Book Review – The Politics of Islamic Resurgence: Through Western Eyes, A Bibliographic Survey
The Politics of Islamic Resurgence: Through Western Eyes, A Bibliographic Survey
By Ahmad AbulJobain and Ahmad Bin Yousef. UASR, Inc., 1992, 199 pp. List: $14.95; AET: $11.95 for one, $14.95 for two.
Reviewed by Faisal Kutty
Many Muslims see the Islamic revival as a reassertion of their identity and a return to their roots, an alternative to secular materialism. Some in the West perceive it as a threat—the so-called “Islamic threat.” Sadly, the situation is not helped by the reprehensible acts and by the anti-West hyperbole and mindless rhetoric of some Islamists.
Can Islamists be trusted? What is the alternative? Are Islamists out to destroy democracy, freedom, justice and liberty? What are the consequences of the lack of communication between the proponents of Islamic revival and the West? These and other pertinent questions are raised and framed in a constructive manner in The Politics of Islamic Resurgence: Through Western Eyes, A Bibliographic Survey.
The book begins with an article titled “The Western Pen: A Sword in Disguise?” by Ahmad AbulJobain. AbulJobain does a wonderful job in this critique of the mainstream Western media, which he describes as “the most outspoken critics of political Islam” (p.8). The essay addresses the demonization of Islam and Muslims, sensationalism and the voluntary ignorance sadly characteristic of the media. AbulJobain also raises a question to which I would love to hear a coherent answer: “Where are all the liberal intellectual elites [who stand by Rushdie at all costs] when Islamic thinkers were, and continue to be, executed for mere opposition, let alone denigration?” (p. 13). He accurately warns, “If this trend of misrepresentation is perpetuated, both civilizations will experience a violent schism. This will prove catastrophic since, like it or not, the fates of Islam and the West are intertwined” (p. 18).
In his analytical piece, “Islamists and the West: From Confrontation to Cooperation,” Ahmad Bin Yousef argues that the Western aversion to Islamists and their wholesale designation as fundamentalists, terrorists and as being inherently anti-Western is inaccurate and, more importantly, counterproductive.
As Bin Yousef confirms, far from being a monolithic entity, the movement is composed of divergent groups ranging from the rejectionist and extremist minority to the mainstream which is committed to work peacefully within the system—Islamization through the process of education, and social and political activism. The only common denominators are their identification with Islam, and opposition to the secular elites who have very little, if any, legitimacy in the eyes of a growing number in the Muslim world. It is worth noting at this stage that Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, a Tunisian Islamist living in exile, accurately suggests that “the most lethal weapon available to sap radicalism of its strength incorporates the promotion of dialogue, freedom, and respect for human rights” (p.53).
Bin Yousef also deals with the overused and abused term “Islamic fundamentalism.” In Bin Yousef’s view, if at all applicable in the Islamic context, its application would be restricted to the ultraconservatives who believe “in an absolutist return to the pure practices of Medina residents during the Prophet Muhammad’s era” (p. 28). It is ironic that the term is used to refer to revival movements, many of which are led by reformers striving in the long established Islamic traditions of tajdid(renewal) and islah (reform).
Bin Yousef also addresses the ideological and conceptual differences and similarities between the Western and Islamic systems and concludes, “Islam is clearly a challenge to the West, yet its challenge is one of friendship not enmity” (p. 40). He drives home the importance of dialogue by quoting Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: “Were we to convince Western leaders and decision-makers of our right to live according to our faith—ideologically, legislatively, and ethically—without imposing our views or inflicting harm upon them, we would have traversed an immense barrier in our quest for an Islamic state” (p.40).
The book also contains the full text of a speech delivered by Rachid Ghannouchi in the United Kingdom, where he lives in exile. The speech, entitled “Islam and the West: Realities and Potentialities,” provides an insider’s view from one of the most respected Islamist activist/thinkers. The leader of the Tunisian Islamist party Hizb an-Nahda (The Renaissance Party), who spent more than a decade in jail, contends that Islamists seek a reformation of their societies, and are committed to social justice, civil liberties, pluralism and an end to dictatorships (p.48).
Ghannouchi, who recently was tried in absentia by a Tunisian court and sentenced to life imprisonment for his democratic opposition, points out that his movement, rather than a fundamentalist one, is more akin to the European Renaissance in a Muslim context: what Ghannouchi refers to as a “merger between modernism and Islamism” (p. 48). Equality, respect for the rule of law, respect for private property, social justice, and a tradition of tolerance of debate and argument are established in Islam, though some extremists today may repudiate these.
The book is worth having just for these short pieces, but its value is increased immeasurably by the extensive bibliography. It is conveniently divided into three sections covering articles, books, and conferences; papers; and dissertations, respectively. They are further subdivided along the lines of general and geographic categories. The book also contains an informative critique of a conference organized by the United States Institute for Peace. Biographies of scholars who write regularly on political Islam are a bonus.
AbulJobain and Bin Yousef, both from the United Association for Studies and Research, which publishes the Middle East Affairs Journal from its headquarters in a Virginia suburb of the U.S. national capital, have done yeoman service to those interested in the Islamic revival. One can only hope that they are busy working on a revised edition to include more recent writings on this topic. It may also be worthwhile to add the writings of Islamist thinkers to the bibliography.
The book has set the stage and laid the groundwork for studies directed at the removal of misconceptions and formulation of policies consistent with the long-term interest of international security and the fundamental right to self-determination.
Faisal Kutty is a free-lance writer based in Toronto.
Note: First Published: March 1995, pgs. 57-58
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ycpbftn