Talk:Clash of Civilizations/Rastinny essay

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The last 2 decades have been witness to a violent escalation of conflict between some Islam fundamentalist organizations and ‘western’ states. This conflict did not remain between soldiers on the battle fields but caused many civilian casualties. Furthermore it has extended its scope to the fields of media, economy and academia sparking intense discourse about the causes, the nature and the future of the conflict. The view that Islam and ‘western’ culture are at loggerheads has long been subject of controversy. Professor Bernard Lewis was the first one who used the term ‘clash of civilizations’ to describe the conflict between Christianity and Islam. In the book ‘Clash of Civilizations’, Samuel P. Huntington used the same term to argue that the primary axis of future conflicts would be along cultural and religious lines. In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural (Huntington, 1993).

This view influenced states who had previously endorsed policies in support of cultural plurality to review their commitment to a multicultural society and to introduce an increasing amount of legislation to forcibly integrate or even assimilate different cultures. The aim became thus to reduce conflict by reducing cultural divisions or cultural differences. This project challenges this notion and suggests that conflict does not result from differences in culture but from attitudes shaped by inequality in the socio-economic order. Both Islamic fundamentalists and western states continued to be preoccupied with ‘differences in culture’ and propose varying models of cultural assimilation as the way forward. By analyzing Islamic fundamentalism as a social movement this project proposes that constructing the conflict in terms of differences between cultures and enforcing cultural assimilation is both, unhelpful to a resolution and inaccurate. Focus should remain instead on how the social construction of the worldviews produced 2 cultures whose members express dissatisfaction about mutually shared societal problems but apply conflicting forms of political action. This project will argue that the criticisms of Islamic fundamentalists are shared by individuals within many different cultures and societies -Muslims and non - Muslims alike. Cultural differences need therefore to be separated from real sources of societal and political conflict. A solution needs to be focused on reducing socio-economic inequalities between cultural groups by increasing participation, understanding and tolerance and by taking problems such as discrimination, corruption, alienation, neocolonialism and exploitation serious. These societal problems are not unique to a single culture but overlap different cultures which renders a focus on differences in cultures useless. The role of culture needs to be understood and appreciated but instead of being viewed as a source of conflict, it needs to be viewed as a tool to tackle the real societal problems endemic to the many societies in which both ‘western’ culture and Islamic fundamentalism are imbedded. Contrary to Huntington this project views ‘the great divisions’ or sources of conflict among humankind not related to differences in culture but in differences in social and economic positions between and within most cultures.

1. Islam fundamentalism as a social movement

Contemporary discourse about Islamic fundamentalism is often related to some known organizations associated within the Islam fundamentalist movement such as the ‘Takfir wal Hijra’ and ‘Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jama’h’ (Al Qaeda in Iraq). Although the Islamic fundamentalist movements may, include many members of organizations like those, Della Porta and Diani suggest that organizations are not the same as social movements. Melucci stressed that social movements are networks which may include (or exclude) individuals aligned or not aligned to one or more different organizations. One individual can therefore be associated with different movements without membership of any identifiable organization (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). The schema below attempts to illustrate what the organizational structure of an Islamic fundamentalist movement could possibly look like. This schema is not at all complete and can not serve as a template for all social movements. Della Porta and Diani suggest that social movements do not necessarily constitute a broader theoretical category in which several organizations are represented. Some organizations like political parties, such as the green party may be strongly rooted in the green movement but in their function of interest representation may advocate policies broader than just those relating to the green movement.

Della Porta and Diani also suggest that in contrast to the informal network structure of social movements, organizations generally have greater organizational rigidity, enforce greater social control and have a more hierarchical structure. Where organizations generally have one leader, Islamic fundamentalism counts numerous organizations with numerous leaders and individuals. Della Porta and Diani mention Gerlach who points to the notion that a movement really counts many participants who may fulfil the roles of leaders in their respective organizations but who, in the context of the movement are actually leaderless. By stressing the undirected nature of the movement he qualifies the name a-cephalous (without a head) rather than poly-cephalous (with many heads) (Gerlach in Della Porta and Diani, 1999). The different organizations within a social movement may even hold different or conflicting ideas. E.g. Members belonging to the Shī‘a and Sunni militant armies have different viewpoints on Islam but can be found, together participating in Iraq’s anti-coalition movement’s activities. Individual Sunni’s or Shī‘a may not be members of certain fundamentalists groups or organizations but participate in collective action such as protests campaigns, together with members of the fundamentalist organizations. Such individual participants are therefore not subjected to the social control or hierarchical structure that members of militant groups or formal organizations experience (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). Islam fundamentalism also distinguishes itself from other forms of political action by the adoption of unconventional styles of political participation. Contrary to traditional forms of action such as lobbying, voting and negotiating, fundamentalists’ action varies, from violent acts and martyrdom to alternative dress-codes, inciting speeches and street protest. Islam fundamentalism can be recognised as a social movement because it consists of a loose network of individuals and organizations unified by a diverse range of unconventional forms of behaviour. Why is it important to recognize Islam fundamentalism as a social movement? Because only an analysis based on the perception of Islam fundamentalism as a movement does justice to her a-cephalous nature and vast diversity of participants and organizations, but more important, the diversity in aims and forms of action characteristic only to social movements. Rather than being single issue based and locally oriented, Islam fundamentalism often aims for change on an (inter)national level and on various issues relating to their set of beliefs and ideals. This produces a variety in aim’s and forms of protest. As suggested before, recent other forms of collective action have often ignored the formal political system. However, many organizations within Islam fundamentalism have the political aim to establish a ‘Divine’ order in wider society or community. Some define wider society internationally’, others may restrict it to Arab territory. Others again find it more important to establish this order in their own household or strictly in their personal life. Some forms of action therefore involve defensive violence, some offensive violence some non-violent-protest while others resort to retreatism. Governments who for example propose to ‘ban the burqa’ for security or equality reasons may mistakenly relate a specific form of action (alternative dress-code by some participants of the movement) to the violent or discriminatory actions of other organizations within the movement. Melucci suggests:

Only by preserving the analytical distinction between simple disruptive behaviour and conflictual processes can we avoid both, the reductionism that treats all forms of dissent as a social pathology (as in the very classical form of functionalism) or the attribution of innovative or even revolutionary potential to every act that breaks the order (Melucci, 1996) Whether wearing a burqa can be deemed as innovative or socially pathological requires analysis of the motivations for wearing a burqa. Such analysis might show that the decision to wear a burqa relates more to the individual choice to establish ‘Divine order’ in ones personal life than the desire to participate in violent conflict or to subject oneself to subordination . Such governments may need to realise that contemporary movements operate as networks of relations among differentiated and relatively autonomous structures (Melucci, 1996). If the decision to wear the burqa has nothing to do with furthering a threat to security or equal treatment, but rather an individuals ability to self-determine how much of their ‘skin’ should be subject to the public view, than the basis of a law to ban it, can be deduced to inaccurate reductions or attributions leading to an erroneous conclusion. One can therefore propose that analysis of Islam fundamentalist activity should be based on the perception of a movement where actors enjoy a great level of autonomy in formulating their short term aims, motivations and forms of action.

2. Islam fundamentalism as an individual challenge to the social order

Social conflict is often related to social change. Social movements often call for or resist change and Islamic fundamentalism can therefore be seen as an expression of resistance to-, or a call for- social change. This paragraph aims to identify Islam fundamentalism as an individual challenge to the social order. It investigates what types of social change individual Islamic fundamentalist’s call for.


"Modernity, the circumstance of being 'modern', is, in a central sense, inescapable. It is the necessary context for every tolerably well-informed life-journey undertaken in the contemporary world". Being modern does not mean being Western but it does mean that some degree of secular knowledge will have to be given far greater prominence in Muslim epistemologies. (

Sociologists have often predicted that the rise of modernity would be accompanied by trends of secularization and anomie. Evidence for this argument can be found in the works of sociologists like Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. Max Weber for example suggested a sense of ‘disenchantment’ following the establishment of rationality and science as a substitute for superstition. Indeed, the decrease in influence of religious knowledge, on political and everyday decisions, but also the constitutional divide between the church and the state, went hand in hand with an increase in importance of secular or scientific knowledge. This process has been coined secularization and the result can be identified in a strong decrease in membership numbers of Europe's Trinitarian churches and declining attendance rates at religious services. One other sign of secularization has been the increased tolerance and relativism of traditional religious beliefs. Secularization in Islam has often been illustrated by the institutional secularization of the Turkish state under Ataturk. The religious-office of Islam, symbolized by the sultan's claim to world leadership of all Muslims, was abolished under his leadership. The secular power of the religious authorities and functionaries was reduced and eventually eliminated and religious education was restricted and for a time prohibited. It is reported that popular Islamic orders like the dervish brotherhoods were also suppressed. However, Macionis and Plummer suggest that withstanding these events currently Islam has shown to be the fastest growing religion in Europe. The effects of secularization and modernist industrialization on individuals in society have been researched by Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton. Durkheim suggested that traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values. The decrease in influence of religion led people to experience a lack of rules, structure, and organization (anomie) which again led to feelings of alienation and purposelessness. Durkheim also suggested that the fragmentation of communal activities in modernity would diminish the collective conscience with the effect that religion would become rather a matter of individual choice than an observed social obligation ( The following attempt on content analysis of Jihadist video material aims to illustrate that feelings of powerlessness and alienation from traditional religion but especially solidarity with the suffering that fellow Muslims endure through occupation (in Palestine) and genocide (in Bosnia), have led to individual choices in the direction of Islam fundamentalist action

Self reported third year medical student and British Jihadist Abu Ibrahim reports from a location in Bosnia:

‘when I’m in Britain I feel that in my heart, that something is empty…I watch the TV and tears run down my face when I see the Muslims in Bosnia, Muslims in Palestine, Muslims in Kashmir… and then when I come here you feel that you’re fulfilling your duty…you feel like you achieve something…You see the Serbs the same people who raped our brothers and sisters, you see their dead bodies lying around in the hundreds. The most important thing - you feel a true sense that you achieve something...’ (Abu Ibrahim, video)

British Jihadist Abu Ahman criticizes traditional Islamic groups in London from a location in Bosnia:

‘These groups, they like to talk…they like to spend money they organize big conferences and invite people…and they sit down and say that brother made a beautiful speech…and then? What happens after that? Than after they talk, they go back home then they sleep, they carry on watching ‘Neighbors’ …carry on watching ‘Coronation Street’…What life is this? Cause people talk too much. If you wanna see true group-ism, true Muslims with unity; come to this place…’ (Abu Ahman, video)

As Durkheim suggested, both accounts portrayed feelings of purposelessness or helplessness and a critique towards signs of apathy, individualism and the diminished collective conscience. Some have therefore made the choice to return to the adherence of traditional religious values and found purpose or a sense of achievement and community in Jihadist activity. In the same interview Abu Ibrahim critiques his fellow Muslims lack of willingness to sacrifice the self for the greater good or the group, a critique directed at a community embedded in a society with an organic solidarity where loyalty is based on interdependence in stead of resemblance. He commends:

‘What we lack here is Muslims that are prepared to suffer and sacrifice. There in Britain I see Muslims, every medical student is saying that ‘my studies is for Islam’, ‘my studies is for the Muslims’ then they get their job, they get their surgery fifty, sixty, seventy thousand pounds a year they’re earning and then? No struggle, no sacrifice, and then once a year when the leaflet of Islamic Relieve or Muslim Aid comes, then they send off a check for hundred pounds, two hundred pounds and that’s it: Sacrifice for Islam! When you come here you feel that you’re fulfilling your duty, you’re doing what the Prophet Mohamed (BUHN) and his companions have done fourteen hundred years ago…’ (Abu Ibrahim, video)

By sacrificing their lives for the greater good these men feel that they live a purposeful life maybe even more useful than the pursuit of a lucrative career in medicine. One can also suggest that they distinguish them self from the rest of ‘less sacrificing – less collectivist’ and ‘less dedicated’ Muslims and by attending to duty and sacrifice they attain a sense of moral superiority. As Daniel Benjamin reports about Salafism :

‘For disaffected second-generation youths in Europe, Salafism provides the attraction of the authentic. For those living in the squalid metropolises of the Middle East, it offers an emotionally rich alternative to the slogans of Arab nationalism. Salafism appeals to younger Muslims as a way to differentiate themselves from their parents and grandparents because it is seen as pure, stripped of the local superstitions, and customary usages of their families' countries of origin. It confers a sense of moral superiority. Salafism has a potent appeal because it underscores Islam's universality’ (Benjamin, 2005)

Some could argue that these cases illustrate that Jihadist activity is a reaction to the effects of secularization in Islam and wider society and that the source of conflict therefore can be identified as their ‘excessive’ dedication to religion, characteristic to their culture. Islamic fundamentalists aim indeed for more than just providing an alternative to traditional or secularized Islam. Bassam Tibi suggests that the pivotal concept of Islam fundamentalist ideology is what the fundamentalists call nizam or ‘order’. The important theme arising from this is the dichotomy of ‘Divine order’ and secular order. Islamic fundamentalists in particular stress the importance of the ‘Divine order’ and propose therefore the Islamic system of government which focuses on the following 3 issues:

1. Islamic legitimacy (al-shar'iyya al-Islamiyya); 2. The Islamic umma (or world wide community), which supports the shar'iyya; and 3. The political power necessary for upholding the implementation of the shari'a (Jarisha and Zaibaq, 1978).

Melucci suggested that recent forms of collective action have often ignored the formal political system and generally show disinterest towards any idea of seizing power. Although some Islamic fundamentalist organizations neglect the traditional forms of political action such as lobbying, negotiating and voting it is clear that the many organizations in the movement hold the political establishment of the ‘Divine order’ in wider society as a main objective and thus engage in action to find broad support and seize power. However, the establishment of the ‘Divine order’ through shari’a implementation in the political realm does not constitute the only or the most important goal for all fundamentalist Muslims. There are many other Islamic fundamentalists to whom Islam is a source of ethics and a way of life, not a formal system of government. Islamic Sufi-mystics for example believe that religious faith is spiritual and based on ‘love of God’, not on a rigorous implementation of shari'a or Islamic law (Tibi, 1998). They believe in religious faith as spiritual and based on a love of God. The implementation of those believes in an individuals life is not unique to Islamic fundamentalism. Contrarily it may be that what Islamic fundamentalism has in common with most of the worlds other cultures. The essence of fundamentalist ideology ‘the establishment of a Divine order’ is thus not in conflict but in common with most individuals who take their religion serious. Macionis and Plummer suggest that although the numbers of attendance and membership of the Trinitarian churches declines, churches still have a heavy involvement in cultural life. Other research shows that while religious practices in Europe have declined, religious beliefs and values remain prevalent. Some have therefore suggested that Western Europeans have become un-churched but not necessarily unbelieving or secular. Many individuals of both ‘western’ and Islamic fundamentalist cultures are becoming increasingly faced with failures of science and rational bureaucracy and are therefore thrown back to their own resources to find answers to life’s challenges (Beck, 2005). As modern risk societies place people at the centre of choice and danger, and as public trust in the rational and institutionalised bureaucracies is declining, people continue to express a need for spirituality and use varying degrees of spirituality to deal with the societal challenges like alienation, purposelessness and disenchantment (Macionis and Plummer, 2002). The real nature of the conflict is thus not ‘cultural plurality’ but a critical attitude to some effects of social change. This attitude is shared, not only by Islamic fundamentalists but also by many non-Muslims in the ‘west’.

Contrary to some other social movements Islamic fundamentalist aims are not limited to issues of social justice or materialistic gain but primarily to establish a divine order as opposed to a secular order. They propose a change in lifestyle and sometimes even a transformation of society. One might therefore mistakenly view Islam fundamentalism as strictly a reaction to secularization; a concept closely related to modernity and therefore consider it a modern or ‘new’ (religious) movement. But Steve Bruce argues that there is in fact nothing new about fundamentalism. He argues that what we now regard as extremism was commonplace two hundred years ago (Macionis and Plummer. 2002). Indeed some Islam fundamentalist schools like the Salaf and Hanafi (by Abu Hanifa 699 – 767) are more than a hundred years old. The Wikipedia suggests that the modern history of Salafism started in Egypt in the mid 19th century among intellectuals at al-Azhar University. To understand the real motives behind Islamic fundamentalism it might be interesting to pay brief attention to some of these intellectuals and their teachings: • Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905): advocated Pan-Islamism to resist European colonialism ( • Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1838-1897): political activist and Islamic nationalist preached ideas of political reform called for a return to the original principles and ideals of Islam, and for greater unity among Islamic peoples. This, al-Afghani argued, would allow the Islamic community to regain its former strength against European powers ( • Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935, Egypt): Also focused on the relative weakness of Muslim societies against Western colonialism, blaming Sufi excesses and the blind imitation of the past (taqlid), for the stagnation of the umma, and the resulting failure to achieve progress in science and technology. (

Considering the unity of religion and governance in the Islamic fundamentalist worldview it is not surprising that the critique of these three modern Islamic fundamentalist intellectuals is predominantly directed at colonialism but also that the prescribed solution is related to the reestablishment of the ‘Divine order’ in society. One can argue that throughout the ages certain individuals have explained societal-, natural, even political problems in terms of failures to reach a religious ideal and therefore prescribed an amount of dedication to religious life conflicting with what was commonplace at the time. However, the refusal to explain societal or political problems like colonialism and exploitation in a secular way does not justify their practice. The critique directed at colonialism is also not exclusive to Islamic fundamentalism or even religion. The way a coherent critique of society is constructed can be different between religions, cultural and political movements in both religious and secular societies. But using the way this critique is expressed (in one culture) to devalue the validity of the critique itself is misleading. Some have argued that such an attitude caused policies such as the ‘war on terror’ to become a ‘carte blanch’ for the oppression of opposition members by authoritarian regimes. Regimes that were coming under pressure from democracy groups and Islamic fundamentalist political opposition, have used the ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Religious Fanatic’ tag on opposition groups, often in a manner that made the populace despise the regime and the ‘west’, for what they feel is removing their control over their own destiny. ( To avoid this misuse of ‘differences in culture’ by those who want to maintain the status quo it might be important to highlight that all the above mentioned examples of action from Islamic fundamentalists are aimed at resisting or calling for change in the existing socio-economic relations. The interview with the British Jihadist's showed how participation in Jihad empowered them against alienation and disenchantment but more important, to come to the aid of fellow Muslims who were perceived to experience oppression through occupation (e.g. from Israel) and genocide (e.g. from the Serbs). They also clearly criticize the social relationships characterized by individualism and apathy exhibited by some members of their community and they propagate a more collectivist approach. A micro sociological approach, focusing on the intricate network of personal relations reveals that the attraction to Islam fundamentalism might also be due to the moral superiority that the acquisition of specialist knowledge and personal sacrifice confers. Daniel Benjamin suggested that the pursuit of the ‘Divine order’ such as in Salafism confers a sense of moral superiority (Benjamin, 2005). Salafi knowledge and dedication can be viewed in a Bourdieu-ian sense as a form of ‘religious specialism’ therefore not only as an acquisition but a disposition (Verter, 2003). This theory aids to the understanding of the Salafists need to distance themselves from a community in which individualism and apathy had come to dictate social behavior. Finally an analysis of the teachings of the founding intellectuals of the Salafi School shows a critique; primarily directed at unequal power relations within and between states who were subject to colonialism. Neither these challenges nor their means of expression are unique to Islamic culture but have been central to many social movements in western and non western societies. Contemporary Islamic fundamentalism can therefore more accurately be identified as a social movement of which participants individually or collectively challenge and redefine a wide range of socio-economic relations characterized by oppression, exploitation and social inequality.

3. Islamic Fundamentalist and Society

As noted before Islamic fundamentalism challenges a large diversity of societal relationships. To understand these challenges it might be important to further examine some characteristics of the fundamentalist-individual and the society. Are fundamentalist’s loners or poor disadvantaged people? Della Porta and Diani suggest that radical organizations and subcultures recruited more successful amongst organizations whose message was not necessarily antagonistic but less mainstream. This method can indeed be identified in some fundamentalist networks. Although Islam is more accepted than fundamentalist Islam, its value system remains contested in Europe and can therefore not be regarded as ‘mainstream’. Fundamentalist groups like the ‘Supporters of Sharia’ are therefore reported to have recruited mainly amongst the members of non- ‘mainstream’ organizations who previously might have held more or less moderate stances (E.g. amongst Finsbury Park mosque’s members or university study groups). Some Islamic fundamentalists encourage participants with varying degrees of success to completely break with previous lifestyles and Della Porta and Diani suggest that this break might be easier for isolated individuals than those who are well integrated in earlier social networks (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood for example was known for ‘his introverted-ness, isolation, depression and concern’. But evidence from the interviews does not support the notion that isolation is characteristic to supporters of Islamic fundamentalism. The young Osama bin Laden (al-Qaeda) for example was reported to be well integrated in a Koran study groups (at university). Della Porta and Diani conclude therefore that members of religious sects join them largely independent from their previous level of integration in social networks.

Could a certain societal structure cause fundamentalism? Simmel emphasized that a particular social structure was eminent for fashion to continue in a society.

‘... Fashion ... is a product of class distinction ...’ (Simmel, Frisby and Featherstone, 1997). .

Marx suggested that history of society consisted of class conflict.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle’ (Marx and Engels, 1848)

Could that also be said for Islamic fundamentalism? Simmel argued that the need to distinguish one from others primarily appears in the higher social strata. As one style comes into fashion in higher social strata it is imitated by members of the lower strata. As result of the process of imitation the style loses its exclusiveness and therefore its attraction to those who are in the higher strata. They change then to another trend in an attempt to stay distinctive from those in the lower strata. Simmel emphasizes thus that we imitate people who are, in one way or another, superior to us. Is Islamic fundamentalism thus a symptom of class conflict a la Marx? Not necessarily. Where Marx views power or superiority primarily expressed in material and military means Simmel leaves room for other forms of superiority. In an interview ex Islamic fundamentalist Khaled Abou El Fadl explains:

In this theology truth is unequivicably identifiable, not only is there a truth but this truth is attainable on this earth; the perfection of God is attainable on this earth… As an Egyptian it becomes concrete when every where you turn the identity to which you belong is confronted with military defeats, if you travel you carry an Egyptian passport… and you become thrown in into the category of the inferior just by virtue of the fact that you belong to an Arab identity. I remember going through a stage where I tried of going through the sort of cool route of being westernised; that for me didn’t work, but what did work was the exaltation, the intoxication, the remarkable high of finding the group of people that tell you: You know what? Your better than the Americans, your better than the British, your better than the Arabs, your better than the Turks, your better than anyone because you’re a Muslim and I remember as a teenager suddenly I would walk around with my head high. I belonged to something very powerful…(Khaled Abou El Fadl, Interview)

This interview exemplifies how knowledge or ‘truth’ provided a sense of power or superiority and implies that fundamentalism not always originates from material class divides in a society. Simmel suggested that fashion can be used to distinguish one group from another while both may be living in the same social conditions. He proposed that some primitive peoples living under exactly similar conditions sometimes develop sharply differentiated fashions (Simmel, Frisby and Featherstone, 1997). Jerrold Post suggests about Jihadist activity:

‘There is a multiplicity of individual motivations. For some, it is to give a sense of power to the powerless; for others, revenge is a primary motivation; for still others, it is to gain a sense of significance. Within each group, there are motivational differences among the members, each of whom will be driven to differing degrees by group interest versus self-serving actions, as well as those inspired by ideology’. These examples aimed to illustrate that participation in the Islamic fundamentalist movement can not always be explained by class. Although such theories point in the right direction the diverse nature of dissatisfaction justifies a micro sociological approach Simmel points rather to the existing attitude towards the surrounding society than material class distinctions. As Bourdieu would argue: The attraction to prophets (or in this instance, Islam fundamentalism), lies not in the originality of their message, but in their ability to give symbolic expression to an already existing need; characterised by their alienation from the institutional church (Bourdieu in Verter, 2003). The results from the research indicated that the perception of increasing inequality does not correlate directly to support for fundamentalism. However the personal experience of unequal treatment of the group or the individual (through discrimination and alienation) does. One could suggest that the attraction to Islam fundamentalism lays primarily in its ability to provide a sense of power or even superiority by its alienation from what is deemed ‘untrue’, ‘slack’, ‘apathetic’ or ‘discriminatory’. The emphasis on universalism by Salafism seems therefore appealing (Benjamin, 2005). Simmel pointed out that humans experience a tension, between wanting to conform and wanting to distinct them self from the surrounding society. The need to distinguish oneself but at the same time also to conform-, is expressed in different forms of human activity. Simmel proposed this theory a hundred years ago in an essay on fashion. However, the same tension can currently be recognised in people practicing alternative lifestyles, politics or among those involved in religious asceticism and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism can therefore be linked to a need to distance one self from the surrounding society, as away of challenging an existing social order. This need is not particular to a certain class but to individuals (solidarity with those) who suffer the effects of stratification. These effects are not always of material nature. The next paragraph further investigates why fundamentalist feel compelled to distance their selves from society.

4. Islamic fundamentalism: the reasons for conflict

Simmel notes that the balance between the need for distinction and imitation can sometimes shift. He suggests that individual appearance will always stand out in societies where need for distinction is deeper. However the need for imitation guarantees that appearance never clashes with the style in fashion.

The pariah existence, to which society condemns the demimonde, produces an open or latent hatred against everything that has the sanction of law, of every permanent institution... (Simmel in Frisby and Featherstone, 1997)

Simmel suggests that there are societal factors that would increase the need for distinction. He speaks of a ‘pariah existence’ and a ‘demimonde’ indicating that a certain system of stratification between social groups lies beneath the attitude of ‘latent’ hatred that fundamentalist groups are so often accused of. Simmel predicted regarding socio-economic positions that social parity would promote contact. Thus whether groups insulate their members or not depends on whether the groups themselves form a social hierarchy (Macionis and Plummer, 2002). Maykel Verkuyten adds that the belief in the stability of unequal group positions forces people to find positive social identity in their own group (Verkuyten, 2006). This last chapter takes a little more in-depth view of why current discourse and policies have so far failed in reducing social disparity and how social disparity is translated into fundamentalist rhetoric.

Discourse and policies relating to inequality Gender Ex Dutch politician Ayaan Hirshi Ali has frequently used alleged Islamic gender inequality to criticize Islam. She advocated for the introduction of aggressive assimilation policies in order to force Muslim communities in the Netherlands to renounce their ‘violent/backward/culture/ religion’ and embrace ‘progressive, modern Dutch value system’ ( A common stereotype in the Netherlands is therefore that Islam (like Christianity?) is characterized by patriarchal interpersonal relationships between men and women and fathers and daughters. That women and daughters are forcibly excluded from societal participation because they are kept home, away from education and employment by fathers, husbands and brothers. In the Netherlands many blame differences in culture or even Islam for the tension between the ideal to continue education (and pursue a career) and the ideal to have children and start a family. Carolien Bouw en Leen Sterckx did research in the field of life choices of young Islamic women (between 15 and 30 years old) and came to the conclusion that indeed, finding a suitable partner when highly educated or at a higher age can be more of a challenge for Muslim women; but that this was the same for native Dutch women. Although the difficulty of finding a balance between the choice of career and family is blamed on Muslim men who allegedly reject independent women and marry women who are more dependent and who they can dominate, Bouw and Sterckx argue that this is a challenge for Muslims and for Dutch natives proving little to do with differences in culture ( The fact of the matter is that patriarchy is not unique to Islam. But like in other cultures women and parents in Islam successfully resist subordination. Bouw and Sterckx note for example:

Moroccan parents realize that because ‘girls will not return to Morocco’ they will need to sustain their selves in the Netherlands. ‘Marriages can fail and husbands can end up unemployed’. Moroccan girls are noted to ‘enjoy going to school’, they don’t cause trouble, study hard and are often the teacher’s favourites.

Nevertheless it is undeniable that Islamic women continue to face obstacles on their way to full societal integration. However these obstacles do not seem to lie only with religious attitudes of fathers, brothers and husbands but primarily with the very institutional mechanisms that were supposed to protect them from inequality and exclusion. Islamic women do face discrimination not only based on gender but more importantly based on race, culture and ethnicity and in the field of education and employment.

Explaining the lag in Education: Research by De Graaf and Ganzeboom suggests that success in the education system is determined by social background (De Graaf & Ganzeboom 1993). Bourdieu explains that parents from higher social layers of society are more capable of providing their children with necessary financial and cultural resources; they thereby also provide them access to the best positions in employment (Bourdieu, 1977). The ‘Ceders in de Tuin (1992)’ white paper of the advisory commission on non national students in education from the Dutch Department of Education emphasises on the similarities between students from ethnic minorities and Dutch students with an educational lag. The writers conclude that some non national students perform worse because their socio-economic position is worse. Specific ethno-cultural differences do not contribute to the lag, except from language differences (van Kemenade et al, 1992). However according to a new OECD study, immigrant children in some OECD countries lag more than two years behind their native counterparts in school even after accounting for disadvantaging socio-economic factors. This also withstanding the OECD findings suggesting that:

Immigrant children express equal, if not more, motivation to learn mathematics than their native counterparts and very positive general attitudes towards school, suggesting that they bring with them a strong potential on which schools can build more effectively

Recognizing the effect of socio-economic factors the report therefore points to some other causes to explain the lag:

School systems differ widely in terms of their outcomes for immigrant children, the report makes clear. In some countries, such as Canada and Australia, immigrant children perform as well as their native counterparts. But in other countries, notably those with highly tracked education systems, they do substantially less well.

The report continues to argue that language and the geographical origin of immigrant children may be additional factors but this is not deemed sufficient to explain variations in performance between countries. Instead it proposes:

                                                                                                                                       In some countries with high levels of immigration, the performance of second generation immigrant children is much closer to that of native children and close to the national average, suggesting that public policy can make a difference. Many of the countries that do well on this measure, have in common well-established language support programmes in early childhood education and primary school that have clearly defined goals, standards and evaluation systems. (Stanat and Christensen, 2006)

In recognition of the importance of ‘public policy’, eighteen professors from eight universities in the Netherlands wrote to the parliament to express serious concerns about a newly proposed integration law (Voorstel voor de Wet inburgering (30308)) by Minister Rita Verdonk. Without going into to much detail they criticize the fact that the new law unequally distributes the burden of efforts and costs for compulsory educational and language attainments. The cost of these attainments could end up being carried partially or in some instances fully by new non-European immigrants. These attainments are further only compulsory for non-Europeans. The new law basically discriminates new non-European immigrants by requiring them, the least capable, to carry the largest burden of costs while exempting Europeans from the requirement. The letter expresses the fear that instead of facilitating integration this law will actually hinder integration and will therefore show to be contra productive. The Adviescommissie Vreemdelingenzaken (Advisory Committee on Aliens’ Affairs), an official advisory body to the government and parliament of the Netherlands concluded therefore that the proposal conflicts with the principle of equality as a general principle of law, Article 1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 1 of the Twelfth Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is just one example in which Dutch Minister Verdonk failed in their basic duty to respect human rights for all and exemplifies the institutionalised discrimination non western immigrant’s in the Netherlands face. To illustrate how widespread and pervasive this obstacle of discrimination is among the Dutch, follows some information from the E-Quality fact-sheet on discrimination in the employment market: Research in Rotterdam among 40 Muslim ladies with headscarfs showed that 25 encountered problems while applying for jobs relating to their headscarf. Of the 15 who did not encounter problems many argued that they did not even bother to apply with some employers because it was already made known to them that a headscarf would not be tolerated. The research also showed that even when a headscarf was accepted this was in jobs demanding lower qualifications (for example cleaning), while the same company would not find a headscarf acceptable in higher positions. Contrary to what politicians such as Wilders, Hirshi Ali and Verdonk suggest, obstacles to integration are not the differences between ‘Islam’ and ‘western cultures’ but more importantly discrimination; sometimes based on gender sometimes based on ethnicity but always shared between the different cultures. Solutions aimed at integration (instead of tolerance and participation) are therefore doomed to be counter productive. They seem to lead to more alienation and spark resentment to the Dutch system. Halleh Ghorashi points to some historical developments that might have led some politicians to foster a focus on differences. She explains that after the Second World War the construction of ‘pillars or categories’ of religious denomination and political ideology has been the dominant framework for thinking about differences in the Netherlands. While the influence of these religious denominations had decreased through processes of secularization a new pillar or category has been created: The Islamic pillar. Ghorashi notes that where policies of multiculturalism in the seventies, focused on the preservation of migrant cultures, and shifted to ‘integration’ while preserving migrants’ own cultures, at present, the central idea is that making civic integration mandatory will lead to less difference and less conflict. One interviewee’ noted that the media currently blames ‘every social problem related to minorities on a lack of integration’. Contemporary discourse has become marked by an emphasis on the negative consequences of cultural contrasts. The old dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’, with its emphasis on cultural boundaries, has latently shaped the ways in which new migrants have been approached in the Netherlands. But what has also changed, and considerably since 2000, is a shift in tone, demanding that ‘we must be allowed to say what we think’. Baukje Prins calls this period the era of ‘the new realism’. (

The new realist is someone with guts; someone who dares to ‘call a spade a spade’; someone who sets himself up as the mouthpiece of the common people and then puts up a vigorous fight against the so-called left-wing, ‘politically correct’ views of cultural relativism (Prins, 2002).

Ghorashi argues that the dominance of this ‘new realism’, combined with the 11 September attacks and the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and Theo Van Gogh in 2004, has caused thinking in terms of cultural contrasts to be linked to feelings of fear and discontent. As a consequence, migrant cultures, and especially Islam fundamentalists are now viewed with aversion and mistrust, and these views are being translated into policy and public debate. She suggests that the accompanying feelings of social insecurity and lack of social recognition tend to encourage radicalization.

‘When people feel threatened, they will go to extremes to defend their boundaries.’

The coercive measures of the Dutch integration policy suggested by Minister Verdonk have therefore not led to more harmony and less conflict. Simmel proposed that Heterogeneous groups turn outwards. Macionis and Plummer argue that the more internally heterogeneous a group is the more likely its members are to interact with members of other groups. However the greater the socio-economic disparities the less its members will intermingle (Simmel in Macionis and Plummer, 2002). The effects of socio-economic disparities are in the Netherlands actually exacerbated by discriminatory policies and result in less contact and stronger identification with ones own group (Verkuyten, 2006). Abu Jah Jah from the Arabic European League has suggested that integration is enforced because Muslims own Islamic norms and values are deemed inferior to ‘western’ norms and values. He encourages his followers therefore to resist those policies. A 2006 report from ‘Monitor Racisme & Extremisme’ shows that a period of decreasing numbers of reported instances of racist and extremist violence (2000 – 406 cases to 2003 – 260 cases) has reversed to show in 2006 an increase to 296 cases. The period characterised by increased racist and extremist violence 2003 – 2006 coincides with the period Verdonk was appointed Minister for Integration and Immigration (05/2003 – 02/2007). Professor David Pinto notes that the conclusions of a 2006 report from the ministry of Justice and the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that the policies fail ( The growth the in popularity of both Islamic fundamentalism and the anti multiculturalists’ right-wing groups seems to support this point. The feelings of threat or alienation have not only increased the attraction to (Islamic) fundamentalism they also caused a populist reevaluation of policies advocating that society should consist of, or at least allow and include, distinct cultural groups, with equal status. Parekh suggests that such a negative focus on differences between cultures is misguided because no culture is self contained with a distinct ethos that can be individuated and distinguished from other cultures (fallacy of distinctness) (Parekh, 2006). By focusing on differences we close our eyes for similarities that may be just as ‘good’ or just as ‘bad’ in both cultures. One can therefore conclude that politicians like Wilders, Hirshi Ali and Verdonk abuse the gender issue by blaming gender inequality, challenging to both cultures, primarily on foreign cultures while ignoring or even proposing discriminatory policies that more seriously hamper the integration of minorities.

Chaudhry adds to this argument that attempts to take gender in account in development may have actually led to ‘new forms of inequality’. She proposes that twenty years heavy spending on education, combined with lack of employment opportunities, have generated a mismatch between education levels and employment opportunities in the Arab world. She suggests that particularly in the Gulf, women tend to acquire higher levels of education than men, but are only marginally represented in the job market.

Female enrolment in tertiary education is higher than that of males in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (UNDP 2003). A new form of inequality that has emerged in the past 20 years is thus an inverse relationship between education and opportunity that is not only wasteful but also a potential source of familial tensions.

Chaudhry continues to explain that export concentration in textiles and ready-made garments sectors that favours female workers, has created social and familial tensions in countries where male unemployment is high (Lynch, Fontaine and Schlumbohm in Chaudhry, 2005). These trends have and can be expected to continue and could create a backlash as more and more men encounter the emasculating experience of being unable to provide for their families (Joshi and Janssens in Chaudhry, 2005). Chaudhry suggests that the ‘crisis of Arab masculinity’ is therefore partly built on a feminization of the labour market as result of an overemphasis on women when taking account of gender in developmental projects. She suggests that these events (often insignificant for the international public) have inflicted a steady series of psychological traumas on Arab and Muslim males. Among these events Chaudhry points to some examples of an ill-conceived use of media:

• the televised medical examination of Saddam Hussein, (widely regarded as an emblem of masculine power), or • the racist overtones of on-going military conflicts in Israel-Palestine and in Iraq, or • the graphic evidence of torture and gratuitous sadistic acts performed in Abu Ghraib prison

Those events not only raise questions of international law; Arab males experience them as deeply humiliating and emasculating. These psychological traumas are exacerbated by the economic reality of the feminization of labour and the persistence of high male unemployment. Chaudhry does not regret the financial independence that female employment offers women but suggest that the social, familial and psychological adjustment to these changes is made even more difficult in the context of these collective traumas. She concludes that one consequence of this trend has been that the resistance fighters in Iraq, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have come to embody the only symbols of masculinity that are left standing (Kimmel in Chaudhry, 2005). These symbols of masculinity, she argues, appeal not only to men, but also to women (Chaudhry, 2005).

Efforts to bring gender equality must therefore be balanced and sincere. Sincere because they need to aim first on creating equality by paying attention to gender not paying attention to gender to justify inequality.

Race and Culture Some have also used ‘flash points’ such as the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy to explain how differences in culture cause violence. Pointing to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence, including setting fire to the Norwegian and Danish Embassies in Syria, the storming European buildings, the desecration of the Danish and German flags in Gaza City and the issuing of death threats by some radical Muslims leaders across the globe, they attribute conflict to the lack of respect Muslims are supposed to have for ‘western’ values such as freedom of speech. After publication of the cartoons, Danish Muslim organizations, indeed objected to the depictions, arguing that they are blasphemous to people of the Muslim faith, intended to humiliate a Danish minority, or a manifestation of ignorance about the history of western imperialism, from colonialism to the current conflicts in the Middle East. Danish Muslim groups responded thus initially by holding public protests attempting to raise awareness of Jyllands-Posten's publication. ( However the objection to public depiction of information, experienced to be blasphemous or humiliating is not uncommon in ‘western’ societies. Indeed some western European countries have themselves introduced legislation to limit free speech in order to protect parts of their populations from the public depiction of blasphemous or humiliating information. Because objections to uses of free speech which are perceived blasphemous or humiliating are not unique for Muslims it would be inaccurate to deem these objections as markers of violence between Islamic and Western cultures. These objections are therefore, on their own, not the result of differences in culture. Some might point to the violence that erupted on a later stage of the controversy. However the application of violence in similar states of a conflict is also not uncommon in other cultures. Indeed the many violent riots after for example certain European soccer events suggest that the sociological reasons for violent conflict must be found at a different source than ‘differences in culture’. Like sociological approaches to the problem of British Hooliganism have suggested; violent behavior originates often from forms of social stratification. Young’s review of William, Dunning and Murphy investigation of British Hooliganism suggests:

British hooligans are often white male working class adolescents for who fighting is one of the few sources of excitement, status and meaning. They support their thesis by a lengthy sequence of illustrations of British Hooligans taking their socio-economic frustrations on fans from ‘foreign teams’ (Young, 1986)

Although individual hooligans have different individual motivations commentators generally agree the social class has been a significant factor in England’s Hooliganism. However, social class seems no variable on its own. Instead William, Dunning and Murphy combine stratification with the suggestion that fighting or violence becomes one of the few sources of status and meaning. When other forms of achieving status and meaning are limited (often by enduring political or socio-economic constraints) violence becomes a viable option. Even if the actual triggers to the violence are diverse or as trivial as the outcome of a soccer match. An analysis needs there fore be focussed not on the trigger only but the way social tensions are building up and relating to societal problems especially concerning constrains to the ways humans achieve status and meaning. To understand the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy we must therefore pay an attention to the Danish society prior and at the time of the incidents.

Guardian correspondent Kiku Day suggests that social stratification based on racism, xenophobia and material inequality characterises the relationship between Muslims and the Danes (Day, 2006). Withstanding the fact that households with a Muslim background compose the largest share of non-Western minorities in Denmark; Muslims have much higher unemployment rates, particularly those from non-European countries. For example, in 2000 the unemployment rate for people with origins in Somalia, Iraq and Morocco stood above 65%, as compared to about 18% for native Danes, 7% for the EU immigrants and 5% of the general EU working-age population. However, these extreme socio-economic discrepancies do not stand alone. Inequality between non EU Muslims and the Danes is guaranteed to remain stable by the government’s tolerance of- and involvement in- manifestations of Islamophobia. As illustrated by a research paper, commissioned by the EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP) the stability in inequality is even shaping expectations of and choices of young people regarding their education and ambitions.

‘Research indicates that, even in their school years, young people from ethnic minorities have such low expectations for gainful employment that this impacts on their ambitions for further education. Of those who do reach universities, the vast majority study subjects such as the natural sciences, IT, engineering and managerial sciences, but very few turn to social sciences or the professional fields that confine job opportunities primarily to the Danish labour market, such as law, sociology and national economics. And even for those with qualifications, there is evidence that ethnic minorities of non-Western origin do not benefit fully from their education and skills, whether obtained in Denmark or in any other country’ (Hussain, 2007).

Because racism and xenophobia are so common; young Muslims do not expect that their efforts to improve their socio-economic status through education will benefit them fully. This suggests that racism and xenophobia are not only expressed through interpersonal interactions by a few members of the populous. As suggested by a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights the expression of racism and xenophobia has extended to the ranks of some members of the government and can be illustrated by the governments handling of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy: The cartoons were published on the 30th of September, 2005. Having received petitions from Danish imams, eleven ambassadors from Muslim-majority countries asked for a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on 12 October 2005, in order to discuss what they perceived as an ‘on-going smearing campaign in Danish public circles and media against Islam and Muslims’. In a letter, the ambassadors mentioned not only the issue of the Muhammad cartoons, but also a recent indictment against Radio Holger, and statements by MP Louise Frevert and the Minister of Culture, Brian Mikkelsen. The government answered the ambassadors' request for a meeting on 21st of October with a letter refusing the requested meeting. ( UN special reporter Doudou notes:

The initial reaction of the Danish Government - its refusal to adopt an official stance on the content and the publication of the cartoons out of respect for freedom of expression, and its refusal to receive the ambassadors of Muslim countries - revealed not just the trivialization of Islamophobia at the political level but also, as events subsequently demonstrated, the central involvement of politicians in the national and international impact of manifestations and expressions of Islamophobia. Politically and from the standpoint of the morality of international relations, the Danish Government, against the backdrop of an alarming resurgence of defamation of religions, especially Islamophobia but also anti-Semitism and Christianophobia, failed to show the commitment and vigilance that it normally displays in combating religious intolerance and incitement to religious hatred and promoting religious harmony (Doudou, 2006).

The UNHCR report suggests that the cartoon affaire illustrates that intolerance towards certain religions and incitement to religious hatred is propagated even amongst children:

In terms of timing, intent and targeted audience, the publication of these cartoons shows how much the defamation of religions has become trivialized. The fact that children were the intended readership of the biography indicates a desire to shape the attitude to religion of a particularly sensitive and vulnerable age group (Doudou, 2006).

After the refusal for meeting the ambassadors, a number of Muslim organizations filed a complaint with the Danish police on October 27, 2005 claiming that Jyllands-Posten had committed an offence under section 140 and 266b of the Danish Criminal Code. On 6 January 2006, the Regional Public Prosecutor in Viborg discontinued the investigation as he found no basis for concluding that the cartoons constituted a criminal offence. To determine the cause for the eruption of violence it might be useful look ate the timing of the violence. It is worth noting that in 2005, directly after the publication, the Muhammad cartoons controversy received only minor media attention outside of Denmark. In fact, six of the cartoons were first reprinted by the Egyptian newspaper El Fagr on October 17, 2005, along with an article strongly denouncing them, but the publication did not provoke any condemnations or other reactions from religious or government authorities. However between October 2005 and the end of January 2006, examples of the cartoons were reprinted in major European newspapers from the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium and France. Very soon after, protests grew, but only to lead to further re-publications around the globe, but primarily in continental Europe. Notable for a lack of republication of the cartoons were most major newspapers in the USA and the United Kingdom, where editorials covered the story without including the depictions (

One could argue that the violent protests erupting after the discontinuation of the investigation were not the result of the publication of the cartoons but of a combination of socio-economic factors, and political failure leading to an exceptional build up of tension. As the Public Prosecutor discontinued the investigation, the cartoons publishers were not tried in a court of Justice. As the government refused to even engage in discussion with the ambassadors one can suggest that it became even more obvious for Muslims worldwide that due to the wide spread and institutional xenophobia and racism, Muslims were unable to rely on the conventional political and judicial system to find a remedy for their grievances. In large parts of not only Denmark but also other countries in the EU, Muslims report indeed to be reduced to a ‘pariah existence’ and often incapable to influence their own or their community’s social status in conventional, peaceful manners. Kiku Day concludes:

‘Denmark has at last managed to catch the world's eye, after so many years of failing to get credit for being at the cutting edge of liberalism. But the inelegant handling of the controversy over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad is the result of a country that has been moving in the direction of xenophobia and racism - especially towards its Muslim inhabitants. The world needs to realise that the Denmark that helped Jews flee from Nazi deportation is long gone. A new Denmark has appeared, a Denmark of intolerance and a deep-seated belief in its cultural superiority’ (Kiku Day, 2006) The publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the following social unrest are therefore not a manifestation of conflict resulting from differences in culture but as the UNHCR commends ‘the most serious manifestation of the deteriorating [socio - economic] situation of Arab and Muslim populations generally and Islamophobia in particular’. When bureaucracies enforce integration and assimilation but at the same time fail to confront discrimination, inequality and intolerance, some of society’s members will experience feelings of alienation and exclusion. One can suggest that discrimination not only adds to the maintaining of socio-economical inequalities between the Dutch and Danish nationals and non-nationals; it aids to the belief in the stability of unequal group positions and turns groups inward. Maykel Verkuyten suggested that these stable socio-economic hierarchies reduce contact and therefore may create an attitude of resentment or ‘latent hatred’ against the system (Verkuyten 2006; Simmel, 1997); an attitude in which the mobilizing message of violent radicalism resonates.

Discourse and policies regarding legitimacy

After the Westphalian peace (May 1648) and the introduction of the Westphalian system of democratic sovereign nation states, Europeans internationally imposed a system of states, in which each enjoys sovereignty, on the rest of the world. The application of the democratic sovereign states system in the Muslim world became obvious with the decline of the Ottoman Empire marking the end of the long historical epoch of divine orders that had reigned virtually throughout the world (Tibi, 1998). Political order in the west but also amongst Arab secular states had, contrary to the concept of the ‘Divine order’, evolved alongside notions of a territorially delineated, democratic nation-state in which the politics and religion were separated and religious knowledge had been made subordinate to secular knowledge. The dichotomy of ‘Divine order’ and secular order within the Arab nationalist regimes evoked an increasing contestation of ideas that can be arranged in the following patterns:

• The legitimacy of democratic governments: The Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967 proved a turning point in the fundamentalist movement, because the crushing defeat contributed to the de-legitimization of the secular Arab regimes who were involved in the war. • The contestation of the fundamentalist interpretation of the ‘umma’ as a world wide political Islamic community: Islamic scholars like Shaltut have attempted to depoliticise this interpretation by stressing the ukhuwwa al-lslamiyya or Islamic brotherhood: The fraternity of Muslims, which constitutes the ethical value and the content of solidarity among Muslims, as the salient meaning of the Islamic umma (Shaltut in Tibi, 1998). • The fundamentalist ways to obtain the political power to implement shari’a; by undemocratic measures if necessary.

The contestation of legitimacy directed at the democratic Arabic bureaucratic systems is explained by different writers. Ali Abdel Gadir from the Arab Planning Institute in Kuwait argues that the Arab region boasts a fairly high degree of income inequality. But according to Kiren Chaudhry: ‘Inequality and poverty take many different forms that are not comparable’. She suggests that we must focus on the ‘human consequences’ of extreme economic instability and volatility that characterize the region. The sources of this instability, she shows, are built into the region’s resource structure, regional politics, and international interventions. The consequences of this economic instability can be just as devastating, in the terms of the lives people live, as long-term and stable poverty (Chaudhry, 2005). But Chaudhry is not alone in her diagnosis. Kurtz suggests:’ there has been at least one major war in the region since the 1970s and international sanctions have created a virtually unique externally imposed deprivation in a region that is, by all accounts, rich’. Kurtz thereby points to the imposition of UN sanctions on Iraq. UNICEF has put the number of child deaths resulting from these sanctions at 500,000 while other reports mention numbers up to a million. However, when Madeleine Albright (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) was presented with the figure of half a million children under five having died from the sanctions she infamously replied ‘we think the price is worth it’. Global Policy Forum a non-profit organization, with consultative status at the UN reported:

Civilian suffering in Iraq is not an unexpected collateral effect, but a predictable result of the sanctions policy. Security Council members have received warnings of the humanitarian emergency in Iraq and the damage done by sanctions since shortly after the Gulf War. Warnings have come from three Secretary Generals, many UN officials and agencies including UNICEF, WHO and WFP, and two Humanitarian Coordinators who have resigned in protest. A Select Committee of the UK House of Commons offered a very negative judgment as well.

However the sanctions were not the sole cause of human suffering in Iraq. The same report suggests:

The government of Iraq bears a heavy burden of responsibility due to the wars it has started, its lack of cooperation with the Security Council, its domestic repression, and its failure to use limited resources fairly.

Another failure of democratic systems like the UN can be exemplified by the unlawful invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 on Iraq unanimously. In 2003, the US, UK, and Spanish governments proposed another resolution on Iraq, which they called the ‘eighteenth resolution’ and others called the ‘second resolution’. This proposed resolution was subsequently withdrawn because not enough countries would have supported it. For a resolution to pass a supermajority of 9 out of 15 votes are needed. Only four countries announced they would support a resolution backing the war. However the war started without a further resolution. Lacking any UN Security Council resolution authorizing the war, it is deemed a violation of the UN Charter and hence a violation of international law. Several prominent groups of international lawyers endorsed a statement claming that the U.S. invasion was ‘a fundamental breach of international law (that) would seriously threaten the integrity of the international legal order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War.’ This opinion was echoed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said in September 2004:

‘From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it (the war) was illegal.’ (

Even though many Arab states claimed to be sovereign democratic and secular it would be fair to say that failure to uphold their territorial sovereignty during the Arab-Israeli conflict; the Lebanese Civil War; the Algerian Civil War; the Yemeni Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War, The Gulf War 1990-91, The Sudanese Civil War, the Somali Civil War and the American conquest and occupation of Iraq has not only marked the region with a terrifying story of lost generations but has undermined the involved democratic governments their own legitimacy. Tibi suggests that Arab governments failed to instil secular or democratic values among their populations. As to the reasons why a highly critical report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned of a regression of basic human freedoms in Arab countries, charging that repression was stifling the opportunity for an overall Arab renaissance. Oscar Fernandez, of the UNDP's Arab section, said that despite the different systems of government in the region, they all shared the characteristic of limiting freedoms and fundamental rights. Although most Arab countries have constitutions proclaiming democratic principles including the separation of powers, freedom of opinion, popular expression and an independent judiciary, authorities largely pay lip service to those pledges. The UNDP report also suggested that corruption had become institutionalised throughout the region in government and business, while clans dominated public life. The report urged Arab governments to address ‘a chronic crisis of legitimacy’; warning that people were feeling alienated and that some would turn to violence or fundamentalism.

‘If the repressive situation in Arab countries today continues, intensified societal conflict is likely to follow’ (Arab Human Development Report, 2004)

Times correspondent T. C. Miller suggests that a burning hatred of the U.S. simmered in much of the Arab world even before the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. He suggests that these feelings even exist in the most cosmopolitan and moderate Arab nations. Miller finds two reasons for this anger:

• ‘U.S. support of Israel and its alleged indifference to the Palestinians killed in the year-old intifada, and long-term sanctions against Iraq blamed for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children.’ • ‘But deeper than those obvious reasons, analysts and ordinary citizens say, is another factor, an uncomfortable reality long ignored by the West: The governments of the Arab nations are among the most repressive in the world. In most of the countries, there is no free press. There is no freedom of association. Dissent is crushed. Torture is common. Opposition parties are weak or ineffective.’ (Miller)

He argues that rulers of Arab countries are often ‘out of step’ with their people and although most Arab leaders have pledged cooperation in the U.S.-led battle against terrorism, their peoples are far less supportive. ( Analysts therefore see the large majorities in Pakistan who say they supported Sharia, and the establishment of a caliphate, as stemming from two sources: disgust at corruption and lack of accountability in their own government, and an inclination to associate what is Islamic with what is good. The 2003 invasion of Iraq did not improve the public view of the US. Except for the immediate cost of lives and material, the cost of further eroding the integrity of the international legal order by invading Iraq remains to be calculated fully. The inaction of the UN to prevent this breach of international law justifies the fear that even the UN is unable to protect citizens from unlawful acts of aggression by certain governments. These failures of the international political and legal systems throw people back on their own resources to find answers to life threatening challenges and might explain the wide spread support for the actions of the Iraq insurgency. According to a February-March 2007 poll, 51% of the Iraqi population approve of the attacks on Coalition forces. When broken down along sectarian lines, over 90% of the Sunni minority, approve of the attacks. (

The impositions of devastating sanctions by secular and democratic institutions, the defeats at the hands of foreign secular and Zionist armies and the failures of democratic and secular systems like the UN and Arab regimes, to guarantee human rights and the international rule of law, caused a socio-economic instability, like Chaudhry suggests; more devastating than long-term stable poverty. Khaled Abou El Fadl explains:

These kids grow up with numerous mythologies of the greatness of the past and they look at their present, and their present is remarkably miserable in many different fronts…

This instability has often been attributed to the decline of Islamic influence in politics and society. The discourse that ignited around these political and social issues became therefore centred on the victimization of Islam. The Islamic determination to overcome the setbacks blamed on so called democratic and secular governments and secular or Zionist occupation led to widespread calls for a return or reinstatement of Islamic government. Tibi explains that Islam has always been the underlying cultural basis of the Muslim world view; even for pan Arab secularists. Bernard Lewis explains that in the Arab world, religion embraces far more than it does in the Christian or post-Christian world.

We are accustomed to talking of church and state, and a whole series of pairs of words that go with them — lay and ecclesiastical, secular and religious, spiritual and temporal, and so on. These pairs of words simply do not exist in classical Islamic terminology, because the dichotomy that these words express is unknown.

The rise in interest in books produced by Islamic fundamentalists went parallel with the great political impact they made and also supports the notion that secularization in the political system had not penetrated to the masses. Tibi continues:

‘In the Middle East there has never been a process of structural and cultural changes underlying an orderly shift of the world-view from a religious to a secular one, as happened in the historical process that once unfolded in Europe. In this sense, there has never been a real societal process of secularization underpinning secular ideologies in the Middle East, not even in secular Turkey. In Turkey the state claims to be secular, but the society is not; and it cannot be described as secular in the sociological meaning of the term. We can argue, in fact, that the continuity of the Islamic worldview, persisting even in the midst of social change, has facilitated the recent shift from secular ideologies to those of political Islam and to the worldview it reflects. In examining Islam's function as a cultural system underlying a worldview, one cannot escape the fact that secular ideologies were never able to put down strong structural roots in Islam, or to affect the prevailing worldview. Thus, secularization as a separation of religion and politics has remained a surface function’ (Tibi, 1998).

Islamic fundamentalists like Jarisha and Zaibaq suggest that the only adequate understanding of ‘true Islam’ is the one that first acknowledges that ‘the major task of the Qur'an is to govern (an yahkuma)’. The unity of state and religion is the crucial part of this understanding: ‘not such that religion is a partial dimension of the state, but on the contrary, such that religion is the major element of the state (‘qism lahu la qasim’ or a part of it, not a partner to it)’ (Tibi, 1998). The Islamic realization of this political ideal is the found in the Muslim caliphate.

Husni al-Khartabuli suggests that despite the abolishment of the caliphate in Turkey, the idea of a caliphate remained respected and considered Divine by all Muslims: Ever since its abolition Muslims have never stopped asking for its restoration’ (Khartabuli in Tibi, 1998). Tibi suggests that the preoccupation with the glorious Islamic past characterizes the views of fundamentalists but also secularists in the Middle East. He explains that during the formative years of Islam a clear distinction existed between a qawm, that is, the particular tribe to which an Arab belonged (political), and the umma or religious community (not delineated by national borders), which is the supreme frame of reference of identity for all Muslims (religious/ethical). However the term for the secular meaning of la nation, as defined in the historical context of the French Revolution does not even exist in the Arabic language. La nation has in modern times been translated into Arabic as the very term umma, thus creating confusion with the religious meaning of the political community established by the Prophet Muhammad (BUHN) in the seventh century (Caliphate), and with the secular meaning that had unfolded in Europe in the course of the eighteenth century (Tibi, 1998). La nation implies a political community clearly restricted by national borders, a view clearly opposed to the semantics of ‘umma’ on which the feelings of belonging and identity of Muslims are rather based. Some Islamic fundamentalists add to this confusion when they attempt to give the political system of the caliphate, the borders of the umma. They thereby separate the world into a hostile ‘Westernised’ community and a ‘land of Islam’. The ‘land of Islam’ formerly delineated by the political borders of the caliphate in which Muslims and non-Muslims could live together, is now delineated by the borderless-ness of the umma but excludes non-Muslims. The difference is that a Muslim does not need to live in the caliphate to belong to the umma. A Muslim always belongs to the umma and may live in the caliphate. Any non-Muslim is by default not included in the umma and because of this reasoning also no equal participant in the caliphate. Instead non Muslims are regarded by some as ‘kufr’ or part of a hostile anti-Islam conspiracy . Fact is, that the non Islamic world is not holistically ‘Westernised’ neither does it holistically condone (‘western’) hostility towards Islamic populations. The application of the Islamic justice system by some organizations within the Islamic fundamentalist movement has therefore failed and continues to fail in protecting fellow Muslims, non Muslims and women from oppression, murder and exploitation. This has eroded the trust in- and the legitimacy of Sharia in the eyes of the victims of injustice. Many within and outside the umma (including some fundamentalists) do not necessarily look forward to the political system of the caliphate; especially if it excludes non-Muslims; while welcoming Islam as a religion. The non-Islamic world represents a large amount of cultures, not at all hostile to Islam but some even sharing the Islamic fundamentalist criticisms on discrimination, exploitation, secularization and modernization. A rejection of the caliphate does therefore not automatically imply a rejection of the umma. Tibi suggests that the Islamic fundamentalist’s claim, that the political objectives of the caliphate and it’s accompanying definitions of ‘we’ and ‘them’, finds it’s roots in the interpretation of the Qur’an, is unfunded. He quotes Ashmawi who bluntly states that neither the Qur’an, the Islamic revelation nor the sayings of the Prophet (hadith), contain a religious justification for the political order of the caliphate: ‘The caliphate has no Islamic grounds ... it did disservice to Islam in confusing religious belief and politics’. Like in the ‘West’, people within the caliphate have also become subject to the effects of socio-economic inequality and oppression especially when considering the events surrounding the alleged Armenian genocide in Turkey. Tibi concludes:

Fundamentalisms, of whatever stripe, reflect political ideologies ostensibly drawn from religions in an effort to remake the world, thus clearly for political ends. The true fundamentalist is basically a political man with a political outlook, and in some cases a political activist with little or no interest in religious ethics and divinities. (Tibi, 1998)

The Islamic fundamentalist interpretation of the caliphate reflects like Tibi suggest simply a political aim, related to socio-political power struggles. The source of religions ideological function exists according to Bourdieu in the latent correspondence that exists between power structures. Religious ‘facts’ as expressed by some Islamic fundamentalists should therefore be viewed as expressions of political resistance, legitimating not only a certain social position (Verter, 2003) but also unconventional political action. Withstanding these criticisms, Islamic fundamentalist mobilizing message concerning the reinstatement of the caliphate, remained close to the popularly accepted religious utopia of the Muslim world. This made fundamentalists networks more effective. One can conclude that the change from the caliphate system to the secular state system did not go hand in hand with a secularization of the wider Arab population and led Arab governments or the ‘secular order’ into a serious crisis of legitimacy. But the failure of Islamic fundamentalist to express their dissatisfaction with the socio-political order in secular ways does not justify the negation of the reasons for dissatisfaction. The results from the research done in the context of this project support the conclusion that experiences of socio-economic inequality are exacerbated by:

1. The devastating effects of ill conceived, ill executed and exploitative interventions from secular institutions like European (neo) colonial states, the UN and the US led Coalition concerning: • The establishment and support of a secular Westphalian state system of ‘Democratic’ governments accommodating the economic exploitation and repression of the regions populations, without regard to the levels of popular resistance against this system and these governments. • The deadly effects of sanctions on Iraq by the UN. • The deadly and destructive effects of invasion of ‘Democratic’ Arab nations by coalition-, Zionist- and fellow Arab forces. • The erosion of trust in the integrity of the international legal order by democratic governments regarding the invasion of Iraq.

2. The crisis of legitimacy of ‘Democratic’ Arab governments resulting from their failures to: • Uphold human rights by allowing freedom of opinion, popular expression and an independent judiciary. • Curb corruption and inequality • Uphold territorial integrity by protecting their populations from invasion (from western states but also fellow Arab states and Israel)

3. The application of the Islamic justice system by some organizations within the Islamic fundamentalist movement has failed and continues to fail in protecting fellow Muslims, non Muslims and women from oppression, murder and exploitation. This has eroded the trust in- and the legitimacy of Sharia in the eyes of the victims of injustice. • The failure of Islamic fundamentalists to eradicate discrimination of non-Muslims (‘kufr’) and women, condoning their exploitation, oppression and murder.

4. The failure of Democratic governments internationally but particularly in the ‘West’ to eradicate discrimination especially in the fields of employment, housing and education while (in the case of the US and The Netherlands) even proposing and secretly applying measures that are deemed violating human rights enshrined in the European and UN Constitution.

‘Western’ and Islamic fundamentalist organizations who refuse to acknowledge their role in maintaining this socio-economic inequality and injustice, often blame ‘fanaticism’ or ‘differences in culture’ for the eruption of violence. So called ‘terrorists’ or ‘Zionists’ or ‘crusaders’ are accused of aiming to destroy either ‘western’ or Islamic culture while both parties fail to recognize that an increase of violent conflict was never really the result of ‘differences in cultures’ but the result of politics in support of social and economic inequality and injustice. Simmel predicted that fostering equality and socio-economic participation (social parity) will promote interpersonal contact and the more heterogeneous a group becomes the more likely the members will interact with other groups. Harmony among people from different cultures will therefore only be achieved when socio-economic equality and justice is achieved internationally and may lead to a world society that celebrates differences in culture.


Secularization aims at avoiding the establishment of a ‘Divine order’ in the political process and seems therefore in direct conflict with Islamic fundamentalism. This project suggested therefore that Islamic fundamentalism generally aims at challenging social order. The last paragraph proposed that Islamic fundamentalist organizations successfully translated the perception of threat, from oppression and socio-economic exclusion, into the perception of a secular threat to Islam. What are perceived as threats from the secular ‘West’ are often really threats to the socio-political order endured in the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. Employing a simple divide between the ‘land of Islam’ and the anti-Islam ‘West’ does no justice to the many non-Muslims who share the aim to challenge the negative aspects of the ‘Westernised’ social order especially concerning the social, economical and environmental effects of modernity and progress. The aim for change from a secular order to a ‘Divine order’ is thus not typical to Islamic fundamentalism but to wide spread feelings of dissatisfaction with the current social order, and is expressed in personal life but sometimes even violently in political life. Attempts to defend and expand the ‘West’ and the ‘land of Islam’ have led to a spiral of violence in which many lives were lost. Many participants of ‘new’ social and religious movements in the ‘West’ recognise the failures of the modern applications of science and democracy and perceive the encroachment of rational bureaucratic institutions on the private sphere, as threatening to the social fabric of their communities. Many older social movements, calling for more social and economic equality, democracy and respect for human rights and international law, still struggle to achieve these goals internationally. The reasons for conflict have therefore not changed significantly since Marx and Simmel identified social and economic inequality as the main reasons for conflict about hundred years ago. However, the result of this research project suggests that the perception of economic inequality alone does not relate to more positive attitudes to violent fundamentalism. Verkuyten points to the role of discrimination by suggesting that a belief in the stability of unequal socio-economic relationships will have similar divisive effects. When people believe that they are unable to influence their social positions, (for example because of institutional discrimination within the wider society) they turn to their own groups to find positive social identities. Societies worldwide thus have to become more equal and individuals need to be able to believe in their own ability to influence their socio-economic positions. These are challenges to discrimination, intolerance, inequality, exploitation and failures of international political and legal systems. Perceiving Islamic fundamentalism as a social movement in a Bourdieu-ian sense makes the clash of civilizations a conflict of disposition; primarily a political challenge of the social order and perceiving it that way is preferable as it leaves room for negotiation and compromise. Dowell suggests that (while negotiating) religion and politics must remain separate because ‘politics inevitably involves compromise, while religion involves a spiritual ideal in which compromise can be fatal.’ Arguments like ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ or ‘no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues’ negate the basic methods of peaceful dispute resolution while violence rarely ends disputes effectively, indeed, it more often only escalates them. Some fundamentalist groups must therefore also submit to the ideals of tolerance and compromise. These while aiming to realize the ideal of an international Muslim brotherhood, embedded in a world in which ‘differences in culture’ are not regarded a source of conflict but are celebrated as the only desirable differences between human beings.

Rastinny 11:12, 29 August 2007 (UTC)