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CHAPTER NINETEEN Islam, Rentier States, and the Quest for Democracy in the Middle East and Africa SETH N. ASUMAH Introduction: Islam Today The believers, men and women, are guardians of one another; they enjoin good and prohibit evil, perform the prayer, give alms, and obey God and His Prophet. —Koran 9:71 Religion is among the strongest central categories of diversity in many nation-states, and Islam remains the fastest-growing religion among Africans of the continent and in the African Diaspora. In communities around the world, religion serves as a platform for co­ hesive organization of the general populace. However, religious diversity makes religious conflict inevitable. In contemplating the bloodshed that was concomitant with nation-building and nationalism, it would be difficult to ignore religion as a culprit. Nonetheless, religion also remains a dominant force in bringing about peace in many communities. Of the major monotheistic religions in the world, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, people who pursue the Islamic faith are ridiculed and stereotyped by many non-Muslims more than any other groups in the United States and Africa. In my course on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), when I ask my students in the United States to participate in an exercise called “first thoughts” (what one thinks first of when, for instance, Islam is mentioned), I get a long list of stereotypes: “warmongers,” “towel heads,” “reli­ gious fanatics,” 379 380 Seth N. Asumah “terrorists,” “militaristic,” “hijackers,” “kidnappers,” “polygamists,” and “undemocratic.” My students represent a cross-section of the opinion of not just the American populace but also Africans. Some of these stereotypes may have validity, but most of them are the products of ignorance and xenophobia. Many people, especially Westerners, er­ roneously equate Islam and Islamization with Arab and Arabization. Certainly, they are related. The Prophet Muhammad , after all, was an Arab and received some of his Arabic cultural training from the Bedouins, the ancient desert dwellers in Arabia. Similarly, Muslims all over the world turn toward Mecca to say their prayers in Arabic. Yet not all Islamic adherents are Arabs, nor are all Arabs Muslims. Non-Arab Islamic people in­ clude Africans, African Americans, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Indonesians, and even Europeans. Despite this diversity, in the balance of this essay, I will argue that Islam is not always compatible with Western democracy. Nonetheless , in the process of nation-building, African leaders in predominantly Islamic nation states have utilized rentier politics as a tool for securing acquiescence and quiescence from the general populace in order to sustain their hegemony through liberalization to legitimize their raison d’être until the recent Arab Spring. These rentier approaches and rentier shifts by regimes are concomitant with restructuring of power relations between the nation-states/power holders and differ­ ent Islamic organizations and institutions within the African polity. Islam and rentierism in Africa present a challenge to the process of democratization. Concomitant with religion, Islamist movements, terrorism, conflicts over petrodollars, and the anthropomorphic nature of these nation-states are issues and questions involving the combined effects of Islam and rentier politics on the efficacy of state-citizen interaction. Contrary to the position of some political observers, for an example, Bernard Lewis (1993, 2011), that Islam and rentierism tend to distort the democratization process because they enhance hegemony maintenance of those in power, I argue that Islam supported by rentierism could reduce religious oppression and produce reasonable stability for political liberalization. Case studies from Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and Libya are used to analyze the effects of Islam and rentier politics on these nation-states. The Arabic word Islam, derived from the root salama, meaning peace, is a neologism. The word’s meaning is therefore currently open to several interpretations, and it has been translated to connote “submission,” “resignation,” and “obedience” to the will of Allah—the Islamic term for the only omnipresent, omnipotent, and merciful God, who has no feminine or plural attributes (Husain, 1995, p. 5). With 381 Islam, Rentier States, and the Quest for Democracy over 1 billion adherents in the world today, it remains the secondlargest religion spreading throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa. Nevertheless, the discourse over Islamic fundamen­ talism and the challenge to the authority of the modern nation-state, television images of a Muslim, events such as terrorism, the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York by Muslims, the challenge to the authority of the state by Islamic revivalists in Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and Libya and the renewed War...


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