On Political vs. Oriental Islamism

A specter is haunting the majority of Indonesia: the specter of the political Islam. The worldwide claims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is now only perverted by minority followers intent on crashing planes to tall buildings could not have had a warmer welcome from inside the Muslim world themselves — “Blame it on the oppressive political authorities of Islam for all our governmental failure and stigmatization as the international enemy! We are not wrong, we are never wrong, it is only because our teachings have been perverted so much that we fail to create an ideal world!” If anything, the September 11th attacks does not destroy hope for Muslims to learn that they are peaceful religions — on the contrary, the tragedy precisely spurred the hopeful movement of finding “a deeper meaning” to the religion of Muhammad (much like how Stalinist catastrophe saved the Marxist communist utopia in the Žižekian reading).

Tension is ripe as days go by, as the (minority) militant strain of Islam are getting more and more harsh words in the form of both criticisms or outright verbal attacks to their modes and motives from the (majority) of peaceful Muslims. As movements are coming from around the world to reassert the identity of Islam as a “peaceful religion,” at the same time more and more warnings are coming from inside the Muslim world itself to not let its followers get “too political,” as religion is only a “personal means” of spirituality and that we should nevertheless focus more on “peaceful coexistence”. Islam gets deeply personalized, and shouts of “everything I do is a form of my worship towards Allah” can be heard almost anywhere we prick our ears in the Muslim world. Does this condition not precisely echo the current trend of Oriental wisdom in the West and elsewhere?

If the current trend teaches that Eastern mysticism (you should not want too much for yourself, etc.) is important in business (i.e. that you will get more by precisely denying that you want more), how does the personalization of Islam play out in the Muslim politics? Does the same logic not hold true, i.e. you should not get too political in Islam because the only way to win is to forge allies with the winning Western liberal-capitalist democracy? The current “liberal Islam” call for apparent non-politics is precisely its opposite: it is a call to fully support the current dominant political ideology as perfect passive consumers who make minor product corrections (“religion is only for daily moral corrections,” etc.) but should never think of conducting a revolution (“we should attempt for slow revolution,” etc.).

This is precisely how one should read the September 11th attacks (and the stigmatization of Islam that follow — “Islamophobia,” etc.) as an event that saves the Muslim world: it does so by producing a radical, blatant cut in the middle of Islam. One one side, we have the militant/political (I must point here that it is wrong to call them outright “terrorists”) Islam (Al-Qaeda, JI, HT, FPI, etc.) and on the other side the peaceful/non-political Islam (JIL, and many others, including the “false-but-at-least-not-political” Ahmadiyah, etc.) who are now free to point one another as a scapegoat of the tragic Muslim failures and melancholies in the past and today. Each side could not be happier — they can go on without having to feel guilty about anything!

One is tempted to ask here, what would have happened if this split were not produced? Perhaps it would be a disaster for Islam — it would be trapped in a limbo between the political legacies of Muhammad and the tension from global capitalism to adapt as passive consumers, a limbo of ideological guilt and dilemma… The split is thus an inevitable move, and inevitable impact of global capitalism on Islam, its internal war of political (“fundamentalist”,”militant”, etc.) versus Oriental (“liberal”,”spiritual”, etc.) Islam already a second-degree of the true tension between Islam and global capitalism.

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4 Responses to “On Political vs. Oriental Islamism”

  1. It’s a false split. The response to the terrorist attacks – while understandable – forced those who were not insanely violent to take the viewpoint that Islam is exclusively peaceful. It’s not. In one’s relationship with Allah – in all matters extra-worldly – peace is the sole objective. But, in one’s daily interactions balance is praised above all else. Responding to the terrorists by making Islam a religion of peace alone is a concession to capitalism. The proper response to capitalism – in order to preserve Islam as independent – would have been to present a complete Islam rather than one halved by external forces.

  2. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    It is interesting to note that those who are very supportive of this split are the biggest supporters of capitalism — either in the form of outright unabashed vocal support like that of Liberal Islamic Network (JIL)’s, or those in the form of sheer hatred but as such is actually hiding an obscene agreement that capitalism is an invincible master, like the attitude of those “insanely violent” Muslims. It is a false split insofar as we look at is as already a second-degree of the clash of Islam vs Capitalism.

    But is your comment not already an example of the fantasy of Islamic utopia I mentioned? It is precisely because it is halved that the third-way, true anti-capitalist Muslims can fantasize about the existence of a “complete” Islam.

  3. Fair enough. To use “complete” to describe a superior Islamic response requires the initial trauma and resulting split to already have occurred. But, I’m not arguing for an Islamic utopia. I’m simply saying that there’s a framework existent in Islam for handling the mystic and practical elements (to some degree), and that this framework also provides (or at least suggests) an alternative to Western capitalism. Whether it would be preferable or even effective, I can’t say (in fact, I sincerely doubt it). However, rather than attempting to build on this framework, Muslims must either battle the West or bow to it. They’re given no space to be Muslim.

  4. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    Ah, yes, I fully agree with you on this. I realize that there does indeed exist a different framework in Islam, politically speaking, that is neither wholly “spiritual” nor violently militant, but there is also a deadlock we all have to admit.

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