggles that have transformed our world. “It lay at the centre of the vision of the poets of ‘Negritude, like Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor, and of the Pan-African political project, earlier in the century” (Hall, 1990:111). It also remains an important element in nascent forms of representation amid previously marginalized peoples. Amongst postcolonial societies, the reclaiming of this cultural identity is what Fanon refers to as:

“a passionate research (…) directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others” (Fanon, 1963:170).

 

I) The colonizer/colonized paradigm

According to Frantz Fanon, what characterizes the Western colonization of the Global South is the intense and continuous racialization of non-whites. The colonizers’ existence and identity rests primarily on their ability to maintain a highly racialized colonial system that grants them all the profits, while stripping the non-whites of their rights and basic humanity (Rabaka, 2010:113). Albert Memmi points out that the “economic motives of colonial undertakings” explain why so many Europeans choose to relocate to the colonies (Memmi, 1967:3). The change involved in moving to a colony ensured that these settlers could make a substantial profit. In a racialized hierarchy where being white guaranteed all possible privileges, moving to a colony entailed: better jobs, higher wages, rapid social mobility, and profitable businesses. In short, the colonizer becomes aware of his status of white settler as he arrives in the colony and “discovers his own privilege” (Memmi, 1967:7). He becomes keenly aware that this lucrative and privileged position he occupies is in direct relation to the colonized. If his living standards are so high, it is precisely because those of the colonized are so low (Memmi, 1967:8).

“He knows also that the most favoured colonized will never be anything but colonized people, in other words, that certain rights will forever be refused them, and that certain advantages are reserved strictly for him. In short, he knows, in his own eyes as well as those of his victim, that he is a usurper. He must adjust to both being regarded as such, and to this situation” (Memmi, 1967:9)

In order to fortify this racial hierarchy and justify the existence of the colonizer, the system must propose a certain image or status the colonized must abide by. “These images become excuses without which the presence and conduct of a colonizer (…) would seem shocking” (Memmi, 1967:79). The colonized is depicted as a being devoid of any tangible qualities that requires not only guidance, but also protection from himself. “In order for the colonizer to be the complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, but he must also believe in its legitimacy” (Memmi, 1967:89). This process requires the dissemination of a fictitious and degrading portrait of the colonized, until he/she ends up not only accepting it, but also living it to a certain extent. The racialization of the non-whites mentioned by Fanon is the effort made to dehumanize the colonized. Since the colonial project intertwines and intersects with racism, the narrative of white supremacy becomes the main ideological vehicle through which the mistreatment of racialized bodies is legitimized (Rabaka, 2010:113).

The colonial realm is a compartmentalized and Manichean world, where the “colonial subject is a man penned in: apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world” (Fanon, 1963:15). Through its policies and academics, the colonizer implants in the mind of the colonized that all essential values are Western values, and “remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man” (Fanon, 1963:15). The colonized becomes convinced of the pertinence and accuracy of these ideas; his very thought process has now fallen pray to the same colonial incursion ravaging his land. “The white colonists attack the traditions and myths—above all, their myths—of the racially colonized while clandestinely creating and perpetuating myths of their own concerning the racially colonized” (Rabaka, 2010:121). These concocted myths and stereotypes not only become part and parcel of the colonial narrative, but they are also eventually internalized by the colonized. This leads to the emergence of many of the problems Fanon addresses throughout his corpus. Disrupting and shattering indigenous cultures triggers amongst all colonized peoples an inferiority complex. They position themselves in relation to the culture and the language of their colonizers. “The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush” (Fanon, 1952:2). The psychological, social, emotional, economic, and political impact of this mythical portrait of the racialized subject entrenches even further the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. Constantly attacking, challenging, and weakening severely any lingering inkling of autonomy or sovereignty from the pre-colonial era reiterates this binary power-dynamic between the colonialists and the colonial subjects.

“Colonization is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it” (Fanon, 1963:170). 

In order for the colonial project to reach its desired supremacy, the indigenous population must be convinced of the benefits of colonization. This can only happen once they are completely alienated from their own indigenous culture. “The result was to hammer into the head of the indigenous population that if the colonists were to leave they would regress into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality” (Fanon, 1963:149). The peoples of the colonies were reduced to entities with no history of their own, no art, no past, and certainly no future (Said, 1993:193). Without the presence of their colonizers, they will surely once again fall prey to their ego, their biology, and their intellectual inadequacy. The inherently destructive nature of colonial domination was quick to disrupt in remarkable ways the cultural life of the conquered. The denial of all pretentions of nationhood, the new legal, political, and social system imposed by the occupying powers, the marginalization of the indigenous population, the forced expropriations, the ban of their most sacred customs, and “the systematic enslavement of men and women, all contributed to this cultural obliteration” (Fanon, 1963:170).

 

II) National culture and liberation struggles

Albert Memmi has argued that despite the end of colonialism, the perverse longevity of its imprint will continue to persist. The idea that the colonial aftermath will lead to the emergence of a new society rising from the ashes of what was previously a colony, remains for Memmi nothing short of a delusion. He maintains that too often one underestimates “the psychologically tenacious hold of the colonial past on the postcolonial present” (Memmi, 1968:88). The economic, cultural, and political damage caused by colonial occupation does not simply disappear with the first signs of national independence. Colonisation as Said argues, is a “fate with lasting, indeed grotesquely unfair results” (Said, 1989:207). The status of the colonized remains affixed into a zone of dependency and periphery. They continue to be stigmatized and described as the underdeveloped, the less-developed, forever posited as the complete opposite of their superior Western overlords who remain in every possible way antithetical to them (Said, 1989:207).

The relationship between culture and imperialism is an integral part of the discussion pertaining to decolonization. The advent of close to a hundred new decolonized post-colonial states after 1945 is a fact those scholars, historians, activists working on the topic of postcolonialism should take into account. Colonial uprisings such as the San Domingo revolution, the Abdul Kader insurrection, the Orabi Revolt, and the Boxer Rebellion are all examples of earlier uprisings against colonial rule right across the non-European world. “There had been reprisals, changes of regimes, causes célèbres, debates, reforms, and reappraisals. All along the empires increased in size and profit” (Said, 1993:196). However, the post war era saw the emergence of a sustained and systematic resistance to the West as the embodiment of the Empire to be defeated. “Long simmering resentment against the white man from the Pacific to the Atlantic sprang into fully fledge independence movements” (Said, 1993:196).

 The anti-colonial militancy active between the two world wars was not completely anti-West. While some believed that working with Christianity could provide a reprieve from the colonial onslaught, others saw in the process of Westernization a possible solution to colonialism. They believed that certain aspects of Western culture could provide them with the necessary ammunition to question, challenge, and eventually extricate their nations from the colonial hold. Their endeavours and viewpoints however received very little acknowledgement in the metropole, and “in time their resistance was transformed” (Said, 1993:196). Since colonialism was a system, it became obvious that the resistance needed to be as systematic (Sartre, 1964). A wave of anti-colonial and anti-imperial activity and thought challenging not only colonialism, but also the very foundations of Western civilization, emerged as a result of this systematic approach to resistance.

“For the first time Westerners have been required to confront themselves not simply as the Raj but as representatives of a culture and even of races accused of crimes—crimes of violence, crimes of suppression, crimes of conscience” (Said, 1993:195).

According to Edward Said, culture can predispose a society to foreign domination, as much as it can prepare said society to abandon or amend the ideas leading to such a predisposition (Said, 1993:196). This change of mindset cannot occur however without a profound desire in the members of this society to resist the pressures of colonial rule. They must be willing “to take up arms, project ideas of liberation, and to imagine (…) a new national community, to take the final plunge” (Said, 1993:200). The political and economic cost of colonial occupation must be enough of a burden that the desire to overthrow this foreign domination becomes indispensable. The very idea of empire and the cost of colonial rule, as well as the justifications seeking to legitimize imperialism, must be openly challenged. Once the rebellious natives are willing to reiterate the independence and integrity of their own culture free from colonial intrusion, the necessary prerequisites for the emergence of a systematic resistance to colonialism are met. With the recovery of their native culture the indigenous population is now ready to transcend their status of dominated subjects in the colonizer/colonized dichotomy. The opposition and resistance to imperialism are “articulated together on a largely common although disputed terrain provided by culture” (Said, 1993:200).

The mapping of the newly recovered cultural space heralds the difficult process of territorial recovery, which is at the heart of decolonization. After the primary resistance against outside intrusion comes the period of ideological resistance, when every effort is made to rebuild a “shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system” (Davidson, 1978:155). By once again embracing their native culture and rejecting the values and cultural modes imposed upon them, such as speaking European languages or wearing Western clothes, the natives are actively elaborating the ideological basis for the greater unity essential to the completion of their liberation struggle (Said, 1993:210). Under colonial domination, the colonizers actively seek the systematic destruction of national culture. Colonial authorities consider the attachment of the natives to their own traditions as an obvious sign of their loyalty to the national spirit, and their refusal to submit to colonial rule. “Very quickly it becomes a culture condemned to clandestinity” (Fanon, 1963: 171). This perseverance of cultural expression amongst the colonized is for Fanon the demonstration of a lingering sense of nationhood that continues to endure despite the colonial presence (Fanon, 1963: 171).

Both Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral were in general agreement about the important role of culture in the struggle against colonialism. For Fanon, revolution is an integral part of the process of rejuvenation of both man and society after the ravages of colonial rule. “Only through revolution could a suppressed people undo the effects of colonisation” (Blackey, 1974:193). The struggle for liberation is the process through which the national integrity and pride, as well as the past and the future, are restored. Liberation requires the total destruction of the colonial system (Fanon, 1958:105). Cabral believes that the larger struggle for the liberation of the colonized is a “fundamental characteristic of the advance of history (…)” (Cabral, 1961:14). Revolution is the conduit through which not only national independence will be achieved, but the purging of foreign domination will once again allow the previously colonized to transform their lives in the direction of progress. The national productive forces must be liberated to service the development of this national spirit. “Thus, the struggle is not only against colonialism, but against neo-colonialism as well” (Blackey, 1974:193). Cabral’s vision of the struggle for liberation encompassed a broader spectrum of what revolution should entail. He argued that revolutionaries must not simply fight for abstract ideas alone, but for the improved conditions of their peoples. The fight must not revolve merely around the idea of liberty of independence, but should also address “local and pressing grievances and problems” (Blackey, 1974:194). In other words, it is by fighting for local grievances, and reiterating the necessity to restore the primacy of native cultures that the leaders of the liberation struggle will gain the support of their populations.

“We have to remember that its’ not enough to produce, to have a full stomach, to practice sound politics, and to make war. If a man, a woman, a human being does all of this without advancing as an intelligent being, as the foremost being in nature; without truly feeling every day that knowledge of the environment and of the world in general increases in one’s head; without, that is, advancing in the cultural sphere; then all that one does—producing, practising sound politics, fighting—hasn’t worked at all” (Cabral, 2016:115)

Culture is a vital part of a people’s identity in its struggle for freedom from colonialism. A national culture encompasses all the efforts made by a people to describe, and justify the process through which the common identity holding them together as one people is produced. In the case of colonized nations, national culture should take centre stage in the struggle against colonialism. The greatest act of cultural manifestation undertaken by a colonized people, resides in their conscious and organized struggle to restore national sovereignty. “It is not solely the success of the struggle that consequently validates and energizes culture; culture does not go into hibernation during the conflict” (Fanon, 1963:178). The struggle itself will expand the multiple directions culture can go into, and in doing so hint at new possibilities. The fight for liberation will not simply restore the people to their previous values and structures; its primary aim is instead “a fundamental redistribution of the relations between men” that will not only achieve the demise of colonization, but also that of the colonized (Fanon, 1963:178). A struggle, which mobilizes every level of society, and reaches the ideal conditions for cultural development and innovation, will no doubt herald a new form of humanity. “A nation born of the concerted effort of the people, which embodies the actual aspirations of the people and transforms the state (….)” shatters irrevocably the colonizer/colonized paradigm so central to colonial discourse and colonial rule (Fanon, 1963:179).

Cabral agrees with Fanon’s assessment of the importance of culture in the struggle for freedom. The primary role of culture is to strengthen the common bond between members of the same group. It not only provides a sense of individual identity, but it is also a “purveyor of intimate information about the individual, and his group’s ethos and the manifestation of its most obvious and occasionally banal characteristics” (McCulloch, 1983: 85). Cabral went so far as to affirm that it is impossible to create and execute a revolution if the people haven’t managed to keep their culture thriving despite the constant organized repression of their way of life. “It is cultural resistance which at a given moment can take on new forms—political, economic, military—to fight foreign domination” (Cabral, 1972:40). According to him, in the colonial context the cultural influence of the empire is often limited to the main urban areas, and then to only a small contingent of “petty bourgeoisie and urban workers” (Blackey, 1974:207). The masses on the other hand, remain vastly untouched by the cultural influence of the colonial power. They find in their own culture a rampart to help them preserve their identity, and resist the assimilation and subjugation sought by the colonial project.

Fanon however, warns nascent postcolonial states against falling into a pattern of imitation where they would reproduce Western and capitalistic ways of life. In fact, he states that such an imitation would only lead them to the kind of moral and spiritual debasement being experienced by Western nations (Blackey, 1974:208). He believes that common interests should bring those engaged in the anti-colonial struggle together in order to “try to set afoot a new man” (Fanon, 1963:316). Cabral shares a similar outlook and reiterates the importance of looking beyond the struggle for liberation, and taking into account the economic, social, and cultural development of the people on their road to progress. He vehemently rejects the type of nativism leading to a narrow minded nationalism, which will not serve the interests of those trying to escape the colonial hold, but would instead lead to the emergence of an ethnocentrism reproducing the worst aspects of the colonial system (Blackey, 1974:208).

Fanon also highlights the importance of the colonized intellectual in assisting his society in the process of cultural recovery. He should use his knowledge to spur them into action, and foster through his writings the hope of a better future. “The colonized intellectual is responsible not to his national culture, but to the nation as a whole, whose culture is, after all, but one aspect” (Fanon, 1963:168). Since one cannot divorce the fight for culture from the larger struggle for liberation, the colonized intellectual must assist in the restoration of the palpable matrix from which culture can grow. For both Fanon and Cabral, “national culture is no folklore where an abstract populism is convinced it has uncovered the popular truth” (Fanon, 1963:168). National culture, on the contrary, emerges from the collective thought process through which the people define, validate, and praise the actions by which they join forces and organize their systematic resistance to colonialism. For the liberation movements who successfully led their struggle against Western imperialism, it was necessary to establish their legitimacy through their cultural primacy. By establishing an unbroken continuity leading to the first movements/groups/individuals who stood against the colonial intrusion of European powers, these nationalist parties were able to ascertain their legitimacy and relevance.

“Thus the Algerian National Liberation Front which inaugurated its insurrection against France in 1954 traced its ancestry to the Emir Abdel Kader, who fought the French occupation during the 1830s and 1840s. In Guinea and Mali resistance against the French is traced back generations to Samory and Hajji Omar” (Said, 1993: 197).

Decolonization is a complex process that unfolds over the course of different political contexts, different histories and geographies, different narratives, and counter-narratives. “The struggle took the form of strikes, marches, violent attack, retribution and counter-retribution” (Said, 1993:197). It also encompasses an eruption of orators and intellectuals appealing to the masses for a greater commitment and mobilization for the anti-colonial struggle. Anti-imperialist resistance emerged gradually from various sporadic—and often unsuccessful— revolts until after World War One. During the period between the two world wars, it took on a more systematic approach and became a lot “more militantly independence-minded” (Said, 1993:219).

 

Bibliography

  • Acheraiou, Amar (2011). Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ahmed, Aijaz (1996). The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 277-293. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Alfred, Taiaiake (2005). Wasase. Indigenous pathways of actions and freedom. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
  • Appadurai, Arjun (1990). Disjuncture and Differences in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory and Culture, Vol. 7, pp. 295-310.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1988). Out of Africa: Topologies of Nativism, Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 1 (2), pp. 153-178.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1991). Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Post-colonial? Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), pp. 336-357
  • Asad, Talal (1992). Conscripts of Western Civilization, in Christine Gailey (ed.) Dialectical Anthropology: Essays in Honor of Stanley Diamond (1992), Vol.1, pp. 333-351. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (1995). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, New York: Routledge.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (2000). Post-Colonial Studies. The Key Concepts. London: Routledge
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1983). Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism, in Francis Baker et al., Literature, Politics and Theory. Papers from the Essex Conference, London: Methuen.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1992). Postcolonial Criticism, in Stephen Greenblatt and Giles B. Gunn (eds.), Redrawing the boundaries: the transformation of English and American literary studies (1992), pp. 437-465. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1994). The Location of Culture. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1998). Caliban Speaks to Prospero: Cultural Identity and the Crisis of Representation, in Philomena Marini (ed.) Critical Fictions: the politics of imaginative writing, pp.62-65. Seattle: Bay Press.
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K (2007). Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination. New York: Palgrave.
  • Blackey, Robert (1974). Fanon and Cabral: A Contrast in Theories of Revolution for Africa, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 12 (2), pp.191-209.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (1996). The State Nobility: Elite Schools and the Field of Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1961). Guinea and Cabo Verde Against Portuguese Colonialism, in Revolution in Guinea: selected texts by Amilcar Cabral. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1972). Identity and Dignity in the National Liberation Struggle, Africa Today, Vol.14 (4). Pp. 39-47.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (2016). Resistance and decolonization. London, New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000). Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Chatterjee, Pratha (2013). Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Childs, Peter & William, Patrick (1997). An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. London: Prentice Hall.
  • Davidson, Basil (1978). Africa in Modern History: The Search for a New Society, London: Allen Lane.
  • Dirlik, Arif (1994). The Postcolonial Aura: Third World criticism in the age of global capitalism. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1952). Le syndrome nord-africain, Esprit Nouvelle serie, 187(2), pp. 237-248.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1958). Toward the African Revolution: political essays, New York: Grove Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press
  • Fanon, Frantz (1967). Black skin, White mask. New York: Grove Press
  • Gandhi, Leela (1998). Postcolonial Theory. A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Godiwala, Dimple (2007). Postcolonial Desire: Mimicry, Hegemony, hybridity, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition (2007), pp.59-79, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Hall, Stuart (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.110-121, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Harris, Wilson (1974). History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas. Georgetown, Guyana: Ministry of Information.
  • Hiepko, Andrea Schwieger (2001). Creolization, in John C. Hawley (ed.), Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, pp. 116-123, Westport: Greenwood Press.
  • Irele, Abiola (1970). The Theory of Negritude, Political Theory and Ideology in African Society, proceedings of a seminar held at the Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh University, pp. 162-190.
  • Kuortti, Joel and Nyman, Jopi (2007). Introduction: Hybridity Today, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition, pp.1-18, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Mabardi, Sabine (2000). Encounters of a Heterogeneous Kind: Hybridity in Cultural Theory, in Rita De Grandis and Zila Bernd (eds.), Unforeseeable Americas: Constructing Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, pp.1-17, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Memmi, Albert (1967). The colonizer and the colonized. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Memmi, Albert (1968). Dominated Man: notes toward a portrait. London: Orion Press.
  • Mishra, Vijay & Bob Hodge (1991). What is post(-)colonialism? Textual Practice, Vol. (5), Issue 3, 1991, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp. 276-290, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McClintock, Anne (1992). The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the term “Post-colonialism”, Social Text, 31/32, 1992, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp.291-304, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McCulloch, Jock (1983). In The Twilight Of Revolution. The Political Theory of Amilcar Cabral. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Mongia, Padmini (1997). Introduction, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 1-19. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Moore-Gilbert, Bart (1997). Postcolonial Theory. Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso.
  • Parry, Benita (1994). Resistance Theory/Theorizing Resistance, or Two Cheers for Nativism, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.84-103, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (1995). Globalization as Hybridization, in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities, pp.45-68, London: Sage.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2001). Hybridity, So What? The Anti-Hybridity Backlash and the Riddles of Recognition, Theory, Culture and Society, 18.2-3, pp.219-245.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1990). Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third Word: Perspectives from Indian Historiography, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32 (2), pp. 383-408.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1994). Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism, American Historical Review, 99(5), pp.1475-1490.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise (1992). Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Rabaka, Reiland (2010). Forms Of Fanonism. Frantz Fanon’s Critical Theory And The Dialectic Of Decolonization. New York: Lexington Books.
  • Roy, Parama (1998). Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Said, Edward (1989). Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s interlocutor, Critical Inquiry, Vol.15 (2), pp. 205-225.
  • Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Said, Edward (1994). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Sartre, Jean Paul (1964). Le Colonialisme est un systeme, in Situations V: Colonialisme et neo-colonialisme, Paris: Gallimard.
  • Scott, David (1997). Refashioning Futures. Criticism after Postcoloniality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Scott, David (2005). The Social Construction of Postcolonial Studies, in Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Matti Bunzl, Antoinette Burton, and Jed Esty (eds.), Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, pp.385-400, Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.
  • Shohat, Ella. (1992). Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial’, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.321-333, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorthy (1990). Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value, in Peter collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds.), Literary Theory Today, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1993). Outside in the teaching machine. London: Routledge.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty; Landry, Donna; MacLean, Gerald M. (1996). The Spivak Reader: selected works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York; London: Routledge.
  • Steinmetz, George (2008). The Colonial State as a Social Field: Ethnographic Capital and Native Policy in the German Overseas Empire before 1914, Sociological Review, Vol.73, No.4, pp. 589-612.
  • Steinmetz, George (2014). The Sociology of Empires, Colonies, and Postcolonialism, Sociological Review, Vol.40, pp. 77-103.
  • Terdiman, Richard (1985). Discourse/counter discourse: the theory and practice of symbolic resistance in nineteenth-century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Trivedi, Harish (1993). Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Calcutta: Papyrus.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (1995). Colonial Desire: hybridity in theory, culture, and race. London: Routledge.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (2004). White Mythologies. Writing History and the West, London, New York: Routledge.

 

 

 

What Is The Postcolonial?

What Is The Postcolonial?

The arrival of cultural studies in the 1970s provoked a major discursive turn that extricated social theory from the clutches of disciplinary hegemony. Postcolonial theory emerged in the aftermath of this cognitive shift, and has quickly gained traction in Western academia. Since then, postcolonialism has spread its impact and significance in fields as varied as globalization, economics, sociology, and even ecology. Postcolonial discourse was crucial in the development of new discursive approaches better suited to address contemporary political and social transformations. The classical narratives of modernity, in which social theory relied heavily on dependency theory and center/periphery models, were unable to explain the multi-directional flow of global interactions; “a flow that was most noticeable in cultural exchanges” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin, 2000:vii).

In the last decade, postcolonialism has emerged as a major critical discourse in the humanities akin to theories such as poststructuralism and feminism. “As a consequence of its diverse and interdisciplinary usage, this body of thought has generated an enormous corpus of specialized writing” (Gandhi, 1998:viii). While much has been produced under its rubric, postcolonialism remains for the most part a nebulous term. “Unlike Marxism or deconstruction, for instance, it seems to lack an ‘originary moment’ or a coherent methodology” (Gandhi, 1998:viii). Despite the various successes of postcolonial studies in reshaping traditional disciplinary configurations and modes of cultural analysis, there are increasingly a growing number of attacks from not only outside the field but also from within.

The intellectual history of postcolonial theory is grounded in a dialectic between Marxism and poststructuralism/postmodernism. This theoretical contention shapes the academic content of postcolonial analysis, revealing itself in the ongoing debates “between the competing claims of nationalism and internationalism, strategic essentialism and hybridity, solidarity and dispersal, the politics of structure/totality and the politics of the fragment” (Gandhi, 1998:ix). Both sides of this divide present compelling arguments in the critique of their theoretical opponents. However, neither Marxism nor poststructuralism can truly explain the meanings and the ramifications of the colonial onslaught. Postcolonial critics must constantly work toward a position that implies a negotiation between these two modes of though. The postcolonial project is one that entails the integration of these conflicting theoretical and political denominations.

“While the poststructuralist critique of Western epistemology and theorization of cultural alterity/difference is indispensable to postcolonial theory, materialist philosophies, such as Marxism, seem to supply the most compelling basis for postcolonial politics (Gandhi, 1998:ix).

Postcolonial discourse is primarily grounded in the historical phenomenon of colonialism. As a body of theoretical and empirical literature, it is built in large parts around the concepts of otherness and resistance. While some postcolonial thinkers explore these concepts through binary models of perception, others have opted instead to examine the colonial encounter through the possible mingling of colonizing and colonized cultures. The term postcolonial is said to be emblematic of a form of social criticism pertaining to the unequal systems of representation through which “the historical experience of the once-colonized Third World comes to be framed in the West” (Bhabha, 1998: 63). Operating in two different registers simultaneously, it is both a historical marker alluding to the period following the end of colonization, and a term indicating the changes in the intellectual approaches influenced by post-structuralism and deconstruction (Padmini, 1997: 2). The postcolonial is therefore understood as “a set of reading practices” concerned with analyzing the “cultural forms” which intercede, challenge, or reproduce the relationships of supremacy and subjugation between nations, races, and cultures (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 12).

While postcolonial criticism officially reached the Western academy through Edward Said’s Orientalism in the late 1970’s, it actually predates the period where the term postcolonial started gaining traction. The work of figures as diverse as the African-American thinker W.E.B Du Bois, the Trinidadian C.L.R James, the Martinican revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon in Algeria, the African critics Chinua Achebe and Cheikh Anta Diop, and the Indian historiographer Ranajit Guha have all been instrumental in establishing the modes of cultural analysis identified with postcolonialism (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 5). Despite its belated arrival in the Western academy, it nonetheless had a major impact on contemporary modes of cultural analysis, bringing to the forefront the importance and intersectionality of issues such as race, nation, empire, migration, and ethnicity in the process of cultural production.

Postcolonial criticism did not simply expand the traditional field of English literature, or put the emphasis on certain areas of analysis previously overlooked; it also irrevocably modified the major modes of analysis that epitomized the period from 1945 to 1980 (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8). Colonial discourse analysis rejects the idea of studying literature in solation, and insists on taking into account the multiple materials, contexts, and academic fields (politics, sociology, history, etc.…) that shape and determine its production and reception. Postcolonial criticism questions notions pertaining to “the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere” by suggesting that culture can actually facilitate relationships of power as efficiently as any of the “more visible forms of oppression” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8).

For some the hyphenated form post-colonialism serves primarily as a temporal marker of the process of decolonization. Others however reiterate that the postcolonial condition is not the result of the end of colonial occupation, but rather begins with the very advent of colonialism itself. The hyphenated form insinuates, according to them, a disconnect between colonialism and its ramifications. They argue that the “unbroken term ‘postcolonial’ is more sensitive to the long history of colonial consequences” (Gandhi, 1998:3). Other theorists have instead expressed a preference for the term postcoloniality, which they believe to be devoid of the academic dogma linked to the notion of postcolonialism. “In postcoloniality, every metropolitan definition is dislodged. The general mode for the postcolonial is citation, reinscription, rerouting the historical” (Spivak, 1993:217). Although Spivak perceives positive aspects to postcoloniality, others remain far from convinced. Ella Shohat believes that the globalizing nature of postcoloniality erases the complexity inherent to the postcolonial condition. According to her, it “downplays multiplicities of location and temporality (…) between post-colonial theories and contemporary anti-colonial, or anti-neocolonial struggles and discourses” (Shohat, 1992: 104).

Anne McClintock agrees with this assessment and reaffirms that the “absence of the necessary multiplicity” is indeed problematic (Childs and Williams, 1997:16). The singularity implied by the idea of an all encompassing postcolonialism re-centers global history around the chronicles of European history, and in doing so invalidates the “decentering of history in hybridity, syncretism, multi-dimensional time, and so forth (…). Colonialism returns at the moment of its disappearance” (McClintock, 1992:293). Arif Dirlik presents yet another perspective of postcoloniality that suggest a form of amnesia. According to him, this term is not applicable to the entire postcolonial period, “but only to that period after colonialism when among other things, a forgetting of its effects has begun to set in” (Dirlik, 1994:339). In this outlook, postcoloniality becomes a sort of pathology, “a disease of the times” (Childs and Williams, 1997:17). Anthony Appiah shares a similarly pessimistic view of postcoloniality. He refers to it as a “meretricious form of intellectual activity” (Childs and Williams, 1997:18). His criticism implies a willing complicity on the part of postcolonial intellectuals with the very imperialist and postcolonial structures they are meant to oppose.

“Postcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: a relatively small, Western-style, Western trained group of writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery. In the West they are known through the Africa they offer; their compatriots know them both through the West they present to Africa and through an Africa they have invented for the world, for each other, and for Africa” (Appiah, 1991:348).

The idea that some types of postcolonial production may strengthen the dynamics of control and exploitation, while weakening any efforts made to resist these forces, raises an interesting question. Is postcolonial production homogenous? Some writers insist on dividing postcolonialism into two distinct branches: one oppositional, and the other complicit. The former appears mostly in post-independence societies, while the latter is “an always present underside within colonization itself” (Mishra and Hodge, 1991:284). This model provides a necessary remedial to those critics who often perceive postcolonialism as either “(all too easily) resistant” or as an uneven phenomenon (Childs and Williams, 1997:19).

“Postcolonialism, we have stressed, is not a homogeneous category, either across all postcolonial societies or even within a single one. Rather, it refers to a typical configuration which is always in the process of change, never consistent with itself” (Mishra and Hodge, 1991:289).

The obvious point of departure—when trying to establish who, what, and where is the postcolonial—remains those populations previously colonized by the West. Nevertheless, such a grouping might only offer us a very limited picture of the phenomenon in question. The fact that the process of decolonization is uneven and incomplete remains a significant issue in that: “if territories cannot be considered post-colonial (in the sense of being free from colonial control), can their inhabitants?” (Childs and Williams, 1997:12). Another level of complexity is added when one takes into account the conditions singular to internal colonization. While a certain territory can be deemed decolonized and referred to as postcolonial, some of the ethnic and cultural groups that inhabit it could still be living as colonized entities. “That is particularly true of the situation of First Peoples, of the condition of internal colonization, and is one of the factors which unsettles the claims of white settlers colonies to post-colonial status” (Childs and Williams, 1997:12). The advent of the major diasporic movements, as temporal markers of the colonial and postcolonial periods, complicates even more the connection of peoples and territories to postcolonialism. The African and Asian Diasporas found in Europe and North America are examples of migratory movements created by the onslaught of Western imperialism in the Global South.

“For the demography of the new internationalism is the history of post-colonial migration, the narratives of cultural and political diaspora, the major social displacements of peasants and aboriginal communities, the poetics of exile, the grim prose of political and economic refugees ” (Bhabha, 1994:5).

The arrival of these substantial populations from former colonies in the imperial metropoles created unique conditions under which these areas could now be labeled as postcolonial spaces. However, these diasporas are far from constituting what the Caribbean poet Louise Bennett referred to as instances of “colonization in reverse” (Childs and Williams, 1997:13). As Homi Bhabha states: “The Western metropole must confront its postcolonial history, told by its influx of postwar migrants and refugees, as an indigenous or native narrative internal to its national identity (…)” (Bhabha, 1994:6). The question of identity has always been central to postcolonial thinking, from Senghor’s Negritude to Spivak’s complex theorizing (Childs and Williams, 1997:13). Said’s insight on the colonial period in Orientalism introduces a new outlook on the identities of diasporic communities. He states that their histories, far from being alien to Western identities, are in fact an integral part of them. Western colonial incursions have irrevocably disrupted and altered the cultures and the identities of indigenous cultures. “Today it is not merely “primitive cultures” that are shattered by more powerful “civilizations”: all societies (…) are being destroyed (…) by the forces that were unleashed by European imperialism and industrial capitalism” (Asad, 1992:333). Therefore, it is understandable that the issue of unsettled identities remains an important discussion at the very heart of postcolonialism.

Another important aspect of the postcolonial is its relationship with history itself, “and the ways in which it is theorized, categorized, narrated, and written about” (Childs and Williams, 1997:8). Since the West has a long history of denying the presence of any meaningful pasts in areas it colonized while simultaneously destroying the very cultures embodying these histories, a significant aspect of postcolonial work entails the retrieval or the reassessment of indigenous histories. A typical example is the description of Haiti’s slave rebellion by C.L.R. James. The telling of such history is of particular importance “in its depiction of black people making their own history, rather than being passive participants in history made by others” (Childs and Williams, 1997:8). The Western-ness of history in origin, location, or ideology is a topic that postcolonial critics continue to debate.

“The significance of history for post-colonial discourse lies in the modern origins of historical study itself, and the circumstances by which “History” took upon itself the mantle of a discipline. For the emergence of history in European thought is coterminous with the rise of modern colonialism, which in its radical othering and violent annexation of the non-European world, found in history a prominent, if not the prominent, instrument for the control of subject peoples” (Ashcroft et al. 1995:355).

Over time, the term postcolonial has come to refer to what was previously known as Third World or Commonwealth literature. The perspectives and methods associated with postcolonial criticism are also increasingly being used to address the singular histories and predicaments of “internally colonized cultures within the nation states in the developed world” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8). The Canadian context offers a perfect example of how complex and multifaceted the tem postcolonial has become. There are in this case at least five distinct contexts to which the term might apply.

The period of decolonization succeeding the end of World War II made “the nation-state the universally normal form of the modern state”(Chatterjee, 2011:11). Concepts inspired by the European Enlightenment such as citizenship, civil society, the state, public sphere, human rights, equality before the law, and social justice became the basis of political modernity (Chakrabarty, 2000:4). Canada represents in many ways a postcolonial state still dealing with profound dynamics of internal colonization. The cultural and political dependency of Canada toward Britain continues to shape Canadian identity. For those Canadians of European ancestry, this dependent relationship has serious consequences on not only the way they perceive themselves, but also how they conceptualize their Canadianess. Furthermore, “a parallel process of subordination has been detected in the cultural domain especially as a consequence of US domination of the continent’s mass media (…)”(Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). As a result of this, it is not unusual to find many Canadians who see themselves as having succumbed to the economic and political influence of the United States. This regularly generates discussions centered on the importance of safeguarding Canada’s political sovereignty vis-à-vis the US, and ensuring an authentically Canadian process of cultural production. Another issue of importance is the topic of Quebec’s independence, which is often framed along postcolonial frameworks and perspectives as an oppressed culture, and a nation within Canada (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). The treatment of minorities from immigrant communities is another matter that raises questions about Canada’s claims of being a genuinely multicultural and tolerant society. Writers such as Austin Clarke and Bharati Mukherjee often explore these questions through postcolonial lenses (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). The predicament of the indigenous peoples of Canada is however the most important and obvious Canadian context where postcolonial criticism offers the necessary framework to establish a narrative of resistance.

“If Onkwehonwe movements are to force settler societies to transcend colonialism, we need to understand clearly who and what constitutes our enemy. The “problem” or “challenge” we face has been explained in many ways, but to move our discussion forward I will state it in a blunt and forcefully true way: the problem we face is Euroamerican arrogance, the institutional and attitudinal expressions of the prejudicial biases inherent in Europe and Euroamerican cultures” (Alfred, 2005:101)

Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that postcolonialism should not simply be understood as the latest iteration of critical analysis in social thought (Bhambra, 2007: 15). The post must instead be conceived of as a pivotal moment where the prevailing theoretical understanding of the world is transcended. Postcolonial approaches aim to improve categories of analysis by establishing, as a measure of adequacy, an increased inclusivity (Bhambra, 2007: 15). By giving prominence to the voiceless, postcolonialism is attempting to address issues of inclusion and exclusion, while simultaneously elucidating the reciprocal relationship linking knowledge to politics. According to Edward Said, “each humanistic investigation must formulate the nature of that connection in the specific context of the study, the subject matter, and its historical circumstances” (Said, 1978: 15). Therefore, postcolonialism not only tackles current inequalities, but also their historical roots and their modes of production (Bhabha, 1992: 440).

Although the study of colonial systems of representation and cultural production predates Said’s involvement in the field, what he introduced is an analytical approach grounded in contemporary European cultural theories. Postcolonial theory has since emerged as a junction for a variety of disciplines and theories; it has also become somewhat of a battleground. “While it has enabled a complex interdisciplinary dialogue within the humanities, its uneasy incorporation of mutually antagonistic theories—such as Marxism and poststructuralism—confounds any uniformity of approach” (Gandhi, 1998:3). This explains the lack of consensus when it comes to what should be the appropriate content, scope, and relevance of Postcolonial studies. In essence, postcolonialism can be defined as a project devoted to the “academic task of revisiting, remembering, and crucially interrogating the colonial past” (Gandhi, 1998:4). It is meant to divulge the reciprocal and antagonistic relationship between colonizer and colonized, and in doing so unearth the concealed roots of the postcolonial condition.

“The colonial past is not simply a reservoir of ‘raw’ political experiences and practices to be theorized from the detached and enlightened perspective of the present. It is also the scene of intense discursive and conceptual activity, characterized by a profusion of thought and writing about the cultural and political identities of colonized subjects. Thus, in its therapeutic retrieval of the colonial past, postcolonialism needs to define itself as an area of study which is willing not only to make, but also to gain, theoretical sense out of that past” (Gandhi, 1998:5)

The ongoing expansion of the term postcolonial is such that some fear the possible collapse of postcoloniality as an analytical construct. The diversity of historical contexts, geographical regions, cultural identities, and political predicaments puts a strain on its scope and relevance. Some even argue that it has been appropriated by “an essentially complicit mode of political (dis)engagement from the coercive realities of colonial history and the current neo-colonial era” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:11). There have also been some polarizing discussions as to whether the focus of postcolonial analysis should be on postcolonial culture alone, or whether it should also include the culture of the colonizer.

“Indeed, despite abundant evidence of the successes of postcolonial criticism, it is arguable that these conflicts have attained sufficient weight and charge to raise the question of whether it is not now splintering into a series of competing, mutually incompatible or even antagonistic practices” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:11).

The earlier anti-colonial critique spearheaded the effort to challenge Western constructions of notions such as colonizer and colonized, and probed the relationship connecting the center to the periphery. It also questioned the dichotomies that shaped the very concept of knowledge in fields such as literature and history. However, these texts remained, for the most part, dependent on the same structures they were attempting to dismantle. They tackled the structure of binary constructions—between master and slave for example—without however “questioning the reality of the dualism itself” (Mongia, 1997:5). As much as the narrative of nationalism posed a real challenge to colonialism, it nonetheless remained beholden to the narrative of modernity as a bearer of progress, while also acknowledging the universal value of Enlightenment.

In an attempt to dismantle the grand narrative making Europe the norm, nationalism proposed the modern nation-state as the new ideal (Mongia, 1997:5).  In the wake of this new narrative pertaining to nationalism, postcolonialism took a keen interest in analyzing the “difficulty of conceiving the nation even as an imagined community” (Mongia, 1997:5). Postcolonialism rejects not only the “Western imperium but also the nationalist project”(Appiah, 1991:353). Instead, it takes as its objective, uncovering and critiquing the relationship connecting the various systems of knowledge to existing forms of oppression. Therefore, the responsibility of postcolonial theory resembles that of Western philosophy, a reimagining of the very concepts by which knowledge is conceived.

“The development of postcolonial theory also needs to be understood in terms of new socio-historic pressures”(Mongia, 1997:5). The traditional concepts such as democracy, the citizen, and nationalism that have so far explained human history seem to have lost the ability to cope with contemporary realities. Newer social movements focusing instead on issues such as race, gender, and ethnicity have demonstrated efficiently the shortcomings of the previous understandings of community, individual, and nations. Instabilities caused by complex changes “such as decolonization, the movements of peoples on a hitherto unmatched scale, and now distributions of global power” have shown that the old narratives of progress and reason are incapable of tackling current realities, and “the numerous fractures that attend them”(Mongia, 1997:5).

Postcolonial theory attempts to provide a response to the pressures created by contemporary issues, while also offering the means to talk about them. According to Gyan Prakash, postcolonialism’s ultimate project seeks to criticize “the historicism that projected the West as history” (Prakash, 1994:1475). He describes Subaltern studies as postcolonial criticism. They offer an “anti-foundationalist historiography” that reinstates the subaltern classes’ capacity for action by transcending the “foundationalist structures of colonial, nationalist, and Marxist historiography” (Prakash, 1990:397). He believes that postcolonial critique exists primarily as an aftermath of colonialism. Postcolonialism reiterates the important role played by the legacy of the Enlightenment and modernity in establishing the theoretical foundations of Western thought. It recognizes the continuous and enduring power of these ideas and values, and the necessity of addressing their lingering presence. “As a result, postcolonial theory offers not some ‘pure’ alternative but rather stresses that it is always after the empire of reason, always after having been worked over by colonialism” (Spivak, 1990:228). The debates of the 1980s pertaining to the broader societal issue of multiculturalism explain the rise of postcolonial theory in “metropolitan academies” (Mongia, 1997:6). The struggles led by Black Studies and Women’s Studies in the 1960s and 1970s leveled serious challenges against the traditional disciplines and their orthodox canons. Postcolonial theory benefits from the space created by these endeavors to establish itself as a new form of opposition. “Within this space, postcolonial theory finds a niche in the Western Academy” (Mongia, 1997:6).

 

Bibliography

  • Acheraiou, Amar (2011). Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ahmed, Aijaz (1996). The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 277-293. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Alfred, Taiaiake (2005). Wasase. Indigenous pathways of actions and freedom. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
  • Appadurai, Arjun (1990). Disjuncture and Differences in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory and Culture, Vol. 7, pp. 295-310.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1988). Out of Africa: Topologies of Nativism, Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 1 (2), pp. 153-178.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1991). Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Post-colonial? Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), pp. 336-357
  • Asad, Talal (1992). Conscripts of Western Civilization, in Christine Gailey (ed.) Dialectical Anthropology: Essays in Honor of Stanley Diamond (1992), Vol.1, pp. 333-351. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (1995). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, New York: Routledge.
  • Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen (2000). Post-Colonial Studies. The Key Concepts. London: Routledge
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1983). Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism, in Francis Baker et al., Literature, Politics and Theory. Papers from the Essex Conference, London: Methuen.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1992). Postcolonial Criticism, in Stephen Greenblatt and Giles B. Gunn (eds.), Redrawing the boundaries: the transformation of English and American literary studies (1992), pp. 437-465. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1994). The Location of Culture. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Bhabha, Homi K (1998). Caliban Speaks to Prospero: Cultural Identity and the Crisis of Representation, in Philomena Marini (ed.) Critical Fictions: the politics of imaginative writing, pp.62-65. Seattle: Bay Press.
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K (2007). Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination. New York: Palgrave.
  • Blackey, Robert (1974). Fanon and Cabral: A Contrast in Theories of Revolution for Africa, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 12 (2), pp.191-209.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (1996). The State Nobility: Elite Schools and the Field of Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1961). Guinea and Cabo Verde Against Portuguese Colonialism, in Revolution in Guinea: selected texts by Amilcar Cabral. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (1972). Identity and Dignity in the National Liberation Struggle, Africa Today, Vol.14 (4). Pp. 39-47.
  • Cabral, Amilcar (2016). Resistance and decolonization. London, New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000). Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Chatterjee, Pratha (2013). Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Childs, Peter & William, Patrick (1997). An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. London: Prentice Hall.
  • Davidson, Basil (1978). Africa in Modern History: The Search for a New Society, London: Allen Lane.
  • Dirlik, Arif (1994). The Postcolonial Aura: Third World criticism in the age of global capitalism. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1952). Le syndrome nord-africain, Esprit Nouvelle serie, 187(2), pp. 237-248.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1958). Toward the African Revolution: political essays, New York: Grove Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press
  • Fanon, Frantz (1967). Black skin, White mask. New York: Grove Press
  • Gandhi, Leela (1998). Postcolonial Theory. A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Godiwala, Dimple (2007). Postcolonial Desire: Mimicry, Hegemony, hybridity, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition (2007), pp.59-79, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Hall, Stuart (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.110-121, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Harris, Wilson (1974). History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas. Georgetown, Guyana: Ministry of Information.
  • Hiepko, Andrea Schwieger (2001). Creolization, in John C. Hawley (ed.), Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, pp. 116-123, Westport: Greenwood Press.
  • Irele, Abiola (1970). The Theory of Negritude, Political Theory and Ideology in African Society, proceedings of a seminar held at the Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh University, pp. 162-190.
  • Kuortti, Joel and Nyman, Jopi (2007). Introduction: Hybridity Today, in Joel Kuortti and Jopi Nyman (eds.), Reconstructing Hybridity: post-colonial studies in transition, pp.1-18, New York: Editions Rodopi B.V.
  • Mabardi, Sabine (2000). Encounters of a Heterogeneous Kind: Hybridity in Cultural Theory, in Rita De Grandis and Zila Bernd (eds.), Unforeseeable Americas: Constructing Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, pp.1-17, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Memmi, Albert (1967). The colonizer and the colonized. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Memmi, Albert (1968). Dominated Man: notes toward a portrait. London: Orion Press.
  • Mishra, Vijay & Bob Hodge (1991). What is post(-)colonialism? Textual Practice, Vol. (5), Issue 3, 1991, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp. 276-290, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McClintock, Anne (1992). The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the term “Post-colonialism”, Social Text, 31/32, 1992, reprinted in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourses and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, pp.291-304, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • McCulloch, Jock (1983). In The Twilight Of Revolution. The Political Theory of Amilcar Cabral. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Mongia, Padmini (1997). Introduction, in Padmini Mongia (ed.) Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader, pp. 1-19. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Moore-Gilbert, Bart (1997). Postcolonial Theory. Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso.
  • Parry, Benita (1994). Resistance Theory/Theorizing Resistance, or Two Cheers for Nativism, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.84-103, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (1995). Globalization as Hybridization, in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities, pp.45-68, London: Sage.
  • Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2001). Hybridity, So What? The Anti-Hybridity Backlash and the Riddles of Recognition, Theory, Culture and Society, 18.2-3, pp.219-245.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1990). Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third Word: Perspectives from Indian Historiography, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32 (2), pp. 383-408.
  • Prakash, Gyan (1994). Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism, American Historical Review, 99(5), pp.1475-1490.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise (1992). Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Rabaka, Reiland (2010). Forms Of Fanonism. Frantz Fanon’s Critical Theory And The Dialectic Of Decolonization. New York: Lexington Books.
  • Roy, Parama (1998). Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Said, Edward (1989). Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s interlocutor, Critical Inquiry, Vol.15 (2), pp. 205-225.
  • Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Said, Edward (1994). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Sartre, Jean Paul (1964). Le Colonialisme est un systeme, in Situations V: Colonialisme et neo-colonialisme, Paris: Gallimard.
  • Scott, David (1997). Refashioning Futures. Criticism after Postcoloniality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Scott, David (2005). The Social Construction of Postcolonial Studies, in Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Matti Bunzl, Antoinette Burton, and Jed Esty (eds.), Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, pp.385-400, Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.
  • Shohat, Ella. (1992). Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial’, in Padmini Mongia (ed.), Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a reader (1997), pp.321-333, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorthy (1990). Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value, in Peter collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds.), Literary Theory Today, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1993). Outside in the teaching machine. London: Routledge.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty; Landry, Donna; MacLean, Gerald M. (1996). The Spivak Reader: selected works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York; London: Routledge.
  • Steinmetz, George (2008). The Colonial State as a Social Field: Ethnographic Capital and Native Policy in the German Overseas Empire before 1914, Sociological Review, Vol.73, No.4, pp. 589-612.
  • Steinmetz, George (2014). The Sociology of Empires, Colonies, and Postcolonialism, Sociological Review, Vol.40, pp. 77-103.
  • Terdiman, Richard (1985). Discourse/counter discourse: the theory and practice of symbolic resistance in nineteenth-century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Trivedi, Harish (1993). Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Calcutta: Papyrus.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (1995). Colonial Desire: hybridity in theory, culture, and race. London: Routledge.
  • Young, Robert J.C. (2004). White Mythologies. Writing History and the West, London, New York: Routledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orientalist Discoure and the Concept of Islamism (Part 2)

Orientalist Discoure and the Concept of Islamism (Part 2)

Neo-Orientalism

The second category of writers dominating the Orientalist landscape is comprised of Neo-Orientalists “whose writings clearly post-date the linguistic turn and the beginnings of the critique of orientalist methodology” (Volpi, 2010:30). Many of these Neo-Orientalists are former students of prominent traditional Orientalists such as Bernard Lewis and Elie Kedourie. Neo-Orientalism, much like its predecessor, takes as self-evident Muslim societies’ resistance to democratization. They claim that through idiosyncratic cultural factors proper to Islam, its incompatibility with Democracy can not only be uncovered but also explained. This reinforces the idea that two incompatible ethics and perspectives are colliding in the Muslim world: the anarchical ethos of a social organization based on religious kinship, and the universalism of democratic and liberal values. “The legitimacy of the politics of the nation-state is hence understood as too particularistic for loyalty to the divine, and, alternatively, seen as undermined by the particularism of kinship-based ideological localism” (Tuastad, 2003, 594). This depiction of Muslim societies as either too weak or too unruly, and Muslims as too particularistic on one hand, and on the other hand not particularistic enough, “represents a continuity from Orientalist to Neo-Orientalist thought” (Tuastad, 2003, 594).

Daniel Pipes—one of the main advocates of Neo-Orientalism—despite his modest visibility in the academic field remains popular in the policy-making community through his ties to the Republican Party, as well as his work for the US State Department. Inspired greatly by Bernard Lewis, he defines and distinguishes Islam from Christianity by putting the emphasis on the politicized nature of Islam as predicated in traditional Orientalist thought. Islam unlike Christianity, which concerns itself solely with matters of grand moral instructions, offers a “script for political action” (Pipes, 1983:11).

“Along with faith in Allah comes a sacred law to guide Muslims in all times and places. That law, called the Shari’a, establishes the context for Islam as a political force. However diverse Muslim public life may be, it always takes places in the framework of Shari’a ideals. Adjusting realities to the Shari’a is the key to Islam’s role in human relations. Hence, this analysis emphasizes the role of sacred law, the mother force of Islam in politics” (Pipes, 1983:11).

As a chief proponent of the war on terrorism, Pipes traces back what he qualifies of Islam’s hostility toward the West to ‘premodern Muslims’ disdain toward Europeans’. “The Qur’an predisposed Muslims to pay scant attention to Christians; then the actual behavior of West Europeans repulsed the umma even further” (Pipes, 1983:78). Much like Lewis, he believes that Islamism represents the latest expression of Islam’s inherent and customary antagonism toward Western civilization. In the advent of Europe’s success as a civilization imbued with military power, Islam’s resentment toward the West grew. Today, it mostly “represents a backward, aggressive, and violent force” (Pipes, 2015: 181). He states that contrary to the “politically correct narrative” that emerged in the post 9/11 context, asserting that militant Islamic violence is a fringe phenomenon rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, the masses in the Muslim world are in fact supportive of the Islamists’ cause. According to Pipes, the Western World’s greatest nemesis in the person of Osama bin Laden, enjoyed wide and deep support in Muslim countries. “With the exception of one government staged anti-bin Laden demonstration in Pakistan and very few prominent Islamic scholars, hardly anyone publicly denounces him” (Pipes, 2004:58). While Pipes rejects as fallacious any criticism highlighting the essentialist nature of his analysis, he remains nonetheless committed to depicting Islam as profoundly antithetical to democracy and modernity.

Traditional Orientalism speculated that Islamic orthodoxy and weak Muslim societies tend to promote political quietism. “Islamic submission favored fatalism, a lack of critique, and despotism” (Tuastad, 2003, 594). This would explain why Muslim communities—unlike their Western counterparts—did not develop the kind of civil societies conducive to sound politics, progress, and modernity. However, the Iranian revolution of 1979, which led to the birth of an Islamic State, shattered these Orientalist assertions pertaining to the supposed weakness of Muslim societies. “The revolution in Iran has brought a moribund Islam back to political center-stage after a lengthy absence” (Kramer, 1980:13). It became imperative to provide a renewed and reformed explanation of how societies previously thought to be weak could generate a revolution capable of defeating state power. “An influential thesis was delivered by Patricia Crone, who has been described as the most persuasive and rigorous of the neo-Orientalists” (Tuastad, 2003, 594). According to Crone, Islamic civilization was unique in the way that it refused to legitimize political authority.

“The ulema defined God’s law as haqq al-‘arab, the law of the Arabs, just as they identified his language as the lisan al-‘arab, the normative language of the Bedouins, the consensus being that where God had not explicitly modified tribal law, he had endorsed it. This resulted in a tribal vision of sacred politics where kings were rejected and God’s community was envisaged as an egalitarian one unencumbered by profane or religious structures of power below the caliph, who was himself assigned the duty of minimal government” (Crone, 1980:62).

This argument implies that the Iranian revolution, which triggered the sociopolitical phenomenon known as Political Islam in the 20th century, was not the result of an organized civil society expressing its political will through revolutionary means, but rather the inevitable outcome of Muslim societies’ inherent instability. The political norms of Islam as established by Sharia law produce an environment in which it is virtually impossible for any government to survive (Tuastad, 2003, 595). Sooner or later every regime comes to be seen as illegitimate in the eyes of the Muslim masses. Islamism simply provided an outlet through which they could strip all legitimacy from existing political authorities, while simultaneously calling for the restoration of an “all-encompassing Islamic law, based upon the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (…)” (Kramer, 1996:147).

This generates a setting where the elaboration of a contract between state and society becomes all but impossible. “That society withholds its support from political authority not only makes the state unstable but also obstructs the development of a true civil society, as no ‘organic state’ has been able to emerge in the Arab world” (Tuastad, 2003, 595). By reiterating the idea of a lack of basis for constitutional and representative government in Muslim societies, scholars such as Crone and Kramer are demonstrating the undeniable continuity between Neo-Orientalism and traditional Orientalism.

Crone’s allegation that Islam is devoid of the fundamentals of constitutional and representative governance crucial to societal development echoes back to Kedourie’s claim that the precepts of democracy are essentially alien to Muslim political traditions. In the Neo-Orientalist paradigm, Islamism is essentially the result of weak democratic traditions in the Muslim world. Kramer argues that in its discourse on democracy, authenticity, women, minorities, and pluralism, Political Islam is essentially “a remake of nationalism as Islamic ideology” (Kramer, 1997:163). Its advent is reminiscent of the surge of ultra-nationalist movements throughout East Europe in the wake of the Soviet bloc’s breakup. “By any reading, this discourse evokes not Havel or Walela, but Le Pen and Zhirinovsky” (Kramer, 1997:163).

Islamic movements are, in Kramer’s critique of Political Islam, more about national liberation and power, than individual liberties and politics (Kramer, 1997:163). Islamism’s contention is that Islam offers a system of belief that could do what no foreign/alien doctrine ever could; mobilize the believers, inculcate discipline into their ranks, and inspire them to make the necessary changes and sacrifices (Ajami, 1992:62). He draws an even closer link between Islamism and the national right in Europe, by indicating that they both use populism in the form of mass mobilizations generated by anger and despair, in order to drive their respective movements to the forefront of the political landscape.

“It is generally agreed that Islamism arose from the failure of Arab (and Iranian and Turkish) nationalism. Not only is this obvious, one might go further: Islamism represents a remake of nationalism as Islamic ideology. Nationalism, leavened by religion, thus becomes a hyper-nationalism” (Kramer, 1997:163).

Both traditional Orientalism and Neo Orientalism ignore largely the influence of colonialism and imperialism on Muslim societies. Instead what is put forward is a reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Islam as an entity possessing an “anti-modern core (….) that doomed any further political development of the world’s fastest growing religion” (Tuastad, 2003, 595). Neo-Orientalism’s penchant for explaining polity and political phenomena through cultural binaries resonates quite well with the current political atmosphere. The assumption that certain cultures are inherently chaotic and violent is an integral part of the Neo-Orientalist exceptionalist thesis proclaiming Islam to be the antithesis of Western civilization, and a potential civilizational threat.

“The intrusion of political Islam into Europe is contributing to turning it into a battlefield between the secular and the divine in the course of the return of the sacred. It is perplexing to watch the contradictory reality of Europeans abandoning their faith while the global religionization of politics and conflict enters Europe under conditions of Islamic immigration”(Tibi, 2014:153).

 

III) Critical Neo-Orientalism

Unlike Neo-Orientalists who simply reject the criticism leveled against their field of study, critical Neo-Orientalists recognize the legitimacy of such criticism, while still remaining convinced that Orientalism is by far the best possible approach to the study of the Orient and Islam. Critical Neo-Orientalism is based on the idea of undertaking a constructive engagement with Orientalism through a reform of the problematization of Islam as it was traditionally conceptualized in Orientalist thought. This approach represents an effort to try and distance the field of Islamic studies from rigid analytical frameworks, and Orientalism’s natural penchant toward “textual and historical over-determination” (Volpi, 2010:42). “The exegesis of the Quran (…) thus often replaces socio-economic and socio-historical investigation” (Burgat, 2003:6). Instead it is the “hermeneutic character of the Islamic tradition” that is being highlighted, which according to critical Neo-Orientalists allows for the flexibility and the openness of current politico-theological discussions (Volpi, 2010:42).

The proponents of this new form of Orientalism wish to reiterate the complexity and diversity of the socio-historical contexts of Muslim societies. The obsession with uncovering a model Islamic society imbued with a Muslim Mind has rendered Orientalism blind to the non-textual traditions influencing and shaping contemporary Islamism. It is this oversight that critical Neo-Orientalism hopes to address through new interpretive efforts attempting to make sense of the present in the light of the past, without however becoming obsessively beholden to the past.

“Disoriented by this experience, Western intellectuals have tended to take refuge behind a kind of Maginot Line of enlightened rationalism. From these entrenched positions they excoriate ‘fanaticism’, ‘backwardness, and ‘Muslim fundamentalism’. The West, they seem to be saying has gone beyond all that: let it now go its own way and let Islam—irretrievably alien, intellectually inaccessible, and repugnant—wallow in its barbarism” (Kepel, 2005:19).

While   traditional Orientalism emphasized the impact of Oriental despotism on Islamic polity, with a powerful state and unorganized society, Ernest Gellner adheres instead to a different notion of Islamic polity. Much like the Neo-Orientalist Patricia Crone, Gellner “present the opposite picture of a weak state, short on legitimacy and vulnerable to internal threats from a solidary community under ulama[1] leadership and to external threats of the tribes” (Zubaida, 1995: 153). Ernest Gellner—renowned philosopher, social theorist, and anthropologist—was probably the most famous and articulated proponent of critical Neo-Orientalism. In an attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of Muslim politics, he developed a coherent model of Muslim society. Eager to avoid any ethnocentric bias susceptible of influencing his endeavor, he built his model “against a wide canvas of philosophical, theoretical, and cross-historical references (…)” (Zubaida, 1995: 152). Gellner’s model is not only historical in nature; it also has the advantage of being sociological. The historical component of his model draws a great deal from the work of Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth-century Arab historian.

Following in his footsteps, he constructed a dialectic between city and tribe “each with its own peculiar form of religion, and the dominance within the urban form of ulama leading a solidary community based on scripture and Divine Law” (Zubaida, 1995: 155). Gellner’s Muslim society is characterized by a weak state and a strong culture. The state is simultaneously threatened by the intractability of the tribes (pastoral nomadic/Bedouin society), and the ability of the urban and sedentary society to “withhold the symbols of legitimacy” (Gellner, 1983:55). Culture however is strong since it is entrenched in urban society where it is instrumental in forging “the bonds of community based on the Law and on the authority and leadership of the ulama” (Gellner, 1983:55).

He analyzes Political Islam through a similar historical perspective, and formulates a more nuanced analysis—than the Neo-Orientalists—attentive to the complexity of this phenomenon and the challenges it poses (Gellner, 1983:55). Militant Islam according to him possesses a “historical undercurrent, which lately acquired special significance to the Muslim masses because of the frustration of religio-nationalist hopes (…)” (Abun Nasr, 1985:73). The Islamists’ project is to reject the political authority of the nationalist elites, while calling for the production of a new kind of orthodoxy. These same militants are also rejecting the traditional religious authority of the ulama criticizing them vehemently for their willingness to serve the same national structures “which curtail the application of the prescription of the shari’a to acts of devotion and norms of family life” (Abun Nasr, 1985:85).

The influence of what came to be dubbed the French School (Roy, Kepel, Burgat, etc.…) is also quite noticeable in critical Neo-Orientalism. They are mostly known for their body of work dedicated to examining the failure of nationalism in the Muslim world and the rise of Political Islam. As an alternative to traditional Orientalist approaches, they chose to explain the strength and resilience of Islamism through the “mechanism of path-dependency” (Volpi, 2010:42). What characterizes their approach “is a progression of the theorizing of the emergence of Islamism from the local to the global” (Volpi, 2010:42). Each one focuses on a specific region—Roy (Afghanistan), Kepel (Egypt)—and develops his expertise on that basis (Volpi, 2010:42). In order to avoid falling into the predictable essentialist construction of Islam so prevalent in Orientalism, they presented instead new and refined narratives attempting to explain the multiple processes through which Islamism is socially constructed.

“To measure its full impact we need to identify its many dimensions and investigate the different periods of gestation, the networks, the line of communication (…) and ideas that composed it (…)” (Kepel, 2002:62).

In his argument against modern versions of Orientalism—such as Neo-Orientalism—Roy states, “historical and cultural paradigms are misleading to the extent that they do not help us to understand what is new” (Roy, 2004:15). However, there are important downsides to path-dependency approaches since they also exhibit some of the same flaws plaguing previous Orientalist narratives. If the central thesis of his famous book The failure of Political Islam (1994) was indeed to demonstrate the collapse of the Islamist project, then one cannot ignore Roy’s complete disregard of the many other forms of Islamism not linked to the rather violent brand of this phenomenon.

Many other strands of Islamism blossomed in the twentieth century, rejecting completely armed militancy. Movements focusing on “Wahhabi rigourism, Tablighi pietism, and Salafi puritanism grew in strength quite independently from these militant political movements” (Volpi, 2010:43). What Roy has effectively showcased is not the failure of Islamism as a whole, but rather a particular strand of Political Islam predicated on violent militancy. By making the militant and revolutionist branch of Islamism the central component of his analysis—at the detriment of all the other developments of Political Islam in the twentieth century—Roy recreated the same grand narrative he was attempting to transcend.

“The ultimate experience is of course jihad, which for the Islamists, means armed battle against communists (Afghanistan), or Zionists (Palestine), or for the radicals, against renegades and the impious” (Roy, 1994:15).

What ensures the perennity of Orientalism in the study of Islam is the reciprocal relationship that exists between this field of expertise and a theoretical main interpretation of the Islamic tradition (Volpi, 2010:43). It cements the notion that through historical and textual readings of Islam, contextualized by Western intellectuals, every trend, event, and development in the Muslim world will be understood. It reinforces the reliance on a Muslim Mind—as theorized by traditional Orientalism—to be uncovered through “an appreciation of history and the Scriptures” (Volpi, 2010:43). The assertion that Orientalism is a cordoned off tradition that not only relies on self-validation, but is also resistant to any sort of criticism (internal or external) remains very apropos (Turner, 1994:31). The continued reliance on rehashed Orientalist clichés ensures the semantic and historical continuity between critical Neo-Orientalism and the previous forms of Orientalism.

 

[1] Arabic word meaning scholars. This term is mostly used for scholars specialized in Islamic theology.

 

Understanding Orientalism Series:

Understanding Orientalism and its Genesis: Read here

Orientalist Discourse and the Concept of Islamism (part 1): Read here

 

References:

  • Abun Nasr, Jamil M. (1985). Militant Islam: A Historical Perspective. In Ernest Gellner (ed.), Islamic Dilemmas: Reformers, Nationalists and Industrialization, pp. 73-93. Berlin: Mouton Publishers.
  • Ajami, Fouad (1992). The Arab Predicament. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Burgat, Francois (2003). Face to face with Political Islam. London: IB Tauris.
  • Gellner, Ernest (1983). Muslim Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kepel, Gilles (2005). The Roots of Political Islam. London: Saqi.
  • Kepel, Gilles; Roberts Anthony, F (2002). The Trail of Political Islam. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Kramer, Martin (1980). Political Islam. London; Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
  • Kramer, Martin (1996). Arab Awakenings and Islamic Revival: the politics of ideas in the Middle East. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.
  • Kramer, Martin (1997). The Mismeasure of Political Islam. In Martin Kramer (ed.), The Islamism Debate, pp. 161-173. Tel Aviv; The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv.
  • Kramer, Martin (2003). Coming to terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists? Middle East Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 2, pp.65-77.
  • Pipes, Daniel (1983). In the Path of God. Islam and Political Power. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers.
  • Pipes, Daniel (2004). Miniatures. Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Politics. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.
  • Pipes, Daniel (2015). Nothing Abides. Perspectives On The Middle East And Islam. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.
  • Roy, Olivier (1994). The failure of Political Islam. London: L.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Roy, Olivier (2004). Globalized Islam. The Search for a New Ummah. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Tibi, Bassam (2014). Political Islam, World Politics and Europe. From Jihadist to Institutional Islamism. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Tuastad, Dag (2003). Neo-Orientalism and the new barbarism thesis: Aspects of symbolic violence in the Middle East Conflict(s). Third World Quarterly, Vol.24, No.4, pp. 591-599.
  • Turner, Bryan (1994). Orientalism, Postmodernism And Globalism. London: Routledge.
  • Volpi, Frederic (2010). Political Islam observed: disciplinary perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Zubaida, Sami (1995). Is there a Muslim society? Ernest Gellner’s sociology of Islam. Economy and Society, Vol.24, No.2, pp.151-188.