Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Five Islamic Ulama by Farad Khosrokhavar

There are five general groups in both Shiite and Sunni Islam. First the traditionalists who try to remove thenmselves from secular developments and the political state. They maintain their connections to ethnic, tribal and local community identities. These groups are becoming increasingly marginalized in the rush of modernity, especially in urban areas. For those who formerly depended on these social and religious networks for support, this gives rise to considerable frustration, alienation from the society and culture of which they are a part. The second group are the Fundamentalists who share many of the viewpoints of the Jihadist in regard to the long-term degradations occurring in Islam but are willing to cooperate with state authorities in whatever slight advantages those regimes offer. Then there are the Hyper-Fundamentalists who struggle to recapture 'Islamic purity" and overturn the status quo but reject violence as a means to do so.

Jihadists are divided into various factions, all committed to the violent overthrow not only of their respective national governments but the World System as a whole. Their goal is the triumphant of Islam on a world-wide basis. Within Jihadist groups there is a very small minority that might be classified accurately as martyropaths, followers of a cult of death, who intend to die first and formost because they feel that the shortcomings of Islam are the result of their own lack of abnegation and selflessness. Defeating the enemies of Islam is secondary to washing away their own sins, which have become unbearable to them.

There are a number of violent Jihadi theorists and polemicists about in the world today and their work is widely available on the internet. Indeed, until 9/11 they preached quite freely in places like London and Paris. Activists followers of the Jihadist line, however, are quite limited in number. Never-the-less, they glean alot of sympathy and respect from Fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden himself has obtained a certain heroic status among many Muslims who themselves do not wish to be violent, often referred to as a kind of 'Robin Hood". Operating in small, independent cells as "vanguards" of the islamic revolution, their capacity to deal out mayhem and murder is great( mostly against other Muslims- whose acquiescence to modernity is considered heretical) .

"The major problem in Muslim societies is the lack of an influential Reformist ulama (the fifth group) who could oppose the Jihadist interpretation through lectures on the Koran. Of course, many reform-minded intellectuals exist in the Muslim world, but they are far outnumbered by Fundamentalists and Jihadists, and they do not yield the same influence and do not have the powerful networks within religious institutions. The Reformists' view of Islam is at best marginal, compared to that of the Fundamentalist and Jihadist thinkers.

Violence is vindicated by the Jihadists' exegesis of the Koran, many of the verses they quote being unacceptable to the modern mind and in dire need of reinterpretation in the same fashion as biblical interpretation was developed by Protestants beginning in the sixteenth century. The advantage of the Jihadists over Reformists in the interpretation of the Koran is that in many respects, religious institutions, mainly dominated by conservatives, are in agreement with them regarding the principles of exegesis but not in their application to social reality. Most Islamic Fundamentalists, influenced by Wahhabism and financially sustained by its proponents, share the intolerance of the Jihadists, but they propose peaceful ways to achieve their goals rather than violence.

Reformist theologians in the Sunni and Shi'ite world propose a pluralist reading of the Koran and the Sunna (sayings of the Prophet outside the Koran), but they are intimidated, rejected, repressed, or simply marginalized. Sometimes they are forced to migrate to the West, for fear of being assassinated by fanatical Muslims. Religious institutions in the Muslim world are not prone to open up to Reformist intellectuals."


  1. The Negative Context of Democracy in the Muslim World

    Jihadism feeds on three major Muslim countries, all of them U.S. allies: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In all three there is a lack of democratic government, absence of democratic experience, and a cultural and social environment in which democracy is laden with negative symbolic content. A closed political scene characterizes all these countries,, economic where frustration and discontent can find no political solutions. All have deep political and cultural problems, and their governments propose no viable solutions for the future. The political structure is a bulwark against any real opening, and the only 'break' consists in co-opting some Islamic Fundamentalists, tamed in the process of their integration within the political system, becoming thus part of the establishment ( like in Morocco, Algeria) or finding a subserviant role in the legislature (like Egypt).

    Jihadism reinvigorates this situation. In some countries segments of the state apparatus (usually part of the intelligence services or the army or both) collaborate with Jihadist circles. A segment of the intelligence services- in Pakistan the Inter-Serivices Intelligence (ISI), in Algeria the Departement du Tenseignement et de la Secutite (DRS), and in Saudi Arabia, part of the Saudi Intelligence Service- is more or less cooperating with Jihadists to vent their frustration against the political system. In the eyes of the West, however, the formal fight AGAINST jihadists gives legitimacy to the established political regimes as being the only bulwark against radical Islam. The war against Islamic terrorism justifies the closure of the political system and the indefinate postponement of a more open political system.

    In this situation, victimized and deeply suspicious Muslims find new reasons to denounce American duplicity. The picture is completed as well by American incoherence and biases and by the lack of continuity in U.S. foreign policy.

  2. "Inside Jihadism; Understanding Jihadi Movements Worldwide" by Farad Khosrokhavar; Paradigm Publishers, 2009

    The author is a Professor at the Ecole des Haute Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He presents extensive passages from the writings of the Jihadist thinkers, court testimonies, prison interviews and biogaphies of many Jihadists.

    Violent Jihad ( as opposed to the 'greater' or spiritual Jihad) has always had a place in Islam, but its appeal is limited to a small minority both today and in the past. The author believes that although globalization of communications, the political and economic impasse in Muslim countries, the biased and inept policies of the Western powers have given it a boost in recent years, its own grandious project and hopelessly mythological content dooms it to defeat, even in the short term. However The occupation of Iraq and the situation in Palestine provide powerful tools for recruitment to the Jihadist ranks. It is doubtful that Taliban cooperation with the likes of Al Queda would continue if some settlement of their ethnic and nationalist aspirations could be effected.

    In so far as intellectuals and polticians in the West adhere to hysterical notions of "The End of History" and the "Clash of Civiliazations", they are in agreement with the main hypothesis of the Jihadists:"Behold the Enemy, He is Us".