By Manzar Zaidi
Nov 5, 2013


The Nazi German state and the Balkans in the heart of Europe brought down the Weberian model of authority, which had assumed that societies  moving along a secular path would be guided by a rational bureaucracy set in a working democracy. Charismatic leaders would demonstrate the power to veer the trajectories of rationally functioning state governance frameworks into realms of genocide and the holocaust. This hegemonic role of the power elites has been purportedly been responsible for radicalization to a great extent in the Muslim World, by default, design or misplaced intentions. This is one of the reasons why we are now starting to see grassroots agitation in such Muslim countries which have seen such hegemonic rule.

Islamic polity contextualizes the leader to embody both political and moral authority, since the ummah needs guidance by capable leaders. The emphasis  upon the revival of the Caliphate by  Islamists is related to  this discourse, as well as  explaining quite satisfactorily  the unflinching obedience given to ‘Amirs’ or ‘Sheikhs’ such as Mullah Omar and Bin Laden. Fareed Zakariyya, an erudite Egyptian scholar,  suggests that contemporary religious movements as a whole  deviate from creating critical consciousness in their followers by a tunnel visional  obedience to a leader or doctrine, without giving  self critical attention to mundane socio-economic and political contexts. Since these doctrines offer sanctuary “from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence”, they remove themselves simultaneously from the realities of these problems. A simple cure-all solution is unflinching obedience to a leader or doctrine, which Zakariyya has labeled “the suspension of human reason.”

Thus, Radicalization in much of the Muslim world is not necessarily a revolt against modernity per se, but an expression of resentment against efforts to impose a Western or Marxist ‘imported’ variant of it by leaders, who at one time or the other took over , many times(but not always) due to an inherent need ‘to be led’. This has usually not fared well against staunch traditionalist resistance, in the process veering many of these defensive entities towards Islamist trajectories. Dismal socio economic frameworks, unemployment and income inequalities have also made the ruling elite felt insecure about their power base, and in interests of self sustenance they held on to it by processes varying from brutal military dictatorships to Marxist models of governments to appeal to Sharia .According to Zakariyya the recent resurgence of Radicalization in Muslim world is “a clear reflection of the lack of consciousness among the masses. The spread of these movements becomes inevitable after more than thirty years of oppression, the suspension of reason, and the domination of a dictatorial political system.”

In the colonial past of many Muslim countries, the colonizing force was a symbiotic entity with local elites who opted for a favorable compartmentalization of policy, as against a uniform national political arena which would have allowed populist politics to flourish and put at risk fragile vested interests. The unbridled monarchies of Gulf States and tribal chiefs in East Africa and Nigeria, along with some feudal interests in Pakistan are such inclusive entities, besides many others. When direct rule from the centre broke down in countries such as in Algeria, this espoused the cause of the elites in reaching centre stage in politics in many post colonial Muslim nation states. In many such nascent states, the inherent power relationship structures within colonialism were perpetuated in continuum by these elites, till they met expressions of resentment; this is also happening right now in many Muslim countries.

Many such states also have tribal trajectories; Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of tribal settlement presumes that outlying tribes tied together by kinship solidarities conquer, settle, and rule a state till the time kinship loyalties loosen, the rulers urbanize and  lose control over distant tribes, and the cycle begins again. Logically, the tribal cliquish mindset of the leaders in an Islamic country built upon the ashes of tribalism would tend to persist even in a state framework.  This seems to be somewhat the situation in present day Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, all states which are most affected by violent radicalization, Islamism and tribalism; not coincidentally, autocratic leaders in these states have been blamed for the current dilemmas of these states.

This tribal mindset may also be a driver of political processes in countries of the Middle East, explaining why dictatorships have arisen so easily and have been tolerated by the masses. In historical tribal warfare, winning against an opponent (whether it be the skeptical populace of a state or political opponents) counts as a victory, and there is no such thing as a graceful defeat, since victory counts for everything and victims are often despised, not pitied. Some leaders in such a state may cultivate this tribal mentality as well, since many have ruthlessly persecuted political opposition, and put down dissenting voices as sedition. This persecution is further heightened by disdain for persons with non membership of the tribal affiliation, aggravating the causal cycle of discrimination against the ‘non members’ by the ruling elite. As Ajami observes, “triumph rarely comes with mercy or moderation (in the Arab World)”.
Muslim leadership in the twentieth century has seen a bewildering array of kings, military dictators, mullahs, democrats, tribal men, etc; adding to this motley arraignment of leadership are newly emerging aggressively ultra right literalist Islamist movements. Unfortunately, most of these leadership frameworks share the commonality of having a sole political agenda of survival or sustaining of foisted regimes on a populace. Since this system of governance is imposed by elite driven by political motives of a self sustaining regime or agenda, it can loosely be classified as an Elitist- political Islamism. This Elito Political Islam has generally identified itself with what it considered as an ally of convenience in the shape of a particular variant of Islamism that it considered pliable , and then flirted with it, generally with little success. The Egyptian regime’s flirtation with Muslim brotherhood (ranging from cordiality to brutal suppression) is just one trend amongst many. Thus, besides issue of corruption, nepotism, suppression of freedom and democracy, this Elito political Islam has fostered radicalization in many Muslim states through the devices of governance frameworks which hastily consorted with rightist religious movements in the hope of self sustenance, in the process dooming their constituencies in many cases to spirals of violence, which in turn generated vested interests of self sustenance by continuation of this violence.

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