The seeds of fundamentalism?

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In the discussion thread for the Ayaan Hirsi Ali post there was some mooting of the nature of Islamic fundamentalism. I think this story is illustrative of the issues at work that might surprise:

…Khan told him he first became attracted to radical Islam because the tradition he grew up with was forcing him into an arranged marriage. The radical Imams were offering him a way out.

“A lot of guys I know, actually, have become radicalized, or initially took the first steps towards learning more about Islam and their way of life as a result of them being tried to being forced to marry someone they don’t want to marry,” Butt tells Simon.

Of course “traditional” South Asian youth don’t object to arranged marriages, it is those who are inculcated with “Western” values who tend to find them abhorrent in conception. The fact is that the folkways that immigrants from Third World countries bring with them aren’t really appropriate for their new cultures, and so their children have to find their own way (I know whereof I speak!). Fundamentalist Islam rooted in the Salafist movement is a safety valve for many of these first generation immigrants because it is a modern creation. I don’t want to get into the details of the origins of the Salafi movement, but the reality is that some of its early thinkers were actually quite liberal. The manner it which it mutated makes that seem a bizarre possibility, but it is as it is. My own personal experience is that my more “fundamentalist” relatives are amongst the most open to rejection cultural tradition, so long as that rejection can be grounded in Islamic principles. The malleability of such principles are, I believe, the root of the mutagenic nature of an ideology which presents itself as timeless, and yet is very much a sign of the times. Most immigrant youth do not have the orientation to become atheists whose individualistic self-absorption transcend deep group ties. That’s why the emergence of more “liberal” Islams is essential. Some of that process is going on now as Muslims rework the meaning of their religion in a Western cultural context. But part of the dynamic also has to be from without, just as Western culture forced Jews to accommodate outside of the ghetto, and America denied the Roman Catholic Church any status but that of just another denomination amongst many, so we must get our heads out of the multicultural sand and delegitimatize the sense of entitlement that many “community leaders” of a reactionary bent have in the Muslim community (this is more true for our friends across the pond).

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24 Comments

  1. “I don’t want to get into the details of the origins of the Salafi movement, but the reality is that some of its early thinkers were actually quite liberal.” 
     
    You mean like advocating Ijtihad as a means to Islamic modernity? Yes, that Salafic(?) practice does seem particularly muted in many of todays Salafis. Too many are too lazy for serious study and thus accept Taqlid from some dubious sources, AND coerce others to do the same!

  2. From time to time I recommend Geertz’s “Islam Observed”. It’s a short book, pretty easy to read, and compares Islam in Indonesia and Morocco.  
     
    The differences between the two nations’ Islam are part of his story, but mainly he distinguishes between three types: traditional Muslims, modernizing Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims. 
     
    Traditional Islam is eclectic, corrupt, lax, etc., and riddled with cultural innovations which are only weakly grounded in the Koran, or not at all, including some which run counter to the Koran. Traditional Islam cannot compete with the west either economically or militarily. 
     
    Modernizing Islam responds to the weakness of Islam by modernizing, westernizing, and secularizing to a degree, but without abandoning Islam. 
     
    Fundamentalist Islam rejects both of the above and develops a purified Islam which claims to return to the original pure Islam but in reality is a reform movement partly inspired by the modern challenge, and in some ways a modernizing movement.

  3.  
    Fundamentalist Islam rejects both of the above and develops a purified Islam which claims to return to the original pure Islam but in reality is a reform movement partly inspired by the modern challenge, and in some ways a modernizing movement.
     
     
    the last is the key. from a non-muslim (secular?) perspective i think it is important to note that salafists aren’t going back to first principles. they’re recreating what they think 7th century islam was. and, when needed, they’re also adapting and fudging what 7th century islam was. e.g., many salafists are against taking photos, but osama has video tapes with his likeness depicted! that would be considered ‘modern.’ all a load of bullshit, but bullshit we need to keep in mind…. 
     
    p.s., keil, according to vali nasr one of the founders of salafism was for shia background. ironic?

  4. Most immigrant youth do not have the orientation to become atheists whose individualistic self-absorption transcend deep group ties 
     
    Maybe the flexible US job market, relatively poor welfare benefits and high mobility leads to reduced geographical proximity and de-ghettoisation and thus weakening of group ties as compared to Western Europe where Muslims dont move around as much on average.  
     
    French Algerian Muslims are an interesting case study as they seem to have a higher number of atheists. What was the general SES of Algerian Muslims immigrating to France? The immigrants from Pakistan in UK and from Morocco in Holland were generally of a low SES.

  5. I thought of referring to the Hassan Butt interview (w/respect to some Muslims charging AHA w/lying about her arranged marriage) in the INFIDEL review, but it was long enough. He’s interesting. Very young, still, therefore capable of many more mutations. I wonder where Hassan Butt will eventually end up — perhaps the Communications Director of the Hirsi Ali Enterprise Institute? :) 
     
    “I don’t want to get into the details of the origins of the Salafi movement, but the reality is that some of its early thinkers were actually quite liberal.” 
     
    This kind of scares me. It makes it sound as if any sort of liberalizing movement inevitably gets beaten down by an impregnable Orthodoxy. 
     
    I do find it interesting that Bahaism is an offshoot of Shi’a Islam.

  6.  
    I do find it interesting that Bahaism is an offshoot of Shi’a Islam.
     
     
    my understanding is that it was originally a reformist-fundamentalist “back to the basics” form as well. attacking the corruption of the clerics….

  7. Razib, 
     
    If what you say is correct, it suggests that this radical Islamic movement is a temperary, generational thing that is limited to the 2nd generation muslims mainly in Europe.  
     
    I also think a big factor is the fact that the U.S. has an open free market system, where recent immigrants do all kinds of business like convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, and the like. These are business activities that are either banned or restricted in Europe, because Europe has such a socialistic economy. 
     
    I have been to Europe on business. I have also known Europeans who have started businesses in Asia (like Japan and China) because Europe is too restrictive. If I was a muslim immigrant in Europe, languishing in one of those housing projects with zero opportunity, I’d be pissed as well. 
     
    I have muslim friends here in the U.S. Yes, they think that Islam is the cat’s meow (of course, I do not). However, they are not suicide bomber jihadis and (as far as I can tell) would not even consider doing anything like this. Most of the them are responsible business owners and family men. Me thinks alot of this has to do with having economic opportunity.

  8. Me thinks alot of this has to do with having economic opportunity. 
     
    you can’t blame just the system. non-muslim immigrants to europe have many economic difficulties, and cause un-organized problems (e.g., welfare, street crime), but no organized counter-reaction. one of the problems is that european welfarism attracts a particular type of immigrant. for example, the bangladeshis in england come from a particular district which is quite traditionalist and separatist in orientation within bangladesh (sylhetis). the stream of muslim immigrants in the USA is skewed toward professionals and business persons even before they arrived. professionals & business persons by the necessity are more mobile than factory workers or menial labor (you can only have so many doctors in an area). finally, numbers count. the USA & britain have about the same # of muslims (within an order of magnitude), but the USA is 5 times more populous.

  9. The note about salafism opposing traditions among their ethnic group reminded me of this article about pushtunwali vs islamism in afghanistan. 
     
    Speaking of the Algerians in France, is it creepy that I find the picture on the cover of a book about the horrors of repeated violent gang-rapes rather attractive? I’ve long thought that positive (or negative) association played a significant role in how I react to that sort of thing and also been disgusted that there appears to be enough demand for vicarious enjoyment of misogyny for the pornography industry to supply as much of that as it does (though I suppose sites like somethingawful and populationpaste do not present a representative sampling), so I’d be greatly bothered if having rape on the mind predisposed me toward something other than sadness and revulsion. In my defense I’d add that these scenes (probably NSFW) of Natalie Portman getting tortured in the nude by the Spanish Inquisition left me appropriately bothered, though on the other hand the Star Wars prequels and Garden State did so as well on a much lower level due to simply not being all that good.

  10. Kurt, 
     
    Here’s the weird thing. Those British-born Pakistani origin kids who are seething with political resentment are aggrieved over Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia…but not (to my knowledge) Kashmir. Why? Because the Salafi imams don’t freak out over Kashmir, and they do about Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia. So it seems to me that the resentment is very carefully stoked. Now you could say it’s stoked because of economic grievance, but then, aren’t British Sikhs faced with the same problems? And so on.

  11. Here’s the weird thing. Those British-born Pakistani origin kids who are seething with political resentment are aggrieved over Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia…but not (to my knowledge) Kashmir. Why? Because the Salafi imams don’t freak out over Kashmir, and they do about Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia. So it seems to me that the resentment is very carefully stoked. Now you could say it’s stoked because of economic grievance, but then, aren’t British Sikhs faced with the same problems? And so on. 
     
    Though I agree with you in the sense that the Arab Salafist Imams dont fret too much over Kashmir, the Pakistani Brit youth are usually in a hyper agitated state on Kashmir. I have lived in UK and Kashmir was quite the cause celebre for Pakistani Brits. A big percentage of the Pakistani Brits come from Mirpur which is a city in Pakistan controlled Kashmir.  
     
    The mild barelvi school of thought practicing Mirpuris do sometimes adopt Deobandism and some of them move to Salafism and give up on the Pakistani cultural baggage including Kashmir. Interestingly this transition from Deobandism to Salafism was also made by the Pakistani 7-7 bombers.

  12. Diana, 
     
    I did not know that there were many Sihks living in the U.K. I know that there are a fair number of Chinese people there (’cause I stayed and partied with two of them during my only visit to London in ’91). The Chinese seem not as pissed off as the muslims, at least the ones I know, although they ranted and raved about how socialistic the U.K. (and Europe) is. 
     
    So, maybe it is a muslim thing. Razib would know better than I would on this matter. I generally do not like to comment about stuff if there are people in the room who are more knowledgable than I am. 
     
    I’m quite an empiricist about this kind of stuff in the sense that I base most of my opinions more on personal experience and observation than on what I read.  
     
    My contact with muslims has been with Arabs in the U.S. and Malays in Malaysia. The Arabs in the U.S. (most of them) seem to have the “victim” complex, much like black people, which is certainly not a good thing. The Malays in Malaysia are certainly less motivated to excel in any kind of human endevour than the Chinese and the Indians, which is also not a good thing. So, my personal observation of muslims is generally negative. Your mileage may vary.

  13. Diana: 
    ” any sort of liberalizing movement inevitably gets beaten down by an impregnable Orthodoxy” 
     
    take a look around you – specifically at the american liberal and his/ her irrational and impregnable orthodoxies ????

  14. Vic, 
     
    I’m getting tired of saying, “you have a point.” Because you don’t. If you can’t see the difference between the grand sweep of Islamic history since Al-Ghazzali (anti-science, anti-rationalism, anti-progress and anti-freedom) and legitimate political differences, societal taboos (which exist everywhere & everywhen) and plain old human foible, then that’s your problem.

  15. I did not know that there were many Sihks living in the U.K. I know that there are a fair number of Chinese people there (’cause I stayed and partied with two of them during my only visit to London in ’91).  
     
    the sikhs are almost as numerous as hindus. socioeconomically they are doing far better than muslims. this is important because ethnically (physically) they are basically the same people as the vast majority of muslims (punjabis). my understanding is that their origins in india were not particularly elite, just like the muslims (personal communication). so it is a good test for cultural differences making a difference….

  16. Razib, 
     
    The Sikhs I have known personally were in the U.S. and Malaysia. They have all been sucessful entrepreneurs or professional people. I have also noticed that they educate their women as much as they do their men. The personal ads I saw once in my roommate’s Sikh newspaper (this is when I lived in LA in 1987) presented women who all had batchelor degrees and above, mostly in engineering and business. 
     
    Do you know if there are significant populations of non-muslim immigrants in France? If so, are they as poor as the muslim immigrants? Do they riot as well? 
     
    I know that there are Chinese and Vietnamese people in France. But I don’t know how many of these people there are.

  17. Yep. A hijab, a beard, and high water pants are a way for middle-class Muslim children of immigrants to rebel against their traditionalist parents (and escape arranged marriage and a lot of thir world crap) without offending or ostracizing their parents. It’s a ‘safe’ path to modernity. 
     
    And it is as true in the US and the UK. Even more, because high religiosity is more acceptable in the US, and can be seen as a path to assimilation (see Grover Norquist pre 9/11).  
     
    As an aside, I saw a lot of parallels between this situation and what Yuri Slezkine described in The Jewish Century about Russian Jews between 1890 and 1950. Bolshevism was a ‘safe’ way for a minority community to integrate (leave the Shtetl) and modernize without going over to the ‘other side and becoming a sellout. Zionism was even safer!

  18. razib, 
     
    I’m going to stifle the urge to debate some of the things you said and just go with this: 
    so we must get our heads out of the multicultural sand and delegitimatize the sense of entitlement that many “community leaders” of a reactionary bent have in the Muslim community 
    and just add: “right on”. 
     
    (And congrats on the Instalanche).

  19. I saw this map of the prevalance of consanguinious marriage and wondered (1) does it support a cultural link between Islam and that form of marriage; (2) does it suggest perhaps even a genetic component to certain attitudes common within Islam; (3) what direction does the causation flow (from the religion to the norms of marriage, vice versa, or mutally supporting)? 
     
    http://www.consang.net/summary.html

  20. This NY Times article is about a Methodist church that fell into disuse & is now a mosque. 
     
     
    “As for the new mosque, there will be no obvious changes to the church?s exterior, though the cross at the top will come down. 
     
    Women will be welcome to pray in the main prayer hall, “not in a cubby hole in the corner,” Mr. Arshad said. 
     
    “We don?t want a dome,” he said. “That looks pretty in Egypt and Turkey, but in a market town in England it looks like a big onion. There will be no external call to prayer. What matters is what goes on inside.” 
     
    The beginnings of a reform Islam? Who knows. (I do think the reaction might have been more intense if the Church had been CofE; Methodism has always been a small dissenting sect in England. But still: it’s the very moderate Muslim reaction I am tracking here.) 

  21. A not very intelligent post. 
     
    What comes through is a relatively ignorant poser who thinks he’s intelligent. 
     
    Where to start? 
     
    How about America “den[ying] the Roman Catholic Church any status…”,? 
     
    Had the Church petitioned for “status”? 
     
    And they were “denied” I guess. 
     
    Bummer. 
     
    Dumber.

  22. A new & improved Quran is discussed here. (Get her bodyguards out, sweetie.) 
     
    Al Ghazzali is discussed here, presumably by someone with high-g loaded mental furniture: 
     
    “Alas, Islam turned against science in the twelfth century. The most influential figure was the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, who argued in The Incoherence of the Philosophers against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God’s hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smoulder because of the heat, but because God wants it to darken and smoulder. After al-Ghazzali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries. 
     
    The consequences are hideous. Whatever one thinks of the Muslims who blow themselves up in crowded cities in Europe or Israel or fly planes into buildings in the US, who could dispute that the certainty of their faith had something to do with it?”

  23. lol 
    both diana and whineberg are profoundly ignorant about al-ghazali…..so what? 
    and i find the other story irrelevent to my point, that diana is deeply ignorant about al-ghazali’s influence. 
    she and whineberg share the same colonialist and cartoonish unidimensional view of the currents of hellenic thought preserved in islamic discourse. 
    without Averroes [ibn Rushd] there could have been no Thomas Aquinas. 
    there has always been argument about the “beating” verse, well before the new Qu’ran diana cites. 
    my Asad translation interprets the word as “putting away”, ie refusing sex to your wife as punishment. ;)

  24. The consequences are hideous. Whatever one thinks of the Muslims who blow themselves up in crowded cities in Europe or Israel or fly planes into buildings in the US, who could dispute that the certainty of their faith had something to do with it?” 
     
    razib are you even reading this????????? 
    we’ve discussed papers on this very blog contradicting that statement with hard data. 
    this is unbearable. 
     
    really, i give up.

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