Islamic Fundamentalism: why?

Article published on Jan. 9, 2003
community published
Article published on Jan. 9, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

To understand the harm, you have to begin at the roots.

But why September 11? What are the origins of the development of integrationism in the Arab countries? This issue is of great importance. In my opinion, once resolved, it should enable us to avoid such gaps as: “the clash of civilizations”, or the “Arab exception”, or simply racism. Islamic integrationism is NOT an Arab exception, it is only the consequence of a succession of factors, and it is NOT a fatality either. I would like to offer the reader a list of facts, which contributed to the subordination of the political by religion, as I read in most of the studies on this issue. These facts are:

- The amazing amount of armed conflicts on Arab soil, and remaining external enemies. 6 conventional wars, numerous regional clashes and 5 civil wars gave birth to the best armed countries in the world. The war lords imposing their laws has become normal and the governments have developed a moralising role, subordinated to the “sacred mission”. According to this logic, each debate on the means and ends is considered as subversive and blasphemous, and pluralism has been excluded from political action.

- The identity crisis of the Arab countries stemming from the decolonisation process and the constant involvement of Western countries has not yet been resolved. So, the rejection of Western values follows from the reaction: “I am opposed to their values, therefore I can exist”.

- The blocking of movements which wanted to reform society in depth, which come from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

- The loss of popularity of the current governments, for several reasons. The decrease in oil prices does not allow the governments to support their social programs, which puts into question the social contract which existed before. The successive military failures on the other hand, if they create a national support movement in a short perspective, provoke, on the contrary, in a longer perspective, a loss of trust in the latter. And, finally, the governments which lost their credit by compromising themselves with Western countries or by having been involved in corruption.

- The spread of political Islam by the universities. During the Cold War, the Islamic student movements were supported by the governments, in order to counter the far-left, Marxist movements. And in Algeria, the arabisation within the universities developed from the 1970s onwards, with the support of teachers coming from Egypt or Syria and who are often highly influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brothers.

- The first shift of the core of the Arab world from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, following the oil crises from 1973 onwards, the Yom Kippur War and the economic crisis, which Egypt had to face. Saudi Arabia, beyond its quasi-monopolistic influence, has always been financing networks, political parties, pressure groups and even insurrection movements in the cases of Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

- Financial support of religious proselytism by the Islamic banks.

- The Iranian Revolution and the conquest of power by the Shiite integrism of Ayatollah Khomeini have also considerably influenced the Islamic countries, above all in Shiite countries, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, and through the alliance with Syria. The recent loss of the influence that Saudi Arabia used to have on the integrationist movements, due to its revealed dependence on U.S. policy, has also put the integrationist movements under Iranian leadership.

- The level of economic and political underdevelopment, as well as social plight make frustrations greater and constitute an environment favourable to the development of integrationism.

- The involvement of Western countries. Before September 11th, the United States preferred to support integrationist movements and policies, because these were considered as potential partners, more trustworthy than the Arab nationalists who make theirs reason, technology and progress. Oil left aside, the United States did not pursue any other determined goal. A big strategic mistake, though. The U.S. are the ones that supported the fundamentalist movements throughout Pakistan during the war in Afghanistan. Then, this country has become the first provider in revolutionary integrationists, trained to armed struggle technologies.

- The Gulf War of 1990/91 was perceived everywhere as the clash between the East and the West.

- Finally, the well-off and the intelligentsia, too much involved in their governments were not able to play their role of censor. However, this role is absolutely necessary to the good development of democracy and pluralism.

I would conclude by saying that we must not forget all the famous Islamic thinkers who struggled for tolerance and open-mindedness… Maybe all of us should make the effort to learn more about the philosophy of the Arab, Islamic countries, so that we too would open up and leave egocentricity, which characterises every nation and every human being nowadays, behind.