11/17/05 - foucault and islam

In today's excerpt - Michel Foucault one the the most prominent and renowned philosophers of the 20th Century put his finger directly on the pulse of the current Muslim unrest—but remarkably wrote these comments in 1978 while reporting in the Shah's Iran:

"Foucault could see how the experience of deprivation loneliness and anomie made many Muslims in urban centers turn to rather than away from Islam; how there was little “protection” for the millions of uprooted Muslims, except in 'Islam, which for centuries has regulated everyday life, family ties, and social relations with such care.' Foucault could also see how in the absence of any democratic politics, Muslims used Islamic themes of sacrifice and martyrdom to challenge despotic and corrupt rulers who claimed legitimacy in the West as modernizers and secularizers.

"Foucault also managed to see that this Muslim revolt was unlikely to be confined to Iran. The West had deemed modernization and securitization as the highest aim for Muslim societies, ever since it began to dominate them in the nineteenth century. But the process now advanced by westernized postcolonial elites of uprooting people from their traditional cultures and forcing them into Western-style cities and occupations was only likely to produce more converts to political Islam. It was why Foucault believed that 'Islam—which is not simply a religion but an entire way of life, an adherence to a history and a civilization - has a good chance to become a gigantic powder keg at the level of hundreds of millions of men.'

"Islamic Fundamentalists or radical Islamists had long existed in such countries as Pakistan, Egypt and Algeria; they often articulated popular opposition to Western imperialists in the Middle East and South Asi,a and then acquired greater support as post colonial elites claiming to be nationalist and socialist proved to be corrupt and despotic.  But it was the experience of training and fighting together during the decade long anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan that bound the Islamists together into an international community. It defined their enemy more clearly than before—the materialist and imperialist civilization of the West, in which both Communists and capitalist were complicit—and stoked their fantasy of a global Muslim ummah (community). The eruption of jihad, rage and hatred in New York and London—in what appeared to be serenely self-absorbed worlds until September 11, 2001—seems to bewilder many people in the West especially those unaware of the roots of present-day jihadis in the cold war."


Pankaj Mishra


'The New York Review of Books'


The New York Times


November 17, 2005


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