World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Theoretical Approaches to Political Islam (368) - Panel

· Date: THU, 22 / 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Chair: Mojtaba Mahdavi (University of Alberta)

Paper presenter: Dunya Deniz Cakir (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA), “Tabligh and Islamist Critical Theory: A Response to the Liberal-Democratic Discourse in Turkey”
This paper explores the contours of a critical discursive field around liberal-democracy emanating from the work of Muslim intellectuals aligned with the project of building the Generation of Qur’an in Turkey since the 1970s. To that end, it analyses the writings (books and journal articles) of a group of Islamist intellectuals affiliated with Islamist civil society associations (Ozgur-Der, Mazlum-Der, Ak-Der) and journals (Haksoz, Iktibas, Genc Birikim). For scholars analyzing the resurgence of Islamic revivalism towards the end of the 20th century, the main question of interest has been articulated around the compatibility of Islam and democracy and the role of such Islamic movements in the democratic/political trajectory of Muslim societies. With the exception of Iran and Sudan as the cases of Islamists in power, the classical typology of political Islam in scholarly literature depicted such movements as either fundamentalist organizations or as legitimate participants into existing political systems. This paper proposes to transcend this moderate-fundamental axis of categorization by voicing the intellectual efforts of Islamist civil society actors devoted to the tawhidi awakening in Turkey, at problematizing the politics at work in this very act of naming and interpellating. In that respect, the Islamist discourse under analysis manifests local modalities of refusing to bear the burden of proving the compatibility of Islam with liberal-democratic norms. By making this hitherto unanalyzed peripheral discourse the focus of my paper, I attempt to answer the following questions: How is an Islamic epistemology of resistance through shahadat (witnessing) fashioned, through the translation of Sayyid Qutb’s project of building the 'Generation of Qur?an' in Turkey, in direct response to the paradigmatic status of international regimes of moderation and liberalization? What are the intellectual reactions to the operationalization of moderation in such regional governance projects as the Greater Middle East Project and the ‘model partnership’ recently proposed by Obama? In inspecting those questions, my objective is to explore local attempts at countering liberal-democratic moderation via a politics of tabligh (invitation) operating through the active collaboration of Islamist publishing and pious reading publics. Extrapolating from this, I aim to juxtapose this critical discourse to the emerging Islamic democratic discourse/theory of Muslim scholars (El-Fadl, Sachedina, Hashemi (USA), Al-Ghannouchi (France), Soroush (Iran), Al-Bishri (Egypt) among others) in the hope to include peripheral voices into, and thereby broadening the spectrum of, the existing body of contemporary Islamic political thought for a more rigorous comparative political theory.

Paper presenter: Samuel Southgate (Independent Scholar), “Islamism and social movement theory: some reasons for caution”
In recent years, social movement theory has been increasingly utilised by scholars of the Middle East to analyse Islamist movements. Insofar as this body of work focuses on meso-level dynamics, it offers usefully to supplement sociological and political economy approaches that tend to be rooted at the level of macro-structural change. Its emphasis on such concepts as ‘political opportunity structure’, ‘resource mobilisation’ and ‘cultural framing’ promises to assist in explaining why Islamist groups in particular gain traction at a particular moment. However, social movement theory has thus far been deployed within Middle Eastern studies largely in a non-reflexive manner that assumes the completeness of this conceptual apparatus and simply applies it to the case of Islamism. Yet since it was developed almost wholly through studies of ‘new social movements’ in Europe and North America, scholars of Islamist movements are well placed to refine and reconfigure social movement theory into a less particularistic and more nuanced body of work. This paper will critique one aspect of social movement theory: the ‘framing perspective’ that, since the mid-1980s, has reoriented the field towards cultural and ideational dimensions of movements. It will argue that ‘framing’ presupposes an overly strategic and instrumental approach of movement actors, lacks any account of, and is, in fact, hostile to the notion of ideology and is therefore fundamentally deficient. Using as its central case study the Algerian Front islamique du salut (FIS), the paper will suggest that the ideological character of the FIS demonstrates that a shallow notion of ‘framing’ fails to explain some of the most critical ideological dynamics at play in Algeria in the late 1980s. In the context of the FIS’s oppositional relationship with the once-hegemonic Front de libération nationale, we find the Islamist movement casting itself both as the authentic possessor of the FLN’s inheritance and the wartime movement’s progeny. While reclaiming the ‘forgotten Islamic character’ of the nationalist movement, the FIS incorporates anti-colonial, nationalist and revolutionary ideological elements. Such observations support the idea of the fundamentally polycentric nature of political identities. Furthermore, the paper will argue that the deployment of a Gramscian understanding of hegemony, in accounting for the materiality of ideologies and identifying them as fields of genuine social struggle and through its understanding of how hegemonic ideas are articulated and rearticulated, offers a most illuminating understanding of Islamism that transcends the current limitations of social movement theory.

Paper presenter: Mojtaba Mahdavi (University of Alberta, Canada), “Post-Islamism: Are we there yet? A Comparative Study of Egypt, Turkey and Iran”
New theories of secularization suggest that public religion is a fact of modern life. The emergence of Islamism in the Muslim world is a case in point where modernization contributed to the rise and revival of religion in the modern public sphere. In this paper I suggest that Islamism and post-Islamism represent two distinct features of public religion. Post-Islamism points to the transformation of Islamism in its discourse and practice; it represents both a condition and a project embodied in a multi-dimensional movement. As a condition, it refers to a new socio-political condition where Islamism reinvents and revises its role in a changing socio-political sphere. As a project, it refers to a radical attempt to re-conceptualize and re-interpret Islamist intellectual, social and political discourses in acknowledging secular exigencies; it is a radical call for a critical dialogue between sacred and secular, tradition and modernity, religion and reason. Hence, post-Islamism, both as a condition and a project, is neither anti-Islamic nor un-Islamic; it is an analytical rather than an historical category (Bayat 2007). This paper examines the potential and possibilities of post-Islamism to transform socio-political and intellectual structure of Muslim societies. It investigates whether Muslim societies are on the verge of a post-Islamist turn. The paper examines/compares three forms of post-Islamism in three distinct Middle Eastern countries: Centre Party (Hezb-al Wasat) in Egypt, Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, and the current Green democratic movement in Iran. Three distinct forms of post-Islamism will be examined in terms of (a) their contribution to the rise of a grassroots/authentic democratic discourse; (b) how each discourse identifies the role, relevance and legitimacy of Islam in the public sphere; and (c) how each discourse contributes to a constructive and critical dialogue between sacred and secular, tradition and modernity, religion and reason. More specifically, the paper examines each discourse's potential to transform complex socio-political and intellectual structure of a Muslim country to the new area of post-Islamism.