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Reviewed by:
  • Arab Modernities: Islamism, Nationalism, and Liberalism in the Post-Colonial Arab World, and: Islam's Predicament with Modernity: Religious Reform and Cultural Change
  • Rima Pavalko (bio)
Arab Modernities: Islamism, Nationalism, and Liberalism in the Post-Colonial Arab World, by Jaafar Aksikas. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009. vii + 156 pages. Bibl. to p. 171. Index to p. 177. $37.95.
Islam's Predicament with Modernity: Religious Reform and Cultural Change, by Bassam Tibi. New York: Routledge, 2009. xv + 319 pages. Notes to p. 369. Bibl. to p. 389. Index to p. 407. $42.95 paper.

Growing interest in cultural analysis reflects the belief that culture is playing a new, decisive role in world politics. Jaafar Aksikas and Bassam Tibi have dedicated their efforts to addressing the crisis of modernity facing the Arab and Muslim worlds, outlining the main causes of cultural underdevelopment and practical solutions for reform. Insisting on cultural transformation as the proper response to the crisis, Aksiskas categorically opposes the current socioeconomic dominance of capitalism in favor of Marxist socialism, while Tibi recommends civil Islam as a much-needed alternative to political Islam.

Jaafar Aksikas's Arab Modernities, a self-styled work in cultural studies, attempts a historically contingent critique of contemporary ideologies in the post-colonial Arab world and the Middle East. More specifically, Arab Modernities analyzes the work of three Moroccan writers as representative of three different "national modernization and renaissance" (p. 5) ideologies emergent in the post-colonial history of the Arab world, namely, liberalism (Abdallah Laroui), state capitalism/nationalism (Mohamed Abed al Jabri), and Islamism (Abdessalam Yassine). The declared intent of the author is to argue the singularity of Marxism "for understanding the complicity of capitalism and colonialism and for the development of any serious emancipatory project of true modernity in the post-colonial South" (pp. 9, 153).

What justifies grouping three complex and largely different "Arab modernities" together? Aksikas believes that ideologies are best understood as dynamic "artifacts of ongoing social and cultural contestations" (p. 154). Regardless of the ideology or the ideologue, he maintains that the modern Arab world "cannot be properly assessed … outside the concrete unity of all interacting [End Page 687] spheres of social life" (p. 6). He sees modern Arab ideologies not as competing discourses, but as "products of a specific historical conjuncture" (pp. 4-5), loosely the conjunction of Enlightenment philosophy, capitalism, industrialization, class struggle, workers' movements, colonialism, and other socioeconomic forces (detailed in Chapter One). As a result, these ideologies are treated as interrelated movements insofar as they are governed by "mutually constitutive" (p. 36) social forces that pursue common social causes, including anti-imperialism, political independence, pan-Arabism and/or Muslim unity, social development, and cultural authenticity (p. 5; see also p. 151). The sum of social phenomena constituting Arab ideologies thus corroborates "the existence of a social crisis in the Arab world" (p. 7).

In search of a way out of the Arab world's social crisis, Aksikas aims to reveal the "hidden contradictions" (p. 6) within the dominant Arab ideologies analyzed in the central chapters of his book. One problem already hinted at is the lack of attention paid to the contingent or historical nature of social and cultural phenomena (p. 9). Moreover, the decline of liberalism and nationalism —however misapplied or misunderstood in the Arab world —can be attributed to their failure to "represent the interests of society as a whole; they represented the interests of only one social class or another" (pp. 8, 31). In fact, all three ideologies —liberalism, nationalism, and Islamism —"have failed because they have all remained within the sphere of capitalism" (p. 152). Thus one arrives at the most "endemic" of social contradictions —"structural poverty and inequality and cyclical instability"—which Aksikas blames entirely on capitalism (p. 155). His reductive critique of modern Arab ideologies comes to the hasty conclusion that all three are "complicit with the orientalist view of Arab society and culture as unchanging, fixed, and eternal" (p. 9; see also p. 133).

Aksikas' analysis of Arab ideologies paves the way "to some alternative paths to a non-capitalist modernity" (p. 6) outlined in the fifth and final chapter of the book. The...


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