Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Liberating Delusion!

It is not that Islam radicalizes but that radicalization has been Islamized, as Olivier Roy argues. While a reformation is needed, it is of modernity, not Islam, in light of a globalized, post-colonial world. Islam has enormous potential to be a force for good, peace, and reconciliation. But, in order for this good altruism to be achieved, a critical re-evaluation of globalization, colonialism, and modernity is needed. An appeal to Islam’s inherent compassion is not enough, unless these ideologies are also unpacked.

If you believe that colonialism, nationalism, modernity and globalization are to blame for the ills of contemporary Muslim communities, then, basically, you are portraying Muslims as ultimate victims, and shifting the onus of leading change to others – the advocates of these other isms, and you are absolving yourselves of the responsibility for critically reviewing your heritage and traditions. So, in order for Muslims to be better off in this world other people have to change their ideas, ideologies and attitudes.

I can see how that can feel very liberating.

Personally, however, I prefer, to examine things from a slightly different perspective. To me, the real problem is found more in our continuing inability to come up with successful adaptation strategies to help us deal with the challenges posed by the impact of colonialism, nationalism, modernity and globalization than in the mere reality of these phenomena. In the social sense, these phenomena have been part of our existence since time immemorial. They are no less objective than sunrise and sunset. You cannot blame sunrise and sunset. Their dynamics may shift and change, but, one way or another, they will remain parts of our ongoing dynamics.

Migration is, in some ways, a form of modern-day colonialism, one that seems to reverse the traditional power dynamics involved, allowing for the disinherited and dispossessed to pose problems for richer societies, rather than the other way around. Nationalism is the new tribalism. Globalization is another manifestation of how seemingly disconnected societies can become dependent on each other and influenced by each other’s seemingly independent social and political dynamics. Even modernity is an old phenomenon in the sense that it essentially represents a change in values, outlooks and behaviors resulting from the particular historical experiences of particular peoples and whose impact is coterminous with the reach of these peoples, and the inability of ideas to recognize geographical borders.

Moreover, I find the call for a reformation within modernity to be rather baffling. While some seem to embrace modernity uncritically and ideologically, a critical evaluation and reassessment of ideas and institutions is one of the hallmarks of the modern intellectual debate, and the influence of this debate on the public sphere is enormous, albeit not necessarily always positive. In other words, reformation is an ongoing phenomenon in modern democratic societies.

Back to the beginning, it’s the Muslims’ understanding of their faith that needs to be modernized, and that does indeed require rejecting elements of their traditional belief system, even those enshrined in the holy books. This is what followers of other traditional faith systems had to do. Those who insist that Islam should be an exception in this regard are, in effect endorsing gender inequality, second-class status to members of other faiths, death penalty for those considered heretics and apostates and slavery, among other horrible practices that are definitely anti-modern, and are in no way conducive to helping Muslim societies achieve the kind of parity they want with Western societies. If we want to call out Western hypocrisy we have to stop being so hypocritical ourselves. 

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