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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Islamism as a Reactionary Identity

Tugrul Keskin

The Raging Liberal

The purpose of this article is to achieve an understanding of the cultural, economic, and political roots of the increasing trend of religious movements. Particularly on must reach an understanding of Islamic revivalism after the 1980's. There is a direct correlation between religious movements and poverty. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt have been faced with extremist religious violence since the end of the 1980s. All of these countries also confront economic problems. Economic difficulties have created the gap between rich and poor in these specific countries. Moreover, the unemployment rate has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Education levels have decreased, and foreign investments eliminated the local and traditional work force.

Additionally, globalization has produced a public sphere in which people encounter other cultures. People in these countries are beginning to define their identity by looking at the cultures of the West. This environment has shaped and formed their identity. On the subject Huntington wrote, "while Asians became increasingly assertive as a result of economic development, Muslims in massive numbers were simultaneously turning toward Islam as a source of identity, meaning, stability, legitimacy, development, power, and hope, hope epitomized in the slogan "Islam is the solution." (Huntington, 1997)

People tried to create a cultural, economic and political ideology within the Islamic sphere in reaction to these forces of globalization. As a result of this, Islam becomes an ideology not a religion. Religious fundamentalism is benefiting from this trend. On the other side of this issue, are Western values conflicting with Islam? The question is whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Islam becomes the cultural defense mechanism. Today, in these countries cultural changes are taking place rapidly. But these rapid changes are forming a reactive type of cultural change rather than natural way. Inglehart claims, "cultural change seems to be path dependent. Economic development tends to bring pervasive cultural changes, but the fact that a society was historically shaped by Protestantism, Confucianism or Islam leaves a cultural heritage with enduring effects that influence subsequent development". (Inglehart and Baker, 2000)

The discourse of the conflict is not just based on economic and political differences, but also on cultural differences. Cultural imperialism has also influenced this conflict, because cultural imperialism is a result of the global capitalism. Moreover, Ritzer asserts that "…McDonaldization affects not only the restaurant business, but also education, work, health care, travel, leisure, dieting, politics, the family, and virtually every other aspect of society. McDonaldization has shown every sign of being an exorable process by sweeping through seemingly impervious institutions and parts of the world. (Ritzer, 1996). Tomlinson point out that cultural imperialism is a critique of global capitalism. (Tomlinson, 1992)

According to M. Hakan Yavuz, in his book, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, the rise of Islamic social movements since the 1980's can be attributed to the tension created by neo-liberal economic policies. Yavuz describes this politicization as a rise of network communities that arose in reaction to and in order to cope with the modern urban conditions of fragmentation and anomie. As the secular nation state created systems of control and standardization, there was an ideological vacuum that was left. Muslims sought to carve out Islamic niches in the public sphere, free from secular state control. Social groups have also used Islam in order to make identity claims and justify entry into political and economic spheres as a result of the politicization of Islamic identity.

The most famous critical author of globalization, Edward Said sees cultural imperialism as an Orientalism that Western countries use to colonize the East and dominate them culturally. He later claims that this environment will have a huge impact on the Eastern societies. There will not only be an economic effect, but also cultural and political consequences will occur in the long term. (Said, 1993)

According to author Jan Nederven Pieterse, there are four currents or forms of collective action that relate specifically to globalization. First there is anti-globalization, then alternative globalization, global reform, and quiet encroachment. For the purpose of this study, his definition of anti-globalization is relevant to the current topic. In particular, Pieterse explores the effects of rapid globalization on populations that are exposed to new global forces, which result in insecurity in people's livelihoods and social realities. Some populations are unprepared to be exposed fully to the effects of globalization and react to it as an enemy force. The author describes this in the following way, "In anti-globalization discourse, globalization is portrayed as an alien juggernaut, a hostile, uncontrolled force" (Pieterse, 31). This view is fed mainly be fear and uncertainty, and its proponents often also hold strong views in opposition to imperialism, neocolonialism and Western capitalism.

Political Islam may be considered as one expression of anti-globalization. Political Islam represents an entire world-view that exists in opposition to globalization with its own historical and geographic arena, its own law, economics, and social policy, science and culture/identity. Political Islam has arisen in reaction to forces of globalization, and created its own structures of meaning in direct opposition to those of globalization and homogeneity. This has taken place according to Pieterse, as a result of anger in the Islamic world over Western double standards and political and social hegemony.

In short, the classical social theorist Mead claims "people's minds and their conceptions of themselves are shaped by their social experiences." (Ritzer, 1996). The social experience has changed dramatically in the Islamic world for the last 20 years. Therefore, religious fanaticism is a result of economic, cultural and political domination by the powerful West.


Huntington, Samuel. 1997.The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Inglehart, Ronald and Wayne E. Baker. Modernization's Challenge to Traditional Values: Who's Afraid of Ronald McDonald? The Futurist (Magazine/Journal), March 1, 2001.

Pierre Hamel, Henri Lustiger-Thaler and Jan Nederveen Pieterse, eds., 2001. Globalizationad and Social Movements. New York, NY: Palgrave.

Ritzer, George. 1996. Classical Sociological Theory. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Said, Edward W.1993. Culture and Imperialism. New York, NY: Vintage.

Tomlinson, John. 1992. Cultural Imperialism. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Yavuz, Hakan M. 2003. Islamic Political Identity in Turkey. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.