Issues of Power and Modernity in Understanding Political and Militant Islam
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 29, Number 3, 2009
- pp. 544-555
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The article offers an alternative to Eurocentric understandings of political Islam and now militant Islam—the two phenomena are distinguished—as an analysis of modernity, power, and the political is offered in relation to political Islam’s characterization by modernists and civilizational theorists. This alternative perspective is useful to grasp the powerful new social reality in the form of militant Islam that has been unleashed since the end of the Cold War: altering culture, language, social, and political policy, while targeting women in many Muslim-majority societies. I argue that political Islam has to be conceived historically as a political phenomenon with a range of diverse manifestations that began to emerge during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as anticolonial movements and national liberation struggles became visible in colonized areas of Asia and Africa. Political Islam’s emergence in the colonial context had two distinct responses: first, to engage with ideas of modernity, and, second, to contest and reject Western modernity by positing Islamic revivalism within the ambit of pan-Muslim nationalism. In the current context, the culturalist idiom has been employed equally by the forces of empire and militant/political Islam, but the latter has been more effective in galvanizing support. To make sense of this rise of militant Islam, the article examines the specific histories of political and militant Islam, the Muslim philosophers’ engagement with the issue of “power” and the “political” in Islam and the unfolding dialectic of collaboration and resistance between political/militant Islam and the United States. The article’s conclusion is that despite using the culturalist terrain of modernity to demonize the two tendencies in contemporary Islam, the United States’ imperial drive and the role of client Muslim-majority states remain central in the rise of political and militant Islam.