Roger Hardy is a BBC Middle East analyst who has published a nicely compact book entitled, The Muslim Revolt: A Journey Through Political Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). What grabbed me were these sentences in the introduction, “…we should not reduce Muslim societies to one-dimensional caricatures. Nor should we reduce the long and complex relationship between Islam and the West to a mere saga of battles and bigotry.” He intellectually prods readers with the question; "Does the notion of Islam and the West even have meaning in the age of rapid globalization?" This question is so large and strikes at the heart of how we as human beings cope with issues of identity, culture, and individuality.
But that is not the subject of Hardy’s book; he takes readers into a delightful journey through the disagreements, arguments, and counter-points within the Muslim world and in the voices of Islamic thinkers in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. There is Hasan Hanafi, a philosophy professor at Cairo University, who was educated in the Sorbonne in Paris, and advocates an Islam of the left, or Islam as a liberation theology. He states, “Islamists think we are disguised secularists, and the secularists think we are disguised Islamists.” Hardy’s book and the voices in it, help readers understand complex phenomenon like hundreds of thousands of Sufis in Egypt allying themselves with leftist political parties in preparation to counter the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2011.
Hardy discusses Islamic attempts to impose a single form of Islam on other Muslims, such as al-Ghazali (1055-1111 CE), who in reaction to the Crusades, felt that pluralism, debate, and diversity among Muslims was risky in the face of an external enemy. Ghazali, in favor of a strong state, sacrificed Muslim diversity by closing the door of ijtihad (independent reasoning), which was only pried open, according to Hardy, in the nineteenth century by such individuals as Muhammad Abdu. A chapter explores the diverse voices within modern Islamist radicalism as well as in militancy that were produced in Egypt. It then focuses on Shiism and the diverse voices that offer powerful philosophic critiques of the interpretation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s notion of what constitutes Islamic government. Readers will begin to appreciate it as a system that even Ayatollah’s disagree with on various levels. The book also explores what the author calls the Iranian paradox; that at home the Islamic Republic has been deeply discredited, so it seeks refuge as a role model outside Iran through symbolism and the exportation of their ideology, much to the consternation of many Muslims, chief among these being the Sunni Arabs in the Gulf region.
The book continues with a discussion on Pakistan, Sudan, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It ends with this paragraph, that I have chosen to paraphrase, “The triple challenge, then, is to understand Islam, Islamism, and jihadism in all their diversity….and on this basis craft a set of coordinated policies designed to foster a less hostile and more equitable relationship between the West and Islam.” Hardy's is a refreshingly nuanced book, which untangles complexity and leaves the reader hungry for more.
Commander Aboul-Enein is Senior Advisor on Militant Islamist Ideology at DI/JITF-CT. He is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” published in 2010 by Naval Institute Press. Commander Aboul-Enein is Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, where he teaches an elective entitled, “Islam, Islamist Political Theory, and Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Nuance.” He wishes to thank Midshipman Elise Luers, USNR studying at the University of Mississippi for her edits and discussion of these books.
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