Post-Islamist Political Theory: Iranian Intellectuals and Political Liberalism in Dialogue
POST-ISLAMIST POLITICAL THEORY – Book Sample
Abstract – POST-ISLAMIST POLITICAL THEORY
This chapter includes an overview of several theoretical approaches to post-Islamism, centered on Asef Bayat’s initial approach to post-Islamism, focusing on the ideas of various scholars working in the field, such as Mojtaba Mahdavi, Adolkarim Soroush, Abolghasem Fanaei and Farzin Vahdat.
I conclude that post- Islamism can be considered as a gradual process through which certain Muslims have adopted a more reasonable interpretation of Islam as a comprehensive doc-trine, to use Rawls’ terminology. Put this way, post-Islamism can be read as a socio- political situation where a significant number of individuals in a Muslim society interpret Islam in a politically reasonable way.
This implies that some accounts of Islamist political theory are unreasonable because they refuse to abide by the terms of mutual social cooperation and respect, and reject even a weak version of the bur-dens of judgment.
On the note on method, I argue that what distinguishes this book from most scholarship in Iranian studies is that it deals with the projects of intellectuals primarily from a normative and comparative perspective as the concept is understood by analytical philosophers.
Conceptualizing Post-Islamist Political Theory
In recent decades, although a substantial body of scholarly work has emerged on the relationship between Islam and democracy, only the most recent work focuses on the notion of post-Islamism.
The term post-Islamism was originally introduced to the literature by Asef Bayat in a brief 1996 essay concerning the sociological trans-formation of post-Khomeini Iran.1 Since then, Bayat and some other scholars, especially within political science and sociology, have further elaborated this concept, contextualizing it within the background of different Muslim majority societies.2
However, unlike Islamism, which has grabbed the attention of political philosophers, the idea of post-Islamism is hardly discussed as a subject for philosophical inquiry.3 Addressing this shortcoming in the literature, this book deals with post- Islamism from a mainly theoretical perspective by appealing to political liberalism as elaborated by John Rawls as the key interpretive tool.
I consider Islamism as a normative outlook that strives to establish some kind of an Islamic order by appeal to the power of the state. As we will see throughout the book, Islamists are determined to control state power because they consider the state to be the most effective institution for enforcing good and eradicating evil, as under-stood comprehensively through the religious principle of alamru bil maruf vanna-hyu anil munkar (command right, forbid wrong).
Unlike post-Islamism, Islamist political theory places more emphasis on a person’s “obligations” than on their “rights”, perceiving people more as dutiful subjects than rights-bearing citizens.4
Following Bayat, I define post-Islamism as a project drawing on a particular social “condition” to break with the normative Islamist outlook. The social condi-tion that post-Islamism draws on is a circumstance where in particular Muslim majority societies, following phases of experimentation, “the appeal, energy, and sources of legitimacy of Islamism are exhausted, even among its once-ardent sup-porters”. 5
Under such conditions, Islamists become aware of their discourse’s inadequacies as they attempt to normalize and institutionalize their rule within the society. In other words, the social basis of post-Islamism refers to a situation where “Islamism becomes compelled both by its own internal contradictions and by social pressure, to reinvent itself, but it does so at the cost of a qualitative shift”. 6This makes the former Islamists susceptible to questions, revisions and criticisms, moti-vating them to abandon certain normative principles of Islamism in order to main-tain the system.7
As Post-Islamism can be defined as a conscious intellectual “project” that theorizes the modalities of transcending Islamism, socially, politically and intellectual-ly.8
Post-Islamist political theorists revise the underlying principles of Islamism by fusing religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty, and by emphasizing “rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, and historicity rather than fixed scripture, and the future instead of the past”.9
As we will observe throughout this book, post-Islamism as a normative project is an intellectual endeavor to marry Islam with democracy and freedom, to achieve what might…
Political Liberalism for Post-Islamist, Muslim- Majority Societies
Abstract This chapter includes a moderate reading of political liberalism applicable to post-Islamist, Muslim-majority societies. Contrary to the strong reading of John Rawls, which considers his political liberalism as limited in its scope to those societies that already have a strong liberal tradition, I argue that the Rawlsian project does have many things to offer to reasonable post-Islamist, Muslim individuals.
Part One of the chapter focuses on the Rawlsian ideas of justification, demonstrating that the conceptions of justification available in Political Liberalism, i.e. political constructivism, wide reflective equilibrium, a wide view of public reasoning, the declaration and conjecture, can justify the political conception of justice for reason-able individuals living in any society, including Muslim-majority ones.
In Part Two, focusing on Rawls’ idea of stability, I argue that, notwithstanding the strong reading of political liberalism followed by some commentators, stability in real democratic polities always involves a mixture of ideal and non-ideal stability, i.e. overlapping consensus and modus vivendi.
In Political Liberalism, Rawls is much concerned about the place of religion in politics. However, this is perhaps nowhere expressed as clearly as in his answer to the Commonweal Catholic magazine during an interview in the last decade of his life. The interviewer asked Rawls about the motivations behind his new attention to reli-gion: “In A Theory of Justice, religion is not listed in the index.
But in your recent work, Political Liberalism and “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”, religion has become, if not the central theme, at least a major focus. You have had a turn in your interests. What is this coming from? What’s the motivation for this new focus?” To this, John Rawls answered: “Well, that is a good question. I think the basic explanation is that I am concerned about the survival, historically, of constitutional demo…
According to Rawls, political constructivism is conceptualizing the content and structure of justice as fairness as the most reasonable conception of justice. Once reflective equilibrium is reached, he argues, “the principles of political justice (con-tent) may be represented as the outcome of a certain procedure of construction (structure)”.25
This specific procedure of construction is modeled by “the original position”, in which rational agents, as representatives of real individuals subject to the constraints of the veil of ignorance, select two principles of justice to regulate the basic structure of their society.
This procedure, Rawls follows, “embodies all the requirements of practical reason and shows how the principles of justice follow from the principles of practical reason in union with conceptions of society and person, themselves ideas of practical reason”.26
The original position, as a key part of political constructivism, corresponds to the state of nature in traditional theories of the social contract. As Rawls famously puts it, the original position generalizes and carries to a higher order of abstraction the traditional theory of the social contract as presented by Locke, Rousseau and Kant.
Among the essential features of the original position are that no one knows their place in society, their class or social status, their fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, their intelligence, strength and so on.
In this way, the original position is designed to make sure that in the choice of principles no one is advantaged or disadvantaged due to natural chance or social circumstances. Given the symmetry of the parties’ relations to each other, this initial situation is fair between individuals as moral persons.27
In Political Liberalism Rawls presents the original position as providing a useful device to elaborate a political conception of justice from the ideas of society as a fair system of cooperation and of persons regarded as free and equal.28
Viewed this way, the idea of the original position presumes particular conceptions of society and persons. Furthermore, the conditions imposed on the parties along with the description of their deliberations model the rationality and reasonableness of individuals. Since Rawls regards free and equal persons as both rational—having a conception of the good—and reasonable—owning a sense of justice, the original position ascribes to the parties two corresponding higher order interests in order to be able to develop and exercise their moral powers of rationality and reasonableness.
That is, someone who has not developed and cannot exercise the two moral powers of reasonableness and rationality to the minimum requisite degree cannot be a normal and
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