notes on Islam

Shane Hopkinson s.hopkinson at cqu.edu.au
Sat Sep 13 22:59:19 MDT 2003


Hi All

I thought these notes were a useful set of observations. I only have time for brief comments but if anyone want sto take it further then I'll respond.

My litle knowledge of the role of Islam comes via the Algerian revolution. Fanon has an interesting essay on the veil drawn from the experience of women in Algeria and how the meaning of the veil changed in the process of the struggle, which I traced to recent times. Woman activists discarded the veil and were seen by the French as "one for their side" a liberated (therefore French) woman (same pattern as today as the military occupiers (and their wives particularly) made a great show of liberating women from the veil. Later the French realised this and activist women re-donned the veil as a way of hiding weapons (and were seen by the French as 'traditional' and therefore no threat). In any event women effected a change in what wearing the veil meant and that should be the focus - it about empowerment not about deciding in advance what "we" should do. 

Good to see some attempt to locate Islamic Fundamentalism in a modern context as a modern phenomena not some medieval throwback come to haunt us. I understand the DSP is working on a document covering some of the history of "political islam' which I think is a term to be preferred to 'fundamentalism'.

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>Tariq Ali speaks for many when he writes: "The reality of women in Islam is
>a pre-fabricated destiny. Here the Koran is unambiguous." But is it? ...

I would emphasise more about how religion is part of the ideological struggle - there are competing interpretations/translations. I tend to approach the issue of radicalising people by encouraging them to take their own views seriously (rather than adopting mine) so rather than converting Christians to socialism - though I have done that on occasion - I'd rather convince them they should be Christian revolutionaries like Jesus. Of course Jesus wasn't strictly speaking a revolutionary - the challenge is to take the exisiting interpretations and challenge them in a way that draws people into action as in liberation theology. I am sure such currents and possibilities exist in Islam -as in competing interpretations of the particular verse about women and the veil. I have read similar things about polygamy - that it is only OK if you can treat all your wives equally and since that is impossible so..., or because the Prophet did it doesn't mean all men should. Its not about the words so much as the competing social forces - I'm sure Tom's aware of that but it could be spelled out in the notes better.

***

>Everyone knows Marx called religion the "opium of the people". Some
>Marxists also know that in his day opium was seen not so much as a vehicle
>of pleasant illusions but as a way to relieve suffering. I suspect few have
>really thought about the whole passage below. Here it is (slightly
>abridged), with key words bolded and my comments in italic...

Amazing - if people have read the whole section then they should do so immediately! Marx had little time for the abstraction of being an 'athiest', asserting your non belief in a deity as some sort of defining element. The image of people who want to "pluck the flowers from the chain" while Marx wanted to break the chain and the 'flowers' can look after themselves, is, for me, well, almost what defines Marxism from bourgeois critique. Tom gives a good outline of the idea of the critique of religion being the premise of all criticism - though I wonder if he's gone far enough.

In general terms I am less comfortable with Tom's exhorting us to be "uncompromising materialists" and "opponents of religion" while there is a certain sense in which this is true we have to be careful. Materialism (and science) are not merely the opposites of idealism (and religion) they are social products and fighting over them is part of the ideological struggle. Science can be used to promote tyranny and justify inequality as much as religion. What we are looking for, as I read the 'Theses on Feuerbach' is not to force a false choice between and value-laden (ie ideological) religion and a 'value free' science (which are same mirror images proposed by Fundamentalism) - its not about the suppression of one or the other but the dialectical realisation of both. 

Cheers

Shane




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