Decolonizing Sociology: Is There Any Hope?

Decolonizing Sociology: Is There Any Hope?

The concept of social science is often seen as the product of specific conditions that occurred in a precise time and space in Western civilization. In fact, Immanuel Wallerstein stated that the social sciences are “an enterprise of the modern world. Its roots lie in the attempt, full-blown in the sixteenth century, and part and parcel of the construction of our modern world, to develop the systematic secular knowledge about reality that is somehow validated empirically” (Wallerstein, 1996:2). Therefore, analyzing, interpreting, and understanding the mentalities, attitudes, and realities of civilizations that share very little in common with Western societies has always been a difficult endeavor that too often leads to a prevailing Eurocentrism in the social sciences.

Studying all human civilizations from a Western perspective, in which all aspects of reality, whether historical or social are therefore organised and understood from said perspective, renders Western thinkers the sole architects of ideas and theories, while relegating non-Westerners and their entire body of knowledge to mere subjects of study. Once ripped from its own ontological and epistemological bases in order to be reinterpreted and contextualized according to a Western worldview, even the scientific knowledge produced by non-Westerners which had “a certain duty and function” in their civilizations loses both “its capability of explaining factual conditions and its virtue of being scientific” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 411).

The idea of a “master explanation of everything Islamic” guaranteed the continued survival of the Orientalist Grand Narrative when it comes to the study of Islam within Western Academia. The resilience of this narrative is not due so much to the result of an inherent strength of Orientalist scholarship, but rather the weakness of the non-essentialist alternatives being offered (Volpi, 2010:33). While postmodern epistemologies provide interesting new avenues of research, they nonetheless do not offer a real and robust alternative (Turner, 1994:101). The bulk of the literature pertaining to the topic of Islam in sociology tends to emphasize the politicization of the religious (or Islamism) at the expense of all the other factors that are shaping the Muslim world as a whole; hence, the persistence of the prevailing reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Muslim societies.

The present instability plaguing the modern Muslim political realm is the subject of much interest and debate in Western academia. Unfortunately, what often transpires from such studies is a rather Manichean view of Muslim societies as inherently despotic entities beholden to oriental despotism and opposed to the very concepts of modernity and progress (Kalmar, 2012:1).Orientalist thought introduced the notion that a civilization based upon Islamic precepts can only inspire undemocratic governments. Western contemporary readings of Muslim societies, for the most part, approach the subject “through the lenses of western concepts and methodologies” and in doing so reiterate unfortunately Orientalist assumptions and arguments (Volpi, 2009:22).

Ibn Khaldun elaborated a social and political philosophy centered around the concept of change. To him, no social order is everlasting and natural but rather historical, hence the “fundamental law to keep in mind about socio-political systems is that they are not static” (Kayapinar, 2008: 377). Ibn Khaldun not only reiterated the importance of change but he also offered a comprehensive analysis of its trajectory. Since every epoch and society has its own peculiarities, rules, and logic, understanding any socio-political and economic event within a certain context and timeframe requires knowing those precise characteristics. “Ibn Khaldun reduced the general dynamic of change into one single notion: assabiya” (Kayapinar, 2008: 378). According to him, this concept plays an essential role in this progression leading to change. “He established asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). So, ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings.

To understand the contemporary politics of the Muslim world, it is necessary to begin by analyzing the traditional model, social symbols, and ideologies which have informed every aspect of community life for centuries and have been brutally interrupted by the advent of colonialism. Such an analysis in a Khaldunian framework proceeds by examining the organic model at the heart of these societies and identifying the organic relationship between its different parts (politics, economics, social framework, religious ideology, etc.…). The current crisis in the modern Muslim political realm is accompanied by the relative absence of a “compelling and widely shared overall social purpose” (Moten, 1996: 38). According to Moten, this is a direct result of the colonial experience since “the major victim of the colonial domination was the Muslim’s self-image and cultural identity” (Moten, 1996: 10). The colonial policy of progress and enlightenment through a Westernized education system marked the beginning of a strategy seeking to replace the existing educational system, perceived as inferior and backward, with European learning. This attitude vis-à-vis Islamic knowledge is perfectly reflected in “Lord Macaulay’s insistence that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” (Moten, 1996: 10). This educational policy’s main goal was to transmit European cultural values to the natives and to create “a class of clerks, collaborators and cronies to continue the cultural onslaught of the West” (Moten, 1996: 10).

However, its consequences were far more devastating and continue to impact Muslim societies to this day. Muslims educated in these Westernized educational systems became a strange mixture of the East and the West, “out of place everywhere and at home nowhere” (Moten, 1996:11). Al-Faruqi goes even further by saying that Muslims today are neither Islamic nor Western, but rather “a cultural monstrosity of modern times” (al Faruqi, 1982: 5). They’ve become a composite of diverging ideas and ideologies, alienated from their own past and yet never quite Western enough; incapable of mining their own sources and consulting the intellectual heritage of their civilization to generate sustainable responses to the social and political challenges they are facing. Even Muslim scholars educated in these Western-centric systems are often either unaware of their intellectual heritage or employ western perspectives to utilize this heritage (…) ignoring in the process “the unique idiosyncratic manners for explaining and settling social problems unique to their civilization” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 408). Overlooking the existing differences between Muslim and Western civilization and applying a Western worldview to the problems of Muslim societies often leads to resounding failures and exacerbates the inability of achieving a consensus around a shared political and social purpose.

The majority of the work on Ibn Khaldun in sociology is comprised mainly of biographical studies pertaining to his life, discussions about his theory of state formation, and examinations of the methodological foundations of his work. However, the application of his theory to existing historical situations remains a rarity. The majority of the work dedicated to the thought of Ibn Khaldun vacillates between studies focusing on certain aspects of his theory/ methodology and studies trying to establish a parallel between his approach and that of Western thinkers. The latter especially often leads to anachronic readings of Ibn Khaldun. The principal difficulty seems to be the misinterpretation of his understanding of religion. Two dominant opinions about Ibn Khaldun’s approach to science and religion are found within Orientalist literature.

According to the first opinion, supported by Gibb and Richter, every social phenomenon discussed by Ibn Khaldun is connected “with the Holy Qur’an and consequently connected with the will of God” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). But, according to the second opinion supported by Gumplovicz and Von Kremer, Ibn Khaldun “interpreted social phenomena in a realist way depending on reason and experiment” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). If he used verses of the Qur’an it was only to escape bigoted reactions and possible accusations of blasphemy. For the most part however, Ibn Khaldun’s work is often relegated to an example of proto-sociology or the subject of investigation. His theories and concepts are described and analysed without ever being used as tools to interpret and understand history. Sociological studies pertaining to Muslim societies in Western academia remain mostly grounded in Orientalist analyses. The work of Ibn Khaldun offers an alternative to the Orientalist Grand Narrative and give us an opportunity to elaborate a neo-Khaldunian sociology beyond the confines of Eurocentrism.

Very few attempts have been made to incorporate Ibn Khaldun’s theory of state formation within the framework of modern sociology. Yet, he offers us a possibility of engaging in the study of Muslim societies without the preconceptions of Orientalism. Khaldunian theory represent a sociological framework indigenous to the Muslim world. In previous centuries, his work influenced Muslim and Western scholars alike, but it also served as a theoretical backdrop to the elaboration of political reforms in the Ottoman empire. A neo-Khaldunian perspective could provide a novel way of looking at the current state of Muslim polity. Through his writings, Ibn Khaldun achieved two important goals. On one hand, he elaborated a new approach to philosophical history, with a theoretical framework and a methodology reiterating the need to engage with the study of history critically. On the other hand, his Muqqadimah provides vital information on the religious, philosophical, and literary Muslim scholarship of the fourteenth century. What is lacking today is the integration of the Khaldunian theoretical framework into the corpus of modern sociology.

 

Bibliography: 

Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Islamization of knowledge: General Principles and Workplan (Maryland: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982), p.5

Kalmar, Ivan (2012). Early Orientalism. Imagined Islam and the notion of sublime power. London; New York: Routledge.

Kayapinar, Akif M. (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Concept of “Assabiyya”: An Alternative Tool for Understanding Long-Term Politics, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 375-407.

Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.

Moten, Abdul Rashid (1996). Political Science: An Islamic Perspective. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

Sunar, Lutfi & Yasliçimen, Faruk (2008) The Possibilities of New Perspectives for Social Sciences: An Analysis Based on Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of “Umran”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 408-433.

Turner, Bryan (1994). Orientalism, Postmodernism And Globalism. London: Routledge.

Volpi, Frederic (2009) Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, 16(1): 20-38.

Volpi, Frederic. (2009). Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, Vol. 16, No.1, pp.20-38

Wallerstein, Immanuel (ed). (1996) Open the Social Sciences: Report of the Gulbenkian Commission of the Social Sciences. California: Stanford University Press.

Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

In the fall of 2018, a confrontation in the sport of Mix Martial Arts between a young man from Dagestan and his Irish rival thrusted the Caucasus into the limelight of world stage. However, the ensuing discussions and debates revealed very quickly the persistence of often erroneous and facile narratives pertaining to that region of the world and its inhabitants. For most Westerners, to whom Islam is primarily an Eastern religion practiced by hordes of brown and black people, the very idea of white Muslims who are not recent converts was a perplexing one. Everything about Caucasians, from their cultures, to their religion, to their history became a topic of conversation. In the midst of the slurs, braggadocios claims, and accusations of collaboration and betrayal, the Chechen war came up as a topic; a discussion that unfortunately led to the all too familiar territory of thinly veiled Islamophobia.

 

A brief history of the Chechen-Russian Conflict

Located in the North Caucasus, Chechnya (also called Ichkeria) is a “quadrilateral located in the north-eastern part of the Caucasus, demarcated by the Terek and Sunja rivers in the west and the north, the Andi range in the east which separates it from Dagestan, and the snow-covered twin range of the Caucasus in the south which separates it from Georgia” (Gammer, 2006:2). Rich in oil, natural gas, and minerals, this land is inhabited by the Nokhchi (meaning our people), better known under their Russian ethnonym (Chechen), and are closely related to the Ingush. Together, these two groups form the Vainakh who are the most ancient indigenous people of the region (Gammer, 2006:2).

Islam made its first inroads into the Caucasus in the 8th century. Two centuries later, it became the dominant religion in the southern coastal plain south of Derbent; an important economic centre located in present-day Dagestan. In the 11th and 12th century, most of the Darghin and Lakh people of central Dagestan converted massively to Islam. The arrival of the Nogai Horde, a Turkic tribe, in the region during the 14th century contributed greatly to the spread of Islam amongst the Cherkess, the Kabardins, and the Chechens. A century later, the Lakh of central Dagestan abandoned any remainder of their previous belief systems in order to practice Islam exclusively. As fervent Muslims, they dedicated themselves to the spread of their religion in Dagestan and the lands beyond; bringing Islam to the Chechens and the Kumiks. Over the coming centuries several ethnic groups such as the Avar, Chechen, Ingush, Adyghe, Cherkess, and Kabardins converted massively to Islam; making the Northern Caucasus a solid Muslim Bastion. Today, Islam is an important component of Vainakh culture as both the Chechen and the Ingush belong to the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam jurisprudence.

“In 1556, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible succeeded in conquering the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan and thus entering into the Caspian orbit, the North Caucasus region (…) became the object of a competition involving Muscovy, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, the Crimean Khanate, and other lesser powers” (Dunlop, 1998:4). Confronted to a stiff resistance from the native populations of the Caucasus, Tsarist Russia did not hesitate to unleash its might in successive military campaigns resulting in horrific acts of violence. In the 19th century, General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov began a military campaign to secure Russia’s hold over the Caucasus. In order to subdue the Chechens, who were fiercely opposed to the Russian invasion, Yermolov adopted a strategy of collective punishment in which Chechen villages where systematically targeted and destroyed. The campaign was of such cruelty and violence that many believe it contributed directly to the protracted and bloody Murid War (1829-1859). His campaign of expulsions, massacres, and widespread torture not only  “fuelled the Chechens’ hatred of Russians” but also inspired a profound desire “for freedom and their willingness to fight and die for it.” (Hertog, 2001: 29).

In more ways than one, the Russian invasion became the source of social and political turmoil in the Caucasus. Not only did the Chechens lose their sovereignty, they also found their cultural and religious identity endangered. Tsarist Russia’s anti-Islamic policies, its promotion of Russian culture at the detriment of their native traditions, and the spread of behaviours and attitudes anathema to their cultural and religious ethos created a “fertile ground for the ideas of the Naqshbandiya” (Hertog, 2001:29). It is from this Sufi order that key figures such as the famed Imam Shamil emerged during the Caucasian wars that lasted until 1856. He successfully united warring Caucasian tribes under a common Pan-Caucasian and Islamic banner; creating a united front against the Russian expansion into Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1864, after 142 years of a bitter struggle for freedom the Chechens finally surrendered to Tsarist Russia; but this was by no means the end of Chechen resistance (Dunlop, 1998:12). In 1877, they rose up in arms again defying Russian rule and rejecting their inclusion into the Tsarist Empire. This new rebellion ended with the slaughter of more than 60% of the Chechen population (Dunlop, 1998:32).

The February Revolution of 1917 was, at first, welcomed by the Chechens who saw in it a chance to break away from Tsarist rule and regain the control of their land. The Bolshevik slogans promoting freedom, equality, and the right for self-determination resonated with them. But soon after, they realised that the real politics of the Bolsheviks were far from what their slogans promised. Instead of the awaited freedom and independence, they were once again under the yoke of a regime alien to their traditions and values (Dunlop, 1998:16). This new Bolshevik rule promoted atheism and ignored completely the traditions, religion, and customs of the Chechen people. All of this contributed to the uprising against the Bolshevik rule in the 1920’s which lead to renewed hostilities between Moscow and the Chechens. Later on, as the totalitarian regime of Stalin gained in strength, the need to subdue and disarm the autonomous region of Chechnya became a priority.

In 1925, a campaign aimed at “political banditry” was launched in Chechnya, implementing a policy of mass arrests and repression. However, the darkest chapter in the tumultuous history of Chechnya remains without a doubt the deportation of the Chechen people and their kin the Ingush to central Asia in 1944 (Dunlop, 1998:17). Almost 500,000 Vainakh were forcefully put into cattle trucks and deported to Central Asia. The Stalinist regime tried to legitimize this treatment by levelling accusations of Nazis collaboration during World War II against the Chechens, although the Germans  never reached Chechnya during their incursion into Soviet territory. For Stalin, this was an opportunity to get rid of a rebellious nation permanently. “Their name was effaced, their cultural symbols were destroyed and history was rewritten as if the Chechens had never existed.” (Hertog, 2005:243). During the long and perilous journey to Central Asia, close to 78,000 died succumbing to the lack of food, sanitary facilities, and the cramped conditions on the trains (Lieven 1998: 319). The surviving population was further decimated when they arrived in Kazakhstan due to the harsh living conditions. According to official Soviet statistics, an estimated 25% of the exiled died within the first five years of their arrival (Evangelista 2002: 14). Between 30% to 50% of Chechens and Ingush are estimated to have perished during those years of exile, many dying due to the cold and the lack of food. 

In 1957, Krushchev who came to power after Stalin’s death ordered the return of the Vainakh from exile, thus restoring the Chechen republic and its people. However, this return was by no means the end of their suffering. They became once more the focus of Soviet propaganda since their resistance to atheism was perceived as a possible risk for renewed insurgency against the Soviet State. “A special ‘army of atheistic experts’ flooded the inhabitants of Grozny with antireligious lectures.” (Hertog, 2005:244). Many religious figures were hunted down and arrested while Soviet press and media routinely reiterated anti-Islamic narratives and attitudes; all in an effort to discourage the Chechen population from practicing Islam. However, this renewed hostility toward their religion only deepened the Chechens’ desire to maintain their distinctive religious and cultural ethos.

While these anti-Islamic campaigns succeeded in destroying “the material and structural basis” of Islamic leadership in Chechnya, they failed at eradicating Islamic beliefs and practice. “On the contrary, the deformalised but still vibrant faith of the Chechen people was absorbed into the informal networks of the brotherhoods.” (Hertog, 2005:244). The Sufi brotherhoods played an important role in preserving a common Chechen identity during the long years of exile. “As cultural and educational activity came to a halt, and as there were no newspapers or books in the native language, ‘what after all, could the people turn to, if not religion?’ (Henze, 1995: 24). The brotherhoods soon built extensive networks incorporated into the social structure of the Chechen people where now “each individual had not only family and clan loyalties, but also a Sufi brotherhood loyalty.” (Zelkina, 1993: 120). Faced with the openly hostile attitude of the Soviet regime toward Islam upon their returned from exile, the brotherhoods reprised their role as guardians of the Chechen identity by ensuring “the survival of Islamic belief and practice amidst constant atheistic militancy.” (Hertog, 2005: 244).

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, secession emerged as a major political issue in the Post-Cold War era. Many states from East Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus  either broke up into a multitude of states or became sovereign nations in their own right. Secessionist endeavours usually provoke mixed feelings and reactions. On the one hand, there is a natural inclination to support minority communities struggling for national liberation. On the other hand, there is a fear of the possible consequences of secession because too often conflict and war are a more typical outcome. In the Balkans, the collapse of Communism led to a genocidal war which effectively split Yugoslavia into 7 countries: Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Montenegro. For Russia, secession in the strategically important region of the Caucasus posed a particular challenge. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, there was civil war in Georgia, conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the republic of Chechnya was actively working on obtaining its independence. Moscow’s resolve to maintain its control over the region led to two terrible and bloody wars with the small  Chechen republic. 

Both, the first (1994-1996) and second Chechen War (1999-2009) can be described as the latest chapters in the Chechens’ ongoing conflict with Russia that started in the 16th century. The first war started in 1991 when Chechnya under the leadership of Djokhar Dudayev declared its sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia. Attempts by the Yeltsin regime to maintain the republic within the Federation were unsuccessful as Chechens rejected the proposed autonomy for complete sovereignty. Finally on December 1994, “the Russian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior units entered Chechnya” and full-fledge war began (Dunlop, 1998:209). Referred to as the First Chechen war, this conflict lasted for three years and killed 100,000 Chechens out of a population of 1,000,000. It eventually ended with the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechen territory in 1996. However Chechen sovereignty was short lived. In 1999 President Putin declared the Chechen parliament illegal and ordered the invasion of the country by Russian troops. Chechens under the leadership of president Aslan Maskhadov took up arms to defend their country against this new Russian invasion. Although large scale military incursions ended officially in 2000, the conflict soon entered its insurgency phase opposing Russian forces and Chechen paramilitary to Chechen separatists.

Learning from their previous disastrous and costly incursions into Chechnya, the Russian authorities opted for a policy of “Chechenization” as a counterinsurgency strategy during the second war (Lyall; 2010: 3). By granting political power to ambitious Chechen officials susceptible of supporting the Kremlin’s desire to maintain Chechnya within Russia, they effectively created a split in the Chechen front. Akhmed Kadyrov, a mufti once loyal to the Chechen opposition, was nominated in 2003 as the head of the Chechen Republic by the Kremlin; only to be assassinated by the rebels seven months later. In 2007, Putin signed a decree nominating Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the late Akhmed Kadyrov, as the president of Chechnya. One of the main pillars of the Chechenization policy was the formation of combat units consisting of Chechens-only to conduct sweep operations.

Until early 2003, the counterinsurgency campaign was primarily ran by Russian units. However, this soon changed with the creation of joint patrols with Chechen police units. In an effort to further put a Chechen face to the counterinsurgency effort, Chechen-only Ministry of Defense units (Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad) were trained and equipped to assume sweep operations (Lyall; 2010: 3). The Kadyrovs also took advantage of this policy by creating their own paramilitary forces, known as the Kadyrovtsy, to participate in sweep operations targeting the rebels and their supporters. “In total, about 20,000 Chechens had joined Vostok, Zapad, or a Kadyrov affiliated organization by the end of 2005, when large-scale sweep operations were phased out as Ramzan Kadyrov consolidated power.” (Lyall; 2010: 3). Since his nomination as president, Kadyrov has maintained a climate of fear through selective disappearances, targeted assassination of regime critics, and the nighttime burning of suspected insurgents’ homes in a bid to pacify Chechnya.  

In October 31, 2007, “the then leader of the Chechen separatists, Dokku Umarov, announced the creation of the Caucasus Emirate—an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia rule, which spread across the territory of the autonomous North Caucasus territories of the Russian Federation” (Souleimanov, 2011:161). The insurgency which was previously confined to Chechnya eventually spread to five other republics (Dagestan, Ingushetia, the Nogay Steppe, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay) with members loyal to the Caucasus Emirate becoming active throughout the region. While today the insurgency has entered its dormant phase, the Chechen desire for independence is far from extinguished. Both Chechens in the diaspora and at home still dream of one day seeing a free and sovereign Ichkeria.

Figure A: Map of the Caucasus

Picture1

 

Clash of Civilizations or colliding hegemonic projects

Both Samuel Huntington and S.N Eisenstadt propose mechanisms of conflict embedded within civilizational entities and triggered by precise dynamics. Each one suggests specific scenarios that are crucial to the understanding of conflict from a civilizational dimension. Huntington in his clash of civilization theory highlights colliding religious and cultural values as another trigger of his civilizational conflict mechanism. According to him, the general tendency throughout history has been to think in terms of two worlds. “People are always tempted to divide people into us and them, the in-group and the other, our civilization and those barbarians” (Huntington, 1996:32). Even scholars are constantly trying to categorize the world into two distinctive groups in their analysis, whether they phrase it as the Orient and the Occident, the North and the South, or the centre and the periphery (Huntington, 1996:32).

In the 14thcentury already, Muslim scholars divided the world into Dar al-Islam (the abode of peace) and Dar al-Harb (the abode of war). “Depending upon how the parts are defined, a two-part world picture may in some measure correspond with reality” (Huntington, 1996:32). Identities are drawn along the lines of these distinctions and specific groupings coalesce around a shared sense of cultural and religious values stemming from a sense of belonging. The cultural bifurcation at the heart of this great divide tends to create a polarization into two opposing camps “where the emphasis is less on differences in economic well-being and more on differences in underlying philosophy, values and ways of life” (Huntington, 1996:32).  Huntington reiterates that the world is far too complex to be simply “divided economically between North and South or culturally between East and West” (Huntington, 1996:33). He promotes instead a vision of a multicivilizational and multipolar world where contacts between different civilizations lead to conflicts.

The secession of the Chechen republic from the Russian federation and the ensuing war could be interpreted, from a Huntingtonian perspective, as the result of a confrontation between two sets of distinctive cultural and religious values. For the Chechens, promoting the rebirth of Chechen-Muslim values necessitated a free and sovereign territory where this project could blossom. However, for the proponents of a unified Russia this was seen as a rejection of the Slav and Orthodox values which constitute the core of Russian identity. As the conflict intensified so did the confrontation between these opposing values. The resurgence of a Chechen culture and an increasingly vibrant Islamic revival led to the rebirth of a Chechen national identity. Breaking away from Russia was not only politically motivated but was also an attempt to consolidate this nascent sense of nationhood. The turmoil of the post Soviet Union climate provided them with an opportunity to reclaim their territory. By changing the name of their country from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, they were in fact reiterating their distinctive cultural, historical, and religious identity. The secession of Chechnya from the greater Russian Federation was not merely a political act but rather an attempt to create the necessary climate for a cultural rebirth of the Chechen nation.

Conflicts appearing in regions where contacts between civilizational entities occur are called fault line wars by Huntington. These conflicts can occur between states, between non-governmental groups, or between states and non-governmental groups. However, whether these conflicts involve clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, or nations their rational “is always rooted in the identities of people” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault lines wars can manifest themselves as a struggle for the control of people or the control of territory. “The goal of at least one of the participants is to conquer territory and free it of other people by expelling them, killing them, or doing both, that is, by ethnic cleansing” (Huntington, 1996:252). This explains the extremely violent nature of such confrontations leading often to the usage of indiscriminate massacres, rape, terrorism, and torture. “The territory at stake often is for one or both sides a highly charged symbol of their history and identity, sacred land to which they have an inviolable right: the West Bank, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Drina Valley or Kosovo” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault line wars can be notoriously instable and can “flame up into massive violence and then sputter down into low intensity warfare or sullen hostility only to fame up once again” (Huntington, 1996:253).

The Chechen struggle for sovereignty resonated with many other ethnic groups living in the Caucasus and facing the same Russian hegemony. From a Huntingtonian perspective, one could say that the expansion of the conflict outside of Chechnya’s borders is due to  the rise of a civilization consciousness built around the concept of Caucasian and Muslim identity. The struggle is no longer just one for Chechen freedom but rather one for a broader Caucasian rebirth. The implication in the insurgency of Kin countries such as Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay as well as a very active Chechen Diaspora has not only created a broader Caucasian and Muslim solidarity, but has also intensified the conflict. In that context, one can no longer simply speak of a Chechen war but rather a conflict opposing a core Slavic/Orthodox state (Russia) to weaker peripheral Muslim republics located in the Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, etc…)

A rather different perspective of civilizations and their influence in world politics was elaborated by S.N Eisenstadt. Instead of  the concept of civilizational clash promoted by Huntington, he elaborated on the concept of axial civilizations. These civilizational entities not only attempt to reconstruct the world in accordance to their ontological and cosmological vision but they also express a certain proclivity toward expansion. They mobilize pre-existing political ideologies, religious impulses, and to some extent economic structures in order to nourish this endeavour. They adopt a “distinctive ideological and reflexive mode of expansion with potentially strong semi-missionary orientations” (Eisenstadt 2003:41). This pattern of expansion creates a better awareness of civilizational frameworks encompassing different societies made up of a multitude of political and ethnic groups. According to Eisenstadt’s theory it is not so much civilizations that are at odds but rather hegemonic projects embedded in civilizational frameworks.

 

Civilizational conflict mechanism according to Eisenstadt:

Components of civilizational conflict              Triggers in the Chechen conflict
Ontological/cosmological vision

 

·      Basic ideological premises (the Dominion of Mother Russia vs. Ichkeria/free Chechnya)

 

·      Core Symbols (The Russian Bear vs. The Chechen  Lone Wolf)

 

·      Construction of collective identities

 

Distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion            (3 key periods)

 

1)Tsarist Russia vs. Ottoman Empire

 

2) USSR vs. Chechnya

 

3) Russian Federation vs. the Caucasus Emirate

 

Internal civilizational dynamics ·      Religious, ideological, political and economic impulses

 

·      Center vs. Periphery (Russian Federation vs. Peripheral republics)

 

The development and institutionalization of specific ontological and cosmological visions and new modes of consciousness within Axial civilizations is connected very closely to the emergence of a “new social element, of a new type of elite, of carriers of models of cultural and social order” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). The tendency to reconstruct the world according to specific symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts, and to partake in continual expansion has been a common feature of Axial civilizations. The multitude of existent civilizations and their diversity is the work of different patterns through which these elements are being implemented. All these civilizations try to “reconstruct the world in their own mode, according to basic premises, and either to absorb the others or consciously to segregate itself from them” (Eisenstadt, 2003:42). Two elements are crucial in the shaping of the different modes of institutionalization and civilizational expansion. “One such set consists of variations of differences in the basic cultural orientations. The other is the concrete structure of the social arenas in which these institutional tendencies can be played out” (Eisenstadt, 2003:43).

In the case of the Chechen conflict, there are two distinctive ontological and cosmological visions at odds. A vision of a unified Russia is colliding with that of a free and sovereign Ichkeria (Chechnya). During this conflict, symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts have been utilized in order to justify the ongoing hostilities. For the proponents of the Federation, the dominion of Mother Russia already weakened by the crumbling of the Soviet Union needs to be protected from further balkanization. The integrity of the territory must be preserved in order to safeguard the status and the weight of Russia in the international arena. The military incursions in the Chechen territory were framed as a legitimate attempt to protect the nation from peril, and the victory of the Russian army as the proof of the strength of “the Russian bear” representing the Russian strength of character.

On the other hand, the proponents of secession in Chechnya framed their struggle around the question of national freedom. Chechnya, they claimed was never a willing member of the Federation but rather an occupied territory demanding to be released. For them, the conflict was not so much one of self-determination as much as an attempt to put an end to Russian colonialism. Ichkeria was a sovereign nation before the Russian penetration into the Caucasus and will be once again free from oppression. Largely surpassed by the Russian military in terms of resources, the Chechen victory during the first war against a vastly superior military machine was framed as the victory of the “lone wolf against the Russian bear”. This image evokes a struggle similar to that of David vs. Goliath, and in doing so reiterates the perseverance and the courage of Chechens against an enemy far superior to them in numbers and in resources. The continuation of the conflict has in fact institutionalized the ontological and cosmological visions supporting the political agendas of both sides while impacting on the construction of collective identities.

In order to reconstruct a social order according to any given ontological and cosmological vision, it is crucial to develop a strong “tendency to define certain collectivities and institutional arenas as most appropriate for the implementation of their respective transcendental visions” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). This tendency creates new types of collectivities and groups harboring a special meaning derived from those distinctive transcendental visions. These groups help to institutionalize a “new type of intersocietal and intercivilizational world history” which justifies the proclivity of civilizations for expansion (Eisenstadt, 2003:41). Ideological, religious, as well as political and economic impulses are then mobilized in order to trigger distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. These expansions could be geographical in nature, religious or cultural; however, it is important to reiterate that these processes are not necessarily linked. Depending on the realities at hand, the civilizational frameworks of these expansions can change as different internal civilizational dynamics come into play.

The Caucasus, as the crossroad between different ethnic, religious, and political entities has been the theatre of many expansionist endeavours. There are key moments in the history of the region which reflect distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. In the eighteenth century, the Caucasus became the frontline of a war opposing Tsarist Russia to the Ottoman Empire. Since neither of these empires are indigenous to the region, they both mobilized different impulses in order to justify their expansion, while trying to render their rival’s position illegitimate. While the Ottoman Empire utilized religion in order to establish alliances with local ethnic groups sharing the same religious beliefs, Tsarist Russia utilized instead cultural arguments pertaining to the superiority of Russians to the barbarians and savages of the Caucasus. During the twentieth century, the USSR utilized political and ideological arguments to justify their presence in the region. The Chechens on the other hand framed their struggle around the question of cultural identity and national autonomy.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Gammer, Moshe. (2006). The Lone Wolf and the Bear. Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule. London: Hurst and Company.
  2. Huntington, Samuel.P (1996). The Clash of Civilizations. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  3. Huntington, S.P. 1993b. ‘If Not Civilizations, What? Paradigms of the Post-Cold War.’ Foreign Affairs 72(5): 186–94.
  4. Eisenstadt, S.N. (2003). Comparative civilizations and multiple modernities (volume 1). Boston: Library of Congress.
  5. Souleimanov, Emil. (2011). The Caucasus Emirate: Genealogy of an Islamist Insurgency. Middle East Policy 18 (4).155-168.
  6. Lyall, Jason. (2010). Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War, American Political Science Review, 104(1), 1-20.
  7. Henze, P. B. (1995) Islam in the North Caucasus: The Example of Chechnya (Santa Monica, RAND).

  8. Evangelista, M. (2002). The Chechen wars: Will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

  9. Hertog, K. (2005). A Self-fulfilling Prophecy: The Seeds of Islamic Radicalisation in Chechnya, Religion, State and Society, 33(3), 239-252.

  10. Lieven, Anatol. 1998. Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  11. Dunlop, John B. 1998. Russia confronts Chechnya: Roots of a separatist conflict. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  12. Hertog, K. (2001) The Role of Religion in the Conflict in Chechnya and Daghestan: Part of the Problem—Part of the Solution? (unpublished MA thesis, Bradford University).

     

     

     

 

From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

I initially planned on writing a long-winded post about this topic, with scholarly references to drive my point home. But, after careful consideration I decided to approach this more as a personal reflection than a sociological analysis; which believe me is not easy for me. I tend to go on long tangents and find myself knee-deep in sociological jargon quite often. When I started my blog, I was in my thirties and trying to navigate the turbulent waters one enters when we officially leave behind the last remnants of our youth, also  known as the twenties. But, life has a way of constantly keeping us on our toes, and just when I thought I was getting the hang of these troublesome thirties, here comes the next chapter of my life. If life is akin to a novel, then I think it is safe to say each decade is pretty much a whole new chapter, with recurrent themes and characters from previous chapters, but also a whole new set of challenges and shifting priorities.

There is a certain optimism often seen as the hallmark of youth which corresponds to a certain stage of one’s life. The twenties are seen as the age of possibilities; a time for self-discovery and boldness where you essentially feel the better part of your life is ahead of you. Every aspect of society by and large caters to the needs and interests of the young: every TV show, movies, social media, the fashion industry, most apps, etc…This reinforces the idea that youth holds a social currency that dwindles with aging. When one enters the thirties, you are expected to have your career well in hand, and be on your way to creating your family (if you haven’t already). If you have the misfortune of not making headways in your career, buying a home, and endeavouring to have a healthy 401k, you are basically seen as someone who is failing at being an adult (or just really failing at life in general). Unfortunately, even Muslims fall prey to this narrative.

Some of the greatest trepidations women experience in their thirties are related to the subject of motherhood. Society repeatedly tells you it is now or never if you wish to have kids. Of course anxiety and existential crisis ensue when you see the forties looming in the distance and you still haven’t found a husband. Every passing stroller and lively baby shower reminds you that you are essentially wasting your peak fertility years. If the thirties make you keenly aware of the passage of time and the increasingly deafening ticking of your biological clock, the forties bring one’s mortality to the forefront.

By the time you are in your late thirties to early forties, you’re bound to have experienced loss. Whether it is losing a parent, other family members, your friends, or your acquaintances, death becomes a lot more palpable. There is also the fact that you are statistically more at risk for just about any disease. Where your doctor used to tell you not to fret when you rushed to his/her office after making the mistake of googling some innocuous symptoms you were experiencing, in your forties they are more likely to send you for a test. Age is a risk factor for just about anything: from Cancer to neurological illnesses. This, of course, makes you think of your mortality a lot more. Every mole, spot, lump, and twitch suddenly becomes a potential source of concern. While having a good diet and exercising daily help tremendously in one’s overall well-being, it is nonetheless a sad reality that you start noticing a stark difference in your body from when you were younger. The wear and tear start taking their toll; acid reflux, joint pain, thyroid issues are all benign, but they nonetheless remind you of your aging. Just looking at tomato sauce gives me heartburn these days, and I’m pretty sure my knees are fomenting some sort of rebellion against me. You can’t help but worry for those who find themselves in your care. Wondering what will become of your aging parents or your small children in the event of your demise will keep you awake at night, anxiously thinking of an alternative that won’t leave them destitute and desperate.

You realize that the days of your youth are now really behind you. From now on what you have to look forward to are the indignities of aging. Where you once saw your future brimming with infinite possibilities, eccentric dreams, and time seemed everlasting; your future is now one that you contemplate with apprehension. You know that your end is closer than it’s ever been before. Looking back at your life is fraught with the regrets of past decisions, the what ifs of the roads never travelled, and the sadness of having to let go of unfulfilled aspirations. From the moment of our birth to our death, our lives are essentially the byproduct of a series of decisions we make; from the most inconsequential to the most crucial. Aging is not for the faint of heart folks, but in many ways it is also the only antidote to the hubris of youth. Which might explain why societies obsessed with youthfulness tend to fear it, and constantly try to battle and delay it.

So, what does all of this mean for me? Is Geeky Muslimah on her way to a retirement home? Not quite. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge my trepidations about aging. What do you do when your actual life in no way resembles what you dreamed of? Do you embrace the new possibilities that present themselves, no matter how far from your previous ambitions? Do you let go of the past or do you redouble your efforts to achieve those dreams the younger version of you held so dear? I honestly wish there was some sort of pause button that you could just hit to stop time and give yourself the opportunity to think. But time waits for no one, and we are all caught in its web. The very universe we live in will one day come to an end. Despite all of its marvels that so often defy human comprehension and it’s perpetual expansion, it will fail to elude the deadly grasp of time.

It is difficult to put into words the bittersweet reality of human existence. We are all lucky to have been given the chance to experience it first hand: the good, the bad, and everything else in between. Every moment of joy, every laughter shared with friends, every instance where love prevailed in our lives, every melody that lingers in our hearts, every kindness ever bestowed upon us, every look of unconditional love that shines in our parents’ eyes, every miracles big or small we get to witness, all of it remind us that we are indeed blessed to be alive. Maybe that is what makes our mortality so daunting. Our very existence is nothing short of a miracle. Of the 200 billion planets that exist in our galaxy alone, life thrived on our little blue dot against all odds. When we look at the heavens, are we not reminded of our solitude in this vast universe, and yet humbled by the  closeness we feel toward our creator?

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem

  1. Most Gracious!
  2. It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.
  3. He has created man:
  4. He has taught him speech (and intelligence).
  5. The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed;
  6. And the herbs (or stars) and the trees – both (alike) bow in adoration.
  7. And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice),
  8. In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance.
  9. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.
  10. It is He Who has spread out the earth for (His) creatures:
  11. Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates);
  12. Also corn, with (its) leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants.
  13. Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?

(Surah Ar-Rahman/ The Beneficent)

Remembering that this life is but one leg of our greater journey is the only way of combatting the fears conjured up by thoughts of the inescapable finality that awaits us all. In Islam, death is but a transition. We are after all souls living in exile and waiting to return home.  But this world of ours is so very human and in its own way wondrous, even when it fails to live up to our expectations, that the idea of leaving behind the only existence we know imbues us with dread. Several lifetimes would probably not suffice for us to get our fill of the human experience. We want to live long and happy lives. We want to fall in love and be loved. We want to see our progeny rise higher and achieve so much more than we ever dreamed of. We want it all even when it is not written for us; and that is very human indeed.

So, I’ll end this reflection by saying that the very human woman I am will try to find solace in remembering that there is wisdom in accepting the destiny Allah ‘aza wajal prescribed for me; even when it doesn’t always jive with all the dreams and hopes I once had. I shall endeavour to remind myself that what a believer should strive for is to be reunited in the hereafter with not only loved ones, but also all the best of our Ummah: from the Sahabas to our beloved Prophet (saw). I shall endeavour to remember that what awaits us beyond the veil of death is, God willing, everlasting contentment; and aging is part of the journey that leads us there.

 

“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings, then, to those who remain patient; those who when any affliction smites them, they say: “Verily, we belong to Allah, and it is to Him that we are destined to return.Upon them will be the blessings and mercy of their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 155-157)

 

 

 

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).

 

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.

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.

 

 

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Talking about class today has been relegated in many ways to a form of antiquated analysis relevant only in Socialist circles clinging to Marxist Theory. In fact, concepts such as class struggle, class divide, or the working class, have been steadily expunged from our social narrative and our academic discourses. The great geopolitical shift of 1989/91 which led to the downfall of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR ended officially the partition of the world along Capitalist and Communist lines. For many, this was proof that Liberal Capitalism had unequivocally defeated Marxism both as an ideology and a socio economic system. This brave new Post-Cold War World heralded for the likes of Francis Fukuyama a world free from the yoke of the past and where history itself came to “an end”[1]. Specialists from both the right and the left were quick to declare that the advent of globalization had ended class struggle, thus making the debate around class obsolete.

It is often argued that the working class as defined in traditional Marxist theory no longer exists in Western societies. The manual workers of yesterdays represent a minority in a workforce dominated entirely by white-collar workers “enjoying middle-class living standards and lifestyles, while, contrary to Marx’s expectations, real wages have steadily risen in the past century ”[2]. The improvement of working conditions and the expansion of labor unions to all sectors of industry helped diffuse the confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat with the emergence of an “amorphous middle-class”[3]. Consequently, class as an underlying factor in shaping history has been gradually eclipsed in academia by a variety of other concepts tackling the very structural inequities addressed traditionally in class analysis.

What emerged from the ashes of the Cold War is an overtly simplistic understanding of the world. The onslaught of mass media served as a catalyst for the propagation of a superficial view of history emphasizing the works of politicians, artists, celebrities and a few intellectuals at the detriment of the “more fundamental patterns at work beneath the play of events”[4]. We have become mass consumers of a world history chronicled through the latest feats of celebrities and their scandals served up daily by glossy tabloids and reality shows, all the while denying the very idea that history has any pattern at all. Yet, underneath the veneer of change and the illusion of transformation lie the same old dichotomies.

The drastic change in the structure of our modern workforce and the shift in the conventional configuration of the working class hasn’t abolished class divide. Actually, low income and the working poor are terminologies used today to categorize those who (like the old working class) find themselves at the lower echelons in the relations of production. In-depth analysis of prevailing social, economic, and political concerns are obscured by shallow and misleading discourses that rely on a simplistic understanding of the structural and institutional nature of contemporary social inequities. Hence, rather than talking about class divide and class struggle in the current context, the conversation about economic disparity is now centered on the topic of poverty.

What is simply a symptom of a greater malady takes the spotlight and inspires a deluge of equally superficial efforts aimed at tackling the problem without ever questioning the system that leads to its existence. Despite the popularity of the notion of “social justice” and the string of activism it inspires, class divide and the struggle animating the dynamics of our class hierarchy are never encroached on. Politicians and activists alike promote the necessity of alleviating child poverty, elderly poverty, income poverty, or urban poverty as if these mere manifestations of poverty are not in fact the outcome of the same system of oppression. How can one eradicate poverty without ever changing the elements at the heart of our political, social and economic institutions that ascertain these economic disparities?

In Islam, the concept of justice is at the core of the values that define a Muslim nation. The rise of Islam helped establish a spiritually oriented worldview promoting socio-economic justice as a goal. In fact, one can notice upon an in-depth reading of the Qur’an how “the underlying tendency of the Qur’anic legislation was to favour the underprivileged”[5]. Ibn khaldun defined Muslim societies as goal-oriented, and with a keen interest in establishing social cohesion[6]. This was only possible according to him through a concerted effort by individuals and social institutions alike in promoting social solidarity. Thus, addressing the issue of economic disparity and poverty was not limited to individual acts of charity alone, but also encompassed moral and institutional reforms.

One of the most important things that Islam helped accomplish through its spiritually-oriented worldview was the realization of socio-economic justice. The status as well as the well-being of the weak and the downtrodden improved  drastically when the old social hierarchy based on tribal kinship was dismantled. This was primarily accomplished through moral and institutional reforms that reiterated the distributive nature of justice under Islamic law. It made every individual conscious of his obligations towards his fellow human beings, while the community was commanded to enjoy the good and forbid the bad. The government also played a crucial role in these reforms. It did everything it could to ensure the prevalence of law and order as well as justice. It established a judicial system in which the law applied equally to the rich and the poor.

The Islamic economic system is primarily based upon the notion of justice.  Justice in Islam is a multifaceted concept, and there are several words that exist to define it.  “The most common word in usage which refers to the overall concept of justice is the Arabic word “adl”.  This word and its many synonyms imply the concepts of “right”, as equivalent to fairness, “putting things in their proper place”, “equality”, “equalizing”, “balance”, “temperance” and “moderation.”[6]. An Islamic economic system is not necessarily concerned with economic statistics pertaining to income and expenditure, but rather with the spirit of the system itself.  Islam as a complete way of life brings all aspects of human activity (social, economic, political) under the dominion of a specific set of rules and regulations shaped by the Islamic ethos.

While such matters as financial performance are no doubt important, a society shaped by an Islamic ethos gives preeminence to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. The protection of an individual’s rights, needs, and dignity, irregardless of their race, gender, wealth, or religion, takes precedent over any economic considerations.  “Islam teaches that God has created provision for every person who He has brought to life.  Therefore, the competition for natural resources that is presumed to exist among the nations of the world is an illusion.  While the earth has sufficient bounty to satisfy the needs of mankind, the challenge for humans lies in discovering, extracting, processing, and distributing these resources to those who need them.”[7]

[1] Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Ibn, khaldun (1377). Muqaddimah

[1] Fukuyam, Francis. (1982). The End of History and The Last Man

[2] Callinicos, Alex. (2010). The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx.

[3] Ibid. p.249

[4] Ibid. p.106

[5]  Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Ibn khaldun (1377). Al Muqaddimah

[7]  http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/277/economic-system-of-islam-part-1/

 

The Historical Roots Of Islamophobia

The Historical Roots Of Islamophobia

Since the tragic events of 9/11, many discussions have taken place in the Western world pertaining to Islam. Muslim politics particularly—from the appearance of transnational networks dedicated to militant agendas, to the endurance and transformation of traditional Islamic political parties—have become a recurrent subject in contemporary global politics. However, as the renowned political scientist Olivier Roy pointed out, the study of Islam as a sociopolitical phenomenon has always been challenging. According to him, “there are serious methodological difficulties in analyzing an Islamic phenomenon taking place on a global scale” (Volpi, 2010: 1). One aspect that always lent itself readily to analysis was the political dimension of Islam. The political element of this phenomenon offered a component susceptible of “being analyzed separately from the other processes” (Volpi, 2010: 1). This focus on the politicized nature of Islam gained traction in Western academia, and Islam came to be described “as a political religion, a religion in which politics and religion are difficult to separate” (Mutman, 2014:1). This exclusion of all the other features of Islam in favor of its political characteristics, led to the prevalence of Political Islam as a favorite topic in the study of Islam within Western academia.

“It is commonplace, particularly in Western analysis, to associate the emergence of Islamism with an “Islamic revival” that began to gather force in the 1970s, reaching its zenith with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.” (Mandaville, 2007:58). Western literature devoted to Political Islam or Islamism often reiterates three major assumptions. “These are, first, that the intermingling of religion and politics is unique to Islam; second, that political Islam, much like Islam itself, is monolithic; and third, that political Islam or Islamism is inherently violent” (Ayoob, 2008:1). Western thinkers writing on the subject have frequently been accused by their critics of reducing Political Islam to a “despotic oriental foil” to Western liberal democracies, as well as modernity itself.

One of the main reproaches leveled against this body of knowledge is its reliance on an Orientalist Grand Narrative. An essential Orientalist bias central to these contemporary readings of Islam is the “binary opposition between Islam and the West” (Volpi, 2010:32). In this rather Manichaean worldview, the West represents modernity, secularism and democracy, while the Muslim world embodies stagnation, orthodoxy, and despotism. This idea of a cleavage between a Christian West and a Muslim East is not only one that defines Orientalism, it also introduced amongst Western notions about Islam the idea that an Islamic civilization can only inspire undemocratic governments. While we often attribute the rise of Islamophobia to the post 9/11 context, this ideology predicated on an intense hostility toward Muslims, Islamic cultures, and Islamic politics has a pedigree of many centuries in Western thought.

When in 634 Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands, for many Christians the very status of Christianity as the “universal religion of a universal empire” (Kalmar, 2012:36) was being challenged by the newly expanded Muslim Caliphate. While Edward Said argued that the European encounter with the Orient resulted in the depiction of Islam as the ultimate outsider in the Western world’s collective imaginary (Said, 1979:70), Ivan Kalmar posits instead that when Islam was born, Prophet Muhammad (saw) “was widely regarded not as an alien but as an “impostor”, a heretical Christian with pretensions of being a new Christ” (Kalmar, 2012:38). Hence, the advent of Islam was not interpreted as a schism between Europe and “its outsiders; but rather as a crack within a single, Christian-Muslim edifice” (Kalmar, 2012:39). This fragile status quo changed drastically when the Ottoman Empire won the battle of Kosovo and gained an important foothold in Europe by 1388 (Kalmar, 2012:40). The fall of Constantinople in 1453 exacerbated existing tensions and irrevocably altered the previous relationship between Islam and Christianity.

The capture of Constantinople by Muslims marked the beginning of Europe’s creation “as a continent with a distinctive religious and cultural tradition” (Kalmar, 2012:41). To ensure the integrity of what was now seen as a purely Christian realm, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella launched the Reconquista and expulsed Muslims and Jews from Spain and Portugal. The conquest of Constantinople and the Reconquista allocated to each religion a solid geographic presence. In the Christian West’s Weltanschauung, Christianity found its abode in the West, while the Orient became irretrievably Muslim. During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther said of Islam the following:

“The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God. … If the Turk’s god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat. … Christian weapons and power must do it…”

He saw Islam primarily as a violent movement—closed to all reason—in the service of the anti-Christ, and that can only be resisted through equally violent means. In 1544 Bartholomew Georgevich of Croatia produced a best-selling work titled Miseries and Tribulations of the Christians held in Tribute and Slavery by the Turks. It was what we might call by today’s standards a graphic novel. This illustrated book showed Turks beheading prisoners, Turks spitting babies on their lances, Turks leading into slavery captured women and children. In Europe where illiteracy was rampant, this book reached a wider audience and popularized a virulent form of propaganda against Muslims.

In later centuries Islam continued to be presented as a foil for authors who championed Enlightenment in Europe. Western thought and literature produced an impressive collection of stereotypes and half-truths about Islam and Muslims. In these works Muslims were often referred to as Turks, Moors, Saracen, or Mahomedians. Whether it was Voltaire’s depiction of Prophet Mohammed (saw) as an theocratic tyrant, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Moor’s inherent brutality and lack of reason in Othello, Hegel’s assertion that the Muslim civilization was devoid of Volkgeist or specific ethnic and national spirits, Montesquieu’s commentary on how despotism is likely to be the only means of establishing order in Islamic territories, or Ernest Renan dismissing Islam as incompatible with science and Muslims as incapable of leaning anything, or of opening themselves to new ideas, this rhetoric about Islam was reiterated again and again. Scholars in Western academia to this day perpetuate these stereotypes of a static, irrational, retrogressive, anti-modern religious tradition. Luminaries of Western academia such as Bernard Lewis, Ellie Kedourie, Daniel Pipes, Gilles Kepel, and Samuel Huntington have given credence to this portrayal of Islam in their own illustrious careers.

To ignore the historical roots of Islamophobia and how Western thought has been instrumental in not only manufacturing a narrative about Islam based primarily on stereotypes—but also in justifying and reiterating this idea of Islam as a civilizational threat to the Western World—would hinder our understanding of the many ramifications of Islamophobia in our society. Sam Harris, the popular American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist stated the following:

“To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations”, and we’re deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We’re talking about Islam being a religion of peace that’s been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that’s not a religion of peace, it is Islam.”  

He belongs to the greater industry peddling the fear of  Muslims and Islam. The phobia of a subtle islamization of Europe (and the greater Western world) is not solely found in the ramblings of bigots and fascists, but has rather been polished into a conceivable threat by the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who use their academic credentials to lend credence to this supposed threat. If we do not address the structural nature of Islamophobia, we will never truly be able to challenge it effectively. Islamophobia is not simply the work of racists and bigots; it is rather part and parcel of the intellectual heritage of the Western world.