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1998 TIBI the Challenge of Fundamentalism

1998 TIBI the Challenge of Fundamentalism

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The Challenge of Fundamentalism
Preferred Citation: Tibi, Bassam.
The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islamand the New World Disorder.
Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press,c1998 1998. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft7k4007q6/
The Challenge of Fundamentalism
Political Islam and the New World Disorder 
Bassam Tibi
Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford 
© 1998 The Regents of the University of California
Preferred Citation: Tibi, Bassam.
The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islamand the New World Disorder.
Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press,c1998 1998. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft7k4007q6/
This book focuses on the question of order in current world politics. What we shall beexamining in that context is Islamic fundamentalism, not the trumpeted "Islamic Threat." Forme as a Muslim, Islam itself, being a tolerant religion, is not and cannot be a threat, and it isa disservice to world peace to speak of Islam, one of the world's major religions, in terms of "threat" and "confrontation." My religion is an open-minded faith, neither an intolerantpolitical ideology nor a concept of world order, as Islamic fundamentalists
and some in theWest
so fiercely contend. The Qur'an unmistakably commands: "[There is] no compulsion in
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The Challenge of Fundamentalism
religion" (Qur'an: Surat
al Baqarah
, 2/256). But Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam,is a horse of another color: this brand of fundamentalism poses a grave challenge to worldpolitics, security, and stability.This, then, is a book about one variety of the world's panoply of religious fundamentalisms,not a study of Islam as a religion. In the course of examining the fundamentalist challenge,the book seeks to make two points clear. First, religious fundamentalism
as a politicalphenomenon not restricted to the World of Islam
is an aggressive politicization of religionundertaken in the pursuit of nonreligious ends. Second, fundamentalism, Islamic orotherwise, is only superficially a form of terrorism or extremism; I do not
and others shouldnot
use the terms
/ fundamentalism and
/ extremism interchangeably. Indelineating the views of Islamic
fundamentalists on order, both domestic and international, I hope to demonstrate theominous political challenge inherent in their brand of fundamentalism.The fate of Nasr Hamid Abu-Zaid, an Egyptian university professor and Muslim scholar,illustrates my thesis well. In recent years Abu-Zaid has become the topic of front-pagecoverage in the international press. In thus rising to prominence, he had done nothing morethan to express the view, in print, that linguistic research can be extended to theologicalmatters by submitting Islamic scripture to this kind of inquiry. In his
Naqd al-khitab al-dini /A Critique of Religious Discourse
(Cairo: Maktabat Madbuli, new edition 1995), he sets forthhis conviction that Muslims need to learn how "to differentiate between religion itself andhuman understanding of religion. . . . My argument was, if we want to live in the twenty-firstor twentieth century, we have to know how to pursue scientific knowledge" (
InternationalHerald Tribune
, July 23, 1993, front page). For this seemingly innocuous statement the Cairoprofessor must pay dearly: he has been declared a
/ apostate by Islamicfundamentalists who, in this case, were not terrorists. Among them, in fact, weredistinguished lawyers who went to court to divorce Abu-Zaid from his wife Younes against thewill of both, on grounds that he had been shown to be a heretic. The Cairo judges endorsedthe plea of the fundamentalist lawyers, for according to the
/ Islamic law, a Muslimwoman cannot be married to an "apostate."Two years later, in June 1995, a Cairo court approved the lawsuit and ruled that the marriedcouple must separate, and consequently be divorced (
Südeutsche Zeitung
, June 19, 1995, p.9). Abu-Zaid then fled with his wife to Leiden, Netherlands, and went to the appeals court tocontest the ruling. The Egyptian Supreme Court, however, upheld the
sentence andthus the ruling of divorce imposed on the couple. The evidence for apostasy was found in Abu-Zaid's writings (see
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, August 10, 1996, p. 4), and the legalbasis for the ruling was the new
law passed by the Egyptian parliament on January29, 1996 (see my examination of the Abu-Zaid case and the new hisbah law in the Germandaily
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, July 3, 1996, p. 34). The
law sanctions thepunishment of Muslims deviant from the
even when those who denounce them, andbring suit, are not directly involved in the legal dispute. This precedent in Egypt, a secularstate, as well as the rise of Turkish fundamentalists to power in secular Turkey (whereErbakan was Prime Minister from July 1996 to June 1997), constitutes an institutionalintrusion
of the state by fundamentalists. Even though the "
nizam Islami
/ Islamic order" is theiravowed goal, these fundamentalists are creating disarray, not order.It is not so much the outrageously unjust fate of Abu-Zaid and his wife that matters for our
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The Challenge of Fundamentalism
purposes here, but rather the implications it has for the virulent spread of fundamentalism.In a major interview in the German weekly
Der Spiegel
, Abu-Zaid rightly stated that thestrength of the Islamic fundamentalists lies not in their pursuit of 
terrorism and bloodshed. They can bring this country nearer to [the] abyss through their infiltration of thelegal system and the state. These attempts are much more dangerous than the slayings and use of explosives. in fact, the Egyptian government has been able to contain fundamentalist terrorism. . . . I advisethe president [of Egypt] to push forward the intellectual battle [against the fundamentalists]. . . . Theirpower in the schools and universities is already disastrous. (
Der Spiegel
, issue 27, 1995, pp. 122f.)
The Abu-Zaid story illustrates the two pivotal issues I shall deal with: on the one hand, thatIslamic fundamentalism is not Islam per se and, on the other, that in the long run the Islamicfundamentalists are far more dangerous as ideologues of power than as extremists who kill,cut throats (as they have in Algeria), and throw bombs. Fundamentalism is a
, or worldview, that seeks to establish its own order, and thus to separatethe peoples of Islamic civilization from the rest of humanity while claiming for their worldviewa universal standing. The decoupling thus envisaged and the concurrently espouseduniversalist claims are only seemingly in contradiction, for they are in fact seen by thefundamentalists as two successive steps in the same process.Islamic fundamentalists challenge and undermine the secular order of the body politic andaim to replace it by a divine order, the so-called
hakimiyyat Allah
. The order they envisage isnot simply a domestic one, but the foundation for the new world order they expect to mountin place of the existing one. Seen in this light, Islamic fundamentalism becomes a gravechallenge to current standards of world politics. To be sure, the movement lacks thecapabilities and resources necessary for achieving that goal, but I am not prepared, as someare, to dismiss this challenge as "just rhetoric." Certainly, Islamic fundamentalists will not beable to impose their "order" on the world, but they
, on a vast scale. Theyare already doing so, on domestic grounds, in Algeria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, andelsewhere. Turkey has a fundamentalist prime minister
but remains a secular state; the traditionalists currently in the ascendancy in Afghanistan,ethnic Pashtuns, envisage a divine order, though it is difficult to identify them asfundamentalists in the terms I use herein. But in Iran and Sudan the fundamentalists are
in power: both countries are supporting a variety of underground fundamentalistmovements by funding them, training their irregular warriors, and providing the logisticsnecessary for fomenting disorder. This is a challenge that must be taken seriously, andevents in the years since I began writing this book have served to confirm my grave concernfor what awaits.But at the same time we must never lose sight of the distinction between Islam and Islamicfundamentalism; any promotion of hostility to Islam itself in the guise of a clash of civilizations would unwittingly play into the hands of the fundamentalists in their efforts toantagonize the West.This book, then, is not a litany of sensational events and outrageous tactics, but rather an in-depth analysis of the global phenomenon of the politicization of religion, a phenomenon thatis not restricted to Islamic civilization. My analysis seeks not only to explain the phenomenon,as it is manifested in the Islamic case, but also to inquire into the deeper recesses of itsbackground and appeal.Our world is rapidly becoming a "global village," and global issues must be addressed withinthe framework of global solutions. I seek not only to enlighten my readers about theburgeoning global phenomenon of religious fundamentalism but also to present analternative. In my view, that alternative is a compact based on secular democracy and
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