“In fact, we might suspect that what is resented is not primarily a high regard for human reason, but the fact that the apotheosis of reason for two hundred years has been experienced from the South as a claim for the right of European reason and power to dominate the world.” – Bjorn Olav Utvik, Islamist Economics in Egypt: The Pious Road to Development pg. 21
I don’t think a single sentence has perfectly summarized what I’ve been trying to say for so long quite as well and concisely as Dr. Utvik’s. I swear, Norwegian is the new black. See also: Mads Gilbert, Palestinian solidarity and knitting.
Islamist Economics in Egypt looks at the role that economic disruption and instability plays in the cultivation of Islamist movements, particularly in Egypt. Unlike others who approach such movements from the perspective of Social Movement theory, Utvik is able to create a fine fusion of the role of faith and the role of political pragmatism in the motivation of such groups – with political rationality trumping religious adherence. It’s a bit bleh for the most part, in my opinion since economic history just bores me to death, but there are some excellent chapters – particularly the first three chapters (including the intro) – that really bring the discussion of Islamist groups and the role of reason v.s faith to another level. It was refreshing to say the least and of course the book has several problems, but Utvik nevertheless does a fine job of making his case.
But that quote in particular struck me because it gets at the crux of the issue. The real reason, it’s seemed so illuminatingly clear to me for so long, that so many ‘rage’ against the ideologies and systems of modernity and Westernization – albeit still working within a very modern/western framework as it’s become pretty inescapable – is because the very sort of ideology they are told will save them from the perils of their lives is the same ideology which brought those perils in to begin with. So, of course any sort of submission to ‘modernism’ or “westernization” or “enlightenment principles” – which we hold so dear to us here in the West, as unshakable and universal axioms – would be and still is seen as a sort of extension of centuries old bloody and ravaging imperialism.
Muslims, in particular, have only resisted modernism at the epistemic level, while fully embracing it – intentionally and unintentionally – in several other ways. It’s interesting, to say the least. I think it’s for this reason many Muslims worry about Islamic reform in terms of ‘revivalism’ and re-engaging with historical and unquestionable texts (i.e. Qur’an) in a way to deal with new realities which have emerged and will continue to emerge. There is a very real -and I would argue legitimate – fear that such reinterpretations (although I wouldn’t even call it as such, but sure why not) would borrow from and adhere to the modern and western framework. This is true but I also think inevitable ..and it’s happening. It’s always been happening. Ijtihad is an inseparable part of the cultivation of Islamic law – the traditional system we have laid out, within Sunni Islam, has ijtihad built within it. There is countless historical precedence for this. So, it’s actually nothing new or ‘blasphemous’. It’s a natural part of the Muslim legal trajectory. Islam 2010 is not the Islam of even 1856, let alone of 700 – in terms of practice and how its adherents engage with it.
It’s why Moslem peoples all up in Europe be hatin’ on my man, Ramadan. Man’s brill and onto something. Needs more attention and more serious engagement.
Anywho. It’s good food for thought.
Bon Aparte. Er. Apetite.