By Asef Bayat
Post Islamism at Large by Asef Bayat – Book Sample
Introduction – POST ISLAMISM
Despite the civil and secular thrust of the Arab Spring, many have expressed serious concerns about an impending revival of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. Supporters of the fallen regimes and right-wing U.S. and Israeli politicians as well as segments within the “expert community” in the West tend to view in the current uprisings the seeds of a creeping Islamist resurgence.
Thus, the well-known Orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis, just weeks into the monumental popular revolutions that deposed Arab dictators, insisted that Muslims in the Middle East “are simply not ready for free and fair elections,” for democracy, and that the best they could hope for would be a shari‘a-inspired practice of shura.1 The panic over a “resurgent Islamism” in the revolutionary Arab region was further bolstered when religious parties—Hizb al-Nahda in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salaﬁ Hizb al-Nour in Egypt, and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco—scored impressive victories in the general elections during fall 2011.
One should not rule out, at least in the short run, the possibility of religious resurgence by social forces that for years had been suppressed by secular undemocratic regimes. In fact, the removal of autocracies opens the social and political ﬁelds for all sorts of ideas and movements— regressive, progressive, religious, or secular—to emerge. The unexpected visibility of Salaﬁ groups in the societies involved in the Arab Spring has caused genuine concern about the erosion of individual liberties, artis- tic expression, and gender rights. In such volatile times of realliance and renewal, there is no guarantee that a democratic order will come to life. It all depends on the intense and incessant struggles for hegemony among the innumerable political forces—known and unknown, old and new— that revolutions tend to release; it depends also on how the remnants of the defeated regimes and their domestic and foreign allies will behave.
However, the anxiety over “religious rule” associated with the Arab revolts is partly to do with a long-standing habit of equating anything “Islamic” with intolerance, misogyny, and authoritarianism. This frame of mind tends to connect, in one way or another, any type of “Islamic move- ment” with Khomeini-type clerical regimes or the Taliban’s totalitarian rule, overlooking the fact that there are very diﬀerent trends within such catego- ries as “Islamic movements” and “Islamic politics.” The other part of the problem is conceptual. There is an unfortunate tendency to lump together quite diﬀerent kinds of religiously inspired trends as “Islamist” while avoiding articulating any deﬁnition of the term,2 as if any Muslim man with a beard and galabia, or woman with a hijab, or volunteer in a religious association is Islamist.
I would suggest that, in fact, many of the religious parties (such as Hizb al-Nahda in Tunisia, Justice and Development in Morocco, and the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey) that seem to cause anxiety in the mainstream media are not actually Islamist, strictly speaking; they are arguably “post-Islamist,” even though they all self-consciously remain Islamic. This essay is devoted to a discussion of “post-Islamism” at the global level. Here I examine the transformation of Islamism in the past three decades and highlight the implications of its multiple discursive and strategic shifts for democratic polities in Muslim societies. Particularly, I would like to revisit and sharpen the notion of post-Islamism with reference to the historical analyses oﬀered in this book by eleven studies that cover Muslim-majority countries stretching from Indonesia to Morocco.
But how do we understand “Islamism”? I take Islamism to refer to those ideologies and movements that strive to establish some kind of an “Islamic order”—a religious state, shari‘a law, and moral codes in Muslim societies and communities. Association with the state is a key feature of Islamist politics—one that diﬀerentiates it from such reli- giously inspired but apolitical collectives as the Jama‘at-i Tabliq-i Islami, a broad transnational movement that is not interested in holding gov- ernmental power but is involved in a missionary movement of spiri- tual awakening among Muslims. The primary concern of Islamism is to forge an ideological community; concerns such as establishing social justice and improving the lives of the poor are to follow only from this strategic objective.3
The Islamists’ insistence on holding state power derives from the doc- trinal principle of “command right, forbid wrong.” This broad Quranic dictum remains vague, with varied interpretations about what consti- tutes “right” and “wrong,” who is to command or forbid them, and how. Historically, it was largely the Islamic jurists or Muslim zealots who took it upon themselves to command right and forbid wrong, as in prohibit- ing wine, prostitution, or singing. But in contemporary times, modern movements and states (such as those in Iran and Saudi Arabia) have increasingly assumed that role.
Islamists, then, are adamant to control state power not only because it ensures their rule but also because they consider the state the most powerful and eﬃcient institution that is able to enforce “good” and eradicate “evil” in Muslim societies. As a consequence, the Islamists’ normative and legal perspective places more emphasis on people’s obligations than on their rights; in this frame, people are perceived more as dutiful subjects than as rightful citizens.
But Islamist movements vary in terms of the diﬀerent ways in which they are to achieve their strategic goals. The reformist trend aspires ultimately to establish an Islamic state but wishes to do so gradually, peacefully, and within existing constitutional frameworks.
These are the “electoral Islamists,” as Humeira Iqtidar puts it. This strand rejects the use of violence and hopes to operate within the nation-state by invoking many democratic procedures; it focuses on mobilizing civil society through work in professional associations, NGOs, local mosques, and charities. The original Muslim Brothers in Egypt and its oﬀshoots in Algeria, Sudan, Kuwait, and Jordan represent this trend; so does the Jama‘at-e Islami in Pakistan and the Melli Gorus (National Order) movement in Turkey. Many groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood seem to adopt a somewhat Gramscian strategy of establishing moral and political hegemony in civil society, expecting that the state will turn Islamic in the long run following the Islamization of society.
Yet their actual co-optation within legal politi- cal structures may entail what Olivier Roy calls the “social democratization” of these movements, referring to how the European Socialist parties opted to work within rather than against capitalism. The Islamist parties in Jordan, Morocco, and Indonesia are argued to have paved a reformist path similar to that of European Social Democracy.4
The revolutionary or militant trends, such as the Jama‘a al-Islamiya in Egypt, the Algerian Front Islamique du Salut, Lashkar Jihad in Indonesia, and Hizb al-Tahrir and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in Pakistan, resort to violence and terrorism against state agencies, Western targets, and non-Muslim civilians, hoping to cause a Leninist-type insurrection to seize state power, which would then unleash the Islamization of the social order from above. Still, such militant Islamism diﬀers from the prevailing Jihadi trends, such as the groups associated with al-Qaeda.
Whereas militant Islamism represents political movements operating within their given nation-states and targeting primarily the secular national state, most Jihadies are trans- national in their ideas and operations and often represent apocalyptic “ethical movements” involved in “civilizational” struggles, with the aim of combating such highly abstract targets as the “corrupt West” or societies of “nonbelievers.”5 For many Jihadies, the very struggle itself, or jihad, becomes an end in itself. And on this path, they invariably resort to extreme violence against both their targets and themselves (suicide bombing).
Global events since the late 1990s (the Balkan ethnic wars, the Russian domination of Chechnya, the Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza under Likud, and the post-9/11 anti-Islamic sentiments in the West) created among Muslims a sense of insecurity and feeling of siege. This in turn heightened their sense of religious identity and communal bonds, generating a new trend of “active piety,” a sort of missionary tendency quite distinct from the highly organized “apolitical” Islam of the Tablighi movement in being quite individualized, diﬀused, and inclined toward quietist Salaﬁsm. The adherents of such piety, which Olivier Roy calls “neo-fundamentalist,” aim not to establish an Islamic state but to reclaim and enhance the self while striving to implant the same mission in others. As such, this trend is not “Islamist” by deﬁnition but may in practice lend support to Islamist moral sensibilities.
Modernist interpretations view Islamism as a movement of “traditional” Muslims (e.g., the ulema or clerical class, merchants, and the urban poor) who forge an alliance to resist Western-type modernization. Evidence, however, suggests that Islamism has received support from dif- ferent social groups—traditional and modern, young and old, men and women, the better-oﬀ and the lower classes.
But the core constituency of Islamist movements comes from the modern, educated, but often impoverished middle classes—professionals, state employees, college students, and graduates. The fairly popular idea that the urban poor and slum dwellers become the natural allies of Islamism—because of their “intrinsic religiosity,” social dislocation, and need for community—is exaggerated. Indeed, the relationship between the Islamist movements and the urban poor remains mutually utilitarian. The urban poor lend pragmatic sup- port to Islamists in exchange for tangible gains (services, aid, or social protection) in more or less the same way that they forge alliances with sec- ular and leftist groups.6
On the other hand, although some leaders come from the clerical class (like Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Hasan Nasrullah in Lebanon, or the militant Jebha ulema within the Egyptian al-Azhar), the bulk of the Islamist leadership in the Muslim world remains lay activists rooted in modern education and professions. In fact, the majority of the traditional and quietist clerics oppose Islamism for its politicization and secularization of the “spiritual realm” and the ulema’s place in it. It is in this sense that El-Aﬀendi describes Islamism essentially in terms of its “this-worldliness,” which distinguishes it from the “otherworldly” Islam of the traditional ulema.
Notwithstanding their variation, Islamists in general deploy a religious language and conceptual frame, favor conservative social mores and an exclusive social order, espouse a patriarchal disposition, and adopt broadly intolerant attitudes toward diﬀerent ideas and lifestyles. Theirs, then, has been an ideology and a movement that rests on a blend of religiosity and obligation, with little commitment to a language of rights—something that distinguishes it from a post-Islamist worldview.
What Is Post-Islamism?
In 1995, I happened to write an essay entitled “The Coming of a Post-Islamist Society” (published in 1996)7 in which I discussed the articulation of the remarkable social trends, political perspectives, and religious thought that post-Khomeini Iran had begun to witness—a trend that eventually came to embody the “reform movement” of the late 1990s. My tentative essay dealt only with societal trends, for there was little at the governmental level that I could consider “post-Islamist.” Indeed, as originally used, post-Islamism pertained only to the realities of the Islamic Republic of Iran and not to other settings and societies. Yet the core spirit of the term referred to the metamorphosis of Islamism (in ideas, approaches, and practices) from within and without.
Since then, a number of prominent observers in European and other countries have deployed the term, even though often descriptively, to refer primarily to what they considered a general shift in the attitudes and strategies of Islamist militants in the Muslim world.8 In this early usage, post-Islamism was deployed primarily as a historical, rather than analytical, category, representing a “particular era” or the “end of a historical phase.” Olivier Roy’s well-known book The Failure of Political Islam implicitly heralded the conclusion of one historical period and the beginning of a new one.
Thus, partly due to its poor conceptualization and partly for its mis- perception, the term initially attracted some unwelcome reactions. Some critics correctly disputed the premature generalization about the end of Islamism,9 arguing that what seemed to be changing was not political Islam (i.e., doing politics in an Islamic frame) but only a particular, “revolutionary,” version.10 Others went on proclaiming, incorrectly, that post-Islamism signiﬁed not a distinct reality but simply one variant of Islamist politics.11
In my original formulation, post-Islamism represented both a condition and a project. In the ﬁrst instance, post-Islamism referred to a political and social condition where, following a phase of experimentation, the appeal, energy, and sources of legitimacy of Islamism are exhausted even among its once-ardent supporters. Islamists become aware of their discourse’s anomalies and inadequacies as they attempt to institutionalize or imagine their rule.
The continuous trial and error, pushed by global factors or national realities, would make the framework susceptible to questions and criticisms. Eventually, pragmatic attempts to maintain the system would reinforce the abandonment of certain of its underlying principles. Islamism becomes compelled, both by its own internal contradictions and by societal pressure, to reinvent itself, but it does so at the cost of a qualitative shift. The tremendous transformation in religious and political discourse in Iran during the 1990s exempliﬁed this tendency.
I saw post-Islamism not only as a condition but also as a project, a conscious attempt to conceptualize and strategize the rationale and modalities of transcending Islamism in social, political, and intellectual domains. Yet, in this sense, post-Islamism is neither anti-Islamic nor un-Islamic or secular. Rather, it represents an endeavor to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism on their head by emphasizing rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than ﬁxed scriptures, and the future instead of the past.
It wants to marry Islam with individual choice and freedom (albeit at varying degrees), with democracy and modernity, to achieve what some have termed an “alter- native modernity.” Post-Islamism is expressed in acknowledging secular exigencies, in freedom from rigidity, in breaking down the monopoly of religious truth. I concluded that, whereas Islamism is deﬁned by the fusion of religion and responsibility, post-Islamism emphasizes religiosity and rights. Yet, while it favors a civil and nonreligious state, it accords an active role for religion in the public sphere.
In Iran, the end of the war with Iraq (1988), the death of Ayatollah Khomeini (1989), and the program of postwar reconstruction under President Rafsanjani marked the onset of what I have called “post-Islamism.” As a master movement, Iran’s post-Islamism was embodied in remarkable social and intellectual trends and movements—expressed in religiously innovative discourses by youths, students, women, and religious intellectuals, who demanded democracy, individual rights, tolerance, and gender equality as well as the separation of religion from the state. Yet they refused to throw away religious sensibilities altogether.
The daily resistance and struggles of ordinary actors compelled religious thinkers, spiritual elites, and political actors to undertake a crucial paradigmatic shift. Scores of old Islamist revolutionaries renounced their earlier ideas, lamenting the danger of a religious state to both religion and the state. In a sense, the Islamic state generated adversaries from both without and within, who called for the secularization of the state but stressed maintaining religious ethics in society.
Clearly this formulation of post-Islamism has an Iranian genealogy. But how extensive is the post-Islamist trend in other Muslim countries? And to what extent is the concept applicable to other settings? The stud- ies in this volume oﬀer detailed narratives on the ways in which Islamist politics in ten Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Sudan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Pakistan) has been transformed over the past three decades. The outcome involves com- plex, multifaceted, and heterogeneous histories that nevertheless attest to the shifting dynamics of Islamism in varied forms, degrees, and directions. While the Islamic Revolution acted in the 1980s as the demonstration eﬀect to bolster similar movements in other Muslim countries, Iran’s post-Islamist experience has also contributed to an ideological shift among some Islamist movements. But how much have internal dynamics and global forces since the early 1990s contributed to instigating a post-Islamist turn among individual movements in the Muslim world? And what can these multiple histories tell us about how to conceptualize post-Islamism?
Critique from Within
Surely the Islamic Republic of Iran, the primary case upon which my earlier notion of post-Islamism rested, possessed its own particularities: Iran has been governed by a full-ﬂedged Islamic state; and its top-down
Islamization has instigated much dissent from diverse constituencies, while the state’s “developmental” policies have unintentionally generated modern subjects who aspire and push for a democratic polity within a post-Islamist frame. But post-Islamism is not unique to Iran. Numerous Muslim societies have experienced varied forms, degrees, and trajectories of the post-Islamist path. In the 1980s Turkish Islamists considered Islam a form of ideology that should regulate social, political, cultural, and eco- nomic domains through an Islamic state; and they believed that Muslims should be liberated from such Western notions of modernity as democracy, secularism, nationalism, progress, and individual liberties. But by the late 1990s, the Islamists abandoned these ideas.
Instead they searched for a kind of modern polity that could secure a place for pious subjects. Thus, instead of forging an Islamic state, they opted to deepen democracy, pluralism, and secularism against the authoritarian Kemalist state. Not surprisingly, the prime beneﬁciaries of what the Islamists ﬁercely advocated—human rights, pluralism, and democracy—were themselves (see chapter 3).
Turkish Islamism had been embodied in the Melli Gorus led by Necmettin Erbakan, who established the National Order Party in 1970. The party opposed bank interest and membership in the European Economic Community and favored a “civilization inspired by Islam.” Banned for being “antisecular,” Melli Gorus established the National Salvation Party, with more populist and anti-West postures, which rose to prominence in the 1980s elections. Clamped down by a military coup, the party was resurrected in 1983 under a diﬀerent name, “Refah,” or Welfare, Party, with further radical stands. In the 1991 parliamentary elections, it captured 17 percent of the total votes and sixty-ﬁve seats. This remarkable victory marked the beginning of a steady process of “social-democratization.” The Refah began to collaborate with non- religious groups focusing on nonreligious matters like poverty. Yet it caused a shockwave in the secular establishment when it seized in 1994 most of the municipal governments, including Istanbul and Ankara, and then defeated all secular parties in the 1995 general elections. Led by the military, the media, and the judiciary, secular forces unleashed
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