[Marxism] Samir Amin on political Islam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 27 12:13:02 MST 2006

Political Islam

Samir Amin shines much needed light on a dimly understood phenomenon

by Samir Amin

What is the nature and function, in the 
contemporary Muslim world, of the political 
movements claiming to be the one true Islamic 
faith? These movements are commonly designated 
“Islamic fundamentalism” in the West, but I 
prefer the phrase used in the Arab world: 
“Political Islam.” We do not have religious 
movements, per se, here – the various groups are 
all quite close to one another – but something 
much more banal: political organizations whose 
aim is the conquest of state power, nothing more, 
nothing less. Wrapping such organizations in the 
flag of Islam is simple, straightforward opportunism.

Political Islam is the adversary of liberation 
theology. It advocates submission, not emancipation.

Modern Political Islam was invented by the 
orientalists serving British colonialism in India 
and was adopted intact by Mawdudi of Pakistan. It 
consisted mainly in “proving” that Muslim 
believers may only live under the rule of an 
Islamic State – anticipating the partition of 
India – because Islam cannot permit separation of 
Church and State. The orientalists conveniently 
forgot that the English of the 13th Century held 
precisely such ideas about Christianity.

Merciless Adversary of Liberation

Political Islam is not interested in the religion 
which it invokes, and does not propose any 
theological or social critique. It is not a 
“liberation theology” analogous to what has 
happened in Latin America. Political Islam is the 
adversary of liberation theology. It advocates 
submission, not emancipation. Mahmoud Taha of 
Sudan was the only Islamic intellectual who 
attempted to emphasize the element of 
emancipation in his interpretation of Islam. 
Condemned to death by the authorities of Khartoum 
for his ideas, Taha's execution was not protested 
by any Islamic group, “radical” or “moderate.” 
Nor was he defended by any of the intellectuals 
identifying themselves with “Islamic Renaissance” 
or even by those merely willing to “dialogue” 
with such movements. It was not even reported in the Western media.

The heralds of “Islamic Renaissance” are not 
interested in theology and they never refer to 
classic theological texts. For such thinkers, an 
Islamic community is defined by inheritance, like 
ethnicity, rather than by a strong and intimate 
personal conviction. It is a question of 
asserting a “collective identity” and nothing 
more. That is why the phrase “Political Islam” is 
the appropriate designation for such movements.

Saudi Arabia is a country without a constitution, 
whose rules claim that the Qur'an is a 
satisfactory substitute. In actual practice, the 
House of Saud has the power of an absolute monarchy or tribal chiefdom.

Of Islam, Political Islam retains only the shared 
habits of contemporary Muslim life – notably 
rituals for which it demands absolute respect. At 
the same time, it demands a complete cultural 
return to public and private rules which were 
practiced two centuries ago in the Ottoman 
Empire, in Iran and in Central Asia, by the 
powers of that time. Political Islam believes, or 
pretends to believe, that these rules are those 
of the “real Islam,” the Islam of the age of the 
Prophet. But this is not important. Certainly 
Islam permits this interpretation as legitimation 
for the exercise of power, as it has been used 
from Islam's origin to modern times.

In this sense Islam is not original. Christianity 
has done the same to sustain the structures of 
political and social power in pre-modern Europe, 
for example. Anyone with a minimum of awareness 
and critical sense recognizes that behind 
legitimizing discourse stand real social systems, 
with real histories. Political Islam is not 
interested in this. It does not propose any 
analysis or critique of these systems. 
Contemporary Islam is only an ideology based on 
the past, an ideology which proposes a pure and 
simple return to the past, and more precisely, to 
the period immediately preceding the submission 
of the Muslim world to the expansion of 
capitalism and Western imperialism. That 
religions – Islam, Christianity, and others – are 
thus interpreted in a reactionary, obscurantist 
way, does not exclude other interpretations, 
reformist or even revolutionary. Not only is the 
return to the past not desirable (nor actually 
desired by the peoples in whose name Political 
Islam pretends to be speaking); it is, quite 
simply, impossible. That is why the movements 
which constitute Political Islam refuse to offer 
a precise program, contrary to what is customary 
in political life. For its answer to concrete 
questions of social and economic life, Political 
Islam repeats the empty slogan: Islam is the 
solution. When pushed to the wall, the spokesmen 
for Political Islam never fail to choose an 
answer harmonious with liberal capitalism, as 
when the Egyptian parliament grants absolute 
freedom of maneuver to landowners and nothing 
whatsoever to the peasant farmers who work their 
land. In their unhappy effort to produce an 
“Islamic Political Economy,” the authors of 
manuals on the subject (financed by Saudi Arabia) 
have only succeeded in applying a coat of 
religious whitewash to the most banal tenets of American liberalism.

A Turbaned Dictatorship In Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran proves the general 
rule, despite the confusions that contributed to 
its success: rapid development of the Islamist 
movement in parallel with the secular, socialist 
struggle waged against the socially reactionary 
U.S.-aligned dictatorship of the Shah. Following 
the Shah's overthrow, the extremely eccentric 
behavior of the Mullahs was offset by their 
anti-imperialist positions, from which they 
derived a powerful popular legitimacy which 
echoed well beyond the borders of Iran. Gradually 
the regime showed that it was incapable of 
providing the leadership required to stimulate 
vigorous and innovative socioeconomic 
development. The turbaned dictatorship of the men 
of religion, who took over from that of the 
“Caps” (military and technocrats), resulted in a 
fantastic degradation of the country's economic 
machinery. Iran which boasted about “doing the 
same as S. Korea,” now ranks among the group of “Fourth World” countries.

full: http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/PoliticalIslam.html

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