Across the Bay

Monday, July 11, 2005

Ikhwan Cole: Arabism and Islamism

I raised this issue in my "Terror and the Experts" post in response to some of Cole's assertions. Cole wrote:

By the way, if the communique issued by Qaeda al-Jihad in Europe is authentic, then this attack cannot be linked to Zarqawi. They say they are taking revenge for British troops' "massacres" of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Zarqawi's Salafi group would never celebrate "Arabism" or speak of "heroes" (abtal) when referring to the "holy warriors" or mujahidin. Urubah and batal, Arabism and hero, are typical of the vocabulary of secular Arab nationalism-- in, say, the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser. That message is coming from a group of terrorists that is much more comfortable with this language than are typically the extremist Salafis like Zarqawi. "Hero" would sem a term of humanistic pride to them, and Arabism would seem narrow and idolatrous as a competitor with Islam. There are Muslim thinkers who meld political Islam and Arabism-- this is common in Egypt, e.g. But they belong to a different religious and intellectual tradition than Zarqawi.

Typical of secular Arab nationalism and belonging to a different religious and intellectual tradition than Zarqawi!? Really!? Let's see.

A friend sent me this link to the al-Islah ("reform") forum where a statement is posted by radical Islamic ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian, labeling al-Zarqawi, his former student, not just "al-batal" (hero) but "al-batal al-mujahid". This goes to show that the sharp distinction Cole has been trying to maintain between "secular Arabism" and Islamism and their terminologies really doesn't hold water. If one wishes to push this further, one could argue that just like "the nation of Islam and the nation of Arabism" were combined in that first statement, "al-batal" and "al-mujahid" were combined here. I'm not going to load this point with much more than it can carry, but the point is clear: Juan has no clue what he's talking about in this instance, and the proof is in the pudding as they say.

I also mentioned in my "Terror and the Experts" post that Hizbullah, also an Islamist group, has long been using the mixed language of Islam and Arabism, which is why Chuck Freund and I came up with the labels "Pan-Arabist Islam/ism" or "Arabo-centric Islam" (see also Matt Frost, who has an interest in this particular subject. Cf. Lee Smith's old article in Slate, and, Josh Landis' excellent post on the Baath and whether it's "secular"). In fact, speaking of Nasser, that's precisely the sort of image Hassan Nasrallah has been projecting: a Shiite Nasser.

If you take a look at Avi Jorisch's Beacon of Hatred, you'll see in the accompanying DVD-Rom the various propaganda clips on Al-Manar which reach out to the Arabs, as Arabs, often using the term "ummat al-Arab" (the Arab Nation), to combat Israel.

In fact, as I showed in my "Lieven Let Die" post, this amalgamation has a long history. I also recently found this review of Bashir M. Nafi's Arabism, Islamism, and the Palestine Question, 1908-1941: A Political History. The reviewer writes:

Although several major studies were written on Hassan al-Banna and the Ikhwan, no study highlights Banna's indebtedness to Arabist ideas as Nafi does in his book. [10] Nafi contends that Banna's Pan Islamic and Arabist ideas developed from his serious intellectual and political contact with several Syrian émigrés in Egypt, especially Rashid Rida and Muhib al-Din al-Khatib. Banna was then able to express Arabism in 'an Islamic framework' (p. 161).

See the other Arab thinkers I highlighted in my "Lieven Let Die" post, including Rashid Rida.

So Juan's approach is not only overly dogmatic (and unfortunately, a dominant paradigm in ME studies), it's outdated, and simply inadequate for understanding these more recent phenomena we're facing. In other words, as shown above, he's dead wrong.

Update: Via Mark Liberman, I came across this site which had done a Google search on ummat al-'urubah. The search turned up several hits juxtaposing ummat al-Islam and ummat al-'urubah.

This one is by a female who hopes to become a "martyr" and her call for Jihad repeatedly mixes the two terms, "Nation of Islam" and "Nation of Arabism."

This one comes from the Palestinian magazine Al-Bayader As-Siyassi. It is not a call for Jihad, but a holiday greeting of sorts (for al-Adha). It mixes Palestinian nationalism with Arab nationalism and Islam. "Peace upon our people [Palestinian people], peace upon our umma, peace upon the nation [umma] of 'urubah and Islam on this holiday."

This one from IslamOnline perhaps gives the perfect example of the dominant discourse that can easily be found in Hizbullah's rhetoric as well. It's written by Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, who is identified as the VP of the European Council for Religious Edicts [ifta'] and Research. "The issue is that America used the [Iraqi] regime as an excuse to strike all of Iraq's people, buildings and institutions, so that through it it would be able to strike the nation of 'urubah and Islam, and will thus be able to rule the world on its own. Therefore, we must take the stance dictated by our religion, and to which our nation [ummah] aspires, which is the rejection and resistance of the American invasion, no matter the excuses."

You get the point.

Update 2: Take a look at this important article in Prospect Magazine. It shows how problematic and misleading Cole's assertions regarding Arabness and Islam really are:

So far afield in this case, that for many second-generation British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs held more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture. Three times removed from a durable sense of identity, the energised extra-national worldview of radical Islam became one available identity for second-generation Pakistanis. The few who took it did so with the convert's zeal: plus Arabe que les Arabes.
no nation matters save the Islamic nation and its Arab culture. Butt spoke passionately about Arabia and wants to go there. "I believe the Arabic language will give me that key to have access to those things I don't have access to at the moment." Again, that yearning for Islam to fill the gaps in his own identity.

The sentiments are echoed in V. S. Naipaul's Among the Believers.