by Amir Hussain Nihal
The term Islamic Fundamentalism has frequently been used in recent times to define the phenomenon of the rise of radical groups across the broad spectrum of the so-called Islamic world. Islamic fundamentalism refers to a complex whole of burgeoning extremist political ideologies, which purport to be defiant of the political, cultural and economic domination of the West by their assertions of being the sole spokespersons of the miseries of Muslim societies. Contrary to the general understanding of describing this political activism as Islamic fundamentalism, it has never been a monolithic and uniform phenomenon.
Our definition of Islamic fundamentalism is partly informed by the Orientalist mode of analysis of defining the West in contrast with others through a system of binary opposition. The system of binary opposition tends to explain the foundations of the whole theoretical edifice of oriental scholarship which advocates the superiority of West as being rational, tolerant, democratic, and scientific and so forth. This mode of Orientalist thinking places the East in contrast with the West through attributes of irrationalism, dictatorship, intolerance and traditionalism that are associated with the East. In this context, Islamic fundamentalism is seen as a product of the East that, as orientalists would argue, has haunted the civilized nations of the world because of the tendency of the East to germinate obscurantism in its womb. Does this Orientalist argument carry weight in the era of globalization particularly? I will come to this point later.
Apart from this geographical determinism of orientalists, Islamic fundamentalism is defined by the political elites of Third World states, specifically those dominated by Muslim populations. The political elite of Muslim societies are obsessed with the Western concepts of secularism, democracy and liberalism etc. They repudiate these fundamentalist groups as representatives of obscurantism and traditionalism and the real enemies of modernization. They see Islamic fundamentalism as the root cause of backwardness of Muslim societies.
Another strand of thought that originates from the middle-class, petty bourgeois circles of the liberal intelligentsia, who turn down Islamic fundamentalism as reactionary and fascist. The rise of these radical Islamic movements has been an enormous shock to the liberal intelligentsia who have lined up with state to persecute fundamentalist groups. Some of the Marxist intellectuals are also misled by this abrupt phenomenon of Islamism, which according to them is a “Reaction Incarnate” as a form of fascism, which, as they argue, should be countered by building political alliances with other forces of status quo. In the wake of this ambiguity about the nature of the rise of Islamism it is not easy to find any comprehensive theoretical framework of analysis that could substantiate with cogency the whole logic of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
To me neither of these definitions and theories about Islamic fundamentalism provides a sufficient account of the very nature of the phenomenon itself. My major emphasis in this essay is that Islamic fundamentalism can only be understood in the broader terms of globalisation that has generated many marginalized groups in the developing world. Also, I will attempt to identify the class character of the groups that are vulnerable to the appeal of Islamism. The political implications of the rise of Islamism are not focused on in the essay due both to the complexities involved in its multifaceted nature and the constraints of space.
Click on the link above to download complete essay. A very interesting read.