Friday, March 14, 2008

Islamism: Bernard Lewis and Martin Kramer

Martin Kramer and Bernard Lewis
(Image from Kramer's Gallery)

I spent over an hour yesterday trying unsuccessfully to open a cyberclassroom for my course on Islamism at Yonsei's Underwood International College.

I'll get help today from someone with The Knowledge. Maybe a London cabbie...

Meanwhile, I will post here what I would have posted there, albeit with a bit more commentary, as befits blogging. I've previously mentioned that the aim of my Islamism course is to understand this awkwardly named phenomenon, the rise of political Islam. This week, we're reading materials independently and trying to define precisely what Islamism means. With that aim in mind, I have read one article by Bernard Lewis and another by Martin Kramer, so I will share selected paragraphs for interested readers.

I'll begin with Lewis, who writes about Islamic revolution in light of the 'successful' Iranian one but draws more far-reaching conclusions.

A. Bernard Lewis, "Islamic Revolution," The New York Review of Books, Volume 34, Number 21 & 22 (January 21, 1988).

1. Lewis's Distinction between Quietists and Activists in Islam (paragraphs 18 through 20):
There are many different strands in the rich and varied traditional culture of Islam. There are in particular two political traditions, one of which might be called quietist, the other activist. The arguments in favor of both are based, as are most early Islamic arguments, on the Holy Book and on the actions and sayings of the Prophet.

The quietist tradition obviously rests on the Prophet as sovereign, as judge and statesman. But before the Prophet became a head of state, he was a rebel. Before he traveled from Mecca to Medina, where he became sovereign, he was an opponent of the existing order. He led an opposition against the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and at a certain point went into exile and formed what in modern language might be called a "government in exile," with which finally he was able to return in triumph to his birthplace and establish the Islamic state in Mecca. The Prophet's departure from Mecca -- the hijra -- marks the starting point of the Muslim era. The struggles in adversity that preceded his exile, like the ultimate triumph that ended his career, are all part of the Islamic tradition, of the holy life of the Prophet.

Of these two traditions, that of the Prophet as sovereign is obviously far better known and far better documented, but the tradition of the Prophet as rebel is also old and deep-rooted, and it recurs throughout the centuries of Islamic history. The activist tradition has been stronger and more explicit among the Shi'a, but it is not exclusive to them, and there has been no lack of Shi'i quietists and Sunni dissidents in Islamic history. The Prophet as rebel has provided a sort of paradigm of revolution -- opposition and rejection, withdrawal and departure, exile and return. Time and time again movements of opposition in Islamic history tried to repeat this pattern, a few of them successfully. The rebels who carried out the first great Islamic revolution in the eighth century went to Eastern Iran and from there they came to Iraq and founded the great Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. Another group of religiously inspired rebels, in the tenth century, went to Yemen and then to North Africa, and from there they conquered Egypt and established the great Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo. Khomeini went to Iraq, and thence to Neauphle le Château, outside Paris, and from there he returned to rule in Tehran.
2. Lewis's Distinction between Pragmatists and Ideologues in Islamist Revolutions (paragraphs 33 through 35):
A familiar feature of revolutions, such as the French and the Russian, is the tension, often conflict, between moderates and extremists -- Girondins and Jacobins in the French Revolution, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Russian, as well as numerous smaller splinter groups. Some historians have found similar differences in Islamic revolutions of the past; some observers have discerned them in the course of events in Iran. Certainly there has been no lack of such tensions and conflicts between rival groups, factions, and tendencies within the revolutionary camp. The distinction between moderates and extremists is, however, one derived from Western history, and may be somewhat misleading when applied to the Islamic revolution in Iran.

A more accurate description, for this as for other previous Islamic revolutions, would present the conflict as one between pragmatists and ideologues. The latter are those who insist, against all difficulties and obstacles, on maintaining the pure doctrine of the revolution as taught by them. The former are those who, when they have gained power and become involved in the processes of government at home and abroad, find it necessary to make compromises. Sometimes they go so far as to modify their revolutionary teachings; more often, they tacitly disregard them. This conflict, between those who reject and those who practice compromise, can be traced throughout Islamic history, from the venerated Companions of the Prophet -- those who embraced Islam and joined him during his lifetime -- to the henchmen of Khomeini. In times of revolution, it becomes particularly bitter.

Each side has certain advantages. The ideologues have the better rhetoric, the stronger appeal, the greater popular support. The pragmatists are better equipped to deal with the practical problems of government, at home and abroad. Part of their pragmatism is to try to avoid an open clash with the ideologues. When they fail, and a clash occurs, they are usually defeated, since in a time of revolutionary change the ideologues are better placed to mobilize support. It is not easy to rouse the masses for such tasks as compromising with Iraq, mending fences with the United States, or slowing the pace of revolutionary change. When pragmatists in office go too far, they are ruthlessly suppressed, and their careers end in exile, imprisonment, or death. At best, they fade out of public life and are rendered innocuous. Such have been the various fates of once prominent figures like the former foreign minister Sadeq Qotbzadah, who was executed; the former president Abolhasan Bani Sadr, who escaped to Paris; and the first prime minister of the revolutionary regime, Mehdi Bazargan, who, though alive and in Iran, has been excluded from power and reduced to insignificance. The ideologues rule, and since the practical problems remain, in time a new group of pragmatists emerges among the victorious ideologues, and the conflict is renewed, usually with the same result. The process continues until the revolutionary passion is spent, and a group of pragmatists survives, succeeds, and remains in power. Then the ways of government return to normal, and the ideologues return to the world of theory and preaching from which the revolution had enabled them, briefly, to emerge. It would seem that this stage has not yet been reached in Iran.
Taking Lewis's two points together, we can see that Islam has an inherent potential for revolution even within an Islamic system because the status of Muhammad as moral exemplar for Muslim activists legitimates rebellion against an authority perceived as insufficiently Islamic and that any Islamic system subsequently established through revolutionary means will prove unstable because ideologues will repeatedly insist upon purifying the system to make it more 'Islamic'.

Strictly speaking, if we apply this analysis too rigorously, then we would be forced to conclude that Islam could never stabilize itself, which is patently false, for there have been relatively stable Islamic systems throughout history. This stability can only come through compromise settled for against the incompetence of ideologues.

The potential for revolt, however, remains intrinsic to Islam, and the central difficulty lies in trying to determine what triggers activist Islam.

I don't know the answer to this question, but once Islamic activism is triggered, the ideologues lead the way, and Martin Kramer has some useful points to make about such Islamists.

B. Martin Kramer, "Fundamentalist Islam: The Drive for Power," Middle East Quarterly (June 1996), pp. 37-49.

1. Martin Kramer's Emphasis upon Drive for Power by Islamic Fundamentalism (Islamism) (paragraphs 5 and 6):
Fundamentalist Islam remains an enigma precisely because it has confounded all attempts to divide it into tidy categories. "Revivalist" becomes "extremist" (and vice versa) with such rapidity and frequency that the actual classification of any movement or leader has little predictive power. They will not stay put. This is because fundamentalist Muslims, for all their "diversity," orbit around one dense idea. From any outside vantage point, each orbit will have its apogee and perigee. The West thus sees movements and individuals swing within reach, only to swing out again and cycle right through every classification. Movements and individuals arise in varied social and political circumstances, and have their own distinctive orbits. But they will not defy the gravity of their idea.

The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion -- the religion of God -- and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God's revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power.
2. Martin Kramer's Claim that Violence is Endemic to Islamism (paragraphs 30 and 31):
The attempts to make a second revolution demonstrated that fundamentalists of all kinds would employ revolutionary violence if they thought it would bring them to power. Frustrated by the drudgery of winning mass support, full of the heady ideas of Mawdudi and Qutb, and inspired by Khomeini's success, they lunged forward. From the wild-eyed to the wily, Sunni fundamentalists of all stripes began to conspire. A messianic sect seized the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979. A group moved by Qutb's teachings assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. The Muslim Brethren declared a rebellion against the Syrian regime in 1982. Another path of violence paralleled this one -- the work of the half-dozen Shi'i movements in Arab lands that had emerged around the hub of Islamic revolution in Iran. They targeted their rage against the existing order in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the smaller Gulf states. In Iraq, they answered Khomeini's appeal by seeking to raise the country's Shi'is in revolt in 1979. In Lebanon, they welcomed Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, first to help drive out the Israelis, then to send suicide bombers to blow up the barracks of U.S. and French peacekeepers there in 1983. Another Shi'i bomber nearly killed the ruler of Kuwait in 1985. Some of Khomeini's adepts went to Mecca as demonstrators, to preach revolution to the assembled pilgrims. Others hijacked airliners and abducted foreigners. Khomeini put a final touch on the decade when he incited his worldwide following to an act of assassination, issuing a religious edict demanding the death of the novelist Salman Rushdie in 1989.

This violence was not an aberration. It was a culmination. From the time of Afghani, fundamentalists had contemplated the possibility of denying power through assassination, and taking power through revolution. Because resort to political violence carried many risks, it had been employed judiciously and almost always surreptitiously, but it remained a legitimate option rooted firmly in the tradition, and it became the preferred option after Iran's revolution emboldened fundamentalists everywhere. For the first time, the ideology of Islam had been empowered, and it had happened through revolution. Power for Islam seemed within reach, if only the fundamentalists were bold enough to run the risk. Many of them were. They included not just the avowed revolutionaries of the Jihad Organization in Egypt, but the cautious and calculating leaderships of the Muslim Brethren in Syria and the Shi'i Da'wa Party in Iraq.
Kramer's central idea is a radically simplifying one: Islamists seek power. They will seek it by any means, from quietly converting to bolding intimidating to aggressively assassinating. Their aim in seeking power is the institutionalization of Islamic law, i.e., shariah.

The obvious problem for the Islamist, of course, is which Islamic shariah? Sunni or Shi'ite? And which school of law? Although the Shi'ites have one primary school of Islamic law, the Sunnis have at four major schools.

One can see how such a range of 'choices' might lead to conflict among the ideologues.

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At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A cyberclassroom? Is this an online course then?


At 11:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, it's a regular course, but Yonsei offers this service, which will enable students to post links to articles from which they've extracted a passage for comment and discussion . . . as I've done here.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:33 PM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

I have been studying the history of England, and have finished my seventeenth book starting with the Roman invasion. I understand better the role the church played in the evolution of a tiny isle of peoples. Didn't the church, "quietly convert, boldly intimidate (excommunicating whole countries of people) and aggressively assassinate"(the templars, etc.). It seems to me religion has always been about power, to some degree or other. Perhaps Christians(in glass houses) whose roots are entrenched in another time with similar tactics shouldn't throw stones.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Jeanie, it's no longer a matter of throwing stones, in my opinion, but of understanding what's going on with the Islamists and of addressing the point clearly and with precision.

If an Islamist were to criticize the West for its 'Christian' past, the answer is "Yes, Christians did that in the past, but we've learned from history, and so should you."

Not that these words would change much.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:59 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

"We've learned from history"
We the Christians, or we the United States. These two tend to become interchangeable in some people's eyes.

At 2:50 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

You mention there have been “stable Islamic systems throughout history.” When, where, and for how long?

I am in agreement with Martin Kramer in his statement “When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God's revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power.” (I think all terrorists are also in agreement with this statement).

Sunni vs. Shiite thinking, huh? There really is more agreement between them than we would like.

I don't know how deeply you've delved, but the Shiites and Sunnis split shortly after Muhammad's death. The Shiites were followers of Ali, a very murderous follower of Muhammad responsible for the horrible slaughter of many.

However, Muhammad's favorite wife (his child bride Aisha) claimed that Ali lied about Muhammad appointing him.

The Sunnis continued to follow only Muhammad's teachings, but those were murderous and fascist in their own right.

Of course to really understand Islamic thought, one must not only read the Koran but the additional commentaries which are used to interpret it. I've read the Koran and skimmed some of the commentaries, and have studied the Islamic faith as well as read additional thoughts.

IMHO, the terrorists have got it right. And, Sunni or Shiite, both faiths are ultimately as alike as fraternal twins.

Of course, most Muslims agree with terrorist actions either openly or tacitly (by not DISagreeing with them) because, simply, it is true that such actions were commanded by Muhammad.

Violence is advocated and was enacted repeatedly by Muhammad. Since Muslims revere Muhammad and consider him to be the final word on the subject, then Muhammad's methods are to be imitated. "If it's good enough for Muhammad, it's good enough for ME," goes the reasoning.

Of course there are modern day Muslims who aren't doing the dirty work that the terrorists are, but everyone seems to agree that they are only doing as directed by Muhammad.

Many westerners don't completely understand Islam. We have drifted so far from any heartfelt beliefs of our OWN that we fail to understand anyone else's. Because we either don't believe in God or we believe a watered-down version of Him, we fail to see how anyone can get so riled up over religion.

BUT: Islam isn't merely religion. It's a way of LIFE. It permeates their thoughts, actions, and choices. We have nothing like that here, because the USA is founded on the freedom of religion (among other things). We don't demand everyone fall into lockstep with us. They do, and always will. Because Muhammad commanded it.

At 5:03 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

you and your blog have become a cyber classroom for me! Once we understand what's going on with the Islamists, how do we go about addressing the issues with precision. What steps are you advocating for the world as a whole?
If your students have problems with discussion, you could always give your comment people credit for this course!


At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, by the "we" in my response, I was referring to Christians.

As for your question on what we should do with our knowledge about Islamists once we've figured them out, I don't precisely know. That depends upon what we figure out, and I haven't figured that out yet.

Individually, I suppose that we could determine when some Islamist is trying to portray himself as a moderate when he's anything but that.

Collectively, we could more better oppose the Islamists since we would better recognize that our common interests are threatened by them.

I guess that some of our response would depend on how close Islamism is to actual Islam, which touches upon Saur's comment.

Now, on the important issue of academic credit for those who post comments . . . well, such credits don't come for free, you know, but for adequate compensation, I can offer you a doctorate from my own personal university, which I will be happy to found just for your benefit. Make me an offer.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saur, I've read some in Islamic history, but I'm no expert.

I suppose that the answer to your question depends upon what one means by "stability." Were the Christian European states stable? Sometimes, but borders were constantly shifting, weren't they.

The Umayyad Dynasty lasted for about 100 years. The Abbasid Dynasty lasted for about 500 years. These suggest some degree of stability.

My point about Islamist instability concerned the Islamist drive for ideological purity, which is problematic for an Islamist state that wants to establish the perfect Islamic way of life. Since that would involve establishing shariah, then the various Islamists would have to agree upon the same school of law. Islamists differ, however, according to which of the four main Sunni schools they adhere to. This is a problem for ideological purists, I would think, for it allows ambiguity where certainty is desired.

The infighting among Islamists would tend to destabilize any state that they might attempt to establish. Of course, I'm speculating...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:25 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I thought Ali was a relative.

I think that American should learn about Islam, but it is not necessary for everyone to become an expert. It seems now that Islam generates a lot of hysteria. Genocide seems to be quite a bit of the world history. A recent instance, which is hard to understand even what differences there were; two ethnic groups in Rwanda.

Are we going to fight proxy wars to keep the Islamist away? I hear many say that is why we should fight in Iraq. America power is more than any Islamist, it is just that we didn't use it, because our government has some other agenda. I do think the Isalmist would respect it and truly would consider not fighting with us. Suicide bombers or not. I don't think America would even have to resort to nuclear weapons as we did in WWII. Japan had suicide bombers too.

I remember a scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones was approach by tribesman waving a sword as if to attack and Indiana Jones turned around, pulled his gun and shot him.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I remember that scene in Raiders. I laughed when I was a younger man, but I now think that it really wasn't very funny at all.

The sequel to Raiders was even worse, in my opinion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:03 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Alas, Dr. Hodges, I have no real paper money, Swiss or off-shore accounts;however, I can pay you with continued pictures of accoutrements to assist you with your beer-tasting career.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Beer-themed accoutrements are certainly tempting, but my careless use of the execrable "more better" suggests that I have no business offering even counterfeit diplomas.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:50 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Hathor, yes, Ali was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law (married to Muhammad's daughter Fatima).

Horace, I'm no expert either. It would take years to study all aspects of the Islamic faith and it's impact on mankind. I do know that when it succeeded, it succeeded because it was not as rigidly and faithfully adhered to as the modern terrorists would wish. Because muslims compromised, they could live in relative peace with others and be successful. It is the fascist mentality which, although accurate, makes them incompatible with civilized nations.

For instance, there have been times when Muslim nations didn't adhere strictly to the laws that pertain to dhimmis (Christian and Jewish people), so Christians and Jews could co-exist in somewhat relative peace. However, even then, Muslims were certainly far from allowing anyone to actually have what we know as civil liberties.

At 2:51 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

re: Indiana Jones's scene of the gun vs. the weapon.

*I* thought it was funny and still do. Let's face it, the guy was supposed to kill Indy. It's not like he was simply demonstrating the latest Ginsu knives.

At 4:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Horace? Well, that is my name, too, but please, Saur, call me "Jeffery."

We agree, I think, on my point that the Islamist cannot set up a stable state because they are ideological purists who would disagree with each other almost as much as with non-Muslims.

On Indiana Jones, I laughed the first time because of the expression on Jones's face as he shot the man. The look of casual, exaspirated, dismissive contempt once struck me as funny but later didn't because I realized that it wasn't heroic. Jones isn't meant to be a hero, of course, nor even an anti-hero, but more of a picaresque character, I reckon, whose outrageous behavior can make me laugh but who later leave me regretting my laughter.

I suppose that it's complex.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:56 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Jeffrey, Oops, sorry about that. Someone very near and dear to me was named Horace, so it's instinctive to go for THAT name. And, it's your first name too. :D

I'm not understanding the angst, but that's OK! ;o)

At 2:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Saur (but watch that unexpected "-ery" in "Jeffery").

I don't mind my first name, but I prefer not to go by it even though I'm named after my grandfather "Horace Hodges."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:46 PM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Aren't you glad he wasn't
"Ebenezer Hodges"!!!

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't know, Jeanie, it works better as one grows toward geezerhood...

Jeffery "Ebenezer the Geezer" Hodges

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