The thesis of political Islam’s failure reignites a deep discussion of fundamental questions. At the same time, it opens the door for a discussion of post Islamism as a concept, a term, and a phase. The term “post-Islamism,” like every “post-” term, is undoubtedly characterized by an extremely fluid definition. This leads to certain interpretations expiring without establishing others and to profound transformations occurring within an intellectual and social phenomenon that presages that it will evolve away from its original form. In no circumstance, however, will what comes after resemble what came before. The aspects of the relationship and similarity between the two phases largely remains relative and ambiguous. Although the use of the term “post-Islamism” dates back decades, in particular to the 1990s, it has once again returned to the spotlight, more prominently now than ever, as several Islamist movements are advancing further on the path to accepting democracy, political pluralism, and power-sharing. Several Islamist movements in the Arab and Islamic world today are embracing public and individual freedoms, and advocating a separation of religion and politics. This article examines the concept of post-Islamism, its legitimacy, and credibility as a fundamental shift in Islamist rhetoric and behavior, as well as the causes leading to it, and the conditions, obstacles, and realistic models of this concept or its approximates, both Sunni and Shiite, in the Arab or Muslim world.
This article primarily argues that writing the political, social, and intellectual history of Islamist movements in the Arab world requires two levels of analytical and methodological consideration. The first involves giving primacy to a dynamic approach to the phenomenon of the Islamist movement and avoiding studying it in a static way, so that this approach can provide a deeper understanding of the paths, developments, and transformations that these movements and organizations have experienced. The second involves liberating the analytical approach to the phenomenon of the Islamist movement from the stereotyping that has led it to be addressed as one distinct from the contexts of social, humanitarian, and political development. It is difficult to separate the culturalist legacy generally from the social environment and, therefore, it becomes necessary to work systematically and diligently to present composite approaches to the phenomenon of political Islam that take into consideration its interaction with social and political realities.
In fact, political Islam is diverse in its adoption of specific and divergent mechanisms for employing texts, references, and historical facts in service of an extremely complex and variable reality, doing so in the light of its understanding of these texts, on the one hand, and in the light of its lived reality, on the other. This doubtlessly leaves its impact on these groups’ rhetoric, performance, structure, and interpretations of reality. Based on this equation, the limits of which are inscribed between the text and reality, there should be a dialectical, humanized reading of Islamist groups, free of preconceived characterizations of devilry or saintliness. This means not being satisfied with analyzing the texts and approaching the actors in political Islam within political, social, economic, and cultural contexts in the same way as any group interacting with reality and its challenges and offering answers to its problems that could be utopian, radical, or reformist. There is generally more than one answer and more than one form of expression, as long as freedom of expression is available.
The thesis of political Islam’s failure reignites a deep discussion of fundamental questions. This is what justifies its power as a concept regardless of whether and how correct it is. At the same time, it opens the door for a discussion of post-Islamism as a concept, a term, and a phase. The term “post-Islamism,” like every “post-” term, is undoubtedly characterized by an extremely fluid definition. This fluidity tends to prevail until certain interpretations cease to be valid and fail to others, or until there are profound transformations within an intellectual or social phenomenon that presage that it will evolve away from its original form. In no circumstance, however, will what comes after resemble what came before. To a large extent, the relationship and similarity between the two stages will remain relative and ambiguous.
A READING OF THE FAILURE OF THE ISLAMISM THESIS
The booming market for new sociological studies of Islam in Europe requires special consideration. The emergence of a group of “star” researchers specializing in what has become known as the “new Islamology,” with reservations about this term, has become a notable phenomenon since 1979 when the political sociologist Olivier Carré discussed a theory of progressive Arab Islam’s origin (Carré, 1979). A few years later, he returned to and developed his ideas, in cooperation with Michel Seurat (who used the pseudonym Gérard Michaud), and became more inclined to consider “political Islam” as the political culture of the Muslim world, through which the Muslim world could express itself, given that religiosity is a permanent, central phenomenon in Arab societies (Carré, 1982, 1993; Carré and Michaud, 1983).
Since then, what Gilbert Achcar calls “Orientalism in reverse” originated in the West, and with it post-1979 currents in French Islamic studies (Achcar 2008). This date is of the utmost importance in the landscape for the shifts that took place, including the toppling of the Shah’s regime and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, as well as the outbreak of the Islamist resistance to the leftist dictatorship in Afghanistan, which led to the Soviet invasion of the country. These events became a focus of intellectual discussions and political disputes, especially among the ranks of the French left, before spreading across Europe. The most famous leftist intellectuals beguiled by the “Islamic revolution” actually were not Muslim or even from the Middle East, and only Michel Foucault was well known at the time. It should be said, however, that Foucault was certainly not within his area of expertise and competence in his analysis of developments in the Iranian Revolution and arrived at them only through a quick reading.1
A generation of French and European researchers took shape and contemporaneously launched a new wave of research on Islamism through the lens of social sciences, especially political sociology and religious sociology. It focused on the Islamist movement as a social movement, with the challenges that entailed of wresting it from the ahistorical prejudices that characterized research on Orientalist heritage. For these researchers, that meant sociology’s prioritization of ideology, the presentation of research, field studies, everyday experiences, observation via participation, and conducting an analysis of foundational texts, as was customary. Therefore, they favored spending time in various Muslim regions and mixing with Muslims, even learning Arabic, and, most importantly, observing lived Islam and patterns of religiosity up close, considering it a human experience more than an experience of the religion itself as a transcendent divine text. Their experience with leftist movements led them to focus on movement Islam more than historical or doctrinal Islam, though their positions ranged from activist (Seurat, Olivier Roy, Gilles Kepel, and François Burgat) or ideologically aligned (Alain Roussillon). Movement Islam was on a rapid ascent and attracting coverage from a variety of standpoints, especially with the outbreak of Khomeini’s revolution in Iran, the beginning of jihad in Afghanistan, and Egyptian Islamists’ success in killing President Anwar Sadat. The political Islam thesis grew to dominate the landscape in Egypt and North Africa. Each researcher went his own way with a path or region that became their subject of special interest; Roy wrote about “Islam and Political Modernity” in the battle of the Afghan jihad; Kepel took up the battle of “The Prophet and Pharaoh” in Egypt; and Burgat titled his work “Islamism in the Maghreb: The Voice of the South.”
The most important thing uniting these researchers methodologically is their marginalization of religion in analysis and their focus on the sociological and political dimensions in interpreting and reading the course of the Islamist movements that they characterize as Islamist rather than fundamentalist. They make this characterization because, in their view, these are political and social movements par excellence, to which religion is an ideologically employable topic to be used in the battle for social and political change. In Burgat’s terms, religion is the language that Islamists speak, but their driving factor—in his opinion—is the desire to rebel against the North’s control.
Roy has presented an important collection of studies as examples for this new trend. These include: L’échec de l’Islam Politique (The Failure of Political Islam) (1992),2Généalogie de l’islamisme (A Genealogy of Political Islam) (1995), La Nouvelle Asie Centrale; Ou la Fabrication des Nations (The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations) (1997), Iran: comment sortir d’une révolution religieuse? (Iran: How to Get Out of a Religious Revolution; with Farhad Khosrokhavar)(1999), Vers un Islam Européen (The Birth of European Islam) (1999), Islamist Networks The Pakistan–Afghan Connection (with Mariam Abou Zahab) (2002), L’islam Mondialisé (Globalized Islam) (2002), Les Illusions du 11 Septembre (The Illusions of September 11) (2002), La Turquie aujourd’hui: Un pays européen? (2004), La laïcité face à l’islam (Secularism in the Face of Islam) (2006),3 and La Sainte Ignorance, le Temps de la Religion sans Culture (The Holy Ignorance: The Time of Religion without Culture) (2008).4
Afghanistan was actually Roy’s first subject within Islamic studies, and Afghanistan, Islam et Modernité politique (Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan) (1985) was the start of his examination of contemporary Islam. In that publication, Roy observes politics’ supremacy over religion, making the mujahidin seem modern in spite of the rhetoric and religious vocabulary used. He smartly notes how those mujahidin are modernist and unaffiliated with Afghan Islamic tradition, and how they are the ones who consolidated the concept of the state in Afghanistan, a country of simultaneous local and international conflict. This is, perhaps, the distinguishing feature of the Afghan war from which Roy gleaned his later observations.
Roy’s The Failure of Political Islam (1992/94), his most famous and controversial book to date, adopts a thesis that still retains its power. His view was based on the fact that Islamist movements failed to combine religion and politics within the framework of the modern state and also failed to restore traditional forms in building a different political system. They either became modern political movements that differ from their counterparts only in rhetoric or left the political sphere altogether.
When his thesis encountered intense criticism following the rise of political Islam after the September 11 attacks, Roy would return to reaffirm these hypotheses in Globalized Islam (2002), in which he noted the most important shifts that Islamist movements had identified in the Western environment, as new patterns had appeared in these movements’ rhetoric and thinking. Roy’s perspective in explaining this thesis is based on a central question: Does Islamism offer an alternative for Muslim societies? In his view, the answer was that Islamism was a failure because these movements were unable to build an Islamic state, which was the real argument for mobilization as part of its political project, because of two considerations. The first was the intellectual failure of these movements’ political project; they clung to Muslim society’s old values without keeping up with contemporary societal evolution, causing them to lose one of the most essential motivators for mobilization. The second was a history of failure; the Islamist movements that came to power in Iran and Afghanistan were unable to establish new societies with Islamic values. Contrary to the prevailing moral rhetoric, the mechanisms of these movements’ political and economic activity were, in large part, governed by secularism. However, these signs of failure in Roy’s view do not signify a retreat in Islamism’s spread as much as a regression in the thesis of Islam as a political and economic ideology capable of solving all the societal problems that contemporary reality poses.
Carré (1991) has used the term “post-Islamism” since 1991, following the tragic death of his pupil Seurat.5 The incident had a major impact on him and on the new generation of researchers, as it undermined the credibility of the Islamist alternative. After that, Carré (1993, 136) began to reconsider some of his theses, talking in the controversial L’Islamlaïque ou le retour à la Grande Tradition (Secular Islam or the Return to the Great Tradition) (1993) about the seeds of “secular Islam,” which is actually a return to what he calls the great tradition (la grande tradition). The tradition he means is that that existed from the tenth century CE until a new Wahhabist Sunni Islam emerged in the late nineteenth century which was founded on a puritanical interpretation of Islam, namely the interpretation of Ahmed ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyyah, paving the way for the later Islamist “wave.” Carré’s remarkable book is considered a call for a relatively secularized Islam from the pen of a veteran who knows the difficulty of creating a complete separation between the state and religion in Muslim countries.
Kepel (2000) would offer another interpretive model for the post-Islamism thesis through his work Jihad, Expansion et Declin de l’Islamisme (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam).
In spite of the momentum associated with these movements in the 1980s as ideological movements incorporating various social groups clustering around a common focus in political Islam, in the present researcher’s view, the events of the 1990s began to foretell Islamism’s disintegration and decline. Because of pressures from repressive regimes and international apprehension about these movements, new doctrinal trends would arise from within these organizations that would undertake examinations with their extreme choices, break with years of armed political action, and produce interpretive judgments to reconcile Islam’s values with the spirit of democracy.
Beyond the French school, the Iranian–American sociological researcher Asef Bayat would attempt to develop the contours of his post-Islamism thesis through certain of his articles and work, presenting a methodological definition of the end of Islamist movements’ spread and evolution that differed from Roy’s. In fact, we find that he stresses considering this ending as a step in the development and adaptation of these movements’ right to political and activist rhetoric in their dealings with the prevailing reality. The societal and political transformations experienced by the contemporary nation-state have forced these movements to keep up by reinventing themselves or fall into intellectual stagnation and political dormancy, which could lead to the total ruin of their project.
The post-Islamism thesis as Bayat (2015) sees it could thus be summed up as a turning point, but it is also a project, a conscious effort to develop a vision and strategy for logic and methods to move beyond Islamism in the social, political, and cultural spheres. Post-Islamism is not, however, anti-Islam, un-Islamic, or even secular. Rather, it is an endeavor to integrate religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn Islamism’s fundamental principles upside down by focusing on rights instead of duties, pluralism instead of individual authority, historicism instead of static texts, and the future instead of the past. It wants to couple Islam to the individual right for choice and freedom, for democracy and modernity. That summarizes the basic building blocks of this thesis.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE MODEL AND THE DISCOURSE: DA’WAH AND THE STATE
A discussion of this thesis requires constructing a different methodological approach to the concept of politics and its place in the project of political Islam and, therefore, a precise understanding of the meaning and logic that politics has for them. It is not simply founded on a wholly positivist authority, nor based on specific political, social, and economic programs, as was customary for traditional movements and parties, but on a different logic.
For the Islamist movement, politics is one of the central necessities of proselytizing activity, meaning that it is an existential requirement. As such, the definition of Islam becomes characterized as a state, and their favorite slogan is “Islam is a religion and a state.” Religion and the state thus become a single structural entity as the only model for the state that Islamists maintain is pure within the parameters of the “ideal model” derived from the historical doctrinal record and embodied in the experience of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Rightly Guided Caliphate. This model has not been subjected to systematic research to explain either the reasons why it was abandoned in the course of political history or the outcomes it produced. This model was not developed and updated. This allowed it to survive and continue as a utopia in spite of the many disagreements and visions around it among doctrinal currents and schools, which have led to the formation of numerous historical and intellectual hypotheses and contributed to generating a cascade of other problems, most critically the identification of the Ummah with the state in the Muslim imagination.
Drawing on Max Weber’s innovative methodology of ideal types as an analytical and intellectual tool for the study of social life, it can be said that there is agreement that the state is a historical phenomenon, by virtue of the fact that humanity is inherently civic, and therefore, it was natural that Muslim society would experience the birth and centralization of a state. Islam’s authoritative texts, however, do not point to a readymade system of government that enjoyed a consensus both in ancient times and today. This subject remains one of the most examined, reconsidered, and disputed issues entrusted to public consensus.
In summary, it can be said that the discourse around the “Islamic state” that has been the focus of the Islamist project through the years brings one directly to two approaches. The first is what the “ideal model” achieved in the past, which cannot be recovered. The second approach brings several contemporary forms and models that have been tried in more than one place in the Muslim world (with the Turkish and Iranian models seemingly the most remarked upon outside the Arab world today), each having its own character and conditions.
Remarkably, Arab Islamism generally remains of little interest in terms of theorizing about and understanding the political and pragmatic nature of the state, or at least it has declined in interest and priority in favor of the state’s moral and religious nature to some extent. This makes the state an “ownable tool” to be used in a project dominated by religious ideology. In any case, that is what the political forces that have governed and continue to govern the Arab world do. However, promising experiments that began in Tunisia and Morocco with the Arab uprisings have produced intellectual reference points and other “synthetic” forms in an attempt to reconcile modern humanitarian political thought with Islamic religious authority and forge a path separate from that of traditional political Islam.
THE TROUBLESOME TRIANGLE OF THE STATE, POLITICS, AND RELIGION
Another problem posed by the integration of Islamists into politics and their ascension to power in some Arab states relates to a matter beyond religion’s relationship with the state. That relationship monopolizes heated debates, especially given its specific institutional manifestations that can be isolated by making a division or distinction between two of them. However, the issue becomes more complex when the research moves into another area related to separating religion from politics. The complication is evident at more than one level.
The first is the fact that the state is an institutional and political expression of the society. It consists of leadership, administrative and technical personnel, and a professional bureaucracy. Its chief function is to attend to the public interest, and so religious factionalism cannot play a role in the state’s performance of its functions.
The second is the fact that politics exists at a different level. Although it is concerned with studying the principles of governance, the regulation of state affairs, and the like, politics ultimately consists of ideas favored by the people in a particular society who participate in the shaping of that society. Political ideas are typically inspired by society’s values, heritage, and beliefs, and they are aimed at winning society’s support. It is, therefore, unrealistic to demand that political actors, whatever their religion, abandon their convictions and feelings as soon as they decide to get involved in political work. That would be contrary to the freedoms of belief, thought, assembly, expression, and organization that have become mankind’s unalienable rights under international conventions, not to mention that it is not objectively or factually possible.
We will, therefore, always and necessarily see political parties and currents that adopt religion as a source of authority. Even if they have anti-democratic positions, it must be recognized that they have the right to organize, raise issues, participate in elections, and codify their political practice. This recognition does not, in practice, deny that problems will arise due to religion’s powerful effects on our societies, especially in regions of sectarian diversity.
The fact is that Islamists, or some of them, are extremely sensitive to the phrase “separation of politics from religion,” which some secularists bandy about arbitrarily, because this phrase goes to the heart of political practice and freedom of belief and opinion. Likewise, secularists, or at least some of them, are similarly sensitive to the intensive use of religious terminology in political work. The problem is that the call for a total separation between politics and religion is one of the “legacies” of Western thought. Secularism germinated in a climate of conflict with the religious authority of the church, and the idea has persisted and witnessed various applications and interpretations. No one has been able to prevent people generally from being inspired by religious values in their pursuit of political action and, consequently, shaping their political positions under all systems, laws, and legislation in light of their beliefs and the moral values they hold sacred. The outcome of practical experience in Western societies supports this view. Calling for a complete separation is a frivolous slogan because it is unrealistic. A political proposition, no matter what it is, needs to gain the support of its society in order to succeed. It will not be able to do so if its substance runs contrary to society’s culture, religion, and morality. There is no use in talking about the “epistemic break” between two fields that are proven to overlap in a way that would be difficult to sever totally. This is what leads to the search for systematic angles to regulate and control this overlap.
POST-ISLAMISM AND ALTERNATIVES
Western academics have really gone overboard in betting on the theory of political Islam’s failure and relying on the emergence of post-Islamist tracks. Burgat (2007) and Roussillon (2000, 2001) are among those who are fundamentally skeptical of this hypothesis, and they have written on the matter to warn against this excess. It is notable that this theory has had a limited impact on Arab Muslim academics. Other than the late Hus-sam Tammam, who was initially influenced by the theory and worked on it with Patrick Haenni (Haenni 2005/2015). Tammam made a broad study of the internal activity of Islamists in the Egyptian arena, but few have used it as a frame of reference. Although he never totally rejected post-Islamism theory, years later Tammam came to warn against the reductionist nature of this thesis. He was convinced of many of the reservations expressed by Roussillon, pointing with much foresight to latent Salafism and growing Salafization (Tammam 2008) in all its dimensions and connotations since 2008. After that, the Arab revolutions would come to confirm the truth of his predictions, especially in da’wah Salafism’s noteworthy shift in Egypt toward politicization with the Al-Nour Party.
Overall, the Arab uprisings were attempts to change the political structure, to disrupt the prevailing conditions without resorting to violence. However, political actors on post-Islamist trajectories have found themselves besieged and stuck in the trap of despotic regimes with their totalitarian logic, interference, and security institutions, on the one hand, and the Islamist opposition with their restrictive logic, on the other, along with rapacious foreign interventions. Tunisia got out of this trap with minimal damage, but the upshot was a long series of failures in which the critics and defenders of post-Islamism alike believe that the so-called Arab Spring proves their counterparts right.
In the author’s estimation, the important point is that the 2011 uprisings revealed something that post-Islamist analyses failed to perceive: Islamism’s growth toward civil rights. The books Islam and Gender (Mir-Hosseini 1999), L’islam de Marche (Market Islam) (Haenni 2005/2015) and Being Young and Muslim (Herrera and Bayat 2010), for example, studied the phenomenon of the “new proselytizers” and the religious media promising Islamization, and what has been learned in studies of orthopraxy6 (hijab, prayer, clothing, halal food, and all forms of conspicuous religious adherence and associated relationship patterns, etc.), with the aim of exposing new, ascendant patterns in Islamism incompatible with the totalitarian nature of the political Islam project. This has led to a focus on the margins, a fragmentation of analysis, a vacuum of meaning and evidence, and opening the door to creating a false consciousness in order to substitute political rights with certain civil rights, thus showing the error of laying this bet.
DREAMS SHATTERED AND MODELS BUILT
Does political Islam’s failure mean it will die out? Not necessarily, because it could mean structural transformations that put ideas in motion for either failure or success. The strength of any thesis is measured in the extent to which alternatives can dislodge and dismantle it. Islamism in its traditional version gained its power from the failure of national and development projects that preceded it, presenting itself as an alternative and a promising and ascendant project. Although it failed to fulfill its promises, the other alternatives do not seem encouraging at all, especially in the authoritarian forms they have taken.
In contrast, the models that have achieved an approximation of political Islam’s transformations, those based on integration into democratic choice, the civil state, and separation of religion and politics in the experiences of Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco, seem to suggest successes that approach the essence of the post-Islamist idea.
The experience of the Islamist movement in Turkey is a rich one. It is a political experience, despite the religious background of the leaders of the Welfare Party and then The Justice and Development Party. The difference between Necmettin Erbakan and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a difference between leaders who are conservative versus those who are reformist or young, but rather in the pragmatic choices and alternatives that each has presented for economic development and freedoms in countering the deep state and its military leanings (Imad 2013, 244).
In the case of Tunisia, the country of The Surest Path author Hayreddin Pasha Al-Tunsi, Muhammad Al-Tahir ibn Ashur, and the legacy of the Nahda enlightenment, we perceive day after day the success of the Ennahda movement in integrating democracy into the structure of Islamic thought and political and societal practice, and how it has moved from a position of opposition to a position of authority, emphasizing the acceptance of rotation of power and partnership, which are the basis and essence of democratic practice, and with which it has long been sincerely doubted that Islamists would comply. In its conclusions, trajectories, and programs, this is an experience that confirms that post-Islamism breaks with a prior identity-based stage and propositions centering their discourse on the authority of the state and not society.
In the case of Morocco, we find a similar evolution in integration into politics. From the Chabiba movement and its polarizing rhetoric to an Islamist movement engaged in political action and committed to its basic rules (The Justice and Development Party) or forswearing violence and accepting pluralism in spite of a dispute with the state (Al AdlWa Al Ihssane), there is evidence for the hypothesis that traditional Islamism is evolving into post-Islamism. The Justice and Development Party would not have succeeded in attaining leadership of the government in 2011 without the radical intellectual reexaminations governing its view of the Moroccan political system and its historical legitimacy.
In addition to the movements in these three cases carrying out their mission of making a place for democracy within the system of Islamist political thought, they also created an institutional culture within their organizational structures and leadership institutions where accountability and oversight processes take place and leaders are selected and nominated.
The problem with the thesis of Islamism’s failure is not in its generalizations and absolutes, as it guards against such methodological error. Nor is it in the critical and analytical framing of its subject, a framework the thesis determined from the outset for uncovering the innate structural defects in political Islam’s project as a whole since its establishment. The problem lies in the construction of an interpretative thesis of extreme fluidity and ambiguity. Post-Islamism refers to many models and to many things, and in addition it signifies the launching of a new stage abounding in contradictory indicators.
The problem with this reading is that it does not, in sufficient sociological depth, convey the dynamic way in which these movements operate, nor does it track the evolution of the intellectual forms at which the movements arrived after a complex course of intellectual reexaminations that combined Islam, as a source of authority with considerations such as the Ummah as a whole, the interests of the movement, the actual situation, and its constraints and necessities. Many Islamist thinkers worked on these forms, and they have produced a generation that does not see an adversarial relationship between Islam and democracy and modernity. Indications of the seeds of such trends could have been gleaned in the 1940s in Egypt and Syria, when nascent Islamism got involved alongside liberal and secular parties and movements and accepted the principles of the modern constitutional state that arose at that time. Had it been given the chance to grow, that democratic movement could have birthed its own caretakers and elites, established its own trajectories and traditions, and served as a strong support for an early rhetoric for post-Islamism capable of adjusting to and allying with liberal and secular policies. However, the termination of that experiment through military coups, the dominance of nationalist ideology, and single-party rule rehabilitated radical political Islam in its various forms.
Today, we are witnessing attempts to revive the old political landscape through conflicts around sectarianized and politicized identities that reinvigorate partisanship and loyalties that predate the state and even Islamism in its contemporary forms. It is reminiscent of those dark pages in the history of politicized, sectarian infighting in Muslim memory, with the phenomenon of armed sectarian militias and politicized ritualistic Islam. Most unfortunately, the various sects have become clashing identities that reject difference and diversity in the name of resistance, liberation, and confronting the “Great Satan.”
Therefore, the Islamist landscape cannot be reduced to a thesis of failure or success, or be used to further the discourse of “posts.” Such a classification will remain vulnerable to methodological criticism, especially if we understand Islamism, at least in one of its expressions, as a rebellion against the modern state as a whole, against its supremacy, positivism, and imitations of Western modernity. And so there will always be a political Islam that protests and rejects the idea of the modern state. This is, therefore, a twofold problem. The first issue is how should a state that is essentially closed off to them deal with their protest and rejection; and the second is how to get them to move beyond this rejection.
Accordingly, the relationship between despotism and religious extremism, on the one hand, and democracy, on the other, is existential and controversial. Democracy does not fight extremism; it eliminates the causes of extremism’s existence so that extremism cannot find fertile soil from which to sprout. As for political despotism, it is the recipe for extremism because it prepares the appropriate climate and environment that allow extremism to flourish. In its repression and persecution, despotism enters a two-way relationship with religious extremism. Despotism benefits and harms extremism while benefiting itself and suffering harm at the same time. In its conflict with extremism, despotism revives it and then strangles it in a tragic and inescapable tug of war. Despotism thus provides extremism the issue of “oppression” as an intrinsic motivation for sacrifice and persistence, while at the same time providing a justification for itself in fighting “injustice” under the banner of a false modernity. This is the spiral of false ideological delusions that religious and political tyranny produces, regardless of the banners it waves.
This leads to a hypothesis stating that whenever the gates of political integration are opened to religiously and ideologically conservative and hardline forces, the potential increases for them to be “extracted” from their hardline ideological context and their political behavior guided. This is because social and political actors are inclined to show some flexibility in their rhetoric and practice, albeit as a tactic at the outset, in order to maximize their gains, protect their interests, and increase their impact on the public sphere. This hypothesis has been tested empirically in many cases in sociological studies, in what has come to be known today, controversially, as “integration and moderation vs. exclusion and extremism,” and it has been shown to have considerable potential (Imad 2013, 118). It is an established track for some Islamist movements that have been able to adapt to the democratic system and become a democratic opposition power and even share in the governance of various countries. This is similar to the path that communist, totalitarian, and right-wing parties have taken in Western Europe since World War II (Voll and Esposito 1994, 3–11).
We can conclude that there is an objective relationship between political actors and the overall conditions present in the social and political environments around them. The exclusion or marginalization that any political group or faction experiences is reflected in the intransigence of their rhetoric, while the initial outcomes of integration and participation in the political process are a reduction in that intransigence and the guided emergence of moderation (integration equals moderation). This study, therefore, finds that whenever political, economic, and social crises are acute and fit with the sense these movements have that they are targeted for repression, they resort to secrecy, proposing radical ideology, and, perhaps, violence. By contrast, when repression and persecution are less savage, and political and economic crises and circumstances are less severe, these movements choose involvement in public political life and, consequently, establish flexible organizational structures and practice specific political functions. They adopt something that their political language labels the “jurisprudence of the phase” or of “necessity,” which results in taking realistic, flexible political course, and softened alternatives instead of making dogmatic, radical proposals.
Alexander R. Arifianto’s thesis has proven its worthiness and interpretive power by employing the charismatic leadership theory, which Weber coined and applied in his famous study on the religious reform movement in Europe, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2009), and the role of the movement’s leaders (Calvin and Luther), who were prominent at the time in introducing intellectual changes through their impact, prestige, and experience, drawing on the moral authority they enjoyed, especially given that it offers to charismatic leaders in general, as reformist leaders, healthy cooperation and official institutions that assist them in their historical mission. Arifianto’s thesis on the making of reform and progressive Islam is distinctive in that it offers a new interpretative model based on an in-depth sociological examination of the Indonesian experience that reveals new truths about the process and mechanisms of applying reality, ideas, and their manifestations to new, contemporary analytical models (Arifianto 2012).
There is a fact that needs to be deeply understood, a sociological truth that Karl Mannheim formulated in his famous and canonical book Ideology and Utopia (2008), which is among the classics of the literature of sociology. This truth states that ideas are not rigid; they undergo changes as they move. They come into focus, like utopia and ideals, but when they come into contact with power, they collide with reality and are reshaped through new political ideologizing. The gap between the old and the new is broad enough to change ideas in form and content entirely and even to dismantle their structure as an epistemic system.
It can, therefore, be said that politics usually tames an inflexible ideology, while power usually works to dismantle it. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel described the idea as “degrading” when it becomes a reality (Hegel 2019). Its decay does not mean that it becomes without content or function but that it becomes subject to application, criticism, and development in the realm of reality. For these reasons, new ideas emerge, and ideologies are elevated, while others fall into decline and decay. Such is the movement of ideas and their sociological journeys. Many are the historical landscapes in which politics was victorious over ideology, in which reality smashed idealists’ dreams and utopias, in which humanity proved the “sovereignty of society” and that the experiences and texts that society produces live for a time, just as every era reproduces its texts and reshapes its experiences in light of its challenges as needs. It is states and ideas that we discuss among people. They articulate our actions and minds in a dialectic of change that will happen only on the basis of reality once people begin to change themselves and their societies for the better.
Foucault, nevertheless, was fascinated by what he considered a search for “spirituality,” and he mixed up what he heard from the relative liberal Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari—who later became a fierce opponent of Ayatollah Khomeini—with the reality of Khomeini. This is what prompted him to declare, naively, that the central pillars of democracy can be found in Shiite Islam, and that is what is really meant by the program of “Islamic government.”
This was translated into English as The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994) as well as into Arabic as Tajrobat al Islam al Siasi (Beirut: Dar al Saqi, 2002).
This was translated into Arabic (Beirut: Dar al Saqi, 1996) and into English as Turkey Today: A European Country? (London: Anthem, 2005).
This was translated into English as Holy Ignorance (New York: Columbia University Press/Hurst, 2010).
Michel Seurat was abducted in Beirut in 1985, after the Israeli invasion, by a Hezbollah-affiliated organization that called itself Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad announced in 1986 that Seurat had been executed, and his remains were not found until 2005. The author had the chance to get to know this distinguished researcher in Tripoli between 1983 and 1984. He was making a field study of political Islam and loyalties in the city, using the Tabbaneh neighborhood, which at the time was witnessing transformation and bloody clashes that remained a focus of various studies for years after Seurat’s death. This incident was a major shock for leftist researchers in the West, including Carré (1991).
Meaning, in religious research and theology studies, as used by experts, correct applied practice; in other words, the developing awareness of beliefs or teachings that emphasize correct conduct or practice.