Sunday, August 14, 2005

Political Islam

I've recently started a new book (they're so much easier to start than to finish sometimes) called Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel. Kepel is a French academic who, it seems to me, does a good job on laying out the political and intellectual framework of militant Islam, or maybe I should call it extremist political Islam. I've also recently read his "War for Muslim Minds" which details the various ideologies and philosophies vying for the hearts and minds of Muslims in the middle east and Europe. I recommend the latter book for a look at what exactly those philosophies are and by whom they are espoused.
I've heard Islamic extremism called both fascist and nihilist in the press and I think that up till now those have both been pretty good description. The methods of the ideology and the groups that espouse them do seem very fascist to me. The draw of suicide attackers, like those responsible for 9-11 seem very nihilistic. In the introduction to Jihad Kepel points out that the 19 hijackers of September 11th did not fit the expected fundamentalist model. They appeared largely as westernized educated youth, not turbaned and bearded fundamentalists. They, and those responsible for the recent London tube bombings, sought only to strike a great blow, to destroy and be nothing more than that destruction. Maybe the 19 hijackers thought they would somehow be igniting the catalyst for the reformation of the middle east into their Islamic ideal, but they must of at least had some doubts that such a thing would work, which is where nihilism would have kicked in. The London bombers, who seemed to have acted separately from any of the big political Islam theorists, almost certainly knew that their attacks could bring about nothing but destruction and mayhem.
Kepel and others argue that 9-11 represented a last ditch effort for those who wished to violently remake the middle east into the image of the glorified days of Mohammed. All other options had failed. Afghanistan was a victory, but Algeria, Egypt, Bosnia, all causes had failed to mobalize the masses to the banned of political Islam.
Al of that is very interesting and well laid out by Kepel and others. My question now is, what will become of political Islam in the face of Iraq. I greatly hope that the fascist factions of Islamic extremist recognize 9-11 as a failure that greatly harmed their cause (they lost the "righteous" government of the Taliban and failed to gain mass support) and don't kill more innocents here. But I fear that while 9-11 might have weakened them, Iraq is strengthening them and encouraging them. The very chaos of the situation there may serve to push people towards a strong leader who may emerge. Continued sectarian strife could well create more than one such leader.
The constitution will, I predict, do absolutely nothing. A nation given a deadline and told to write a constitution by that time, my God, can anything be more ridiculous? The great constitutions of the world were developed when people decided to write them and recognized when it was time to do so. This makes me worry that things will get worse there before they get better.

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