Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fundamentalist democracy vs. Islamism

Mezri Haddad, a professor of Political Science in France, pens an OP-ED for Le Monde, questioning the President's Middle East Initiative. Haddad claims that the Islamists are exploiting "democracy" for their own ends, playing Dubya for a fool.

Haddad criticizes the neocons for their appalling naiveté in their rapports with Islamists and looks askance the President's Greater Middle East Initiative, which in its wishful thinking, ignores the hard historical, cultural and religious facts on the ground. Haddad is barely able to stifle his bitterness as the neocons, following their misadventures with Shi'ism in Iraq, find themselves in the trap of their own making with Hamas.

I don't know much about Haddad, but I assume he is originally Lebanese. He has penned opinion pieces before with Antoine Sfeir, who bears the surname of Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, so you can guess the perspective. But Haddad's analysis is worthwhile.

Islamism and Democracy: Who is dissolving whom?

The “democratic” elections which brought the Islamist movement, Hamas, to power in a state that is both real and virtual has created a previously unseen situation and one among the most monstrous: how will United States, Europe and Israel collaborate with a movement which has been put on the list of terrorist organizations? And beyond the local dilemma —probably surmountable with a declaration of principle or two from Hamas— how are the US neoconservatives going to wriggle out of yet another major dilemma borne along by the Greater Middle East Initiative: to force Muslim Arab states to democratize while avoiding tipping them into the nightmarish universe of Hamas green totalitarianism. In other words, should “democratic fundamentalism” —to use an expression found in the work of Garcia Marquez —continue now that we now that Islamist fundamentalism is the sole beneficiary?

Whether it is in Iran, where “democratic” elections propelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency of the Republic, or in Iraq, in Egypt, in Pakistan, in Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, in today's Palestine or, which we are apt to forget, in Turkey, we are witnessing the spectacular return of Islamism. The groundswell is confirmed with every election. Because we have difficulty in comprehending the phenomenon as it truly is, we have fallen into the habit of varnishing this complex reality with concepts drawn from Western political sociology: a vote of sanction, a protest vote, centrist Islamism, moderate Islamists opposing radical Islamists…. This veneer of exogenous concepts may alter one’s analysis and dissimulate the real stakes buried in the wave of Islamism.

It should be recalled at the outset that the Islamist phenomenon is not at all recent but continuous and gradual. Contrary to the leitmotif, Islamism was not born in 1928 with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt –a movement which attempted to galvanize the feeling of resentment among Muslims after the abolition (1924) of the caliphate of Mustafa Kemal. Its origins stem from Arabia, the cradle of Islam…and Islamism. In modern history, the Saudi kingdom is the first incarnation of a state founded on political Islam. It is the first model of Sunni theocracy which will enthrall Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. One has to wait until 1979 when, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, we are able to witness firsthand the birth of the second theocracy, this time Shiite. Since that date, Islamism, principally inspired by the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood and financed in turn by Saudi Arabia and Iran, hasn’t faltered in scoring points against the nationalist states –the heirs of colonialism– which it accuses of apostasy.

There exists a fundamental ideological and political divergence between Islamism and Arab nationalism. Recall that Sayed Qutb, the successor to Hassan al-Banna at the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, was condemned to death by Nasser and hanged on August 26, 1966. This execution engendered the hate of the Islamists towards pan-Arabism in general and to Nasserism in particular. The assassins of Anwar Sadat in October 1981 avowed that they sought revenge for the death of their “first martyr”, Sayed Qutb. The hatred is reinforced by betrayal: prior to 1952, Sadat was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser had been a fervent sympathizer.

The electoral contest which just took place in Palestine between Hamas and Fattah is part of the continuity of the old political and ideological struggle played out between the pan-Islamists and the pan-Arabists. But it was an uneven contest between those who had become “resisters” and those who had become “collaborators”. Deprived of its charismatic leader, Yassir Arafat, and having received next to nothing from the Israelis, Fattah officials could not have won the elections. In addition to the sympathetic capital earned from the wide social network woven first with the help of money from the Saudis and then from the Iranians, the Palestinian Islamists benefit from “Koranic legitimacy” and the “legitimacy of martyrdom”. Crime pays. The numerous terrorist actions targeting Israeli citizens were not in vain. That is the lesson which Fattah activists will not easily forget.

We often hear it repeated that Islamism is fed by economic misery and by political exclusion. This may be, but its inexhaustible reservoir remains the holistic and hegemonic culture which stirs Allah into all sauces and reduces the Koran to a political manifesto. It is by a return to its “sources” and by its prophetic teachings that Islam rediscovers its lost golden age, as taught by Ibn Abdelwahab [a fundamentalist preacher in 18th century Arabia who is the inspiration behind Wahhabism], Hassa al-Banna, Sayed Qutb and Khomeini. It is from this kind of mythology, shared by the majority of Muslims, that the Islamists were able to construct their messianic ideology.

In a democratic contest, no political discourse, no matter how humanist, progressive or emancipating, can rival this kind of well-worn but extremely mobilizing rhetoric. It is on the rubbish pile of ignorance that Islamism thrives. For this ideology, democracy is not global system of universal and immutable values. It is an instrument, a short-term means in the service of a speculative end: the installation of a medieval theocracy. With this in mind, the question is not to know if Islamism can blend with democracy or if Islamism is compatible with secularism: the question is to know if democracy is a saving vaccine or a fatal poison for profoundly heterogenic societies completely in the thrall of fundamentalist religious zealots.

When one is ripe for Islamism, can one also be ripe for democracy? The answer is important to neoconservatives, assuming they wish to resolve this great dilemma: how to democratize the Arab world while preventing it from landing in the lap of the Islamists.


Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Nur mia,

Mezri Haddad isn’t Lebanese: he’s kind of a center-right pro-Israeli Tunisian philosopher of sorts…

As for the “Sfeir” family name, I’m afraid it’s as common amongst Lebanese Christians as say Johnson in New England.

Antoine Sfeir is just another middle-brow Maronite journalist who likes to thinks he’s an expert in Middle-Eastern geopolitics whatever that means…

Anyhoo, all that to say it’s not the kind of article I’d bother reading!

1:34 PM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

I'm afraid he's right Nur. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I wouldn't read what they say- Far from it but I'd take anything from either of those gentlemen with a large bag of salt beside me.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Nur said...

Okay, so I'm fair and balanced :)

I have a good one for tomorrow though: how Israel funded Hamas against the secular Palestinian leaders.

Nur (not at home)

11:34 PM  
Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

"Nur (not at home)"

Hmmm...I see we've been sleeping out!


1:36 AM  
Blogger Pocho said...

If Allah wills it. Or, as we say in Mexico, "Ni modo".

3:50 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

"Okay, so I'm fair and balanced :) "

Damnit don't do that to me a soothing cup of tea is very from from soothing when a portion of its contents are shooting down your nose :-)

4:16 AM  

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