Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Political Islam. Tariq Amin-Khan Versus Samir Amin, and Vica Versa.

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Eurocentric Demands?

I really cannot recommend reading this recent (March) exchange  of views too much. The American Monthly Reviewis far in advance of its British counterparts in giving a platform for serious debate about Political Islam. Unlike in the dominant UK  Islamophile left, Marxist opponents of this trend are given a central place.

 Tariq Amin-Khan makes a case (here) for ‘understanding’ Political Islam, based largely on a critique of a ‘clichés’ of ‘Islamophobia. That is, the left supporters of an ‘uncritical’ Enlightenment adopt, “the dominant narrative in Western societies of “the Muslim” as violent, as oppressor of women, and as a medieval aberration against modernity.” I observe in passing here that there isplenty of evidence that “medieval aberrations” exist in abundance in mvoements and states dominated by Political Islam, and this is simply a fact. Enlightenment values for all their complexity (etc)  are at their most universal when they oppose oppressions and violence. If Amin-Khan is saying that this is Eurocentric then he is seriously misguided. He might as well say that Train Time Tables are an imperialist Canon imposed on railways. The truth is that these standards work, or should work. And does he have anything better?  

Amin-Khan’s conclusion is that, “Similarly, the popular anti-imperialist sentiment in Muslim majority states should not be confused with the actions of militant Islamists, which are not anti-imperialist. Militant Islam is conceived and imagined in the present, current context. It is, therefore, a “modern” manifestation that posits its own version of the Islamic “welfare state” for the current conjuncture to rival the Western capitalist state and Enlightenment notions of modernity. Understanding militant Islam in its current context will only enable the development of a coherent strategy of opposition and an alternative non-Eurocentric vision of society.”

Samir Amin, (here) contests this. To me Amin-Khan’s most serious error is to think that the Islamic ‘welfare state’ is really about people’s well-being, and is in opposition to the capitalist one. Amin argues notably in support of secularism as a basic principle for the left,

” I am in favor of adopting the absolute principle of secularism, of separating politics and religion. Radical secularism is the condition for implementing a creative democracy, one which does not justify its progress by an interpretation from the past, religious or otherwise, which always acts as a conservative obstacle. Radical secularism is inseparable from the aspiration to liberate human beings and society. That is why radical secularism was proclaimed by all the great revolutions of modern times (the French, Russian and Chinese), which led to the best moments of democratic and social progress. Nevertheless, the progress of secularism was slow, governed by the rhythms of the advances of bourgeois modernity, the beginnings of socialist-inclined advances, which opened the way to go beyond this bourgeois modernity..”

And that, “The major fight, the one that defines the very nature of a progressive (and socialist, obviously) left, unfolds on the terrain of social struggles for the rights of workers (wages, working conditions, union rights, right to strike), peasants (access to land), women (radical reforms in personal status laws) and citizens (access to education, health and housing). Fighting in these areas is not “to substitute these struggles for the struggle against imperialism”. On the contrary, the anti-imperialist fight, which should not be reduced to rhetoric, becomes real and effective only insofar as it is led by the working classes strengthened by the conquest of their rights.

On this plane, the current regimes and the Islamist movements are fundamentally opponents of these social struggles. There is no need to recall the violence of the repressive means they use — together — with the approbation (or silence) of imperialist diplomacy.”

There are interesting discussions on development (Amin’s forte) and so-called Orientalism. The latter is a  rather hackneyed term these days. Globalisation’s effects on world culture, politics and society  erode  the meaning of a distinct so-called Other all the time. One notes with satisfaction that both authors are serious about their opposition to Islamism. Amin-Khan tends to give some credence to the claim that its rise is partly a deflected popular radicalism, running up against imperialism’s interests (that is, the US and Europe’s) That an Islamic ‘welfare state’ , its source of appeal,  is its objective. Clearly a capitalist  religious dictatorship would be a better description,  or a totalitarian theocracy. But the quality of the exchange is striking.

 I couldn’t help thinking of this when reading about the Algerian Presidental elections Le Monde yesterday. It illustrates the reaction that the Left should be confronting, without pandering to comforting illusions about Islamism.

As the voters turn out to ballot (without real legitimacy), Le Monde describes how much of Algerian society has become ultra-conservative.

In 2000, 27 % of the population favoured equality between the sexes, today only 16 % do so.  With the exception of Kabylie, this has affected the whole land. Only two out of ten Algerians favour women working. Seven out of ten back women wearing the Veil. Young people are barely more progressive than their elders.

One can explain this in many ways – effects of the Military repression and search for some kind of safe haven in religion. Or that poverty, precarity, and a huge level of unemployment drive people back to traditional certainties.

 But clearly Islamism, ideologically that is,  has played a dominant role. The Islamicisation of Algeria has indeed been backed by the Military-Presidential clique, le Pouvoir, and their bureaucratic-entrepreneur claque. Their ‘secularism’ does not mean free opinion and secular values (the article notes the increasing persecution of Algerian Christians for preaching in a Muslim lands. It simply signifies that this state  faction rules and not one from the Mosque. The have encouraged, a conservative moral atmosphere, and the authority of religion. Only the relentless Arabisation has met successful resistance, from the Kabyle speakers – who have retained a more popularly supported  progressive outlook.

What of these elections? The establishment candidate, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has won, and participation was higher than expected. But it is a hollow triumph. The Algerian ruling class has prepared the way for Political Islam to make a return to overt activity – with all the oppression and blood spilt, not least by the Islamicists, that implies. 

Shame on le Pouvoir!


Written by Andrew Coates

April 11, 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in Islam, Islamism, Marxism

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. The Lost: Atheist & Theist, Agnostic & Gnostic

    “Hear and hear, but do not understand;
    See and see, but do not perceive.”

    To break the restriction of a linear time sequence, the Lost need empirical data – uncorrupted, honest data. However, the Lost have filtered all their data with a scientific-religious presumption: a finite universe with a finite number of dimensions.

    The Lost do not understand, nor do they perceive their conflict with the Infinite Universe and Infinite number of dimensions…

    “…nothing can be added to it,
    nor anything taken from it…”

    Best Regards,

    Frank Hatch
    Initial Mass Displacements

    Frank Hatch

    May 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm

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