Fundamentalist Islam

Powerful Essays
The key issue in the Middle East, increasingly, has less to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict and more to do with fundamentalist Islam. What is fundamentalist Islam? On the one hand, it manifests itself as a new religious conviction, reaffirming faith in an awe-inspiring God. On the other hand, it appears as a militant ideology, demanding political action now. One day its spokesmen call for a jihad (sacred war) against the West, evoking the deepest historic resentments. Another day, its leaders appeal for reconciliation with the West, emphasizing shared values. Its economic theorists reject capitalist greed in the name of social justice, yet they rise to the defense of private property. Its moralists pour scorn on Western consumer culture as debilitating to Islam, yet its strategists avidly seek to buy the West’s latest technologies in order to strengthen Islam.
Faced with these apparent contradictions, many analysts in the West have decided that fundamentalism defies all generalization. Instead they have tried to center discussion on its supposed “diversity.” For this purpose, they seek to establish systems of classification by which to sort out fundamentalist movements and leaders. The basic classification appears in much different terminological appearance, in gradations of subtlety.
“We need to be careful of that emotive label, `fundamentalism’, and distinguish, as Muslims do, between revivalists, who choose to take the practice of their religion most devoutly, and fanatics or extremists, who use this devotion for political ends.” [1]
Fundamentalist Islam remains an enigma precisely because it has baffled all attempts to divide it into tidy categories. “Revivalist” becomes “extremist” (and vice versa) with such rapidity and frequency, that the actual classification of any movement or leader has little prognostic power. They will not stay put. This is because fundamentalist Muslims, for all their “diversity,” orbit around one dense idea. The West thus sees movements and individuals swing within reach, only to swing out again and cycle right through every classification.
The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion, the religion of God, and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power h...

... middle of paper ...

... as men of theory are thrust aside by new military potentates, hungry for Islamic legitimacy.
It is impossible to predict the future fortunes of Islamism. Of its many outcomes, only one seems absolutely certain. Islamism may fail at a great cost with its adherents gradually becoming its victims.

1. H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, Islam and the West: a lecture given in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford on 27 October 1993 (Oxford: Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 1993), p. 16.
2. Nazih Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World (London: Routledge, 1991).
3. Abdelwahhab El-Affendi, Who Needs an Islamic State? (London: Grey Seal, 1991), p. 87.
4. Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, trans. Hamid Algar (Berkeley, Calif.: Mizan Press, 1981), p. 59.
5. Rudi Matthee, “The Egyptian Opposition on the Iranian Revolution,” in Juan R. I. Cole and Nikki R. Keddie, eds., Shi’ism and Social Protest (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 263.
Get Access