Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mervyn F. Bendle: Email Response

Blogger must be acting up again, for my old cyber-friend Kevin Kim has informed me by email of his unsuccessful attempt to post a comment to my blog entry on Mervyn F. Bendle's "Existential Terrorism," quoting me in bold font and concurring with my point:
"I'd really want to see how Islamism is heir to Augustine."

I think you hit the nail on the head. When I was about halfway through your blog post, a similar question was burbling through my mind.
Well, in the meantime, I had shot off an email on this very point, along with a second query on Leftist influence on Islamism, asking Dr. Bendle himself, who replied:
Thank you for your email and the interest with which you have read some of my published work. In response to one of your questions I think that you yourself provided an insightful assessment when you said:
"Clearly, this interpretation of Augustine's two cities is a controversial one . . . . I'd really want to see how Islamism is heir to Augustine. Is there supposed to be a direct line from Augustine to Islamism, or some influence via Leftist ideology (or via Fascism?), or is the "Augustinian paradigm" an ideal construct describing a system of thought that can arise within different traditions without direct or even indirect influence?"
I suspect that the latter is the case and that the underlying totalizing tendency (along with an associated obsession with 'purity') is inherent in this (monotheistic/monist) tradition and remains so. The alternative -- that this is a world-view that originated with Augustine -- seems unlikely to me -- given its archetypal quality. At any rate, there is a difficulty with tracing through a direct/indirect chain of influence from Augustine to early Islam and thence eventually to contemporary Islamism in that we cannot be very sure about the early history of Islam -- whether it emerged as it claims to have or whether, e.g., it emerged as a 'believers movement' within a matrix of heterodox Jewish and Christian communities, only claiming to have been a new revelation a century or so later (cf. Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers (2010)).

Regarding your other question, I think that Islamisim been most definitely directly (and indirectly) influenced by the Left ideologically, especially in its analysis of imperialism (of which it sees the Muslim world as a victim), in its organizational structures, and in its adherence to Comintern techniques of agititation-propaganda ('agitprop'). After all, for much of the 20th century substantial proportions of the Muslim world (esp. its intellectuals) were directly or indirectly informed by Marxist-Leninist thought, only swinging away from this form of secularism following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the shift to an Islamist ideological paradigm (cf. Rapoport's 4 waves of terrorism).
With regard to Donner's work on early Islam, there's a lot of current scholarly investigation into pre-Islamic sources and speculations on Christian and Jewish communities as the matrix for early Islam (cf. Christoph Luxenberg), so that's something that I'm generally familiar with. Such Christian communities probably weren't Augustinian, though, so the "Augustinian paradigm" turns out to be something like what Max Weber called an "ideal type," I suppose. Augustine gets some bad press in some significant strands of intellectual history. Hans Blumenberg sees Augustine as having left a profoundly Gnostic imprint upon Western Christianity that had to be overcome in the late Medieval period for a 'Promethian' Modernity to emerge. The expression "Augustinian paradigm" thus might fit the West as more than simply an ideal construct. I wonder if it might better be jettisoned in analyses of Islamism. But what should one replace it with? Would Weber's ideal type of "sect" fit better? Is Islamism what Weber might call a "world-denying" sect? It certainly devalues the world, seeing whatever is not Islam as mere jahiliyya, i.e., ignorance of Allah, and therefore unworthy of preservation, deserving of destruction. But Islamists seek worldly power, so the expression "world-denying" can also be misleading.

Perhaps some knowledgeable readers can help me out on this?

As for the Left's impact on Islamism, I'll have to look further into this to see the kind and degree of influence. Dr. Bendle has not only directed me to Rapoport's article, he has also kindly sent me a couple of his own articles that might enlighten me on this point, and if so, I'll report back.

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At 4:03 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Testing your comment function.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

(Oh, good-- we can comment. And Blogger seems to be operating more smoothly on my end as well.)

Interesting reply, and interesting post. Would it be fair to say that "Augustinian" should be taken to refer merely to a useful prism through which to view and interpret Islam's history? The professor makes clear that he doesn't mean to imply a traceable historical link between Augustinian thought and Islam(ism).

At 4:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Useful, but misleading, in my opinion.

The Augustinian Paradigm might work better for analyzing the motives of Western terrorists since there might actually be a direct influence from Augustine, given that saint's pervasive influence on Western thought. One expects this from the terminology used, i.e., "Augustinian."

That same expectation, however, encourages misunderstanding when applied to Islam. I think that the expression was probably coined for Western phenomena, where it works, and exported to the study of Islamism, where it doesn't work. Not for me, anyway . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:28 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Mrs. Haze said...

Yeah, Kaplan, but why cite something a goofy English scribbler like Golding has to say when we can reference a truly "deep thinkster" like Weber? Moreover, Weber is a Euro thinkster, and they are so much smarter than Anglo-American thinksters. Everybody knows that. Why, just ask Professor Humbert. He'll set you straight.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I brought in Weber, so I suppose that I'm to blame for that, but what's wrong with Max Weber? I've found his sociological theories rather useful.

I see that I will really need to post on Bendle's essay exploring the links between the Left and Islamists.

Anyway, thanks Carter and Mrs. Haze for the comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:01 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

My secretary, Mrs. Haze mistakenly posted some notes I had been preparing for a play, and I was somewhat surprised to turn on the computer this morning and see those notes here rather than the comment I had written for her to post. She--both of us--are very busy setting up the new press, and I suppose the frantic pace is to blame for the mistake. You wouldn't believe the volume of correspondence that moves in and out of this office. Please accept my apology for the mistake. Meanwhile, suffice it to say I am finding this thread interesting.

At 3:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Carter, no problem . . . but if Professor Humbert Humbert starts posting . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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