By Manzar Zaidi

Nov 21, 2013


It is commonly stated by many Western and Islamic scholars that Islam is not only a religion but is also a blueprint for social order, governance and politics. It is therefore purportedly encompassing all domains of life, including law and the state. This is supposed to set Islamic polity apart from secular Western states. However, in actual point of fact, the Islamic states have passed through a wide range of governance experiences, ranging from Caliphate to monarchy, military dictatorship and dictatorship, communism and National Socialism, as well as theocracy, religious fascism, and democracy. Even those who decry a theocratic element to governance are beset by it, as evidenced by the role of Israeli religious parties in politics, and the gradually increasing interaction of the highest level American executive echelons with the Christianity, due to personal convictions.   The problem with Islamic interpretative discourses is to contextualize the ephemeral boundaries   between theocracy, society, and human rights within a governance paradigm.

Despite the commonly held perception that the institutions of state and religion are unified in Islamic polity, most observable Muslim societies did not conform to this ideal, but were built around separate institutions of state and religion. This holds particularly true for societies which tend to hold on to concepts of honour and group solidarity based upon tribal or loose religious affiliations. In this context, it becomes important to understand the basic sense of social solidarity which exists in the Muslim world, which is composed more of tribal, dynastic and group affiliations rather than the idea of a monolithic Islamic state. Many scholars have argued that this is a scenario which is destined for trajectories of radicalization.

Authoritarian political structures in Pakistan have also affected this radicalization process; it has often been argues that since democracy came late to Pakistan and has faced numerous difficulties, this allowed Zia ul Haq’s initiated processes to take root. As an analogous argument, it has also been argued that dictatorships have tended to enable incumbent government to adopt repressive measures and ultimately abolish democracy itself, since these movements were used by governments to justify the continuation of repressive policies. Such arguments were accepted by Western states which feared that radical Islamists, upon assuming power, would also turn against their interests.

These regimes ostensibly inculcated virulent anti-American rhetoric in place of political dissent . Thus, by analogy to the Middle East, the conclusion was quickly drawn that the democratic deficit in Pakistan had contributed to the emergence of Islamist terrorism. However, this is notwithstanding the fact that the transition from dictatorship to democracy has often been turbulent and that more than a few established democracies have struggled with persistent terrorist threats. Indeed, studies on democracy and terrorism (which is an extreme form of radicalization) do not demonstrate a simple causal relationship between the lack of democracy and terrorism anywhere in the world, as a seminal work by Martha Crenshaw, a scholar of terrorism, suggests. She argues terrorism and radicalization to be a result of retaliation in ‘blocked’ societies resistant to innovation. Similarly, surveying the American political scene, Christopher Hewitt, a political scientist,  concludes that ‘the resort to violence is most likely to take place when members of a group have their hopes and aspirations raised, but then become disillusioned with the political process.’

Globalization is also one of the main agents of this disillusionment. Besides other explanations, one could argue that the exaggerated trajectories of Islamism are the reaction of a world religion influenced by the response of traditional cultures to globalization. The reaction is a mixture of bewilderment, anger, fascination, incomprehension, confusion, seduction and violent hatred with Western modernity. The Islamic world to a great extent still holds on to tribal and cliquish emotive sentiments of group loyalty or social solidarity, termed by Ibn Khaldun as Assabiyya. Akbar S.Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar living in the US, suggests that this exaggerated group loyalty can become the basis of identification with Muslims under peril anywhere in the world, which can be a cause of Radicalization.

Modern Muslim nation states have had their boundaries redrawn by colonial powers, which sometimes cut straight across the tribal and rural heartlands, separating a particular tribe, caste or religious minority across a line or divide. Imposed boundaries of this kind are bound to create a stronger feeling of group solidarity in a group which feels that it has been sequestrated.  Globalization appears to challenge the very roots of tribal identity by attacking the familiar cocoons of cultural identity which surround individuals: families are divided as individuals are forced to leave home to look for employment or in response to a political or cultural situation, some­times never to return. The tribe is similarly affected; members gravitate to congested urban areas, due to the constraints of the tribal resources to maintain themselves. This results in the weakening of central genea­logical principle of common descent, which again engenders a loss of identity.

Simultaneously, a  much more connected world have made the Muslims aware of the fact that they had been victimized in conflicts left over from centuries of European wars and from decolonization. The perpetual Palestine problem, the thorny Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan were seen as legacies of blatant colonial aggression. Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo etc were seen as avoidable human tragedies, if it were not for the intransigence of the western powers, which were perceived to have acted disproportionately quickly in the Gulf war as opposed to these orphan conflicts .Thus ,hegemony over oil was perceived to have overtaken human rights interests.  This started to be a widespread perception in the Muslim world. It is this metamorphosis of honour as the exaggerated feeling of group solidarity of Islamism, based upon a perception of grave necessity of redemption of this violated collective honour, which is arguably one of the many variables of political science which contributes to radicalization in the Muslim world as well as Pakistan.


By M. Zaidi.

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