Daniele Archibugi, Italian National Research Council
Rational Analysis Break a Taboo? A Middle Eastern Perspective"
Said Amir Arjomand, Sociology, State University of New York
at Stony Brook
to 9.11: Individual and Collective Dimensions"
Rajeev Bhargava, Political Theory, University of Delhi
Elemer Hankiss, Sociology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
11th: A Challenge to Whom?"
Huang Ping, Sociology, CASS, Beijing
Muslim, Bad Muslim - An African Perspective"
Mahmood Mamdani, Anthropology, Columbia University
Political Psychology of Competing Narratives: September 11 and
Marc Howard Ross, Political Science, Bryn Mawr College
and Freedom: An Outside View"
Luis Rubio, Political Economy, Center for Research for Development,
and the World: The Twin Towers as Metaphor"
Immanuel Wallerstein, Sociology, Yale University
Thick Description, and Collective Action"
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, History, Indiana University
Predicament of Diaspora and Millennial Islam: Reflections in
the Aftermath of September 11"
Pnina Werbner, Social Anthropology, Keele University
New World Order?
Bad Muslim - An African Perspective
Lehman Professor of Government and Anthropology, Columbia
September 11, there has been a growing media interest in Islam.
What is the link, many seem to ask, between Islam and terrorism?
The Spectator, a British weekly, carried a lead article
a few weeks ago that argued that the link was not with all
of Islam, but with a very literal interpretation of it. This
version, Wahhabi Islam, it warned, was dominant in Saudi Arabia,
from where it had been exported both to Afghanistan and the
US. This argument was echoed widely in many circles, more
recently in the New York Times. This article is born
of dissatisfaction with the new wisdom that we must tell apart
the Good Muslim from the Bad Muslim.
our world really divided into two, so that one part makes
culture and the other is a prisoner of culture? Are there really two meanings of culture?
Does culture stand for creativity, for what being
human is all about, in one part of the world? But in the other part of the world, it stands for
habit, for some kind of instinctive activity, whose rules
are inscribed in early founding texts, usually religious,
and museumized in early artifacts?
I read of Islam in the papers these days, I often feel I am
reading of museumized peoples. I feel I am reading of people who are said not to
make culture, except at the beginning of creation, as some
extraordinary, prophetic, act. After that, it seems they just conform to culture. Their culture seems to have no history, no politics,
and no debates. It
seems just to have petrified into a lifeless custom.
more, these people seem incapable of transforming their
culture, the way they seem incapable of growing their own
implication is that their only salvation lies, as always, in
philanthropy, in being saved from the outside.
I read this, or something like this, I wonder if this world
of ours is after all divided into two: on the one hand,
savages who must be saved before they destroy us all and, on
the other, the civilized whose burden it is to save all?
are now told to give serious attention to culture. It is said that culture is now a matter of life and
is it really true that people's public behavior,
specifically their political behavior, can be read from
their religion? Could
it be that a person who takes his or her religion literally
is a potential terrorist? And only someone who thinks of the text as not
literal, but as metaphorical or figurative, is better suited
to civic life and the tolerance it calls for?
one may ask, does the literal reading of religious texts
translate into hijacking, murder, and terrorism?
See also essays on this site by Olivier Roy, Tariq
Modood, Robert Hefner, and Timur Kuran
addressing aspects of Islam and Muslim societies.
may object that I am presenting a caricature of what we read
in the press. After
all, is there not less and less talk of the clash of
civilizations, and more and more talk of the clash inside
civilizations? Is that not the point of the articles I referred to earlier,
those in The Spectator
and The New York Times? After all, we are now told to distinguish between good
Muslims and bad
Muslims. Mind you, not between good and bad persons, nor between
criminals and civic citizens, who both happen to be Muslims,
but between good Muslims and bad Muslims.
are told that there is a fault line running through Islam, a
line that divides moderate Islam, called genuine Islam, and
extremist political Islam. The terrorists of September 11, we are told, did not
just hijack planes; it is said that they also hijacked
Islam, meaning genuine Islam!
is one version of the argument that the clash is inside -
and not between - civilizations. It is my own construction, but it is not a
think of it as an enlightened version, because it does not
just speak of the other, but also of self. It has little trace of ethnocentrism. This is how it goes.
and Christianity have one thing in common. Both share a deeply messianic orientation.
Each has a conviction that it possesses the truth. Both have a sense of mission to civilize the world.
Both consider the world beyond a sea of ignorance,
one that needs to be redeemed. Think, for example, of the Arabic word al-Jahaliya, which I have always known to
mean the domain of
conviction is so deep-seated that it is even found in its
secular version, as in the old colonial notion of "a
civilizing mission," or in its more racialized version,
"the White Man's Burden." Or simply, in the 19th century American
conviction of a "manifest destiny."
both cultures, Christian and Muslim, these notions have been
the subject of prolonged debates. Even if you should claim to know what is good for
humanity, how do you proceed? By persuasion or force? Do you convince others of the validity of your truth
or do you proceed by imposing it on them? The first alternative gives you reason and
evangelism; the second gives you the Crusades.
See also essays on this site by Tariq Modood, Steve
Smith, Robert Hefner,
and Luis Rubio.
the example of Islam, and the notion of Jihad,
which roughly translated means struggle. A student of mine gave me a series of articles
written by the Pakistani academic and journalist, Eqbal
Ahmed, in the Karachi-based newspaper, Dawn. In one of these articles, Eqbal distinguished between
two broad traditions in the understanding of Jihad. The first, called "little Jihad,"
thinks of Jihad as
a struggle against external enemies of Islam. It is an Islamic version of the Christian notion of
"just war". The
second, called "big Jihad," thinks of Jihad
as more of a spiritual struggle against the self in a
of this is true, but I don't think it explains terrorism. I remain deeply skeptical that we can read people's
political behavior from their religion, or from their
it was not so long ago that some claimed that the behavior
of others could be read from their genes. Could it be true that an orthodox Muslim is a
potential terrorist? Or,
the same thing, that an Orthodox Jew is a potential
terrorist and only a Reform Jew is capable of being tolerant
of those who do not share his convictions?
am aware that this does not exhaust the question of culture
and politics. How
do you make sense of politics that consciously wears the
mantle of religion? Take,
for example the politics of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida,
both of whom claim to be waging a Jihad,
a just war against the enemies of Islam? How do we make sense of this?
want to suggest that we turn the cultural theory of politics
on its head. Rather
than see this politics as the outcome of an archaic culture,
I suggest we see neither the culture not the politics as
archaic, but both as very contemporary outcomes of equally
contemporary conditions, relations and conflicts. Instead of dismissing history and politics as does
culture talk, I suggest we place cultural debates in
historical and political contexts. Terrorism is not a cultural residue in modern
terrorism is a modern construction. Even when it tries to harness one or another aspect
of tradition and culture, it puts this at the service of a
what follows, I would like to offer you a perspective on
contemporary terrorism from an African vantage point.
Click here for Ahmed's
article explaining Jihad.
See also Farish Noor's essay on this site on the evolution of
the term 'Jihad.'
African Perspective on Contemporary Terrorism
Ahmed writes of a television image from 1985, of Ronald
Reagan meeting a group of turbaned men, all Afghani, all
leaders of the Mujaheddin. After the meeting, Reagan brought them out into the
White House lawn, and introduced them to the media in these
words: "These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of
America's founding fathers."
was the moment when official America tried to harness one
version of Islam in a struggle against the Soviet Union. Before exploring the politics of it, let me clarify
the historical moment.
was the year of American defeat in Indochina. 1975 was also the year the Portuguese empire
collapsed in Africa. It
was the year the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted
from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. The question was: who would pick up the pieces of the
Portuguese empire, the US or the Soviet Union?
the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted, from
Southeast Asia to Southern Africa, there was also a shift in
US strategy. The
Nixon Doctrine had been forged towards the closing years of
the Vietnam War but could not be implemented at that late
stage - the doctrine that "Asian boys must fight Asian
wars" - was really put into practice in Southern Africa. In practice, it translated into a US decision to
harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle
against regimes it considered pro-Soviet. In Southern Africa, the immediate result was a
partnership between the US and apartheid South Africa,
accused by the UN of perpetrating "a crime against
termed this new partnership "constructive engagement."
Africa became both conduit and partner of the US in the hot
war against those governments in the region considered
partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements:
Renamo in Mozambique, and Unita in Angola. Their terrorism was of a type Africa had never seen
before. It was
not simply that they were willing to tolerate a higher level
of civilian casualties in military confrontations - what
official America nowadays calls collateral damage. The new thing was that these terrorist movements
specifically targeted civilians. It sought specifically to kill and maim civilians,
but not all of them. Always,
the idea was to leave a few to go and tell the story, to
spread fear. The
object of spreading fear was to paralyze government.
another decade, the center of gravity of the Cold War
shifted to Central America, to Nicaragua and El Salvador. And so did the center of gravity of US-sponsored
Contras were not only tolerated and shielded by official
America; they were actively nurtured and directly assisted,
as in the mining of harbors.
shifting center of gravity of the Cold War was the major
context in which Afghanistan policy was framed. But it was not the only context.
The minor context was the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ayatullah Khomeini anointed official America as the
"Great Satan," and official Islam as "American
instead of also addressing the issues - the sources of
resentment against official America - the Reagan
administration hoped to create a pro-American Islamic lobby.
grand plan of the Reagan administration was two-pronged. First, it drooled at the prospect of uniting a
billion Muslims around a holy war, a Crusade, against the
evil empire. I
use the word Crusade, not Jihad,
because only the notion of Crusade can accurately convey the
frame of mind in which this initiative was taken. Second, the Reagan administration hoped to turn a
religious schism inside Islam, between minority Shia and
majority Sunni, into a political schism. Thereby, it hoped
to contain the influence of the Iranian Revolution as a
minority Shia affair.
is the context in which an American/Saudi/Pakistani alliance
was forged, and religious madresas
turned into political schools for training cadres. The Islamic world had not seen an armed Jihad
for centuries. But
now the CIA was determined to create one. It was determined to put a version of tradition at
the service of politics. We are told that the CIA looked for a Saudi Prince to
lead this Crusade. It
could not find a Prince. But it settled for the next best, the son of an
illustrious family closely connected to the royal family. This was not a backwater family steeped in
pre-modernity, but a cosmopolitan family. The Bin Laden family is a patron of scholarship.
It endows programs at universities like Harvard and
CIA created the Mujaheddin
and Bin Laden as alternatives to secular nationalism. Just as, in another context, the Israeli intelligence
created Hamas as an alternative to the secular PLO.
"fundamentalism" is a modern project, not a traditional
the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, this terror
was unleashed on Afghanistan in the name of liberation. As different factions fought over the liberated
country - the Northern Alliance against the Taliban
- they shelled and destroyed their own
cities with artillery.
Question of Responsibility
understand the question of who bears responsibility for the
present situation, it will help to contrast two situations,
that after the Second World War and that after the Cold War,
and compare how the question of responsibility was
understood and addressed in two different contexts.
spite of Pearl Harbor, World War Two was fought in Europe and Asia,
not in the US. It
was not the US which faced physical and civic
destruction at the end of the war. The question of responsibility for postwar reconstruction did
not just arise as a moral question; it arose as a political
question. In Europe, its
urgency was underlined by the changing political situation
in Yugoslavia, Albania, and particularly, Greece. This is the context in which the US accepted
responsibility for restoring conditions for decent life in
noncommunist Europe. That
initiative was called the Marshall Plan.
Cold War was not fought in Europe, but in Southeast Asia, in
Southern Africa, and in Central America. Should we, ordinary humanity, hold official America
responsible for its actions during the Cold War? Should official America be held responsible for
napalm bombing and spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam? Should it be held responsible for cultivating
terrorist movements in Southern Africa and Central America?
no other society paid a higher price for the defeat of the
Soviet Union than did Afghanistan. Out of a population of roughly 15 million, a million
died, another million and a half were maimed, and another
five million became refugees. Afghanistan was a brutalized society even before the
present war began.
the Cold War and right up to September 10 of this year, the
US and Britain compelled African countries to reconcile with
terrorist movements. The demand was that governments must share power with
terrorist organizations in the name of reconciliation
- as in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, and in Angola.
terrorism was an official American Cold War brew, it was
turned into a local Sierra Leonean or Angolan or Mozambican
or Afghani brew after the Cold War. Whose responsibility is it? Like Afghanistan, are these countries hosting
terrorism, or are they also hostage to terrorism? I think both.
America has a habit of not taking responsibility for its own
it habitually looks for a high moral pretext for inaction. I was in Durban at the World Congress Against Racism
(WCAR) when the US walked out of it. The Durban conference was about major crimes of the
past, about racism, and xenophobia, and related crimes. I returned from Durban to listen to Condoleeza Rice
talk about the need to forget slavery because, she said, the
pursuit of civilized life requires that we forget the past.
is true that, unless we learn to forget, life will turn into
of us will have nothing but a catalogue of wrongs done to a
long line of ancestors. But civilization cannot be built on just forgetting.
We must not only learn to forget, we must also not
forget to learn. We
must also memorialize, particularly monumental crimes. America was built on two monumental crimes: the
genocide of the Native American and the enslavement of the
African American. The tendency of official America is to memorialize other
peoples' crimes and to forget its own - to seek a high
moral ground as a pretext to ignore real issues.
would like to conclude with the question of responsibility. It is a human tendency to look for others in times of
seek friends and allies in times of danger. But in times of prosperity, the short-sighted tend to
walk away from others. This is why prosperity, and not adversity, is the
real litmus test of how we define community. The contemporary history of Southern Africa, Central
America, and Afghanistan testifies to this tendency.
in politics is about moving from exclusion to inclusion,
from repression to incorporation. By including those previously excluded, we give those
previously alienated a stake in things. By doing so, we broaden the bounds of lived
community, and of lived humanity. That perhaps is the real challenge today.
It is the recognition that the good life cannot be
lived in isolation.
think of civilization as a constant creation whereby we
gradually expand the boundaries of community, the boundaries
of those with whom we share the world - this is why it is
so grotesque to see bombs and food parcels raining on the
defenseless people of Afghanistan from the same source.