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The Politics of Despair 6 August 2006

Posted by EDITOR in GUESTS, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Reviews.
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Our guest contributor this week is RY Qureshi, a doctoral student of medieval Andalusian legal history. In response to ABD’s pieces on “Bombing Without Moonlight”, she shares her own thoughts on the origins of suicidal militancy.

While I am deeply interested in the philosophical genealogy of militant thought, I am equally interested in what the ‘average’ Muslim is thinking—either absent any formal (Islamic) education or in some cases, because of it. There needs to be a clear distinction made between the architects of militancy and the armies that help perpetrate it.

Moreover, despite the fact that Olivier Roy in his EuroIslam: the Jihad Within? misses the mark on Western Muslims and what he terms neo-fundamentalists, he does highlight the importance of socio-economic malaise as the impetus for militancy. This recalls Paul Collier’s well-known ‘greed v. grievance’ thesis. Indubitably, while the etiology of suicide militancy evades facile categorization or simplistic argumentation, it goes without saying that we cannot explain (away) militancy in the name of Islam purely through the prism of theology or philosophy. Nor are societal disenfranchisement or poverty sufficient indicators of militancy. Further still, the decorous contention that suicide bombers are ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ perpetuates a medieval stereotype of the Moors (Cervantes speaks about this at length). The foil of ‘insanity’ effectively helps to delineate good and evil/right and wrong. However, it is more about political maneuvering than resurrecting or sustaining erstwhile stereotypical views of Muslims.

Something else we may not have considered here is the inevitability of suicide militancy — in an age of globalization, and its modernist ‘assumptions’, suicide militancy as a means to articulate grievances or to retaliate in the midst of asymmetric power differentials, etc. is forestalled. Whereas in the rarefied halls of academia, we can speak about militancy as a purely or exceedingly philosophical/theological perversion of traditional Islamic beliefs — an abandonment of the chivalrous jihad tradition of our righteous predecessors, at the end of the day, it is not so much about whom people are reading as what ‘caricature’ of the West they are reacting against.

In general, we mustn’t forget that human beings are composite creatures –- rational and super-rational. That there are elements of inexplicable religiosity in all humans that can neither be repudiated nor subsumed successfully, even in an age of enlightened atheism. If manipulated properly, deeply religious individuals can be deluded into believing that what they are doing is right.

Importantly, Muslim Americans don’t need a tolerant, pluralist Islamic creedal position to say that America is not the great ‘Satan’ or is not poised to wage a war on Islam. Rather, it is a conclusion we’ve reached borne out of our exposure and proximity to the ‘Other’ or even our classifying ourselves as the ‘Self’. That is to say, our impression of America is not so much the conscious result of profound reflection. It takes no effort on our part to differentiate between America and Americans.

But for many people — including legions of sincere Muslims who grapple with the exigencies of life in Cairo or elsewhere, and especially Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine — is not the impression of America formed by their experience with American military hegemony first and foremost as well as capitalist, predatory economic policies that have served to devastate swaths of traditional Muslim economies inter alia?

Despair, particularly when strong Islamic institutions are absent, can easily be used as the inspiration for militancy.

And God knows best.

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