Olivier Roy: Conversations with History

The text of the interview can be read here.

Roy discusses his latest work Globalized Islam.  It is the most important work I have read on Islam and the modern world.  The guy is brilliant and worth the listening to.  His distinction between Islamists and neofundamentalists lies at the heart of his work and completes the ideas he began in his earlier work The Failure of Political Islam. He was on Convos w/History once earlier to discuss that work–link for that video here.

I’ll be talking more about his work to come–I’m working on a paper I’m hoping to get published in Integral Review on the entire question of the Islamic modern state, using Roy’s analysis as background, and then comparing Abdullahi an-Na’im and his new work Islam and the Secular State alongside Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. I will be analyzing both works through an integral lens.  Interesting to note, the American secular Jew Feldman calls for a sharia state while the Sudanese Muslim (living in exile in America) calls for a secular state. But that is Roy’s point exactly:  the East is Westernized and the West is Easternized.

A takeaway point from Roy’s work is that Islamists can be worked with in many cases; neofundamentalists not so much (at least radicalized ones).

Obama-Palin And Generational Shifts

One thing that is interesting to watch in this election (AP–After Palin) is the confluence in both parties of the old guard giving way to the new guard (either in the McCain camp of blessing a possible heir apparent or with Biden giving up his own Prez dreams to be Obama’s wingman).

Neither are Boomers though both have been used to try to re-ignite Boomer culture wars (e.g. Obama’s Ayers [non]connection, Palin with abortion) and are not tempermentally Boomerish.  Both have to pay their respects to the old guard–Obama with the Civil Rights pioneers (e.g. John Lewis) and Palin with McCain but both clearly think their days are passed.  Palin recall wasn’t a vocal McCain supporter in the primaries.  And Obama talks about the Joshua Generation taking over from the Moses crew (MLK, Lewis, etc.).

In religious terms we also see the coming of what Olivier Roy calls globalized religion.  Religion that is no longer passed through traditional cultural affiliation–dependent upon and almost entirely predicted by one’s place of birth, ethnicity, and that’s ethnicity’s traditional religious connection.  Roy calls this process “deculturation and “de-territorialization”.

Obama has elements of it left with his classic Black American Christian background as well as his Niebuhrian 50s/60s liberal theology, but he is an adult convert.  Palin was baptized Roman Catholic but really grew up as an Assembly of God Pentecostal (classic denomination of this description) and now is in an independent (so-called non-denominational) church in Alaska.

Diana Butler Bass describes this as the shift from a culture of introversion to extroversion.  From traditional religious affiliation to personal conversion/commitment, from top-down authority to personalist and communal forms of legitimation.  Or in Roy’s terms, from religion to religiosity. If you want a term for this shift, you might call it American postmodernism.

The shift according to Bass is primed, such that the future oriented/extraverted individual who speaks the language of authenticity would inevitably triumph over the alternative.  Think Obama’s speech and the stagecraft and the brilliance of that versus introverted, uncomfortable McCain in front of a green screen.  So the election was–minus some black swan–Obama’s.  McCain in choosing Palin has injected his side with this same cultural shift.

But a conservative version thereof versus Obama’s liberal.  This has shaken up the race quite fundamentally and could neutralize Obama’s inherent advantage.  Might not however.  But if McCain had clearly picked someone of the older guard mentality trying to act like a guy from the newer cultural shift (i.e. MITT ROMNEY) then McCain would have been headed for a substantial even possibly landslide electoral defeat.

Now I”m not so sure. But in an era of 6 hours news cycles, how long will Palin be the focus?

Quote of the Day

Actually from about a week ago but I missed it then.

From the world’s leading expert (imo) on Islamism Olivier Roy:

One of the key questions in the U.S. presidential race is what will happen if U.S. troops leave Iraq.

Of course nobody knows for sure. But I can say this: Al Qaeda will not take power and establish an Islamic state.

Too many in the West persist in seeing Al Qaeda as a territorialized Middle East organization bent on expelling the Christians and Jews from the region in order to create a “Dar al-Islam” (land of Islam) under the umbrella of a caliphate.

Al Qaeda is not a continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is a non-territorial global entity which has never tried to implement an Islamic state, even in Afghanistan, where it found sanctuary in the 1990s.

Over you to John McCain, Christopher Hitchens, and right-wing pro-war radio and blogosphere.  There are other more serious things to worry about in Iraq–the continued violence, the re-igniting of full scale civil war, intra-Shia fighting.  But the fear of an al-Qaedastan in Western Iraq is totally ludicrous.


Al Qaeda goes where the Americans are while the U.S. Army goes where Washington thinks Qaeda might be . . . one day.

Secondly, Al Qaeda seeks to hijack existing conflicts and make them part of the global jihad against the West.

However, in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the different Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.

But don’t ever expect to hear anything half or a quarter lucid in the US press.

Malise Ruthven: How to Understand Islam

A review of a number of recent works on Islam in the NY Review of Books here. Ruthven is covering a bunch of highly complex works, that could be stand alone reviews, so the job is tricky. I think the analysis is uneven in spots–although with the amount covered it couldn’t be otherwise. Still very enlightening.

The review (the first one) of Arguing the Just War in Islam by John Kelsey is to my mind the best.

Key passage:

The word sharia, usually translated as “law,” refers to the “path” or “way” governing the modes of behavior by which Muslims are enjoined to seek salvation. The way may be known to God, but for human beings it is not predetermined. A famous hadith (tradition) of Muhammad states that differences of opinion between the learned is a blessing. Sharia reasoning is therefore “an open practice.” In Islam’s classical era, up until the tenth century, scholars exercised ijtihad—independent reasoning—in order to reach an understanding of the divine law. Ijtihad shares the same Arabic root as the more familiar jihad, meaning “effort” or “struggle,” the word that is sometimes translated as “holy war.” Ijtihad is in effect the intellectual struggle to discover what the law ought to be. As Kelsay remarks, the legal scholars trained in its sources and methodologies will seek to achieve a balance between the rulings of their predecessors and independent judgments reflecting the idea that “changing circumstances require fresh wisdom.” The Sharia is not so much a body of law but a field of discourse or platform for legal reasoning. Recently, it has become an arena for intellectual combat.

It is therefore open to question whether the hijackers and the terrorists automatically put themselves beyond the bounds of Islam by killing innocents, as statements by Bush, Blair, and dozens of Muslim leaders and scholars suggest. With no churches or formally constituted religious authorities to police the boundaries of Islam, the only universally accepted orthodoxy is the Sharia itself. But the Sharia is more of an ideal than a formally constituted body of law. While interpreting the law was once the province of the trained clerical class of ulama, any consensus governing its correct interpretation has broken down under pressure of regional conflicts and the influence of religious autodidacts whose vision of Islam was formed outside the received scholarly tradition.

None of the three most influential theorists behind Sunni militancy, Abu’l Ala Maududi (1903–1979), Hasan al-Banna (1906–1949), and Sayyid Qutb, (1906–1966), received a traditional religious training. Yet both they and the authors of the landmark texts examined by Kelsay in his admirably lucid book (including the Charter of Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, and bin Laden’s 1998 Declaration) claim the mantle of the Sharia, as did the terrorists responsible for the atrocities in New York, Madrid, and London.

In other words during the Islamic Reformation which we are living through, the power of clerics is being eroded even destroyed. The destruction of the monolithic (or mono-socially and intellectually controlled) voice of the ulema (clerical class) is the single most important item on the table for Islam. This “creative destruction” is enabled by the global informational technological platform, communications networks, and travel industry. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2007 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,