By Jonathan Collier
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 353

The Contemporary Arab Reader on Political Islam

This article is over 11 years, 1 months old
Ibrahim M Abu-Rabi' (ed), Pluto, £21.99
Issue 353

Political Islam, as Yassir Zaatira tells us in the 23rd of 35 short tracts contained in this eclectic collection, has been subject in the West to a “tedious and repetitive discourse”, especially regarding its post-9/11 relationship with the US. This discourse “betrays a shameful ignorance…of Islam”. The aim of the book, then, could be said to be the revelation of the true nature of (political) Islam. But where there is convergence in basic precept and purpose regarding the centrality of Sharia and Muslim unity, there is also variance and discord in this at times disappointingly rudimentary reader.

It cannot be expected that a reformist like Tunisian Rashid Al-Ghannoushi, who argues for the gradual advancement of Islam, should chime with the views of a mentor of anti-imperialist resistance like Sayyid Fadlallah, the spiritual father of Hezbollah. Al-Ghannoushi argues for the quiescence of Muslim minorities in countries where repressive measures are daily meted out to these minorities. His message is to hold out for when the banner of Islam conquers all! But to figures like Fadlallah, that day can only come through the struggle of the oppressed (Muslim) masses in their fight against the three-pronged tyranny of Western-backed leaders, Zionism and the more overt forms of imperialist intervention.

The target is often the “decadent” and “immoral” West and its Enlightenment tradition of “universal” human rights and the principle of democracy. Less frequently, there is an attempt to deal with contemporary “realities”, whereby the Western consensus on socioeconomic progress and political practice is adopted by or fused with traditional Islam. The overall message, though, is that of a rejection of the status quo.

But what is that status quo? In Abdulwahab al Masseri’s chapter, “The Imperialist Epistemological Vision”, there are tones of Aimé Césaire’s post-colonial critique of Western “epistemological violence”, where the death and destruction inherent in colonialism swing back towards Europe and overwhelm it in the shape of Hitler. But what is more pertinent is his implicit critique of capitalism – for that is what he means by the Western monopoly over socio-cultural means and ends. It is this capitalism, with its ideological adjunct of Orientalism and Eurocentrism, which is to be opposed.

This cannot be done through what many in this book propose. It is not through Quranic interpretations or the agitation of the “educated classes” and petty bourgeoisie – to which Ahmad al-Raysuni makes reference – that the yoke of Western imperialist hegemony will be lifted. This collection lacks both class analysis and awareness that those political Islam would purport to aid are the motor for change.

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