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SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL / AFTER SEPT. 11 Good Muslim, Bad Muslim â€“ An African Perspective Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Anthropology, Columbia University Ever since September 11, there has been a growing media interest in Islam. What is the link, many seem to ask, between Islam and terrorism?The Spectator, a British weekly, carried a lead article a few weeks ago that argued that the link was not with all of Islam, but with a very literal interpretation of it. This version, Wahhabi Islam, it warned, was dominant in Saudi Arabia, from where it had been exported both to Afghanistan and the US. This argument was echoed widely in many circles, more recently in the New York Times. This article is born of dissatisfaction with the new wisdom that we must tell apart the Good Muslim from the Bad Muslim. Culture Talk Is our world really divided into two, so that one part makes culture and the other is a prisoner of culture? Are there really two meanings of culture? Does culture stand for creativity, for what being human is all about, in one part of the world? But in the other part of the world, it stands for habit, for some kind of instinctive activity, whose rules are inscribed in early founding texts, usually religious, and museumized in early artifacts? When I read of Islam in the papers these days, I often feel I am reading of museumized peoples. I feel I am reading of people who are said not to make culture, except at the beginning of creation, as some extraordinary, prophetic, act. After that, it seems they just conform to culture. Their culture seems to have no history, no politics, and no debates. It seems just to have petrified into a lifeless custom. Even more, these people seem incapable of transforming their culture, the way they seem incapable of growing their own food. The implication is that their only salvation lies, as always, in philanthropy, in being saved from the outside. When I read this, or something like this, I wonder if this world of ours is after all divided into two: on the one hand, savages who must be saved before they destroy us all and, on the other, the civilized whose burden it is to save all? We are now told to give serious attention to culture. It is said that culture is now a matter of life and death. But is it really true that peopleâ€™s public behavior, specifically their political behavior, can be read from their religion? Could it be that a person who takes his or her religion literally is a potential terrorist? And only someone who thinks of the text as not literal, but as metaphorical or figurative, is better suited to civic life and the tolerance it calls for? How, one may ask, does the literal reading of religious texts translate into hijacking,
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we are told. called genuine Islam. It has little trace of ethnocentrism. The terrorists of September 11. of the Arabic word al-Jahaliya.â€ conviction of a â€œmanifest destiny. these notions have been the subject of prolonged debates. called â€œbig Jihad. Both have a sense of mission to civilize the world. Both share a deeply messianic orientation. All of this is true. it is said that they also hijacked Islam.â€ thinks of Jihad as a struggle against external enemies of Islam. Dawn. I think of it as an enlightened version. is there not less and less talk of the clash of civilizations.novapdf. Mind you. nor between criminals and civic citizens.ssrc. a line that divides moderate Islam. It is my own construction. but I donâ€™t think it explains terrorism. Even if you should claim to know what is good for humanity. It is an Islamic version of the Christian notion of â€œjust warâ€ . A student of mine gave me a series of articles written by the Pakistani academic and journalist.Mahmood Mamdani: Good Muslim. In one of these articles. how do you proceed? By persuasion or force? Do you convince others of the validity of your truth or do you proceed by imposing it on them? The first alternative gives you reason and evangelism. because it does not just speak of the other. and terrorism? Some may object that I am presenting a caricature of what we read in the press. but also of self. Bad Muslim -. and the notion of Jihad. the second gives you the Crusades. I remain deeply skeptical that we can read peopleâ€™s political behavior from their religion. Christian and Muslim. but it is not a fabrication. or from their Print to PDF without this message by purchasing novaPDF (http://www.htm murder. meaning genuine Islam! Here is one version of the argument that the clash is inside â€“ and not between â€“ civilizations. Take the example of Islam. did not just hijack planes. as in the old colonial notion of â€œa civilizing mission. we are now told to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims. those in The Spectator and The New York Times? After all. Eqbal distinguished between two broad traditions in the understanding of Jihad. called â€œlittle Jihad. We are told that there is a fault line running through Islam. The second. Eqbal Ahmed. and extremist political Islam.â€ or in its more racialized version. Each has a conviction that it possesses the truth. Islam and Christianity have one thing in common. in the 19 th century American In both cultures. and more and more talk of the clash inside civilizations? Is that not the point of the articles I referred to earlier.â€ Or simply. not between good and bad persons. which roughly translated means struggle. The first. who both happen to be Muslims. After all. Both consider the world beyond a sea of ignorance.â€ thinks of Jihad as more of a spiritual struggle against the self in a contaminated world.com/) 2 of 6 2/14/2012 7:36 PM . but between good Muslims and bad Muslims. This conviction is so deep-seated that it is even found in its secular version. â€œthe White Manâ€™s Burden. which I have always known to mean the domain of ignorance.org/sept11/essays/mamdani_text_only. for example. Think.An African Perspective http://essays. This is how it goes. in the Karachi-based newspaper. one that needs to be redeemed.
ssrc.Mahmood Mamdani: Good Muslim. Instead of dismissing history and politics as does culture talk. it was not so long ago that some claimed that the behavior of others could be read from their genes. I suggest we see neither the culture not the politics as archaic. or even to cultivate. all Afghani. How do you make sense of politics that consciously wears the mantle of religion? Take. all leaders of the Mujaheddin. An African Perspective on Contemporary Terrorism Eqbal Ahmed writes of a television image from 1985.org/sept11/essays/mamdani_text_only. The Nixon Doctrine had been forged towards the closing years of the Vietnam War but could not be implemented at that late stage â€“ the doctrine that â€œAsian boys must fight Asian warsâ€ â€“ was really put into practice in Southern Africa. from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. it puts this at the service of a modern project. the immediate result was a partnership between the US and apartheid South Africa. relations and conflicts. that an Orthodox Jew is a potential terrorist and only a Reform Jew is capable of being tolerant of those who do not share his convictions? I am aware that this does not exhaust the question of culture and politics. In what follows. accused by the UN of perpetrating Print to PDF without this message by purchasing novaPDF (http://www. In practice. Could it be true that an orthodox Muslim is a potential terrorist? Or. 1975 was the year of American defeat in Indochina. of Ronald Reagan meeting a group of turbaned men. let me clarify the historical moment. The question was: who would pick up the pieces of the Portuguese empire. I would like to offer you a perspective on contemporary terrorism from an African vantage point. terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet. Even when it tries to harness one or another aspect of tradition and culture. a just war against the enemies of Islam? How do we make sense of this? I want to suggest that we turn the cultural theory of politics on its head. there was also a shift in US strategy. Before exploring the politics of it. terrorism is a modern construction. After the meeting. it translated into a US decision to harness. Terrorism is not a cultural residue in modern politics. Rather.com/) 3 of 6 2/14/2012 7:36 PM . Bad Muslim -. I suggest we place cultural debates in historical and political contexts. both of whom claim to be waging a Jihad.htm culture. and introduced them to the media in these words: â€œThese gentlemen are the moral equivalents of Americaâ€™s founding fathers. 1975 was also the year the Portuguese empire collapsed in Africa. for example the politics of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.An African Perspective http://essays. It was the year the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. but both as very contemporary outcomes of equally contemporary conditions. the same thing. the US or the Soviet Union? As the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted. In Southern Africa. Rather than see this politics as the outcome of an archaic culture. Remember.novapdf. Reagan brought them out into the White House lawn.â€ This was the moment when official America tried to harness one version of Islam in a struggle against the Soviet Union.
Second. The minor context was the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It was not simply that they were willing to tolerate a higher level of civilian casualties in military confrontations â€“ what official America nowadays calls collateral damage. This partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements: Renamo in Mozambique. Bad Muslim -. In another decade.htm â€œa crime against humanity. they were actively nurtured and directly assisted.ssrc. The Bin Laden family is a patron of scholarship. We are told that the CIA looked for a Saudi Prince to lead this Crusade. to spread fear. The grand plan of the Reagan administration was two-pronged.An African Perspective http://essays. The Contras were not only tolerated and shielded by official America. The CIA created the Mujaheddin and Bin Laden as alternatives to secular nationalism. It sought specifically to kill and maim civilians. Always. and Unita in Angola. the Israeli intelligence created Hamas as an alternative to the secular PLO. the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted to Central America. the son of an illustrious family closely connected to the royal family. Their terrorism was of a type Africa had never seen before. I use the word Crusade. in another context. the Reagan administration hoped to turn a religious schism inside Islam. a Crusade.â€ But instead of also addressing the issues â€“ the sources of resentment against official America â€“ the Reagan administration hoped to create a pro-American Islamic lobby. because only the notion of Crusade can accurately convey the frame of mind in which this initiative was taken. But now the CIA was determined to create one. This was not a backwater family steeped in pre-modernity. to Nicaragua and El Salvador. The object of spreading fear was to paralyze government.â€ â€œconstructive engagement.Mahmood Mamdani: Good Muslim.â€ and official Islam as â€œAmerican Islam. but not all of them. This is the context in which an American/Saudi/Pakistani alliance was forged. into a political schism. and religious madresas turned into political schools for training cadres.â€ Reagan termed this new partnership South Africa became both conduit and partner of the US in the hot war against those governments in the region considered pro-Soviet. First. Just as. but a cosmopolitan family. against the evil empire. The shifting center of gravity of the Cold War was the major context in which Afghanistan policy was framed. Thereby. between minority Shia and majority Sunni.novapdf.org/sept11/essays/mamdani_text_only. Ayatullah Khomeini anointed official America as the â€œGreat Satan. as in the mining of harbors. it drooled at the prospect of uniting a billion Muslims around a holy war. the idea was to leave a few to go and tell the story. It could not find a Prince. And so did the center of gravity of US-sponsored terrorism. But it settled for the next best. The new thing was that these terrorist movements specifically targeted civilians. The Islamic world had not seen an armed Jihad for centuries. it hoped to contain the influence of the Iranian Revolution as a minority Shia affair. not Jihad. It was determined to put a version of tradition at the service of politics. Print to PDF without this message by purchasing novaPDF (http://www. But it was not the only context.com/) 4 of 6 2/14/2012 7:36 PM . It endows programs at universities like Harvard and Yale.
I was in Durban at the World Congress Against Racism (WCAR) when the US walked out of it. it habitually looks for a high moral pretext for inaction. ordinary humanity. Official America has a habit of not taking responsibility for its own actions. Bad Muslim -. Albania. the US and Britain compelled African countries to reconcile with terrorist movements. In spite of Pearl Harbor. In Europe. The demand was that governments must share power with terrorist organizations in the name of reconciliation â€“ as in Mozambique. The question of responsibility for postwar reconstruction did not just arise as a moral question. and in Angola. not a traditional leftover. The Cold War was not fought in Europe. The Durban conference was about major crimes of the past.An African Perspective http://essays. another million and a half were maimed. Greece. that after the Second World War and that after the Cold War. and particularly. not in the US. hold official America responsible for its actions during the Cold War? Should official America be held responsible for napalm bombing and spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam? Should it be held responsible for cultivating terrorist movements in Southern Africa and Central America? Perhaps no other society paid a higher price for the defeat of the Soviet Union than did Afghanistan. Should we. I returned from Durban to listen to Condoleeza Rice talk about the need to forget slavery because. Out of a population of roughly 15 million. After the Cold War and right up to September 10 of this year. are these countries hosting terrorism. World War Two was fought in Europe and Asia. and xenophobia. As different factions fought over the liberated country â€“ the Northern Alliance against the Taliban â€“ they shelled and destroyed their own cities with artillery. and in Central America. Whose responsibility is it? Like Afghanistan. about racism. it was turned into a local Sierra Leonean or Angolan or Mozambican or Afghani brew after the Cold War. she said. in Southern Africa. Afghanistan was a brutalized society even before the present war began. this terror was unleashed on Afghanistan in the name of liberation. It was not the US which faced physical and civic destruction at the end of the war. The Question of Responsibility To understand the question of who bears responsibility for the present situation.ssrc. Instead. a million died.com/) 5 of 6 2/14/2012 7:36 PM . and compare how the question of responsibility was understood and addressed in two different contexts. or are they also hostage to terrorism? I think both. it arose as a political question.novapdf. its urgency was underlined by the changing political situation in Yugoslavia. If terrorism was an official American Cold War brew. it will help to contrast two situations. That initiative was called the Marshall Plan. and related crimes. When the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan.Mahmood Mamdani: Good Muslim. This is the context in which the US accepted responsibility for restoring conditions for decent life in noncommunist Europe.org/sept11/essays/mamdani_text_only. and another five million became refugees. but in Southeast Asia. in Sierra Leone.htm Contemporary â€œfundamentalismâ€ is a modern project. the pursuit of civilized life requires that we Print to PDF without this message by purchasing novaPDF (http://www.
Central America.ssrc. Bad Muslim -. That perhaps is the real challenge today. particularly monumental crimes.htm forget the past. life will turn into revenge-seeking. NY 11201 USA | 212-377-2700/2727 fax Print to PDF without this message by purchasing novaPDF (http://www. we give those previously alienated a stake in things. But civilization cannot be built on just forgetting. the short-sighted tend to walk away from others.Mahmood Mamdani: Good Muslim. But in times of prosperity. We must not only learn to forget. By doing so. Social Science Research Council | One Pierrepont Plaza.org/sept11/essays/mamdani_text_only. We must also memorialize. By including those previously excluded. and Afghanistan testifies to this tendency. from repression to incorporation. The contemporary history of Southern Africa. It is true that. Each of us will have nothing but a catalogue of wrongs done to a long line of ancestors. and not adversity.An African Perspective http://essays. It is a human tendency to look for others in times of adversity.novapdf. unless we learn to forget. Conclusion I would like to conclude with the question of responsibility. is the real litmus test of how we define community. America was built on two monumental crimes: the genocide of the Native American and the enslavement of the African American. we must also not forget to learn. 15th Floor | Brooklyn. the boundaries of those with whom we share the world â€“ this is why it is so grotesque to see bombs and food parcels raining on the defenseless people of Afghanistan from the same source. and of lived humanity. I think of civilization as a constant creation whereby we gradually expand the boundaries of community. Modernity in politics is about moving from exclusion to inclusion. we broaden the bounds of lived community.com/) 6 of 6 2/14/2012 7:36 PM . This is why prosperity. The tendency of official America is to memorialize other peoplesâ€™ crimes and to forget its own â€“ to seek a high moral ground as a pretext to ignore real issues. It is the recognition that the good life cannot be lived in isolation. We seek friends and allies in times of danger.
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