on July 1, 2003
Graham Fuller has written an illuminating and important book on the relationship between Islam, a religion, and Islamism, a "religous-cultural-political framework for engagement on issues." Most Americans, it would seem, associate Muslims with fanatic bomb-throwers. Fuller points out the diversity of Islam and its adherents and examines some of the reasons why Muslim states and political movements are so often failures in the modern world -- when 1,000 years ago they were in the vanguard of civilization.
Amidst many other ideas, Fuller cites, from a UN study, three crisis areas for the Arab world. Lack of political freedom, low level of education, and the low social status of women. He postulates a choice among Islamists. They can continue to ossify or they can find ways to use Islam constructively to confront these crisis areas. This is the challenge of Islam, and the challenge of the U.S. and the West is to help ensure that the choice is the latter and not the former.
In his last chapter, Fuller gives two scenarios for the future. One is dark, foreseeing continued conflict between political Islam and the West; the other is more hopeful.
The best parts of the book in my view are Fuller's insights into what the U.S. might do to encourage the more liberal Islamists. These include a just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and support for positive movements in the Islamic world. It hardly seems in the U.S. national interest to have the Muslim world as an antagonist and thus this book is worth a careful reading for its insights and its policy suggestions.
on September 9, 2003
"The Future of Political Islam" is a tightly organized and strongly presented overview of the important role of liberal-minded Muslim intellectuals in the ongoing, often contentious interface of the earliest of globalisms --- Islam --- with its contemporary capitalist, technocratic and secular variant. The strengths of this book are its brevity and a certain hard-nosed objectivity. Fuller avoids resting his arguments on the weak but all-too-common generalization of "many Muslims feel that ..." by richly citing "eye-opening" and often provocative statements by leading liberal Islamists such as Laith Kubba and Muhammed Shahrur, among many others. These well illustrate the broad range and reflectiveness of contemporary liberal Islamist thinking. Fuller, after a professional lifetime spent throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, offers some cogent thoughts of his own on how US policymakers can beneficially respond to this vast ferment of "Islamized" social and political agenda-making. In Fuller's view, the struggle -- for this what it is -- between radicals and liberals, conservatives and modernists, to define the role of Islam in modernizing societies has an essential life of its own quite apart from Western policymaking. Nonetheless, the West's ability to understand and empathize with the many nuances of "political Islam" will influence the course of this struggle and the future interplay of these two globalisms.
on January 28, 2004
This is a peculiar and troubling book. The author says that secularism is "the rigid control of religious life by the state." That's sure not the way we think of secularism in the US. Furthermore, I can't imagine that many would dismiss the Magna Carta as blithely as the author does on pg. 25 of the hardcover. Bottom line: I found Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism far more logical about what's going on in Islam.