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ISLAM AND ISLAMISM AFTER ORIENTALISM

Prologue
Barzakh
They are not and yet they are found everywhere, all times - in graveyards, maternity wards,
homes, schools, playgrounds, offices, factories, and so on and so forth. They seep through
porous borders into the lively, civilized and humane Human World. They chant in un-
intelligible echoes, in symbols and languages used by an absent people, that, some studies
show, used to live in the distant past, before the beginning of the enlightened, humane,
Human History. They are shadows that keep hovering on between the erasure of the past and
inexpugnability of the present; they are but beings out of Time Ghosts- bitter and hence
terrifying; bitter about their absence and incorporeality that translates into a grudge against all
that is present, real, living and happy.
Ghosts absent presence, however, serves many Human purposes at both existential and
practical level. At existential level, it is the condition of possibility of conceptualization and
sustenance of the logical dyad- being vs. non-being, present vs. absent, voice vs. silence,
positive vs. negative, moral vs. immoral and so on. In everyday political, social and
individual life, it helps shift the burden of mistakes and follies to poltergeist. But Ghosts
absent presence also poses some problems. Humans know that the erasure was never
complete because it could never be. They know that even in their Barzakh (the state of
limbo), the ghosts are able to remember of something- something that is lost. They have a
Trace that is pregnant with the possibilities of constituting an authentic being and a different
world. Ghosts love the Trace. Humans fear the Trace because it leads back to what is
erased that, in the final Human analysis, would challenge The Human World and reverse the
order.
Second Coming
Following the trace, some of them come out of their state of limbo howling about their
authenticity:
We exist as always. We are not an ethnicity, race, gender, social class, nationality. These are
not the categories that define our identity. We have a different conceptual system-a meta
narrative, with its own distinct episteme, its own ontological realities, notions of causation
and causality and objects of knowledge that provide us unique markers of identification as
well as a final vocabulary of identity.
The 20th century Human World welcomes their arrival but rejects with disdain their taste for
meta-narrative and their claims to authenticity. The genealogy of Human history and thought

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has made Humans believe the self as mere self position through/ within a range of rationally
constructed identity markers such as class, gender, ethnicity, race, nationality and disability.
Humans of 20th century no more believe in any transcendent, objective reality and any meta-
narrative. Anything having the prefix Meta is unspecific, unverifiable and hence
meaninglessly abstract with utmost vulgarity. The Human response to the claims of claimants
is that such claims are merely a type of mimicry that claimants learnt during their state of
limbo- a fact that they themselves are not and cannot be aware of. The belief in meta-
narrative, transcendent, objective reality is not the proof of authenticity but is in fact the proof
of complete erasure of past through its replacement with something that Humans of earlier
times believed in. The 20th century Humans thus conclude that the new creature does not
possess full Human credentials. They are, therefore, known as Halflings in Human World.
The Halflings constitute the major part of Lumpenproletariat and proletariat (a Human
description) of Human societies.
The Story
Enlightenment project and wide scale colonization placed a new order onto the world,
whereby human identities were construed through markers such as race, ethnicity, culture,
social class, gender, sexual orientation and nationalities. Hence, it was natural to find Arabs,
Turks, Egyptians, Syrians, Indonesions, Indians; upper/middle/lower classes; white/ black/
brown races; males/females/neutrals, heterosexuals/homosexuals, lesbians, etc, but unnatural
to find Muslims. They simply did not exist.
But then they appeared. Initially, their presence was explained in ghostly terms, as mere
absence. But as they continued growing in numbers, clamouring for their authentic existence,
their claims to authentic identity were dismissed as a howling of a people with an erased
history that went through a metamorphosis during colonization which left them but with a
mimic subjectivity of the colonizer- a fact that they themselves were unaware of due to the
erasure of their consciousness/history. They were no more Muslims than what the colonizer
had let them to be. Being the oriental subjects they were but what the Orientalism had
constituted them to be.
Storytelling is as old as human beings, but modern ways of storytelling excel all past human
accomplishments in the field. The preceding ghostly accounts only summarize very many
Modern/Post-Modern myths about Muslim subjectivity and Islam. But the story of Islam and
Muslim subjectivity can also be told in a different manner by employing the very same tools.
What follows is an account that attempts to re-tell a theoretical narrative of Muslim

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subjectivity and Islam. It is an honest attempt, without any grand claims; as such claims do
not suit the sublime art of storytelling.
My point of departure is Edward Saids brilliant masterpiece Orientalism (Said, 2003). I
will summarise, although precisely, Saids critique of Orientalism and will focus on the
consequences of his conclusions about the fate of Islam after Orientalism that have compelled
me to re-tell the story of Islam and Muslim subjectivity in a different manner. I will map the
important anti-orientalist attempts influenced by Saids work, in terms of conceptual schemas
by picking up one or two representative figures that represent a particular conceptual scheme,
and will then go on to offer an alternative narrative. I will try to show how Islam as 'Master
Signifier' (Sayyid, 1997) retroactively constitutes subjectivity, through political action of
Islamists. The account will end by looking at the link between Islam and Islamism by
employing the categories of Availability and Reliability developed by Laclau (1990).

Edward Said and Orientalism


Said (1985) argues that Orientalism is a theory of rationality, of despotic power, of exoticism
and of social change and is organised around four interrelated themes/dogmas: a) There is an
absolute and systemic difference between the West [] and the Orient(Said, 1985, p.
300); b) Representations of the Orient should preferably be based on texts representing a
"classical" Oriental civilization [instead of] modern Oriental realities (Said, 1985, p. 300); c)
Orient is eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself; therefore it is assumed that a
highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the Orient from a Western
standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically objective. (Said, 1985, p. 301); d) Orient is
[.] either to be feared [] or to be mastered (by pacification, research and development,
outright occupation whenever possible) (Said, 1985, p. 301). Said concludes that Orientalist
descriptions of the Orient are essentialist, empiricist and historicist (Turner, 1978, p. 7).
There are two main strands of Saids genealogical critique of Oriental scholarship. Firstly, his
critique attempts to show the perversion of western scholarship for being accomplice with
western imperialism in essentializing and distorting the Orient. This version of orientalism
remains as a discourse of power/ knowledge informed by the historically specific conditions
of European global expansion (Sayyid, 1997, p.32). As a result, Saids argument about the
continued functioning of Orientalism outside the historical power structures/ conditions
becomes strained.
Secondly, his critique attempts to show that Orientalism, above and beyond the question of
validity of knowledge, articulates and constitutes the Orient:

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It is Europe that articulates the Orient; this articulation is the
prerogative, not of a puppet master, but of a genuine creator, whose life-
giving power represents, animates, constitutes the otherwise silent and
dangerous space beyond familiar boundaries.

(Said, 1985, p.57)

Said argues that this is done by essentializing the object of inquiry:

sometimes even clearly described in metaphysical termswhich


constitutes the inalienable and common basis of all the beings con-
sidered; this essence is both "historical," since it goes back to the dawn of
history, and fundamentally a-historical, since it transfixes the being, "the
object" of study, within its inalienable and non-evolutive specificity,
instead of defining it as all other beings, states, nations, peoples, and
culturesas a product, a resultant of the vection of the forces operating
in the field of historical evolution.

(Said, 1985, p.97)

Said then continues to outline the consequences of such essentialization:

Thus one ends with a typologybased on a real specificity, but


detached from history, and, consequently, conceived as being intangible,
essentialwhich makes of the studied "object" another being with
regard to whom the studying subject is transcendent [my italics]; we will
have a homo Sinicus, a homo Arabicus (and why not a homo Aegypticus,
etc.), a homo Africanus, the manthe "normal man," it is understood
being the European man of the historical period, that is, since Greek
antiquity.
(Said, 1985, p.97)

He goes on to explain that when such typology constitutes the archive, there is no escape from
it:

Oriental residence, and its scholarly fruits, are thereby fed into the
bookish tradition of the textual attitudes [.]: together the two
experiences will constitute a formidable library against which no one, not
even Marx, can rebel and which no one can avoid.
(Said, 1985, p. 156-157)

Said hence shows that the problem of Orientalism is not whether the knowledge produced by
Oriental scholarship is valid or not. It is not a problem of bias; rather it is the problem of what
space exists for an alternative project, or in more general terms for the other; and he seems
to believe that no such space exists as the Orientalism totally constitutes the orient. This
conclusion leads to a curious question about the destiny of Islam after Orientalism, i.e, if

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Orientalism has constituted Islam, what, if any, kind of Islam will remain when Orientalism
dissolves?
Said remains silent on the question, perhaps because he understands that to speak for the
oriental subject he will have to first de-orientalize himself because Orientalism reduces its
subjects to silence. The aporia and paradox, that emerges from Saids conclusions, by which
the dissolution of orientalism leads not to a 'liberating interpretation of Islam' but to its
dissolution (Sayyid, 1997, p.35), calls into question the very logic of Said's work. On the one
hand Said rejects any attempts that deny Islam as a meaningful entity, because a counter
writing could only be possible when that which one counters does meaningfully exist, and on
the other his brilliant endeavour itself ends up in the dissolution of Islam as a meaningful
entity.

Anti-Orientalism, Said and Other Writers


Saids critique of Orientalism and his distrust of textual, essentialist approaches to determine
the nature and character of Islam and its role in the lives of Muslims had a widespread appeal.
In his later work he extended on his thesis and claimed that Islam is neither monolithic nor
homogenous. In Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See
the Rest of the World (Said, 1981), he is of the view that Islam has polysemic nature and
empirical diversity, hence, the Orientalist descriptions of monolithic Islam are essentialist and
inadequate:
the various Muslim nationalities whose identities have been blocked in
various post-colonial states clamour for their Islam. And beneath all this
in madrasas, mosques, clubs, brotherhoods, guilds, parties, universities,
movements, villages and urban centres all through the Islamic world -
surge still more varieties of Islam, many of them claiming to guide their
members back to the 'true' Islam.
(Said, 1981, p.60)

He then concludes that due to its overuse Islam is not a reliable index for the analysis of the
phenomenon of Muslim subjectivity (Said, 1981). Saids conclusions led scholars (that I have
classified under an umbrella term, anti-orientalists) to deploy other theoretical matrices and
research methods, particularly, material socio-economic theories, race and ethnic identity
theories, anti-essentialist approaches and anthropological studies to analyse the whatness of
Islam and its relation to Islamicated cultures and societies and movements of Islamization.

Islams not Islam- An anthropological view

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The anti-Orientalist approaches find, perhaps, the most radical expression in the work of
Hamid el-Zien. El-Zien (El-Zien, 1977) by focusing on five studies, that represented five
varied positions within anthropology, concludes that it is impossible to argue that there exists
a single true Islam. Having no unity of religious meaning and being constructed by many
discourses that at times are in stark opposition to one another, the idea of Islam that
presumes an immutable content immune from local articulations- fails to survive as an
analytical category. There can be Islams but no Islam. El-Zien (1977) seems to believe that
by showing the diversity of Islamic practices he can make an argument against Orientalist
essentialism; however, he fails to recognize that plurality cannot protect against essentialism
(Fuss, 1989). His analysis of the role of Islam in Islamicated societies yields nothing more
than an inversion, whereby the essentialism of the whole is replaced by the essentialism of the
parts; as rightly put by Sayyid (1997):
In orientalism we encounter a reduction of the parts to the whole (local
phenomena are explained by reference to the essence of Islam), while in
anti-orientalism there is reduction of the whole to its constituent parts
(Islam is disseminated in local events). The space left vacant by the
dissolution of Islam as a serious concept is occupied by a series of 'little
Islams' (that is, local articulations of Islamic practices). The problem of
identifying these 'little Islams' is conveniently displaced to other
categories.
(p. 38)

Islam- A Marker of Ethnic Identity


Some other leading anti-orientalist scholars, for instance Zubaida (1989), view Islam as an
ethnic marker - a mark on a pre-existing ethnic identity. If this is correct, then, by extension,
Islam should be a marker of all ethnic identities, which is not the case. Contrarily, Islam is a
marker, so to speak, only in case of certain ethnic identities; that lead to assumptions that it is
additional to ethnic identity without which it is not complete. However, if this is the case then
how can Islam be merely an addition? If Islam is a supplement (Derrida, 1973, 1976), then
its status is constitutive rather than instrumental. Besides, ethnic identities are social
constructs (Anderson, 1990), just like any other kind of identifications and hence their a-
priory primacy is doubtful, unless one works with biological race theories.

Islam- Merely an Ideology


Fischer (1990) defines Islam as mere ideology, a system of beliefs that, in the final analysis,
serves only as a mask for socio-economic interests of a much primary construction such as
social class. In Fischers and in other such accounts, Islam and its relationship with Muslim

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societies is inserted into, and also understood through, a theoretical schema consumed by an
opposition between materialism vs. idealism, wherein material is primary (Laclau & Mouffe,
1987). Such frameworks regard society and ideology as two distinctly constituted spheres,
wherein social has a relation of exteriority with the ideological and therefore dismisses any
claims of primacy of representation to Islam. Islam is viewed as a vocabulary through which
legitimacy and representation are mediated (Sayyid, 1997, p.39).
Vocabularies, however, not only express but also constitute (Laclau & Mouffe, 1987; Searle,
1983). A certain vocabulary not just expresses the material realm; instead, the representation
itself constitutes the identity of the object (Rorty, 1989, 1991). Hence, Islam is not merely a
vocabulary through which so called deeper structural interests are expressed, but also a
vocabulary that constitutes interests and identities.
Saids critique of Orientalism had polarising effects on the discourse about Islam and its
relation to Islamicated societies. It seems that to offer an analysis of Islamicated societies and
Islamism, after Said, it was only possible to take either of two positions:
A. One could ignore Saids critique and continue, although with greater difficulty, ascribing
an essence to Islam and emphasizing its centrality in the analysis of Islamicated societies
and Islamism in an Orientalist fashion;
Or
B. One could reject any essence to Islam and ascribe to its dissolution into little Islams and by
way of doing so also deny it/them any central role in the analysis of Muslim
cultures/societies.
An account of Islam, a theorization of the signifier Islam that retains its singularity, despite its
polysemy, without ascribing an essence to it; an account that helps understanding the
Islamicated societies and cultures and the phenomenon of Islamism is required; the bare bones
of which I intend to lay out in the ensuing discussion by following the mile-stones laid by
Sayyid (1997, 2005, 2007).

Islam- An Alternative Account


In Saussurian Semiotics a signifier (significant) is the form that a sign or an acoustic image
takes and the signified is the concept that such sign or acoustic image represents. The relation
between the two is of metaphorical nature. The signifier and the signified by way of
signification make a whole known as sign (Saussure, 1983). The meaning occur when a
signifier signifies a signified; that is to say that an acoustic image or a word relates

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to/represents a concept or concepts and if it does not, it would be mere noise. The signifier
Islam is certainly not a noise, although it may represent more than one concept.
Saussurian Semiotics is furthered by Roland Barthes who views Saussures signifier/signified
denotative in nature. In his early work Barthes presents the idea that apart from the natural
denotative order where the signifier and the signified have a rather closed relation; there exists
a second order- the order of connotation. In his later work, however, Barthes (1973) abandons
the idea of any first order natural language; stresses upon the ambiguous character of the sign
and the possibilities of polysemy, that rest on the understanding that a signifier is not attached
to any single signified but a set or sets of signifieds in a particular context. He later argued
that it is the working out of the connotation that generates the illusion of denotation and the
identicalness of the signifier and the signified (Barthes, 1973) - an understanding further
developed by Jacques Lacan through his famous seminars.
Lacan also dismisses the idea of any pre /existence of a signified outside its relation to a
signifier and hence any possibilities of a first order natural language. Lacan abandons the idea
of representation in the understandings of the sign- that a signifier represents a signified- and
like Barthes, claims that the relation between the signifier and the signified works
retroactively, i.e.: that a signifier retroactively produces a signified. He then theorizes
meaning as halting the sliding of the chain or sets of chains of signifiers through the use of a
quilting point (Lacan, 1988; Zizek, 1989) or what was known as nodal point in Freuds work
(Freud, 1973). It is around the quilting points that:
[] everything is irradiated and is organised as if there were small lines
of force formed in the surface of a tissue by means of the quilting point.

(Lacan, 1988, p. 383 in Sayyid, 1997, p.50)

Discussing the role of trace in complex retroactive operation of the signifier in the
production of signified, Lacan, takes, rather, two opposite positions at different occasions. In
Seminars III, V and VI, where he narrates the story of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe to
illustrate the nature of sign, trace and signifier, he is of the view:
Then there is the trace, the footprint in the sand, the sign about which
Robinson Crusoe makes no mistake. Here sign and object separate. The
trace, in its negative aspect, draws the natural sign to a limit at which it
becomes evanescent. The distinction between sign and object is quite
clear here, since the trace is precisely what the object leaves behind once
it has gone off somewhere else. Objectively there is no need for any
subject to recognise a sign for it to be there a trace exists even if there
is nobody to look at it. When have we passed over into the order of the
signifier? The signifier may extend over many of the elements within the
domain of the sign. But the signifier is a sign that doesnt refer to any
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object, not even to one in the form of a trace, even though the trace
nevertheless heralds the signifiers essential feature. It, too, is the sign of
an absence. But insofar as it forms part of language, the signifier is a sign
which refers to another sign, which is as such structured to signify the
absence of another sign, in other words, to be opposed to it in a couple.
(Lacan, 2008, Seminar III, p.167)

In this long passage, Lacan sesms to suggest that the trace is the mark of absence and the
signifier does not retain anything of the trace insofar as the signifier is a sign which refers to
another sign, which is as such structured to signify the absence of another sign, although it
shares absence as a fundamental trait with the trace.
In seminar V, however, he entertains the possibility that a signifier might take the trace as its
material and even the possibility that a signifier to become a signifier proper might require at
least something of a trace- a notion that resembles much with Derridas (1967) concept of
trace:
If we notice what is specific in the fact, not of a trace, because a trace is
a imprint, it is not a signifier, one senses however that there could be a
connection, and that in truth what one calls the material of the signifier
always participates a little bit in the fleeting character of the trace. This
seems to be one of the conditions for the existence of this signifying
material.

(Lacan, 2008, Seminar V, 23.04.58, p.8)

I will first try to apply the Lacanian notions of signifier and signified and the role of trace
developed in seminar V and later in this article his notions expressed in seminar III to the
topic at hand and will show how these concepts can be used to describe the specificity of
Islam. In the light of Lacanian concepts in seminar V, it seems possible to argue that Islam is
a signifier with signifieds- a signifier whose signifieds/meanings are made possible through
its retroactive articulations in different sets/chains of signifiers. Given the character of trace
and its relationship with the signifier, it is also possible to argue that no articulation occurs in
a void. It occurs in a terrain where there always already exist traces of sedimented
articulations/meanings (Husserl, 1970); in other words, signifiers are always found in already
existing networks of articulations. Any re-articulation of signifiers is bound to preserve
something of the traces of its previous articulations. Islam connotes many things, such as: the
belief in one God, belief in afterlife, belief in prophets and the finality of prophet hood in
Muhammad, belief in the word of God /other revealed books and Quran and so on, that are
carried along in all of its articulations in different networks of signifiers, and these cannot be
dissolved without dissolving the specificity of Islam (Sayyid, 1997, p. 42).

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The working of traces makes it available for all interpretive attempts to carry within the
elements of other previous/current articulations; therefore, any new attempt to re-articulate
begins where the other articulations have left off. Eventually, the signifier Islam is used to
suture a number of discourses although each suturing transforms its identity; and yet each
transformation retains the traces of other previous/current articulations. The content of Islam
is, hence, provided by a temporal/contextual inter-active matrix, wherein the previous
articulations in various contexts inter-act with current articulations in various contexts. If
Islam has a tradition, it bears the marks of its previous articulations/contexts alongside its
current articulations/contexts stretching the same schema in distant future- a past, a present
and a future informed by the inaugurational discourse of Islam that continues offering
promises of a return to the origins, and the recovery of original meaning, with a deeper
realization of the fact that any such attempt to return and recover the original meaning can and
will recover only the traces of inaugurational discourse; the inaugurational moment, with its
own specificity, cannot be re-lived.
Since the moment of its inauguration and by virtue of being the inauguration, Islam
occupies a privileged space among the Muslim community that precedes any other
relationship between Muslims and other elements, be it race, ethnicity, gender, socio-
economic class or nationality. Islam founds Muslim community (Ummah) that tautologically
subscribes to it. Islam is the means by which Muslim community retrospectively constructs its
identity, actualizes such identity and unites itself. It is the quilting point that creates and
sustains the identity of a given ideological field beyond all possible variations of its positive
content, a quilting point that structures the proto-ideological elements into social (Zizek,
1989, p.87). It is a master signifier that is the means to take various positions such as Sunni,
Shia, Salafi, Sufi and many others- a master signifier that draws the limits of fields of
discursivity.
If we take Lacanian view, as expressed in seminar III, of signifier that does not retain
anything of the trace, we are forced to conclude that the quilting point is a functional and not
a substantial category, which means that any element/signifier that is used to suture a
chain/set of signifiers may become quilting point. Similarly, a master signifier is a quilting
point that works at the level of totality. It is a:
paradoxical signifier in so far as it is a particularity that functions as a
metonymy for the whole discursive universe. As such, it acquires a
universal dimension and functions as the place of inscription for all
other signifiers. It is the signifier of the totality that guarantees and
sanctions that unity: it designates the whole by its very presence. It
functions as the place of inscription of all other signifiers of that
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totality.62 The master signifier is a signifier to which other signifiers
refer, and are unified by - and it fixes their identity. It is the unique
point of symbolic authority that guarantees and sustains the coherence
of the whole ensemble.
(Sayyid, 1997, p. 45)

But then how does Islam occupy the status of and operate as a master signifier? It cannot do
so by virtue of any essence because the signifiers are not substantive, and so is true of the
quilting points and master signifiers, given the Lacanian view of signifier that Sayyid extends
on in the preceding extract. Freuds answer to the problem was that the quilting points, and by
the same token master signifiers, have something that makes people feel that there's
something in it (Freud, 1973, p. 221). Zizek (1989, 1990) extends on this something calling
it the itness. This itness is not a set of features or practices because there is something
more to it; something that is present in these features, that appears through them (Zizek,
1990, p.53). It is paradoxical because it marks a point of the failure of totalizing, of complete
signification and yet it is the point where any such failure is masked by the very presence of
the master signifier. To put it differently, it is the point of the birth of the political and
continuous police action to establish and safeguard the delicate link between the signifier and
the signified (Boyne, 1990). It is the moment of the birth of Islamism.

Islam and Islamism


Given the character of quilting point and master signifier, the relationship between Islam and
Islamism is constitutive in nature. That is to say that Islamists attempts to articulate Islam to
their projects work as a function that transforms Islam from a quilting point in a variety of
Muslim discourses into a master signifier of a political order- an attempt that reverberates as a
slogan Islam is the solution. This attempt marks the political nature of the project, because
the attempt stands for not only hegemonizing the field of discursivity by establishing the link
between the signifier and the signified; but also, at the same time, masking the failure of
totalizing.
Islamists do so by distilling from other Muslim discourses a triadic schema having Din (faith),
Dunya (a complete way of life), and Dawla (the political order) as constituent elements
(Ayubi, 1991). Islam runs through, draws the limits and provides meaning to the constituent
elements, the way a master signifier draws the limits of a field of discursivity. In this sense,
Islamist articulations of Islam are not the aggregation of quilting points. Contrarily, such
articulations represent ways of problematizing and then re-arranging and thematizing the
entire field of discursivity, resulting in discourses that are extensive and generalized. It is by

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dissolving the specificities of various Muslim discourses, and, as a result, achieving a higher
abstract level that Islamists pave the path for Islam to work as a master signifier- a
space/state where it is delinked from any particular manifestation and simply refers to the
community as a whole and it becomes the principle of reading that community (Sayyid,
1997, p. 47).
Such efforts of Islamists are not novel and parallels can be drawn from Muslim history. The
advent of khilafah (the regime after the Prophet Muhammad) is one such example, at least in
the early periods of Muslim history. After the death of the Prophet, Khilafah emerged as the
station of authority that articulated Islam as a master signifier. Khilafah marked the absence
of the authority of the Prophet and the birth of Islam as a master signifier to wield the field of
Prophets discursive legacy. Khilafah, on the one hand, maintained a higher level of
abstraction for the signifier Islam, and on the other hand, forcefully rejected any vagueness
and ambivalence to it by continuous police action.
The early khilafah marks an ideal epoch in Muslim consciousness wherein Islam was
synonymous with goodness. It is by increasing the availability of early khilafah as a credible
model for political order in opposition to what Sayyid (1997) terms as kemalist regimes, that
Islamists consequently re-establish the link between Islam and goodness incarnated. It also
accounts for Islamist claims that an Islamic government is the best government for
Islamicated societies. It is pertinent to mention that in my account of Islamism the notions of
availability and credibility do not simply refer to the objective existence of a discourse. I
do not refer to historical specificity and cultural essentialism. It is not that early khilafah
model was merely out there lying as an alternative historically credible structure/order
available to Muslim mind and Islamists used it for their purposes. Contrarily, it is Islamists
articulation of Islam and the early khilafah model that makes it available and consequently
credible, in opposition to Kemalist political orders of Muslim majority societies.
There can be many ways to articulate a discourse but a hegemonic articulation is the one that
also develops an interpretation that retrospectively shows such discourse as being necessary
and the only outcome and masks its contingent character. It rejects the possibilities of any
alternative hegemonic discourse. In other words, on the one hand, hegemony refers to
attempts made to suture and totalize social relations; and on the other, it refers to the
capability of a discourse of masking the failures of suturing and totalizing and making believe
of homogeneity. The availability and credibility of a hegemonic discourse is thus the degree
to which it can make believe of its being necessary and being the only outcome in a particular
context. Similarly, the de-sedimentation or what Laclau (1990) calls reactivation, i.e. the

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realization of the contingency of what was previously considered as natural, marks a point in
a relative decrease in the availability and credibility of a particular hegemonic discourse. As
the space of un-decidability increases, the availability and credibility of the prevalent
hegemonic order decreases, until it reaches a point where it gives way to some other
hegemonic force that has meanwhile increased the availability and credibility of its
hegemonic discourse. The availability and credibility, therefore, operate in a relational matrix;
that is to say, that availability and credibility of a hegemonic discourse also refer to its
position in relation to other hegemonic discourses in a particular context. Hence the
availability and credibility of Islamism as a discourse depends, on the one hand, on its
capabilities to transform Islam from a quilting point in a variety of Muslim discourses into a
master signifier and in particular a master signifier of the political order and on the other, on
its success or failure in masking the contingent character of their discourse, in opposition to
Kemalism and by extension, the West.
After decolonization of Muslim countries, until sometime in late 1970s, it seemed not only
possible but also plausible to succeeding regimes in Muslim majority countries to proudly
pronounce their secular character and talk about Islam in a judgemental, scornful tone and
legislate against the sacraments of Islam, such as fasting and veil. It is simply not possible
anywhere in Muslim world anymore. No government in a Muslim majority country can now
even think about such action. More so, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a government
to survive without showing some kind of allegiance with or reference to Islam. Nowadays, the
governments may take position that Islamists do not represent true Islam; but no government
in any Islamicated society can publically claim that Islam is not synonymous with goodness
and truth. It is beyond doubt that an increasing number of Muslims are arriving at Islam as
what Rorty (1989) calls their final vocabulary. Hence, it is by far safe to assume that
Islamists have more or less succeeded in transforming Islam into a master signifier and in re-
establishing the link between Islam and goodness in Islamicated societies. What is yet to be
established is whether or not they will succeed in masking the contingent character of their
discourse while exposing the contingency of those of their opponents. This is a war that is
being waged in discursive spaces between Islamists on one side and Kemalists and the West
on the other- a war that centres on conflicting claims to modernity and universal values.

13
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