2. Radical Revisionism, Militant Challenges and Utopian Projects




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INTR13/71-310 2007


Lecture 7:


Alternative Global Forces: Islamic International Relations

and Transnational Flows (Case Study)


Topics: -

1. Islamic Political Visions of the International Order

2. Radical Revisionism, Militant Challenges and Utopian Projects

3. Normative Transnational and International Islamic Institutions

4. Conclusion: Innovation, Reform and Conflict

5. Bibliography, Resources and Further Reading


1. Islamic Political Visions of the International Order


As we have seen cultures, religion and politics have a problematic linkage to foreign policy and the norms mobilised by international institutions (see lectures 1-5). Different religious and cultural systems influence conceptions of national politics, international financial institutions, and diverse visions of international system. These demands, moreover, place serious burdens on communities, governments, and international regimes, and in the most militant cases demand a violent re-ordering of the regional and global political system. In contrast to the ideas of culture conflict and clash of civilisations, as fielded by writers such as Daniel Pipes (1995) and Samuel Huntington (1993, 1996), we shall see that these clashes are driven by divergent political views, different views of social and economic justice, and different sources of authority that are mobilised. Furthermore, in the case of Islam, there are intense conflicts and debates within Muslim communities over appropriate political order that have intensified over the last decade.


Islam represents one of the major world religious and one of the largest cultural systems of the world. Islam is a strong social presence in most of the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Russia, large parts of western and northern Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Beyond this, however, Islam is growing as a religion globally, and has adherents in most countries around the world now totalling some almost 1.5 billion people, with 45 to 50 countries predominantly Muslim, with sizeable and often growing Muslim minorities even in countries such as France, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and India, with recent debates by historians such as Niall Ferguson showing concern over the changing population dynamics of European verses nearby Islamic societies (Ferguson 2004; Gerner 1996; Esposito 1992). Islam as a cultural system, transformed the face of the world and its political processes from the 7-16th centuries. Islam also forms part of a complex and rich cultural mix in Southeast Asia, and formed an important component of political life in states such as Indonesia and Malaysia.




Main Muslim Populations (map courtesy PCL Map Library)


It will not be possible to do fully outline Islam as a religion today. The key idea of Islam is surrender to the will of God. Muhammad is the most perfect of God's prophets (living in the 7th century of the Christian dating system), bringing to completion a long line of earlier messengers (including Abraham, Moses and Jesus) who had brought revelation to mankind. The most complete of these revelations is the Qur'an, revealed to Muhammad. Islam is strictly monotheistic, as found in profession of the faith: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God." In terms of behaviour, Muslims are also required as far as possible to practice the Five Pillars: - to recite the profession of faith at least once; to observe the five daily prayers; to pay the zakat tax for the support of the poor; to fast during day-light during the month of Ramadan; and to perform if possible the hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Islam thus emerged as a powerful ethical vision with demands that most people could understand. It spread rapidly throughout much of the Middle East, Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, Central and South Asia, carried by conquest, trade, cultural diffusion, and itinerate teachers and Sufis (mystics). Its message was aided by its emphasis on social justice and its inherent devotional appeal.

Today, Islamic affairs in global affairs are represented as both a threat and opportunity. Samuel Huntington, and other scholars through the 1990s, already argued that the differences between the Western and Islamic civilization could form a major area of contest in the coming decades, with this sense of threat re-iterated through 2001-2007 (Pirio & Gregorian 2006; Hungtington 1993; Huntington 1996; Lewis 1996; Fuller & Lesser 1995). However, this is a gross simplification of the nature of Islam as a political entity. Although radical Islam may reject the West, the main focus of Islam in many countries is the way to keep a core religious belief alive and secondarily to develop a just, modern culture. These themes are active in two states with Islamic dominant populations but republican, largely secular political orders (Indonesia and Turkey), and are a driving concern in countries such as Malaysia, Morocco and more problematic in countries such as Pakistan and Iran.


In the light of the pre-occupation with the revisionist claims of militant Islam since 2001, we will look at some of these radical claims first, which are not fully representative of the wider Islamic community, but have posed a serious security challenge to modern states in the 21st century. This will includes claims of the construction of 'new Caliphate', and at the more specific role of Islamic courts in Somalia, and the more general effort of Islamic parties to engage in reforming the political order. From there we will turn towards more normative forms which underpin an international Islamic community, e.g. the role of the Hajj, the conceptions of the Ummah, the community of believers (see further below), and then explore on Islamic adaptation of modern financial institutions. The relative success of Islamic Banking as an alternative financial system for Muslims has grown into a vigorous network of institutions that seek to make their conduct compatible to Islamic moral norms (though serious debates have emerged about whether such systems have always distinguished themselves from interest-based systems, see further below). Whether this can link to a wider developmental agenda (via the Islamic Development Bank or to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and its new reform agenda since 2005, remains to be seen, Jamil 2007), remains to be seen. As we shall see, with over 1.5 billion believers, and strong minority communities through most of the Western world (as well as Russia, China and India), Islam in a loose collective sense has tried over the last 1400 years to position itself as a major force in global affairs, and now has the challenge of working within both democratic and authoritarian state systems, and working within a global system largely devised by Western, 'post-Christian' states. Historically, Islam shaped a cultural space stretching from Western Africa to Eastern Turkestan (modern Xinjiang).


If today militant visions of political order are unlikely to the need of Muslims globally, likewise, it is not clear that the current international order has met the needs and aspirations of mainstream Islamic communities across the world. Likewise, the issue of Islamic politics has become entangled with problematic issues such as Middle Eastern tensions, energy resource access, migration and refugees, international terrorism, and human rights issues.


2. Radical Revisionism, Militant Challenges and Utopian Projects


Western political terminology can be problematic when applied to different cultural systems. So-called 'fundamentalist Islamic leaders' often do not fit in with the stereotype of an anti-modernist, backward looking traditionalism. As noted by John Esposito 'many fundamentalist leaders have had the best education, enjoy responsible positions in society, and are adept at harnessing the latest technology to propagate their views and create viable modern institutions such as schools, hospitals, and social service agencies'. (Esposito 1992, contra Lewis 1990). Rather, militant groups such as Al Qaeda have relied on new technologies (mobile phones, encryption, notebook computers) and new trends in globalisations (flow of communication, ideas, people and money) to support their agenda (Gunaratna 2002).


Indeed, most Islamic reform groups are not fundamentalist in any literal sense, but 'resemble Catholic Liberation theologians who urge active use of original religious doctrine to better the temporal and political lives in a modern world' (Wright 1992, p131). Rafic Zakaria suggests a more fruitful dichotomy, distinguishing between conservative and liberal trends in Islam, where the 'battle between the fundamentalists and the secularists can perhaps be more accurately described as a struggle between forces who resist change in Islam and those who wish to accelerate it.' (Zakaria 1988, p14; see further Olesen 1995). Islam has an indigenous tradition of 'revival' (tajdid) and 'reform' (islah), which suggests that any judgement of Islamic revivalism (Esposito 1992, p8) needs to place the particular reforms and ideas of a movement in their historical and ideological context. Islamic revivalism incorporates a much wider movement than anti-Western militant groups. As summarised by John Esposito: -


Revivalism continues to grow as a broad-based socioreligious movement, functioning today in virtually every Muslim country and transnationality. It is a vibrant, multifaceted movement that will embody the major impact of Islamic revivalism for the foreseeable future. Its goal is the transformation of society through the Islamic formation of individuals at the grass-roots level. Dawa (call) societies work in social services (hospitals, clinics, legal-aid societies), in economic projects (Islamic banks, investment houses, insurance companies), in education (schools, child-care centres, youth camps), and in religious publishing and broadcasting. (Esposito 1992, p23)


It must be stressed that from the point of view of most Muslim reformers, Dawa is not viewed as political propaganda, but as a serious effort at social and global reform. These 'call' activities also include a range of social, welfare and teaching activities (for a negative Western view, see Morris 2006), though such 'call' societies have also been used to channel and recruit for militant groups (Gunaratna 2002). The role of the media is thus seen as crucial in the presentation of Islam and in its relationship with other faiths. For example, Dr Zakir Naik, the president of the Bombay-based Islamic Research Foundation has sought to use both Western media and specialised television outlets such as Peace TV, 'a free-to-air, 24 -hour channel dedicated to comparative religion,' headquartered in Bombay and uplinked from Dubai for satellite transmission (Wahab 2006) There has been an effort to reverse some of the negative views of Islam in this new media: -


Dr. Naik espouses a moderate view of Islam while aggressively defending it against its detractors. “Countering Islam-bashing is the biggest challenge,” he said. “We Muslims are unable to present ourselves well; others are coming up with new ways of bashing Islam. We need English news channels. Our long-term aim is to have a news channel. Thankfully, the Muslim world has realized the importance of the media. New channels are being launched.” . . .


Contrary to the opinions of many, he equates Islam with modernity. “Modern means what is best,” Dr. Naik said. “Islam is the most modern way of life. Islam’s rules and regulations are the most practical way of life. Islam is the solution, not the problem. There are black sheep in all communities and some of the media project black sheep from among us, and then the black sheep are taken as representing all Muslims. This is sheer media manipulation.” (Wahab 2006)


There is thus as struggle not just over the political role of Islam, but also about the way its is represented internationally and the way it interacts with the current international system. Major divergences with the Western tradition emerge in the role of women1 and a reduced emphasis on individual rights. Thus Islamic rights agendas are often limited by how Islamic law is interpreted, i.e. the phrase 'according to law' may limit human rights depending on the particular formulation of Sharia that is accepted (Mayer 1995, pp64-66). Reformist developments in Islamic thought also lean towards human rights circumscribed by economic rights, social justice, and cultural legitimacy (Monshipouri 1994). Many Islam leaders around the world (Egypt. Malaysia, Iran), including religious and political leaders, are in fact keen to emphasise dialogue rather than confrontation with other value systems (Swidler 1996).


Rather than use the term 'fundamentalism', we approach these issues by addressing the range of demands made by diverse Muslim communities. These range from demands for human rights under authoritarian regimes, greater and deeper democratisation (e.g. through much of Central Asia and the Middle East), through to more explicit demands for state system run directly on particular formulations of Islamic law. It is important to distinguish among numerous patterns of demands made by different groups and ideologies. Over the last decade the following issues have come into prominence: -


  1. Demands for greater respect for Islamic customs and sensitivities even by non-Muslims, both nationally and internationally, including patterns of restraint, self-censorship and limits on ‘freedom of expression’, e.g. as recently expressed through 2005-2006 Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and much of the Middle East over cartoons published in Western newspapers that were viewed as demeaning Mohamed.

  2. Demands for the ability to pray and live freely as Muslims even within non-Islamic communities, e.g. a space legally possible in Russia but subject to diffuse patterns of prejudice and security monitoring (deepened since 2000 and having a strong impact on Russian minorities through 2006-2007), a trend repeated to a lesser degree in France and the United States. Associated with this is the desire to freely teach and propagate their views at the local, regional and global levels.

  3. Demands for implementation of aspects of shariah law at the civil and social level, e.g. regulation of marriage, divorce, and family law. Here problems emerge over individual rights and gender equality. In more extreme customary usages this can also lead back to the ‘dignity’ of the family as the basis for honour codes. For example, even in modernising and 'secularist' Turkey until regulations from 2002 were brought into play to recognise full equal rights for women within family structures. Shari'ah is not just a legal code, but embraced its source concept from the root shr', the road, with Shari'ah therefore being 'the road that men and women must follow in this life', (Nasr 2003, p76). It therefore can include a wide range of public and private life, including moral prescriptions as well as legal requirements. However, the interpretation of the legal system depends upon the diverse orientations of the four different legal schools within Islam, and the way later sayings are interpreted to supported Koranic injunctions. Thus the moderate form of the Hanafi legal school of Sunni Islam is dominant within Central Asia, for example (Haghayeghi 2002).

  4. Demands for full implementation of one vision of shariah law within countries with Muslim majorities (early demands made by the Islamic Renaissance Party and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, for example). These demands were also made by minority political groups in Indonesia, under the notion of the Jakarta Charter to change the constitution, but since 1999 this has never been able to gain more than 14% of electoral party support (Hosen 2005; Smith 2003, p102; Crouch 2003, p23). Partial and different levels of application of shariah law have been made in Afghanistan under the Taliban, in Iran (but under a Revolutionary Islamic model within a Shiite community), Sudan, and in Somalia with a growing role for Islamic courts through 2006 until they were forcibly removed, in part due to Ethiopian intervention (Pirio & Gregorian 2006; sese below), and in some areas of civil law in Malaysia (relating to the Malay community).

  5. The implementation of an Islamic state ruled entirely by Islamic principles and patterns of governance (claimed as the long term goal of militant groups such as Jemaah Islamaiah (JI) in Indonesia, of the IMU for Uzbekistan, as the past and future goal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and one possible goal for networks of militants in Iraq.

  6. Creation of a modern Caliphate as the basis of international order providing leadership for the global community of believers, a claim made for a social movement such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Central Asia, and implied in some Al-Qaeda and JI communications (but needing careful analysis, see below). Likewise, JI and related groups may have the vision of building and Islamic state within one nation, but then moving towards a wider Islamic community across much of Southeast Asia (for controversies over this, see below). These models seem to be derived from Sunni historical traditions, but have limited ability to be applied in the modern period (see below).


Several questions flow from this. The first is whether each of these points is a stepping stone towards a greater and more sweeping revision of national governance and then the international order. So, for example, does toleration of Islamic political parties lead to the prospect of governments that will move towards stronger implementation of shariah law and then eventually towards an Islamic state (with wider applications of Islamic concepts in governance, morality, and the economy). Such fears have been mobilised to restrict Islamist parties historically in Algeria, Turkey (until recently), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Beyond this, however, we need to consider the demands and problems inherent in each of these stages, the cost they impose, and the political trade-offs implied. In fact, sustaining a narrowly interpreted Islamic political order is extremely difficult to achieve.


We can see some of these problems in recent trends in Somalia, which had been through an intense civil war and fracturing of the state among different warlords since the '1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre', leading to it being one of the few complete examples of a failed state (Economist 2007a; Associated Press of Pakistan 2007). International intervention from 1992 was unsuccessful with the United Nations leaving in 1995, leading to continued conflict among clans, and the emergence of only a weak Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (after the 2000 Arta Conference in Djibouti, East Africa), which did not control Mogadishu and operated from the provincial centre of Baidoa (Barnes & Hassan 2007), and sustained a fragile peace that collapsed by late 2006. In this context, Islamic courts in Mogadishu, beginning from 1994 but strengthening 2000-2006 began to play a wider political role than law and order, and became de facto centres of governance that expanded their influence, e.g. to the ports of El Ma'an and Marka, and the Isaley airfield (Barnes & Hassan 2007). In the absence of strong government, they suggested a key role for Islam in creating a system that might counter-balance the fragmented rule of clan leaders in the city.


However, by late 2006 this had led to international intervention, led by Ethiopia, but supported by the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, based on the states of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda), Uganda, by the US and UN Resolution 1725 (Barnes & Hassan 2007; More 2007). The US may have also run covert operations in the country against suspected Al Qaeda affiliates in 2006, as well as supporting and financing a de facto 'warlord Alliance', which even if an effective strategy did raise the political temperature in Mogadishu (Barnes & Hassan 2007; Mire 2007). Likewise, through January and again in June 2007 the US shelled and bombed ‘suspected’ Al-Qaeda targets in Southern and Northeast Somalia.


In spite of claims of victory by December 2006 and the installation of the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, this did not lead to real peace (Barnes & Hassan 2007; for an alternative view, see Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia 2007). Instead, an Islamic insurgency has grown in the city through March-June 2007, leading to some 2,000 deaths (including many civilians), more than 4,300 wounded, and 365-400,000 people being displaced (Nordland 2007; Barnes & Hassan 2007; Economist 2007c). This signals major concerns about whether a genuine, country-wide peace can be established. The issue here, turns on some of the broader questions we have already raised. Can and should the Islamic courts (and their followers) be viewed as legitimate partners in rebuilding the country, or are they only a symptom of an absence of normal state power? How can diverse Muslim groups (from moderate to militant) be drawn into a future agreement that will provide a better future for Somalia, but also reduce the way its turbulence engages external players (such as Ethiopia and Eritrea) and disturbs the wider region, including much of East Africa (Economist 2007a; Economist 2007c). Likewise, if some of the more extreme militant groups do indeed have links to Al Qaeda, does this pose future problems for both East Africa, Ethiopia, and for US interests? In turn it has been suggested that Ethiopian forces and the Transitional Federal Government have given limited cooperation to UN and aid agencies until recently (Nordland 2007). At present, neither Ethiopia nor the AU seem able to provide a long-term settlement, and it seems unlikely that a strong UN force will be deployed (ABC 2007c).


We can summarise these issues by looking at the negative and positive aspects of the Islamic courts in Somalia as core of stable governance. Positive aspects of the role of Islamic courts within Somalia included: -


  • Support for the Islamic courts in Mogadishu had functioned for over a decade, and did provide local stability, removed road blocks, had reduced criminal elements, and provided some 'social services and charitable works' (Barnes & Hassan 2007). Likewise, foodstuff prices had stabilised, but staple goods prices have recently increased three-fold (Economist 2007a).

  • In general, the courts were 'broad mosque', bringing in moderate and militant Islamic groups, e.g. moderate Sheikh Sharrif, and 'radical 'Sheikh Aweys' (Barnes & Hassan 2007).

  • The Courts were supported by militias that were the first non-warlord forces since the start of the civil war, with war lords often being viewed as corrupt and self-serving (Barnes & Hassan 2007).

  • The Courts shifted from narrow clan politics to a wider view of governance: -


The courts followed these practical actions with the declared intent of bringing an alternative means of governance to Somalia through sharia law. This was a decided shift away from factional politics based around clan loyalty. (Barnes & Hassan 2007).


  • The Courts have been so important that dialogue with Islamist elements must remain a key element in support for the Transitional Federal Government, and for long-term peace, a view recognised by the UN, US and the International Contact Group on Somalia (the European Union, Italy, Norway, Sweden , Tanzania and the United States), but yet to be accepted Somalia's President, Abdullahi Yusuf and the PM, Mohamed Gedi (Nordland 2007; Economist 2007a; Economist 2007c). Slow progress in this area has delayed again the 'national reconciliation' conference last planned for 14 June 2007, though Somalia’s parliamentary speaker has suggested they may be held in July 2007 (Associated Press 2007; Barnes & Hassan 2007; Economist 2007c).

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