29 January 2010

Article: Islamism and Totalitarianism

Jeffrey M. Bale, "Islamism and Totalitarianism" ("Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions", 10 [2], June 2009: pp. 73-96):


Abstract: "Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and even more so since the spectacular attacks by Qa'idat al-Jihad against the U.S. on 9/11, there has been an ever-growing flood of academic and journalistic publications devoted to radical Islam. Unfortunately, much of that literature has embodied problematic conceptual perspectives that can best be characterized as 'Islam bashing', 'Islam apologism', or – worst of all – 'Islamist apologism'. The purpose of this article is to identify the key problems with all of those perspectives, and especially to challenge the widespread view that Islamism can assume genuinely 'moderate', 'democratic', or 'liberationist' forms. On the contrary, the argument herein is that Islamism is an intrinsically radical and anti-democratic extreme right-wing political ideology, one that is not only based upon an unusually strict, puritanical interpretation of central tenets of the Islamic faith but is totalitarian in its very essence. Hence Islamist movements should not be seen as being comparable to Western movements like Christian Democracy, but rather as being similar in certain respects to Western totalitarian movements like Marxism-Leninism and fascism."

Excerpts: "A second form of 'Islamist apologism' promotes the idea that Islamism is essentially a new type of 'democratic movement from below', a kind of justifiable reaction against the corrupt, authoritarian regimes that unfortunately hold sway throughout most of the Muslim world. [...] That would be equivalent to arguing that Marxism-Leninism and fascism, two other intrinsically anti-democratic and totalitarian ideologies, somehow managed to inspire the formation of genuine 'democratic movements from below' simply because they levelled serious critiques of and arose in opposition to authoritarian and/or corrupt regimes in their respective countries.

"The sad truth is that Islamist opposition to the authoritarian regimes in places like Egypt and Algeria, whether violent or non-violent, has never arisen primarily because the Islamists are troubled morally or philosophically by the fact that those regimes are 'authoritarian' and 'undemocratic' – so too are the Islamists, even the allegedly 'moderate' ones – but rather because they consider those states to be 'apostate' or 'un-Islamic', as well as because the very same regimes have not hesitated to carry out harsh repressive measures against Islamist groups. [...]

"A third and related form of 'Islamist apologism' is that Islamism [...] can even be seen as an Islamic form of 'liberation theology'. [...] If the historical record is indicative, no Islamist movement has ever 'liberated' anyone other than like-minded religious fanatics – unless one equates 'liberation' with the suppression of religious diversity, moral 'deviance' and political dissent, the restriction of minority and women's rights, the de jure or de facto repudiation of genuine democratic values, and the more or less systematic attempt to control both the external behaviour and the very consciousness of believers – and no Islamist regime is ever likely to, either, at least not without jettisoning its core Islamist doctrines.

"To claim that such movements are 'progressive' in any way, simply because they oppose Western hegemony, defies all logic. After all, the Italian Fascists and Nazis were also bitterly opposed to Anglo-American, French and Soviet 'imperialism', yet no well-informed academician would ever claim that they were a force for 'liberation'. Yet that is how some are nowadays portraying the Islamists. [...]

"Islamism [...] has both revolutionary and revivalist features. It can be described as revolutionary because, in order for the Islamists to achieve their stated objectives, the existing international world order would have to be fundamentally transformed if not overturned, either wholly or in part. It can be characterised as revivalist because the Islamist goal is to restore the pure, pristine Islamic community [...] that is now governed by 'satanic' man-made laws and institutions (including democracy) [...] devised by Western 'unbelievers' [substituting] the sovereignty of man in place of that of Allah [...].

"This intrinsic theological and philosophical opposition to democracy does not mean, of course, that various Islamist groups have not disingenuously proclaimed their acceptance of democratic rules and cynically exploited democratic processes and procedures, such as participating in elections and forming temporary coalitions with other parties, simply in order to facilitate their accession to power, just as other monists and totalitarians like the communists and fascists had periodically done in past eras. [...] Despite the occasional efforts of non-violent Islamists to pay lip service to pluralism and democratic processes, almost always for purely tactical reasons, the substance of Islamist doctrines is intrinsically anti-pluralist and antidemocratic."

Jeffrey M. Bale is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

No comments:

Post a Comment