Thursday, March 29, 2007

The seeds of fundamentalism?   posted by Razib @ 3/29/2007 04:32:00 PM

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).