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Reviewed by:
  • Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse
  • Charles Kurzman
Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse By Mansoor Moaddel University of Chicago Press, 2005. 448 pages. $65 (cloth); $24 (paper)

This ambitious book is an Islamic version of Robert Wuthnow's influential analysis, Communities of Discourse (1989). While Wuthnow traversed a series of European cases over four centuries, examining the relationship of social structure to ideological discourses, Mansoor Moaddel addresses similar issues for a more tightly-knit series of Islamic societies. These cases range from Islamic modernism in the late 19th and early 20th century, to various forms of Middle Eastern nationalism in the early and mid-20th century, to Islamic fundamentalism in the mid- to late 20th century. Moaddel asks why these ideologies emerged when they did, and why they varied from one country to another. For the Islamic modernist period, Moaddel compares the Muslim regions of northern India with Egypt and Iran; for nationalism, he compares Egypt, Syria and Iran; for fundamentalism, he compares Egypt, Syria, Iran, Algeria and Jordan.

The unit of analysis is an episode of ideological production, in keeping with the development of the concept of episodic discourse in Moaddel's earlier work on the Iranian revolution of 1979. Moaddel defines episode as a period of continuity in meaning-making that is bounded geographically and temporally, cut off from earlier and later episodes by dramatic events such as coups, revolts, wars, sudden political or economic shifts, or innovations of various sorts (p. 20). The book's main argument is that episodes are discontinuous – but that there is a hidden logic to the discontinuity, which is characterized in large part by each episode's opposition to the previous one. Each episode "targets" the ideology of its predecessor, and in so doing it is shaped by its predecessor. Like a dialectic without hope of synthesis, each episode succumbs to the antithesis that it helped to form.

Moaddel distinguishes two dimensions of this dialectic: the location of the target in civil society or the state, and the degree of pluralism within the target's discursive field. The first dimension differentiates between Islamic modernism, which Moaddel argues was more targeted toward the Islamic establishments of civil society, and nationalism and fundamentalism, which Moaddel argues were more targeted toward the institutions of the state. The second dimension differentiates between modernism and nationalism, which generally adopted the pluralism of their targets, and fundamentalism, which adopted the monolithic discourse of its target, the nation-state. To give one example from among the many that Moaddel offers: in the 1930s, Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian literary critic who later became one of the foremost ideologists of Islamic revolution, was an advocate of modern Arabic poetry and a supporter of liberal nationalism politics, whose pro-democracy ideology reflected the pluralism of the Egyptian constitutional monarchy. In the following decades, Qutb abandoned liberal nationalism and joined the Muslim Brotherhood, ultimately favoring violent overthrow of the Egyptian state in the name of an Islamic ideology that reflected the military-led state's "totalitarian" ambitions (pp. 217-220).

Moaddel rejects any direct correspondence between ideology and social structure. For each case, he describes the ways in which colonialism, modern education, statist development [End Page 1855] projects and global economic trends battered some classes and created new ones. However, the ideology of each class may vary from one period to the next or from one class faction to the next. For example, Moaddel notes that Islamic modernism was stronger in Egypt than in Iran in the 19th century, despite similarities in the two countries' social structures. He attributes the difference in part to the smaller cadre of modern-educated Iranians, but primarily to the lack of "discursive pluralism" in Iran. If Christian missionaries had been permitted greater voice in Iran, Moaddel argues, Islamic modernism might have developed to a greater extent (p. 109). For Islamic fundamentalism, Moaddel goes even farther in undermining the relationship between social structure and ideology. In Iran, Moaddel locates fundamentalism in older social classes, the bazaar and the Islamic religious establishment; in Jordan, building on his earlier work on Jordanian exceptionalism, Moaddel associates fundamentalism with the new middle class; in Algeria...


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