June 16, 2009

Alastair Crooke: The Essence of Islamist Resistance

Crooke gets it. The third paragraph below, to me, really sums up the difference between Islam and the West. I remember coming across a book, years ago, when I first started becoming interested in Islam, about the role of science in Islam. The basic notion of science in the West is, "How can we ultimately exploit this scientific knowledge for profit?" Even basic research, which may not be immediately profitable, lays the foundation for further research that can be exploited. The book on science in Islam, on the other hand, stressed a much more different role: "How can this science and technology be used to help people and the community at large?"

Likewise, as I continued my study of the Qur'an, I began to agree more and more with the Qur'an about the importance of "a society based on compassion, equity and justice," as Crooke writes. Even though Muslims may agree with many socially conservative positions that American Republicans favor, it is this notion of social justice as espoused by the Qur'an that turns more American Muslims toward the Democratic Party. (Of course, many of us don't agree with everything the Democrats have to say, either, but if needing to make a choice between the two parties, the Democrats tend to be favored, at least for the time being.)

One minor criticism of the essay I have is that, while it appears that Crooke is arguing that this "Islamist resistance" is essentially Shi'ite in nature (the subtitle of the essay is "A Different View of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas"), I would say that the so-called "Islamist" positions he describes is really representative of Islam as a whole, regardless of whether a Muslim is Sunni or Shia.

What follows are various excerpts from the post. The entire essay is not too long, and I do recommend that you read it if the subject is of interest to you.

Most Western analysts of political Islam make the same mistake. They instinctively assume that conflict with the West has mainly to do with specific foreign policies, particularly of the U.S. with respect to Israel, the Arab world and Iran, and, if those changed, all would be well.

In fact, my intensive contact over the years with Iranian clerics, Hezbollah and Hamas suggest that the conflict with the West is much deeper. It is rooted in radically different worldviews about human nature and the good society.

Failing to grasp this reality, the West continually misreads what is going on in the Muslim world. At root, the West is about individualistic, instrumental rationality and materialism; the Islamic resistance movements are about a communal and spiritual approach to life.


Islamism, in short, is not irrational — it is no whimsy of divine caprice; it is accessible to reasoned explanation. And it seeks to evolve an alternative to the ways of the West.


Paradoxically, it was the Kemalists and Turkey’s transformation, which Westerners so admire, that inadvertently, by severing the links to the Caliphate superstructure that had provided stability to the Islamic world for centuries, created the conditions in which Islamism at the popular level could transmute and evolve into a revolutionary movement from the bottom up, including from the margins of the Shiite minority.


Islamists returned to the Quran for insights. The Quran is not a blueprint for politics or a state: It is, as it states frequently, nothing new. The Quran is a “reminder” of old truths, already known to us all. One of which is that for humans to live together successfully society must practice compassion, justice and equity.

This insight lies at the root of political Islam. It is a principle that represents a complete inversion of the “Great Transformation.” Instead of the pre-eminence of the market to which other social and community objectives are subordinated, the making of a society based on compassion, equity and justice becomes the overriding objective — to which other objectives, including markets, are subordinated.

It is revolutionary in another aspect: Instead of the individual being the organizational principle around which politics, economics and society are shaped, the Western paradigm again is inverted. It is the collective welfare of the community in terms of such principles — rather than the individual — that becomes the litmus of political achievement.


But the Islamist revolution is more than politics. It is an attempt to shape a new consciousness — to escape from the most far-reaching pre-suppositions of our time. It draws on the intellectual tradition of Islam to offer a radically different understanding of the human being, and to escape from the hegemony and rigidity of the Cartesian mindset.


The Saudi orientation of Salafism has been used by the West to counter Nasserism, Marxism, the Soviet Union, Iran and Hezbollah; but in so using the literalist puritan orientation, the West has misunderstood the mechanism by which some Salafist movements have migrated through schism and dissidence to become the dogmatic, hate-filled and often violent movements that really do threaten Westerners, as well as other Muslims, too.

Ironically, the West of the Enlightenment is situated on the wrong of the divide — backing dogma versus the open intellect of religious evolution. It is perhaps not surprising that a literalist and dogmatic West has contributed to literalism in Islam also. But the West, by holding on to this flawed perception that it is supporting docility and “moderation” against “extremism,” paradoxically has left the Middle East a less stable, more dangerous and violent place.

1 comment:

bambam said...

I Don't get the article, i don't get how he sounds like a young Arabic Stalinist talking about communism... sounds good in theory but doesn't really work within the framework it lays down. that's the same case with the claims that he tries to lay down. This whole orientalist romanticism of the east that stenches from this article is nauseating.
Islam doesn't promote science for the good of the people any more than anything else did, it works in the states the same way(almost) that it works in its golden days. They get a sponsor for their research in the past it was the caliphate now its the corps or government.
As a measurement of success, having social and political stability with good economic factors and observing islamic rules in a conservative manner, islam as a whole barely had 42 years in its 1400 or so year history ... this whole romanticizing the islamic caliphate is a big sham.
Either way, you wanna know why there is islamic resistance ? because these people were not allowed to develop a civil society and its mechanisms. First they were under the caliphate and then they were just thrown into nationalism after some stint of imperialism. The only reference point for structure is that of islam so they try to return to the purest and earliest form of it. allow the opposing forces present in their environment some space for expression and they will be shown their true colors and what they are really worth, just like the islamic iranian "revolutionaries" opportunistic individuals hungry for theologically (divinely) legitimate power to do what they want and not what is good for the people or what the people want!