Thursday, September 9, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Anti-Western Islamism Became Possible Only After End of Communism, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 9 – Islamist radicalism could “declare itself as a real alternative to ‘pro-Western regimes of the Islamic world and to globalization as a whole only after the collapse of the communist idea” as embodied in the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc, according to a Mohylev-based commentator.
In an article that takes issue with Araks Pashayan’s 2006 essay “Post-Islamism: The Inevitable Evolution” (, Dmitry Puzyrev of Mohylev makes an argument that is already attracting the attention of other scholars and commentators on the Russian Internet (
Pashayan, an Armenian Iranist, argued that with the end of the Cold War, it became fashionable to speak of post-this and post-that, and she suggested that it would be useful to talk about “post-Islamism,” in order to “designate the end of [one] period of Islamism and the beginning of a new one.”
But in his new article, Puzyrev says that Pashayan’s argument led many to conclude that Islamist terrorism would wane just as other “post” realities have. In fact, he says, events, including the September 11th attacks on the United States, show that her views in that regard were overly optimistic.
Long before 2001, he continues, Moscow “had called for the unification of efforts of all countries of the international community for the struggle with international (trans-national) terrorism, but unfortunately, until that moment, [its] appeal was not heard.” And now the world faces more rather than less Islamist terrorism.
Puzyrev says that in his view, “Islamic radicalism” is “an ideology which contains a radical interpretation of Muslim doctrine in the third of the absolutization of the early Islamic way of life and the social-political practice based on it and directed at the establishment of a world governed by shariat and using extremist and terrorist methods” to gain that end.
In this regard, the Mohylev-based commentator continues, “Islamic radicalism” and “Islamism” are synonyms because both present themselves “as an alternative to the contemporary regimes of the Islamic world,” an appeal, he argues that is “in no way exhausted” at the present time.
During the Cold War, there was little room for this distinctive kind of radicalism. And “only with the collapse of the communist idea could Islamist radicalism speak of itself as a real alternative to ‘pro-Western regimes’ of the Islamic world and also to globalism as a whole” and moreover offer “a special path of development operating on traditional Muslim values.”
According to Puzyrev, the growth of such “radical Islamist movements” was further promoted by “a whole range of inter-connected and mutually reinforcing causes, including historical ones like the opposition of Islam and Christianity, social-economic ones including unemployment, poverty and foreign debt, and demographic ones like rapid population growth.
In addition, he says, there were political factors at work including “the inability of the ruling regimes to resolve essential problems of societal development” and psychological ones including “the absence of firm internal barriers against the use of force methods and means” for political goals.
And he suggests these factors work with another one to drive Islamist groups in an ever more radical direction. As some of them achieve their goals in part and gain some measure of power, they tend “gradually to distance themselves for the use of force for the resolution of problems,” a shift that leads others to turn against them for the same ideological reasons.
Moreover, Puzyrev argues, the suggestion of some that the spread of democratic forms into the Muslim world will undermine the radicals is almost certainly wrong, at least in the short term. Numerous examples show, he says, that “the pro-Western regimes of the Muslim world, mired as they are in corruption,” are neither popular nor effective.
As a result, “under such conditions, among the faithful spontaneously arise movements calling for the return to the roots of faith and for the cleansing of Islam from innovations” – in short, for exactly the kind of movement usually labeled fundamentalist and willing to engage in violence.
But there are two other reasons, Puzyrev argues, that make the prospects for a move beyond radicalism among Muslims problematic anytime soon. On the one hand, the leaders of the Islamist groups have shown themselves willing to modify, at least for public consumption, some of their “utopian” ideas, particularly concerning women, in order to win support.
And on the other, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries continue to provide massive funding to those who engage in such radical activities. It may be that these countries are trying to direct this movement away from themselves, but it is likely that they will ultimately be its targets and victims as well.

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