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Relgions, Politics, and Social Order in the Middle East

Relgions, Politics, and Social Order in the Middle East -...

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Unformatted text preview: 148 Religion and Global Order from the time when the Catholic pope became the voice of the voiceless in a struggle for human freedom. A simple appeal for no divorce, no contraception and no abortion is a long way from the vastly more visionary presentation of the Christian challenge to an ‘ atheist Communist society. It would be a tragedy if the hopes for Eastern Europe turned to ashes, and if the dream of a renewed e buried in nostalgia for a past and very different 7 Religion and the political and ° in the Middle East 306ml order society were to b civilization. Christianity in Eastern Europe may be being offered I SIMON MURDEN one brief window of opportunity for significant revival. If this chance is not taken new processes of secularization and political division may well destroy the dream of a new beginning. Notes Introduction East Germany and the Baltic States is indebted edited with V. Arzenukhin,' g f 3 ki, Gottfried ”= My discussion of Poland, to contributions prepared for my book co— Religion and Change in Eastern Europe, by Anton Pospieszals Kretzschmar and Marite Sapiets respectively. The . . . . . greatAn/IltirdlehEast 18 fhe historlc birthplace of the world’s three 0 elstic re igions and Judai C ' ' ' have long had a d . I I , sm, hristianity and Islam efinitive influence on ' I I I the construct f ' ~ Identities, the nature of ' ' Ion o SOClal _ politics and the battle—1' ' ' the region ISIam ha mes of conflict in _ . s been the most im or ' ' ' I tant reli 10 fl — ence. The expansron of A ' " ' p g us m u rab c1v1112ation in th hem d ‘ . e seventh centur L fthl ed an era of Islamic empires that lasted until the abolitioii o F e Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. ‘or ' ' _ states 21:11am two centuries, the dominant issue for the Muslim soc1eties of the Middle E t has b h ' European and Am I as een t e rise of erican hegemony in the ‘ ' and I mternanonal s stem tV‘lerrfilghmodel of tfirogress that the West brought Duriiig the century, e Middle East w i . ’ i as overtaken b d ‘ tion..Pioneered 1n Eur ' y me ermza— 0pc, modernization comb‘ ' ' an I ' ' med an industrial _ d technological revolution w1th a philosophical, political and 1 Owen Chadwick, The Christian Church in the Cold W/ar (Harmonds- _ worth, Penguin, 1992), 207. 2 Owen Chadwick, A History of Christianity (London, Nicolson, 1995), 258. 3 Pope John Paul II, Crossing Cape, 1994), 132. _ 4Michael Bourdeaux, The Role of Religion in the Fall of Soviet Communism (London, Centre for Policy Studies, 1992). 5Anton Pospieszalski, ‘The Catholic Church in Poland 1945—89’, in Paul Badham and V. Arzenukhin, Religion and Change in Eastern Europe (Basingstoke, Macmillan, 2000). i 6 GeorgeWeigel, The Final Revolution (Oxford, 0 Weidenfeld & ’ - the Threshold of Hope (London, Jonathan xford University Press, ‘ 1992), 149. ' 7173esmond O’ Grady, The Turned Card (Leominster, Gracewing, 1995):, ' ‘i figfiirrigmtion' one Of the mOSt important manifesmtions 0f . , m was secularism‘ the exclus' ' ' . ' L . i . . 1011 of reli 10 ' 2&7: liggjlumn’ 135. .Ergamzations from posnions of political and sociagl aiiihlgrtitaz‘s Trhd 1 I, I . uropean model of mode ' y. 6 Moscow, 21—23 November ‘ rnity produced the secular territorial State, and the relocation ‘ ' . _ of ultimate oliti ' ' ‘ dwme to the human“ p cal legitimacy from the , M . . am :Oieit231zation has had an enormous impact on Middle East— East can bles, but as the twenty—first century dawns, the Middle aSSOCiat de seen to be confounding a number of the expectations I, 6 With the process of modernization. The power of ‘ ‘0 Conference on Religion and Culture, _ 1991, Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences. My - paper was published as ‘The relationship between faith and reason’, Faith and Freedom (April 1992), 3—7. ‘1 Bourdeaux, Role of Religion, 21. ‘2 ‘The right to believe’, Keston Newsletter (October—December 1996). 150 Religion and Global Order religion to shape beliefs and behaviour has not been swept away de of secularism. Religious doctrines and organizations continue to play a major role in constructing social and political identities, and in creating boundaries of belonging and exclusion.T0day, the stability of Middle Eastern politics and society is inextricably linked to religion. by some irresistible ti Religion and the political and social order in the Middle East 151 uplift. their minority Islamic sect in the face of the tradit‘ l Sunni establishment. The emerging state system in the East also met the ‘solidarity group’ in the form of Zionist Je e The founders of the Israeli state were nationalists and socialirf: ‘ but they were inextricably rooted in Jewish culture, and the whole Z. . . . . ionist prOJCCt was justified by reference to an ancient religious claim to the Land of Israel. Religion and the state system in the Middle East The crisis of modernization in the Middle East The final demise of the Ottoman empire in the First World War put an end to the reality of an Islamic government ruling over a multi—ethnic union of Muslim peoples. Britain and France went on to'preside over the construction of a new system of territorial states in the Middle East that included the creation of Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. The new state system was the setting for a ' future that pointed away from religion, and towards nationalism L and secularism. Turkish, Iranian and Arab nationalisms became the dominant political ideas for new state—based elites that tended to believe that Islamic culture was at the root of backwardness and decline.The model of a nationalist élite aspiring to essentially Western forms of culture and organization emerged in the Turkey of Mustafa Kemal, in the Iran of Reza Pahlavi and in the Arab world. Arab nationalism was never quite so hostile to Islam as Turkish or Iranian nationalisms, but Gamal Abdul Nasser’s regime in Egypt after 1952, and the Ba’ath party regimes in Syria and Iraq represented solidly nationalist and socialist experiments in modernization. Modernity and sec Middle Eastern countries, disappeared. In the less deve Islamic—centred culture remaine Saudi Kingdom in the 19203 was supporte Notw1thstanding the undercurrents of religion and solidari groups,-the idea of modernity represented the political mairti}: stream in many Middle Eastern countries. By the late 19608 however, the whole process of modernization was in crisis d Middle Eastern societies were on the verge of a major sea cli an in attitudes. The shattering Arab defeat in the Six Da Waring: 1967 acted as a catalyst for the deeper crisis. Many Ailabs Ihod responded to pan—Arab nationalism, but the repeated failure :f 11351631212131) t:tages that propagated it meant that its prestige faded e aca e o secular ideolo ies wa ' . Robert Springborg observed, a ‘mosaic’ of msdr:sd:::l;8iri31iiii:n:i religious, ethnic and linguistic identities.l Above all Islagm hed remained a key component in the identity of many Middle Easterners, and the most widely acCepted reference point f political and social legitimacy. The waning of Arab nationali or opened the way for one of the great phenomena of the twe 'Sirh1 century: the Islamic revival of the 19703. mm The crisis of modernization in the Middle East was rooted ' the strains of the development process, and in the failure 111f I secular states to develop stable forms of political legitimac Tl: Middle Eastern state was bureaucratic and ineffective andystat 6 led development projects did not live up to expectaiions. EC: ularism penetrated the politics of key _ but the influence of religion far from loped parts of the Arab world, (1 powerful.The expansion of the d by a puritanical Islam, and the Islamic state that was formed enforced a rigorous interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Meanwhile, even in the more modern parts of the Middle East, politics was closely associated with sectarian divisions between religious and cultural solidarity groups. In Iraq, Sunni Arab clans ruled over the majority Shia Arab and Sunni Kurdish pop nationalism and socialism. Similarly, fell under the control of Alawite army officers, in Syria, the Ba’athist state who proceeded to ulations under the cover of Arab. nomic progress failed to keep pace with the demands of ex 10 ’ rates of population growth, with rural to urban migratiolrni SW: With the growing expectations of the new urban population, 21‘:1 far too many Middle Easterners, modernization meant an urb or experience of poverty, underemployment, poor housin a: serVices, and few prospects. With the traditional forms ofg c321— munity and Civility disappearing in the process of urbaniz t' soc1al alienation was one of the major features of city life a Ion, 152 Religion and Global Order The secular state responded slowly to the development crisis, and the economic reform that was introduced often worsened the underlying tensions. The launching of the infitah (opening) by the regime of Anwar Sadat in Egypt in the 1970s was an experience shared in many Middle Eastern countries. The idea of the market and of engaging with international capitalism was embraced, but reform was very patchy and the benefits did not extend deep enough into society. The state and business élite that emerged from the Vinfitah aspired to Western values and lifestyles that were far removed from the lives of most ordinary people. As the secular elite essentially abandoned the masses, a vacuum of leadership and common interest opened up into which Islamic values and organizations moved. Where the state failed, Islam provided. Benevolent Islamic organizations offered welfare hand— outs, health care and education to Muslims in their local com— munities. The young, especially the recently urbanized and educated lower middle classes, turned to Islam, and became the leaders of a broader frustration amongst the urban poor. Islam offered dignity and hope in the midst of the Middle Eastern city, Where there had seemed to be none. The growing role of Islam as an opposition ,to the modernizing state was reinforced by the coercive practices of the state. The secular opposition to most Middle Eastern governments was often effectively repressed, but those opposing the state could find some shelter in Islamic language, communities and institu— tions. The mosque, and especially the tens of thousands of small religious meeting places that exist in Middle Eastern countries, became a political platform that few secular states could com- pletely control. Islam gradually emerged as the principal opposi- tion, and pressed its case for a return to ‘authentic’ Islamic values and to a more just society. The doctrines of the Islamic revival The Islamic revival after the 19703 manifested itself in numerous ways. Many Muslims reaffirmed their relationship with Islamic culture. More men went to mosque, more women covered them- selves with the hijab, and religious celebrations were more fully observed. Islamic resurgence also took place in the realm of ideas, although the intellectual substance of the Islamic revival ‘ traditionalist and fundament - amentalists share the vision ” _ ground tend to part company. The tra , to the use of Islam as an in ‘ logues than Islamic scholars, was by no means monolithic modern world in diverse ways, complex one, with particular different perspectives. Yet, Islamic opinions can be broadly categ the traditionalist, fundamentalist, The pragmatist’s position is . Islam was interpreted for the and the debate within Islam is a thinkers and groups synthesizing u l ’ orized into four positions: modernist and pragmatist.2 that held by the non—practising the secular regimes of the modern ' _ d state ow notably in Iraq, Syrla, Egypt and Algeria, but the attractionpof ti: Er‘irrallziionahsm and socialism that underpins their rule has waned fimtioeven thIey are ilrlicreaslngly prone to clothe their language and ns in s am g arb Saddam H ' I . ussexn may now use Islamic latnguage, but time Iraq1 state is still far from Islamic The modem is s aso soug t to adapt Isla . _ I m to the modern w Id referrlng to Marxism and ' ' ' or J Often soc1alism but Within ' [Slami _ . , . a more genumely 0b.ectic world .v1ew than the pragmatists. The modernist’s or) ve 1s to'm'corporate essentially Western notions of demo— maZy, econognic )USthC and human rights into Islam Whilst the o ernists ave had an influen ' I . CC on Mlddle Eastern ' ' ' I I polltics Sit:ny in till: folrm of All Shariau and Abolhassan Bani—Sadr iri ranian evo ution, they have b ' I . i I een perlpheral to the Islamic rev1val. Muslim soc1et1es have been resistant to modernist Islamic doctrine _ s, and some modern' - have fared very badly indeed. Modernists IStS borders on heresy. The ' ' dominant streams 1n the Islamic revival were the alist ones. Traditionalists and fund— of a society ruled b ' . ‘ y an Islamic state that rigorously enforces sharza law, but beyond this common ditionalists are immersed in of Islam and Islamic juris— er adaptation. The heart of gy and members of the ruling and so many traditionalists are hostile strument of political mobilization. On damentalists are more political the classical and medieval heritage prudence, and largely oppose furth traditionalism is the established cler elite in the Arab kingdoms, the other hand, most fun 'd I 1 eo— and are interested in what Islam can 154 Religion and Global Order powers and beliefs, and that only a return to the basic texts of Islam can rescue Muslims from their decline in the world. The struggles to purify Muslim societies from within and to combat the forces of corruption from the outside involve.tak1ng on a contemporary political agenda. In fact, fundamentalists are often - hostile to the established Islamic clergy, whom they condemn for their political passivity, and are prepared for doctrinal innovations that make the idea of rebellion against exrstmg states more thinkable. ' . Islam has a long history of puritanical rev1vals. The twentieth century has witnessed many such revivals. From the emergence of the Saudi state in the early part of this century to the rlse of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 19905, localized Islamlc rev1vals have played an important role in many parts of the Mlddle East. The Islamic revival that took shape in the 19705, though, was unusual in that its influence was so widespread across the Muslim world, and because it has lasted for so long. The Islamic revival was also unusual because it was not the product of 'a struggle within a tribal or traditional society, but was generated in the modern urban setting. Modern political Islam can trace its roots back to Hasan al— - r . Banna and the development of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan‘ al—Muslimin) in Egypt from the end of the 19205. Al—Banna proposed the re—Islamization of Muslim societies as a prelude to I an Islamic state, and established the Muslim Brotherhood to set about this task. Much of the time, the Muslim Brotherhood provided social welfare to Muslims in their communities, but it also turned to politics and even to violence to achieve ltS objectives. Indeed, Muslim Brothers have been involved in Vlolent , agitation against every Egyptian regime since the 19305. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt represented a model that spread to many Middle Eastern countries, and with it came organized political resistance to the secular state. The fundamentalist revival was subsequently shaped by the status of a number of prominent Islamic thinkers, the most important of which were Sayyid Qubt (d. 1966) in Egypt, Abu a1: Ala al—Mawdudi (d. 1977) in Pakistan and Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989) in Iran. The militant Islam that such figures promoted in the 19605 and 19703 was no longer prepared to wait for the re- Islamization of society, and spoke of an Islamic struggle in the ‘ Religion and the political and social order in the Middle East 155 language of revolution, martyrdom and jihad. The moral corruption and tyrannical government of the modern world — for Qubt, a new age of ignorance (jahiliyya) — had to be overcome. The enemies of Islam — secular Muslims, Islamic modernists, and the West and Israel — were identified, and the struggle engaged. The mission of the new Islamists was political: the forging of a revolution by a vanguard élite, the seizure of the state and the creation of a new Islamic order. The ultimate destination was even more radical, for Islam is a universal religion, and such fundamentalists made claims to sovereignty that superseded the legitimacy of national and state boundaries. The unification of the Muslim people, the umma, was the ultimate dream. Militant Islamists, then, were not only an opposition to the ruling regimes of the state system, but also to the existing system of states itself. The crescendo of Islamic revivalism The political and social stability of many Middle Eastern countries was shaken by the Islamic revival in the 19705 and 19805. The triumphant moment of the Islamic revival was the Iranian Revolution in 1978—9. The rebellion against the Pahlavi monarchy arose from the tensions and conflicts generated by modernization. The values of the secular élite and the centralized character of capitalist development ran into the interests of the traditional merchant class and the Shia clergy. The Shah’s authoritarian regime was overthrown by a populist coalition that included Islamic traditionalists, Islamic modernists, Marxists and liberals, but it was the radical Shia clergy, led by Grand Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini, that emerged as the most dynamic force. In the following years, the real Iranian Revolution was played out. In a struggle for power, 1979—83, the militant clergy moved to system— atically destroy their partners in the rebellion against the Shah in order to consolidate their religious vision of politics and society. The real Iranian Revolution, then, was the Islamic project led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The Revolution established an Islamic state by unifying political and religious authority in the form of the velayez—e faqih (the rule of the Islamic jurist) and other institutions that ensured the political power of the Shia clergy. Khomeini himself was to be the faqih, a constitutional position that possessed enormous powers over the workings of the Islamic 156 Religion and Global Order state. The Revolution also embodied a View of Islam’s purpose in the world that shared much with other Third World populisms.3 Dismantling exploitative capitalism, achieving social equality, and resisting the penetration of Western cultural and economic imperialism were embodied in the mission. The Iranian Revolution had significant implications for inter— national security. Few revolutionaries had much respect for existing national boundaries. In fact, the Revolution was ideo— logically hostile to the conservative Arab monarchies, but also disdained the secular nationalism of the Arab states that had considered themselves radical and progressive. The export of the Revolution was pursued by clerics from within the new Islamic state, but also by those acting in a freelance capacity through personal and religious networks that extended across the Middle East. The impact of the Revolution was most pronounced amongst the other Shia communities of the region. The Gulf States faced serious Shia agitation, particularly in Bahrain and Kuwait. In Iraq, a violent conflict between the Baathist regime and Shia militants eventually helped set Saddam Hussein on a path to a full—scale invasion of Iran in September 1980. In Lebanon, the emergence of the Shia militancy of Amal and Hizbullah, especially after the Israeli invasion in 1982, changed the balance of the Lebanese political system, and went on to give Israel the most serious military set—back in its history. Shia militants from Lebanon were also behind a wave of international terrorism in Europe and the Middle East directed at Israel, the United States and the Gulf States. The wider resonance of the Iranian Revolution, ...
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