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A continuation on Atlantic.com:

The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies

The desire for theocracy in the Muslim world can be partly understood through the failures of Western secularism.

.... when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, "Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?" But sometimes it's even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It's about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don't use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.

It's interesting that we're having this conversation at a time when many people, including outside the Middle East, are loosing faith in technocratic, liberal democracy. There's a desire for a politics of substantive meaning. At the end of the day, people want more than economic tinkering.

I think classical liberalism makes a lot of sense intellectually. But it doesn't necessarily fill the gap that many people in Europe and the U.S. seem to have in their own lives, whether that means [they] resort to ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics. All of these things give voters a sense that there is something greater.

by das monde on Fri Jun 10th, 2016 at 01:32:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, "Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?" But sometimes it's even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation.

Again, something major is missing here. Between "power or community or belonging" and "eternal salvation", there is also a desire for a non-corrupt, just, pro-welfare government. Of course, a self-described liberal member of the Brookings Institution will be unwilling to see any system Western resp. pro-Western described as "technocratic, liberal democracy" as a corrupt, unfair, poverty-perpetrating abomination.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 14th, 2016 at 05:29:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The same author - Shadi Hamid - has been a regular contributor to Atlantic.com for years. Here are pieces of his earlier articles:

The Roots of the Islamic State's Appeal

The rise of ISIS is only the most extreme example of the way in which liberal determinism -- the notion that history moves with intent toward a more reasonable, secular future -- has failed to explain the realities of the Middle East. It should by now go without saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not share ISIS's view of religion, but that's not really the most interesting or relevant question. ISIS's rise to prominence has something to do with Islam, but what is that something?

ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS's interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of a caliphate -- the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition -- is a powerful one, even among more secular-minded Muslims. The caliphate, something that hasn't existed since 1924, is a reminder of how one of the world's great civilizations endured one of the more precipitous declines in human history. The gap between what Muslims once were and where they now find themselves is at the center of the anger and humiliation that drive political violence in the Middle East. But there is also a sense of loss and longing for an organic legal and political order that succeeded for centuries before its slow but decisive dismantling. Ever since, Muslims, and particularly Arab Muslims, have been struggling to define the contours of an appropriate post-caliphate political model.

[The Muslim world] has already experienced a weakening of the clerics, who, in being co-opted by newly independent states, fell into disrepute. In Europe, the decline of the clerical class and mass literacy laid the groundwork for secularization. In the modern Middle East, these same forces coincided with political Islam's ascendancy. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood disproportionately drew its leadership from the professional sectors of medicine, engineering, and law. The movement, founded in 1928, was decidedly non-clerical and, in some ways, anti-clerical. In the 1950s, Cairo's al-Azhar, the Arab world's preeminent center of Islamic thought, was co-opted and politicized by Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime, the Brotherhood's chief antagonist.

The much more literalist Salafis also had little time for the religious establishment. The premise of Salafism was that centuries of intricate and technical Islamic scholarship had obscured the power and purity of Islam, as embodied by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Salafi leaders told their followers that the Quran's meaning could be accessed by simply reading it and following the example of the Prophet. Salafism -- and for that matter groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS -- would be inconceivable without the weakening of the clerics and the democratization of religion interpretation.

France's False Choice

Historically, forcing people to be liberal or secular, when they don't want to be, doesn't work particularly well.

Imposed liberalism, in fact, is something of a contradiction in terms. Liberalism privileges individual autonomy and personal freedom; to negate that autonomy because it is directed toward religious ends is, to put it mildly, problematic. A liberal society can survive with a minority that opposes blasphemy. More than that, a liberal society cannot truly be liberal without allowing citizens to express their own personal illiberalism, as long as they do so through legal, democratic channels.

[...] Walzer writes that "individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism aren't really Western values; they are universal values that first appeared in strong, modern versions in Western Europe and the Americas." This is fine as far as it goes, but it raises a question: Why aren't some "universal values" -- such as the right to offend -- universally held? And, if they aren't universally held, is it enough to insist that they should be?

The End of Pluralism

We might not like to admit it, but violence can, and often does, "work" in today's Middle East. This is not just a reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but also to less extreme militant groups that control territory throughout Syria, providing security and social services to local populations. From Libya to Palestine to parts of the Egyptian Sinai, armed -- and increasingly hard-line -- Islamist groups are making significant inroads. This is the Arab world's Salafi-Jihadi moment. It may not last, but its impact is already impossible to dismiss, to say nothing of the long-term consequences. In Libya and Syria, even non-Salafi groups like the Brotherhood are adapting to the new world of anti-politics, allying themselves with local armed groups or working to form their own militias [...]

Islamism, as a distinctive construct, only made sense in opposition to something else -- and that something else was secularism, which grew in influence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Islam was no longer just a way of being; in the face of Western dominance, it became a political theology of authenticity and resistance and a spiritual alternative to liberal-secular democracy.

by das monde on Wed Jun 15th, 2016 at 08:47:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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