A Kurdish Perspective on Islamism

Posted: July 29, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Islam, Politics, The World-Wide World

Sabah A. Salih, professor of English at Bloomsburg University, writes in his review of Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals that Islamism is actually a movement for Arab domination, rather than the pan-Islamist movement of Islamist rhetoric:

Islamism, which is markedly different from the way most practicing Muslims in Kurdistan understand the faith, as something spiritual rather than political, has never been a friend of the Kurds. Despite its noisy claims of universality and rejection of national boundaries, Islamism is sectarian through and through. In fact, its actions and programs are intended to put non-Arabs under the political and cultural hegemony of Arabs. Historically, Islamism has been just another name for Arab imperialism. To conceal that, Islamism has been relentless in insisting in its usual totalitarian fashion that its program comes straight from Allah.

This is how most people in Kurdistan view Islamism. There, clerics like Al-Jazeera Television’s wordmonger-in-chief Yusuf Qaradawi or Muslim Brotherhood’s point man in Europe Tariq Ramadan carry no weight. In Kurdistan, a person trading in dogma and medieval irrationality, as these men do, is not considered a person worth listening to. But outside Kurdistan, especially in the heart of Western democracies, as Paul Berman points out in this valuable new book, these are the very people a great many intellectuals embrace as moderate, mainstream, even authentic.

Thus Islamism, which Salih believes is a false interpretation of Islam, poses a threat to Kurds and, presumably, others.

He also agrees with Berman’s argument that many Western writers who have given up on Enlightenment values protect Islamists like Tariq Ramadan and bash ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  This makes a difference in the realm of public debate:

Projects like regime change in Iraq and the struggle of the Kurds for cultural and political rights get largely defined these days by Islamists and their Western intellectual backers; these have much easier access to the media and public spaces than anyone from Kurdistan or liberated Iraq. You may recall how tirelessly the two groups worked in tandem to protect and legitimize Saddam’s brutal occupation of Iraq and prevent its liberation. Even today when an Islamist like Tariq Ramadan, a man with no ties whatsoever to Iraq, declares in London and New York that the removal of tyranny in Baghdad was illegal, he gets rousing applause, as if the geopolitical makeup of the world has been simply a legalistic affair rather than the product of conquest, political machinations, luck, among various other things. By contrast, those who have legitimate ties to Iraq and Kurdistan but do not subscribe to this lazy piece of nonsense and have a counter story to tell, find themselves ignored. The implication of Berman’s book for Kurdistan is that its story in the West cannot be told because the intellectual market these days favors Islamism over secularism, the dogma of multiculturalism over honest discussion.

Salih’s comments don’t account for non-Arab Islamists like the Islamic Courts in Somalia or the Taliban (although the original leaders of the Taliban were educated in Saudi Arabia).  Pakistani Islamists don’t fit in here either.  At the same time, Islamism does seem to be strongest among Arabic speakers.  I wonder if there are studies that show where Islamism is strongest.

Hat tip: Michael Totten


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