Enlarge Image. In this important and illuminating book, Bassam Tibi, a senior scholar of Islamic politics, provides a corrective to this dangerous gap in our understanding. He explores the true nature of contemporary Islamism and the essential ways in which it differs from the religious faith of Islam, founded in Contemporary Islamism, or Islamic fundamentalism, is distinct from - although an outgrowth of - traditional Islam, Tibi asserts. Drawing on research in twenty different Islamic countries over the course of three decades, he describes Islamism as a political ideology based on a reinvented version of Islamic law. In separate chapters devoted to the major features of Islamism, he discusses the Islamist vision of state order, the centrality of anti-Semitism in Islamist ideology, Islamism's incompatibility with democracy, the reinvention of jihadism as terrorism, the invented tradition of shari's law as constitutional order, and the Islamists' confusion of the concepts of authenticity and cultural purity.
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To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. In doing so, many of them argued that Islam was to blame for the attacks of September 11 and rejected the idea that Muslims could also have been victims on that fateful day.
At first glance, the views of these right-wing activists and those of Human Rights Watch appear diametrically opposed. In fact, they have a good deal in common. Most importantly, both consider Islam and Islamism to be indistinguishable.
Only on that basis can they consider the construction of an Islamic cultural center to be a threat, or regard opposition to an Islamist political party to be the same as opposition to Islam as a religion. Bassam Tibi takes up this problematic misconception in his new book.
As an Arab Muslim who has lived in the West for several decades first in Germany and now in the United States , he makes an important argument against conflating his religion with the political ideology of Islamists. Tibi is brave in that as a prominent Muslim critic of Islamism, religious fanatics have threatened to kill him a threat that likeminded extremists have carried out against others in the past. Tibi is successful in demonstrating that the Islamic tradition contains seeds which could form the basis of a modern humanistic Islam.
Tibi leans heavily on the theories of Hannah Arendt as well as more recent scholarship from historians such as Jeffery Herf to demonstrate that Islamism clearly shares an intellectual heritage with European totalitarian movements of the last century.
In the twentieth century, Islamists borrowed many of these concepts from totalitarian movements in Europe and then Islamized them. Following Arendt, Tibi also links totalitarian tendencies with anti-Semitism, and he includes a long and useful discussion of how many Islamists have appropriated the worst of European views toward Jews. At a time when Islamists are vying for power in several Middle Eastern states, this discussion is incredibly important, but unfortunately all too rare in Western academic circles.
Most importantly, he fails to recognize any distinction between the vast array of Islamist organizations. But if it is not the actions of Islamists that one should use to judge them, then surely it is their words? Not for Tibi. Tibi offers no way out of this puzzle.
Nor does he distinguish between intellectuals such as Tariq Ramadan and the Taliban. To be clear, Tariq Ramadan is certainly a problematic figure. In the pages of this magazine and then in his book, Flight of the Intellectuals , Paul Berman has clearly demonstrated that Ramadan engages in doublespeak on liberalism and fails to condemn abhorrent acts.
Similarly, the AKP has shown troubling authoritarian tendencies and has opened space for anti-Semitism in Turkey. Women are not beaten for immodesty on the streets Istanbul as they were in Kabul, and the AKP has not called for anything even remotely resembling Taliban-style rule. The difference between various Islamists is not, as Tibi would have it, simply a debate on the means to achieve a shared goal. The goal itself is very different. Yet most Islamists have not attempted to do so, and they generally employ them to avoid the messy business of suggesting concrete policies or defining their ideology.
This is not the case. Constitution are the embodiment of Islamic values and the Sharia. Rauf may be significantly more liberal than Ramadan or the AKP, but his example makes clear that using the same terms does not equate to shared policies or even shared ideology.
This is as true in the language of Islamism as it is in other political language. It also leads to bad analysis and forces him to bend facts.
They broke off to form their own significantly more liberal, though far less popular party. This was not a debate over the means for achieving an Islamic state.
Both the Brotherhood and the Wasat Party favored elections, not violence. They disagreed over what the Islamic state would be. What else is the reader to infer about his depiction of a totalitarian movement that he equates to Nazism and Stalinism; a movement which he claims is by its nature incapable of reform or moderation, and with which engagement is impossible? He never says it, but the only future one could resonably imagine is drenched in violent confrontation.
That conclusion is neither favorable nor necessary. Thankfully, Islamists have shown that they can and do moderate themselves though the unfortunate flipside of this is that they can also become more extreme. Those who have demonstrated this propensity, and have eschewed violence, can and should be engaged on all levels. The alternative can only lead to perpetual conflict and will not empower the more liberal and humanistic Islam that Tibi espouses.
Nor will it ease the Western suspicions and Islamophobia that he correctly condemns. Samuel Helfont is a Ph. Read More: Books , Religion , Politics.
Islamism and Islam
Learn more about the actions Yale University Press is taking. In this important and illuminating book, Bassam Tibi, a senior scholar of Islamic politics, provides a corrective to this dangerous gap in our understanding. He explores the true nature of contemporary Islamism and the essential ways in which it differs from the religious faith of Islam. Drawing on research in twenty Islamic countries over three decades, Tibi describes Islamism as a political ideology based on a reinvented version of Islamic law. In separate chapters devoted to the major features of Islamism, he discusses the Islamist vision of state order, the centrality of antisemitism in Islamist ideology, Islamism's incompatibility with democracy, the reinvention of jihadism as terrorism, the invented tradition of shari'a law as constitutional order, and the Islamists' confusion of the concepts of authenticity and cultural purity. Tibi's concluding chapter applies elements of Hannah Arendt's theory to identify Islamism as a totalitarian ideology. White Professor-at-Large, Cornell University.
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