Politics & radicalisation By M. Zaidi - Monday, March 21, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/21/politics-radicalisation.html

IT is often stated by many western and Islamic scholars that Islam is not only a religion, it is also a blueprint for social order, governance and politics. It is therefore believed to encompass all domains of life, including law and the state. This is supposed to set Islamic polity apart from secular western states.
In actuality, however, Muslim states have passed through a wide range of governance experiences, ranging from the caliphate to monarchy, from military and civilian dictatorship to communism and national socialism, from theocracy and religious fascism to democracy.
Even those who decry a theocratic element in governance witness it at home, as evident in the role of Israeli religious parties in politics, and the gradually increasing influence of Christianity on the highest-level American executive echelons. The problem with interpretative discourses in Islam lies in the contextualisation of the boundaries between theocracy, society and human rights within a governance paradigm.
Despite the perception that the institutions of state and religion are unified in an Islamic polity, most Muslim societies appear not to conform to this idea, and are built around separate institutions. This is particularly true for societies imbued with values of honour and group solidarity based on tribal or loose religious affiliations. Here, it is important to understand the basic sense of social solidarity which exists in the Muslim world, which is composed more of tribal, dynastic and group affiliations rather than the idea of a monolithic Islamic state. Many scholars have argued that this is a scenario which is destined for the path of radicalisation.
Authoritarian political structures in Pakistan have also affected this radicalisation process; it has often been argued that since democracy came late to Pakistan and has faced numerous difficulties, Ziaul Haq-initiated processes have been allowed to take root. It has also been argued that dictatorships have tended to enable incumbent government to adopt repressive measures and ultimately to abolish democracy itself. Such arguments were accepted by western states which feared that radical Islamists, upon assuming power, would turn against their interests.
These regimes ostensibly inculcated virulent anti-American rhetoric in place of political dissent. Thus, by analogy to the Middle East, the conclusion was quickly drawn that the democratic deficit in Pakistan had contributed to the emergence of Islamist terrorism — notwithstanding the fact that the transition from dictatorship to democracy has often been turbulent and quite a few established democracies have struggled with terrorist threats.
Indeed, studies on democracy and terrorism — the extreme form of radicalisation — do not demonstrate a simple causal relationship between the lack of democracy and terrorism anywhere in the world, as a seminal work by Martha Crenshaw, a scholar of terrorism, suggests. She argues terrorism and radicalisation are a result of retaliation in ‘blocked’ societies resistant to innovation. Similarly, surveying the American political scene, Christopher Hewitt, a political scientist, concludes that “the resort to violence is most likely to take place when members of a group have their hopes and aspirations raised, but then become disillusioned with the political process”.
Globalisation is also one of the main agents of this disillusionment. Besides other explanations, one could argue that the exaggerated trajectories of Islamism are the reaction of a world religion influenced by the response of traditional cultures to globalisation. The reaction is a mixture of bewilderment, anger, fascination, incomprehension, confusion and violent hatred towards western modernity.
The Muslim world, to a great extent, still holds on to tribal and cliquish sentiments of group loyalty or social solidarity, termed by Ibn Khaldun as asabiyya. Akbar S. Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar living in the US, suggests that this exaggerated group loyalty can become the basis of identification with Muslims under peril anywhere in the world, which can be a cause of radicalisation.
Modern Muslim nation-states have had their boundaries redrawn by colonial powers, which sometimes cut straight across the tribal and rural heartlands, separating a particular tribe, caste or religious minority across a line or divide. Imposed boundaries of this kind are bound to create a stronger feeling of group solidarity in a group which feels that it has been isolated.
As I wrote last year in the Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, “Globalisation appears to challenge the very roots of tribal identity by attacking the familiar cocoons of cultural identity which surround individuals: families are divided as individuals are forced to leave home to look for employment or in response to a political or cultural situation, sometimes never to return. The tribe is similarly affected; members gravitate to congested urban areas, due to the constraints of tribal resources to maintain themselves. This results in the weakening of the central genealogical principle of common descent, which again engenders a loss of identity.”
Simultaneously, a much more connected world has made Muslims aware of the fact that they were victimised in conflicts left over from centuries of European wars and decolonisation. The perpetual Palestine problem, the thorny Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan were seen as legacies of blatant colonial aggression. Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo etc were seen as avoidable human tragedies, if it were not for the intransigence of the western powers, which were perceived to have acted disproportionately in the Gulf war as opposed to these orphan conflicts. Thus hegemony over oil was perceived to have overtaken human rights interests. This became a widespread perception in the Muslim world.
It is this metamorphosis of honour as the exaggerated feeling of group solidarity of Islamism, based on a perception of the grave necessity of redemption of this violated collective honour, which is arguably one of the many variables of political science contributing to radicalisation in the Muslim world that includes Pakistan.
The writer is a security analyst.

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