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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War
Benjamin Geer on Wed, 23 Aug 2006 02:40:11 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War

On 22/08/06, Alex Foti <alex.foti {AT} gmail.com> wrote:

> But only if we
> construct a sufficiently shared narrative on the parable of capitalism
> and communism in the 20th century, and especially on the exhaustion of
> neoliberalism at end of the century, can we create the bases for that
> new radical, secular, cosmopolitan, ecological, transethnic,
> multigendered culture that can give new thrust to movements, fight war
> and rebuild the world.

Napoleon attempted unsuccessfully to export his version of the
Enlightenment to the Middle East via his invasion of Egypt in 1798:

"The revolutionary modernity expressed by [Napoleon's] Egyptian
expedition was completely rejected by the Muslim world, which saw it
above all as a militant atheism, hostile to all religions."[1]

During the 19th century, Muslim intellectuals nevertheless
appropriated Enlightenment thought and integrated it with Islamic
thought, both in order to understand how their societies could catch
up with Europe in terms of industry, military achievements and
standard of living, and to understand how they could resist being
dominated by Europe.[2]

Correspondences between European and Islamic thought became
commonplace.  The Islamic concept of "shura" (consultation) was
identified with democracy.[3]  Ottoman constitutionalist reforms,
though based on European ideas, were justified in terms of Islamic
law. A belief in the progressive character of ethnic nationalism was a
key aspect of European political ideology, and European states went to
great lengths to introduce and promote this concept in the Ottoman
empire and to help emergent nationalisms gain political independence.
This was also of course a means of increasing European influence in
the region.[4]

In the first half of the 20th century, Europe was widely seen as
applying a double standard: proclaiming the universality of
Enlightenment ideas such as self-rule, but not allowing its colonies
to enjoy the benefits of those ideas.  Independence movements were
aimed mainly at eliminating this double standard in order to establish
independent European-style liberal democracies.  After formal
independence was attained, however, it became clear that economic
independence was much more difficult to achieve.  Socialist ideas,
another product of European humanism, gained some influence in the
Middle East (particularly Lenin's account of imperialism), and some
states developed ties with the Soviet Union, or took advantage of
rivalries between the US and the USSR in order to increase their
political autonomy, while nationalising their industries and adopting
a policy of import substitution.  However, import substitution turned
out to be unsustainable,[5] and dependence on Soviet protection turned
out to be another form of foreign domination.[6]

Meanwhile, the masses welcomed the benefits of modern technology, but
remained attached to their traditional Islamic culture, which seemed
to be sidelined, deprived of its central role in regulating society,
its place taken by a Western liberalism that brought painful economic
upheavals and continued Western domination.  Islamist movements gained
popularity by arguing that both capitalism and socialism had failed in
the Middle East, and that the only way to gain true independence was
to revive the original, true values of Islam, in order to create a new
form of modernity.[7]  That dream is alive and well, as the popularity
of Hizballah demonstrates.

At the moment, it seems unlikely to me that any secular movement can
gain widespread popular support in the Middle East.  The ideologies
that currently seem most likely to rebuild this part of the world are
Islamist ones.  If you want to create a new global political culture,
I suggest thinking seriously about the role Islam could play in that


[1] Henry Laurens, _L'Orient Arabe: Arabisme et islamisme de 1798 a
1945_ (Paris: Armand Colin, 2004), pp. 40-45.

[2] Albert Hourani, _Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939_
(Cambridge University Press, 1983).

[3] Maxime Rodinson, "Rapports entre Islam et communisme", in
_Marxisme et monde musulman_ (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1972), pp.

[4] Henry Laurens, op. cit.

[5] Henry Laurens, _Paix et guerre au Moyen-Orient: L'orient arabe et
le monde de 1945 a nos jours, second =E9dition (Paris: Armand Colin,
2005) pp. 206-207.

[6] Maxime Rodinson's article "Les probl=E8mes des partis communistes en
Syrie et en Egypte", in _Marxisme et monde musulman_ (pp. 412-449)
contains many interesting observations on the relationships that
developed between the Kremlin and its clients in the Middle East, and
between Marxist and Islamic ideologies.

[7] Fran=E7ois Burgat, _L'Islamisme en face_.  Paris, La D=E9couverte 2002.

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