Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Islamic Revival

There are many designations, Western in origin, for the revival of Islam in the last fifty years. One hears of radical Islam, militant Islam, fundamentalist Islam, political Islam, Islamism, etc. Recently some apologists (and government officials!) have coined terms which show no reference to Islam at all: Al Qaedism, bin Ladenism, extremism, fanaticism, etc. These are meant to obscure the driving force behind certain actions and to deny the widespread support for this movement.

The word fundamentalist is the most appealing. After the Islamic take-over of Iran in 1979, this word gained popularity, especially in the media. But it had its critics. Bernard Lewis writes:
The use of this term is established and must be accepted, but it remains unfortunate and can be misleading. "Fundamentalist" is a Christian term. It seems to have come into use in the early years of this century, and denotes certain Protestant churches and organizations, more particularly those that maintain the literal divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible. In this they oppose the liberal and modernist theologians, who tend to a more critical, historical view of Scripture. Among Muslim theologians there is as yet no such liberal or modernist approach to the Qur'an, and all Muslims, in their attitude to the text of the Qur'an, are in principle at least fundamentalists. [1]
Islamic apologists also balked. John Esposito writes:
I prefer to speak of Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism rather than of Islamic fundamentalism. [1]
However, Islamic writers had to admit its usefulness for lack of a better word. Hasan Hanafi, an Egyptian philosopher states:
It is difficult to find a more appropriate term than the one recently used in the West, ‘fundamentalism,' to cover the meaning of what we name Islamic awakening or revival. [1]
Since the argument is what to call the Islamic revival, why not call it the Islamic revival? It is common to do just that within Islam. However, the problem becomes obvious. The term Islamic revival means that fundamentalist Islam is just Islam. The implication is that Muslims have become lax or lapsed, that they have practiced Islam in a perfunctory or selective manner with a focus on ritual. The revival means the religion is becoming a vibrant belief system once again and the doctrines are now taken seriously. Of course, this is the case.

Unwilling to see the revival as a return to the essentials of the religion Westerners coined, or revived, another term: Islamism. This term emphasized the political nature of the revival and sought to connote the viewpoint that it was a modern corruption, one which incorporated European totalitarian practices. But there were some who advocated the use of Islamism with a positive take. Back in 1994, Robert Pelletreau, Jr., of the United States State Department (naturally!), for example states:
"Islamists" are Muslims with political goals. We view these terms as analytical, not normative. They do not refer to phenomena that are necessarily sinister: there are many legitimate, socially responsible Muslim groups with political goals. However, there are also Islamists who operate outside the law. [1]
The word games are driven by the fact that each time a new word is put into use, the old negative judgments would return. Finding the judgments unacceptable, a new word would be employed. The old word was then said to be a pejorative and social stigma discouraged its use. Perhaps the words aren’t the problem!

1. All quotes are taken from Martin Kramer’s Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?, The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, Volume X, number 2

7 Comments:

Blogger John Sobieski said...

A Muslim who performs jihad through taqiyya, financing Muslim organizations malevolent to the host institutions, demanding Muslim accomodation in work, schools and commercial buildings, attaining professorship positions in Middle East studies so that they can mislead the infidels,etc. That is not seen as Islamic fundamental in nature. But it is. All these words tend to just confuse the infidels. I use Islamist for pretty much all Muslims working the jihad in all its manifestations.

9/25/05, 11:20 AM  
Anonymous andre zantonavitch said...

Nice article. This explains the curious way since 9/11 I've continually heard Muslims refer to their "awakening." I tend to agree that "Muslim revivalism" is a very good term which quite accurately and usefully captures what's actually going on in the world -- and inside the Muslims' towel-covered heads. ;-)

Still, Islam today isn't just being "revived." It's somewhat of a new thing courtesy of post-Enlightenment illiberalism, or "post-modernism" as so many modern intellectuals like to say (especially at The Objectivist Center). Modern Islam is also very influenced/changed by, and a product of, socialism.

And I still tend to think that linguistically "the war on terror" should become "the war on jihad" or even "the war on Islam" -- as the Muslims always claim it is, and perhaps psychologically confess it should be.

9/25/05, 12:07 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

When I hear "a revival of Islam," the first thought to run through my mind is "Is this a call to jihad? A call to Islamification of Western culture?"

Many Muslims believe that they are oppressed because they have not followed the tenets of Islam and are, therefore, out of step with Allah. Now, if Muslims want to apply personal-faith tenets in an individual way as it relates to how they lead their personal lives, I have no objection as long as I am permitted to follow my personal faith (or lack of faith). But when the practice of the religion becomes one of militantism and establishing a worldwide domination--thus subjecting all the world to one faith or consigning to reduced citizenship those who do not believe in that ideology--we have gone beyond the realm of religion and into the realm of geopolitics.

The fact is that the Koran teaches that Islam should be the exclusive way of all. This can be achieved through conversion, conquest, and dhimmitude. Where are the rights of the individual in conquest or in consignment to dhimmitude?

Your article here shows that all kinds of word-games are in play. These word games put me in mind of Newspeak in Orwell's 1984. As you said here, Jason, "These [words] are meant to obscure the driving force behind certain actions and to deny the widespread support for this movement."

For me it all comes down to a few basic questions. Is Islam compatible with Western values? Can Muslims live in our Western society, believe in our freedoms, and practice their religion on a personal level without working to make sure that Islam dominates the society?

And here's another question. Is jihadist Islam the real Islam? I agree with Axis of Islam that jihad has different manifestations.

9/25/05, 7:04 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Some excellent points above from everyone!

By the way, I not suggesting we should reframe from using these phrases. I use fundamentalist Islam or Islamism often. It’s just too hard to stop and explain your terminology. Any miss-implications from the chosen phrase can be explained at a later time.

I think the main point, which I think everyone got, is the motivation of those who want to shield Islam from criticism … and blind us to the threat. I found the history interesting - and telling.

9/25/05, 9:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

Very interesting article.

9/26/05, 7:46 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Jason, this is an excellent article.

You know where I stand on this issue: I stand where you stand - four square against the use of these mollifying terms.

I am against their use because they complicate the issue, and they fail to clarify where the true problem is coming from. They make an already difficult subject for people to understand even more difficult. The average person in the street understands sweet little about Islam as it stands. These terms only confuse them still further.

I use the word Islam whenever and wherever possible, since it is my firm belief that our current problems stem from the religion itself. And, as you say, Islam is undergoing a revival; so the true nature of Islam is peeping out all over.

To talk of Islamic extremism, for example, is tautological, since Islam, by its very nature, is extreme! To talk about Muslim fundamentalism is also a nonsense, since a Muslim fundamentalist is simply following his faith to the 'T'. Since his faith must be taken literally anyway, he is only doing what comes naturally to him. To talk about OBL having bastardized a perfectly good faith is even more ridiculous. And on two levels: First, OBL is only following his faith to the letter, as set out by his prophet, the Prophet Muhammad, his holy book, Al-Qur'an, his prophet's sayings, Ahadith, and the example of the prophet's life, as-Sirah; and second, who says it's a good faith anyway, and why? What, I ask you, is noble about the faith of Islam?

3/1/06, 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious if Islamism is the 'mind killer'. I dealt with Islamic graduate students when in Engineering grad school. I found they would switch into another mode which was honestly quite scary. They went from meek, unassuming types to being fairly rabid. As a Christian I believe Christianity can make a person a stronger person, and oddly enough allow for more objectivity, but view Islamism as a 'mind killer'

12/30/06, 1:24 PM  

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