Militant Islam is under global scrutiny for clues to conditions that foster its rise, and to strategies for reversing that growth. But the key is not in Islamic doctrine, US foreign policy or formal ties to various nations, as many analysts have asserted. It lies at the community level, with clan and local leaders.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, jihadists remain a minority in Muslim countries. Yet armed militants and suicide bombers continue to wreak havoc worldwide and militant recruitment shows no sign of abating. The reason is found where most recruitment occurs: ungoverned areas of failing or repressive states where public resources are stolen, wasted or otherwise not used for productive social ends.
On July 23, the day after the ruling Justice and Development Party won Turkey’s early parliamentary elections in a landslide, Onur Öymen, deputy chairman of the rival Republican People’s Party (CHP), interpreted the results as follows:
Emad Mubarak is a busy man. Director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and a lawyer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the leftist Mubarak cannot hold a meeting without being interrupted by the ring of his cell phone. The calls these days come from student members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially outlawed Islamist group that is Egypt’s largest political movement. The students call to report security service abuses against them on campuses, or to request his legal counsel while they undergo interrogation by university administrators.
The October 15, 2005 referendum on the new Iraqi constitution, like other stages in the US-sponsored political transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, drew fresh attention to the many opponents of that transition and the US occupation who are not directly involved in the ongoing insurgency. In keeping with the pattern in place since the old regime fell, the global media identified this opposition as “Sunni,” implying that political attitudes in Iraq are uniquely determined by religious affiliation. In fact, these opposition forces are not uniformly Sunni Arab, and many are secular nationalist — not sectarian or even religious — in orientation and identity.
With the death of Maxime Rodinson at the age of 89 on May 23, 2004, one of the last great figures disappeared in an exceptional lineage of Western scholars of Islam — including Régis Blachère, Claude Cahen and Jacques Berque, to mention only Rodinson’s fellow Frenchmen. Rodinson belonged to this group of writers who pioneered new approaches, reclaiming the field of Islamic studies and bringing it up to the level of other social sciences.
Addressing a joint session of Congress and a national TV audience on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush declared that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had “links” to Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks in the United States. Henceforth, the US would consider the IMU an international terrorist organization, and a target in the administration’s “war on terrorism.”
In response to the patriarchal tendencies of the Islamist cultural revolution, a small group of Islamist and other Muslim women have reclaimed Qur’anic and other textual interpretation for their own purposes. The result is a new space for women within the Islamic tradition.
Post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema has attracted critical attention abroad while constituting a vibrant focus of cultural, narrative and technical experimentation at home. In the politically restrictive context of the Islamic Republic, film has become one of the key ways that sensitive topics are broached in civil society. One of the most important topics is the social and juridical situation of women, including the enforcement of legislation over women’s hejab, which refers to modest dress but can also mean modest decorum.
After the victory of the Welfare Party in the municipal elections of March 1994, the newly-elected mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, thanked the disciplined and devoted Islamist women who had campaigned door-to-door until election day. Islamist women also gave the same determined performance during the general election campaign. Contrary to expectations, however, the Welfare administration refused at the last minute to allow women to become parliamentary candidates for the general elections in December 1995. Headscarved women, they claimed, would have difficulty because of the dress code which prohibits women in public offices from wearing the headscarf, a prohibition which applies to women deputies in the parliament.
Turkish Islam is tied up with Turkish nationalism in a unique fashion, the product of Turkish history and identity. Turkey’s brand of Islamist ideology challenges the secularist components and the European identification of Kemalism, historically the dominant form of Turkish nationalism, but retains the central core of Turkish nationalism and statism.
In his first televised interview in late 1996, just months after taking office, an avuncular-looking Necmettin Erbakan seemed unsurprised at a question about his taste in clothing. “Mr. Prime Minister, we hear that you favor ties by the Italian designer Versace,” said commentator Mehmet Ali Birand. “What is it about Versace that you like?” His half-smile unfading, Turkey’s first-ever Islamist prime minister answered that “this particular Western designer seems to have borrowed from Islamic aesthetics and Oriental patterns.”