Islamists on the Demise of Islamism

From the Hudson Institute, a very long but very worthy survey of Islamist reflection on current events in Egypt and the fall of Morsi. In addition, it translates in full three current articles on the subject by leading non-Egyptian Islamists, and here is an excerpt from Tunisia’s Rashid al-Ghannouchi:

What is called “political Islam” is not in a state of decline. Rather it is in the process of correcting its mistakes and preparing for a new phase, which is not far away, of the practice of better governance. It does not need decades to recover larger opportunities that await it in the time of open-source media spaces, and in the face of coup projects which nakedly lack any moral, civilizational or political cover.

They (Islamists) are deeply rooted movements in their societies carrying the values of peaceful democratic revolution and the values of communalism as a substitute for individuality in a successful marriage of the values of Islam and the values of modernity.

Two thoughts: First, as the Muslim Brotherhood was scrambling to after the fall of Morsi but before the full scale crackdown witnessed now, many Brothers admitted vaguely that their movement had ‘made mistakes‘. But this seemed less an admission as a plea for allies, and was rejected wholescale by the revolutionary forces who believed the Brotherhood betrayed them.

Above, Ghannouchi argues that this current trial is producing the reflection necessary to achieve better governance, chief of which is a spirit of inclusion. Perhaps he speaks confidently because of Tunisia’s experience, in which Islamists engaged in political give-and-take to produce a consensual constitution which falls short of Islamist hopes.

But if Egyptian Islamists are engaged in this reflection it is not demonstrated in the public discourse of Brotherhood leadership, mostly abroad. Instead the focus is on a full return of Morsi’s legitimacy and a prosecution of all involved in the ‘coup’. Perhaps this is popular rhetoric from which they can retreat at the moment of success, but it continues the problem from which their movement suffers: doublespeak.

For at the same time Muslim Brothers are reaching out to other revolutionary movements uncomfortable with the behavior of the army. They might find among them allies, but having had full opportunity to be inclusive, choosing instead to discard them at the moment of success, why should these groups trust them again? Now under pressure, have they really reformed? Especially when faced with Ghannouchi’s vision, stated in a 2009 article also translated by the author:

Nothing can stop the advance of Islamism:

which makes the task of empowering it a matter of time and standing in its way is pure stubbornness to the ways of history and society… attempting to stop it only results in more extremism and explosion. Islamism is not limited to a party or a group, the Islamic project is broader than being reduced to a party or a governance program, governance is merely a part of its project, and is not the greater part or the most important.

Would-be allies are invited to participate in the governance of the state, but only in light of the inevitability of full, Islamist triumph. It is not simply a matter of ‘why trust them again’. The Islamist goal, as articulated by Ghannouchi, is one of ideological domination. Within this vision is good governance and general morality, yes, but not ultimate plurality. If other revolutionary groups have a different vision, why should they enable?

Second, I wonder if Ghannouchi’s vision is anachronistic. He claims in the first quote above that political Islam is the union of Islam and modernity, but does he seek to inherit something that no longer exists? Western analysts say that civilization is now in post-modernity. Perhaps they are wrong and even defining the difference is beyond the scope of this reflection.

But have Islamists struggled a century to achieve a goal that is now but a vapor? If modernity was the effort to ideologically define the rapid industrial, educational, and technological advances of mankind – leaving many behind – post-modernity is an admission of this ideological failure. Islamists might say, ‘Wait, you haven’t tried us yet,’ but is the world willing to experiment? Or rather, by asserting a single ideology, worse, wrapped in religion, are they flailing against a general rejection of grand claims? Plurality, especially in the West, is the non-ideology of the day.

Can Islamism speak to this, or is it hopelessly behind the times? These are questions only, but Ghannouchi prompts them. Do even his hopeful answers miss the mark?

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