Islamic Parties Rise

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Political Islam will have to deal with clashing interests

Religion remains an unavoidable reference for the Arabs and as such will be critical in building the future

By Tariq Ramadan

2011-10-25T200235Z_715025985_GM1E7AQ0BBL01_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA

Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement celebrate outside Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis October 25, 2011. The party said on Tuesday it had won more than 40 percent of seats in Sunday’s election, pledging to continue democracy after the first vote that resulted from the “Arab Spring” revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Over the last few weeks the new Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), has been repeating, “Sharia will be the main reference and will be implemented in Libya.” Several of his references to Islamic legislation came in the presence of western politicians and intellectuals like the pro-Israel French self-styled philosopher Bernard Henri Levy, who, surprisingly, did not react with any shock whatsoever. Surprising indeed! It was as if Abdul Jalil was determined to show that the ‘Libyan revolutionaries’ were truly independent and not supported or protected by France, the US, or the West. The West kept silent, though some media have asked pointed questions about whom the French, the Americans and the British were supporting.
Given Libya’s extremely complex political situation, Abdul Jalil’s statement was timely and very smart. He referred intentionally to concepts seen as very controversial in the West to make it clear to the Libyan people he was not a western puppet. In a way that seemed weird to a western ear, he spoke of Sharia and polygamy, knowing that for the emotionally wrought Libyan Muslims he was offering proof of his complete independence (such references are of course demonised in the West). For France, Britain and the US it was a way to show the world that Libya was now “on its own;” time for Nato to allow the new Libya to build its future by relying on its own traditions. The religious and political reference to Islam thus serves to appease the Muslims and lend traditional and religious legitimacy to the NTC while concealing the West’s tri-dimensional — military, geopolitical and economic — penetration of Libya.

The Arab uprisings are showing that the peoples of the region are drawn to freedom, dignity and justice but are not prepared to betray their traditions and religious beliefs. The recent victory of Tunisia’s Islamist party, Al Nahda, in that country’s constituent elections, underlines a historical reality: Islam remains an unavoidable reference for the Arabs and as such will be critical in building the future, especially through the democratic process by which peoples are now able to express their political demands, their concerns about identity and their economic hopes. The conservative parties that invoke Islam in one way or another (hence the Islamists as well) are gaining ground and achieving greater political legitimacy. They are operating on three distinct levels: acceptance of democratic rules, preservation of the nation’s Islamic identity and readiness to open their markets to the dominant economic powers and the multinational corporations.

The Turkish example has set a precedent: no one can deny that the AKP — coming from an Islamist background — is proving its leadership’s success in these very three fields: they are religiously conservative, geopolitically prepared to deal with all the western powers (including, until recently, Israel), and economically integrated into the dominant capitalist system. They have shown great openness (with the EU) and demonstrated considerable flexibility. The West can indeed do business with any Islamist party that evidences a similar willingness to adapt and to collaborate, from Al Nahda to the Muslim Brotherhood. Things are moving fast in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena); the new political strategies are based on new economic and geopolitical concerns, driven by the active presence of new state actors in the region: Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric). The West has no time to waste in the race to win Arab minds, hearts and money.

In these highly complex political and economic games, one issue stands out as crucial. The western countries have shown in the past that they have no major problem in dealing with political Islam to protect their interests. Given the presence of the Bric’s countries, they have no choice as the latter are ready to establish strong political and economic ties whatever the situation in the respective Arab countries.

Stance against Israel

The key factor will be Israel. All the Islamist parties have taken strong position against the Zionist state (even Turkey recently), which is the reason for their broad popular support (including the current Iranian regime). The Islamists may well be ready to promote the democratic process and to participate fully in the dominant economic system (the great majority of the Islamist parties accept it today) but they remain quite explicit in their stance against Israel. Here lies the core of the acute tensions and contradictions in the US and the European countries: they need to be involved in Mena but they cannot distance themselves from Israel. Meanwhile, the Bric countries do not have the same historical alliance with Israel and they seem ready to challenge the western bias towards the Middle East conflict.

The Islamic reference is at the heart of the debate in the Arab world.

Political Islam is at the crossroads: it faces numerous challenges and must deal with conflicting interests. Only a comprehensive approach can give us a sense of what is at stake. Many trends — even some Islamist parties — are playing with Islam in an attempt to gain legitimacy.

There can be no doubt that politics corrupts. Who, in the Arab countries, will be able to hold power while respecting the Islamic imperatives of dignity, justice and transparency — let alone truly supporting the just cause of Palestine?

Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. His new book Islam and the Arab Awakening will be out this month.

Gulf News

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Islam’s Challenge to Capitalism

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Turkey’s “Passive Revolution”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Although Chihan Tugal is based here in Berkeley, he was asked to talk about his research entitled Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism, published by Stanford University. It is written from his observations of a district in the above Asia Minor country which is amongst the poorest and most radical on the outskirts of Istanbul.  What is so interesting about this quarter is that it is dominated politically by Islamists even though the Central administration’s Constitution is that of a Secularist Republic.

Amid the Turkish population, the Islamists have scant support.  These Muslims favor a relatively radical type of Islam for a democratic State, and are against the exacting Secularization that Ataturk set in motion during the 1920s.  The majority of these people had supported the Fazilet (Virtue) Partisi (Party) and to a lesser extent other Islamist Parties such as Welfare.  Their thinking had led them to reject contemporary Capitalism; therefore, the anti-American stance of social and economic-introverted gazing.  Turkish Islamism is logical, but a short time ago, 2001, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Partisi) was formed out of a schism between traditionalists – such as ruled this area — and reformers within the Virtue Party by the current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Endrogan.  On the other hand, the AKP (Justice and Development) program stresses not only democratic reforms but Islamic moral renewal) as well.  (Incidentally many of these  Muslims came from the radical marginal ethnic groups within Turkiye.)  Ethnology is a competent device to comprehend this societal phenomenon. 

These individuals became disenchanted when it became apparent that an Islamist State was beyond their reach.  Many former adherents of the local Islamist groups, who had become disillusioned, defected to the Neo-Liberal (i.e., Neo-Ricardian) Justice and Development Party which is more broadly Islamic than Islamist, and, hence, more accepting of contemporaneous Capitalism — although they still held onto their antagonism to their former completive Islamist, as well, Welfare Party after they switched their positions outside their former religious ideological political stance. 

Those remaining inside the Islamic political organizations are nevertheless not so much anti-capitalistic as anti- markets.  (Your critic here considers, of all things, that many of these Islamist groups actually have affinities with European Christian Democrats!  Both put their spiritual commitments and moral principles in the forefront of their politics.)  Further, those who have stepped over to the Justice and Development Party have accepted some Keynesian theoretics, thus, they have resemblances to the Social Democrats in Europe. 

The Islamists of Turkiye Cumhurieyeti are a virtual compilation of the Subaltern (a range of the lower and lower middle classes).  Shopkeepers and students are against Capitalism in Istanbul, but the proletariat have sympathy for Corporate Capital, strangely enough, (for they see commerce a source for jobs).

Although the State has become more Islamic, their influence have diminished while that of the bourgeois has risen.  This has guaranteed the position of Secularism within the State.  The traditional patronage alliance between State actors within the Republic has been restored as has the alliance with the West — although the Secular elite can be Islamized, if a large scale Islamic revival is generated in the event the European Union denies Ankara’s entrance into the EU.  This (could) lead to a financial emergency that, may perhaps, lead to an economic meltdown in this NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) ally.  

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Obama’s AfPak War: “It’s the Mission, Creep”

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Weissman, Truthout

Dick Cheney and his neoconservative fringe are showing true gall and no grit in accusing President Obama of “dithering” and “waffling” on Afghanistan. They are, after all, the deep thinkers who rushed the Bush administration into Iraq, which diverted troops and other resources from their earlier mission to defeat the Afghan Taliban and catch or kill Osama bin Laden. Still, the shameless critics raise an intriguing question. Why has the president taken so much time to announce how many more troops he will send?

No doubt, Obama wanted to get his Afghanistan policy right, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Mr. Cheney, who had gotten it so very wrong. Time also let the president hear from all sides on the issue, making everyone more inclined to fall in line behind whatever decision he finally made.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal went public with his troop demands for as many as 80,000 more soldiers, Obama used the delay to make clear to the brass that he would not let them sandbag him. Keeping the American military under civilian control or field testing the Pentagon’s latest counterinsurgency doctrine against the Afghan Taliban – which do you think makes more difference to our country’s future?

After election observers revealed the extent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s vote fraud, Obama used further delay to help force Karzai to accept a run-off and possibly a coalition government with his runner-up and former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

But, as we shall soon see, Obama’s deliberations did not do the one thing that many of us who supported him most wanted him to do. He did not find a way to justify his Nobel Peace Prize by bringing American troops home from “the graveyard of empires.”

How can we know before Obama announces his decision? The tea leaves are all too clear – and all too terrifying.

If Obama intended to pare down his commitment to military force in Afghanistan, trial balloons would have flown by now and presidential surrogates would have filled air waves and newsprint with arguments for putting our limited military resources where America’s vital interests were more at stake.

Instead, the White House stressed early in the deliberations that “leaving Afghanistan isn’t an option” while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointedly redefined the U.S. mission in a greatly expanded AfPak War.

“We’re not leaving Afghanistan,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That’s long term. That’s a strategic objective of the United States.”

“The clear path forward is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that we’re not going to turn our back on them as we did before.”

As for our previous mission against al-Qaeda, Gates added a new twist. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would give Islamist radicals “added space.” But more important, it would give them their second victory against a superpower, which would greatly boost their morale and ability to recruit.

Gates is no fool and his arguments make superficial sense, which is why the neocons have rushed to embrace them. But, on closer scrutiny, the new mission looks far more dangerous than the old one that Dick Cheney botched so badly.

While the Pakistanis need reassuring, Washington cannot stop them from supporting Taliban and other Islamist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. They use the militants against their primary rival, India, especially in disputed Kashmir. Team Obama can help cool down the rivalry, but they cannot make it go away.

Worse, an American escalation in Afghanistan will almost certainly send Pashtun insurgents flooding into Pakistan, as Senator Russ Feingold has warned. This would move the Pakistanis even further into a destabilizing civil war.

And worse still, an escalation will turn a local Pashtun insurgency into an ideological conflict that will attract Islamist fighters from all over the world, just as did the American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union.

So, for President Obama, it comes down to balancing relative horrors. Which will prove a stronger recruiting tool for al-Qaeda – claiming a victory over the United States or offering the chance to fight in a real war against the Western Crusaders?

As I’m afraid we’re about to learn, Obama will move us closer to an AfPak War, which could well rejuvenate an otherwise declining Islamist radicalism.

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Nathan Brown: Arab Democratic Movements

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Today is a hot (unusually muggy day from a hurricane a [thousand miles south] off the Pacific Coast of Mexico).  I am looking back to  a discussion documented in my notebooks in Berkeley with Nathan Brown and Mohammed Hafez–Brown is not Muslim, but he is a great scholar of Islam.  Professor Brown spoke to those present on understanding Islamicist politics and their electoral opposition to the often corrupt parties in power in their nation states.

Islamist Arab Parties – especially in Egypt – have had great successes in elections, but they almost never win. 

Mainstream “democracy” is manipulated by Arab leaders.  This is why Islamist Parties mostly refuse to take part in elections and often react violently by resisting against their rulers and their pseudo-“Parliaments.”  On the other hand, examples can be had in the victory of the Islamic Parties in Algeria which the Party in power refused to  recognize the results leading to a protracted civil war.  Another instance can be found in the Gaza 2006 election that Jimmy Carter and his observation team described as the fairest that they had ever witnessed, but both Israel and the United States and Egypt refused to recognize! 

Outside the Islamic world political Islamicism is equated with Nazism, but “It is more like [European] ‘Christian’ Democracy in that it, too, makes a religious reference to its politics.”  The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Be prepared!” which resonates from the Koran itself, and is on the visual crest of the Party.  The Brotherhood began as a secular movement to help individuals to become better Muslims, but later its philosophy flowed into politics.

Dr. Brown maintained that “Elections in the Middle East have predicable results, but uncertain rules.”  For the most part they are designed for the government to win.  Those Islamists who contend find it  advantageous for them (see my article on Da’wa and Democratic Politics in a back issue of this  publication) although they are “not recognized as a full political party” by the establishment.  Yet they are able to weather a harsh political climate. 

They are “highly ideological, and enforce their principles;” so, that they “will not rupture into discordant fissures although debate and schism has arisen over minute issues.”

Hard decisions have to be made over elections.  Elections can raise the primacy of politics over religion which is always a concern amongst devout people.

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