Muslims in Global Politics

In Muslims in Global Politics, Mahmood Monshipouri examines the role identity plays in the political dynamics of six different Muslim nations—Egypt, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia—as well as in Muslim diaspora communities in Europe and North America.

Muslims in Global Politics
Identities, Interests, and Human Rights

Mahmood Monshipouri

2009 | 344 pages | Cloth $65.00 | Paper $24.95
Political Science | Religion
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Table of Contents

Preface: Muslims' Struggles for Identities, Interests, and Human Rights

Chapter 1. Muslims' Quest for Identities, Interests, and Human Rights
Chapter 2. International Human Rights Norms and Muslim Experiences
Chapter 3. Gender, Identity, and Negotiating Rights
Chapter 4. Searching for a Modern Islamic Identity in Egypt
Chapter 5. Occupation, Sectarianism, and Identity Politics in Iraq
Chapter 6. The Melding of the Old and New in the United Arab Emirates
Chapter 7. Secularism, Turkish Islam, and Identity
Chapter 8. The Reemergence of Populism in Iranian Politics: Constructing New Identities
Chapter 9. Negotiating Modernity and Tradition in Indonesia
Chapter 10. Construction of Muslims in Europe: The Politics of Immigration

Conclusion: Identities, Interests, and Human Rights


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Muslims' Struggles for Identities, Interests, and Human Rights

The concerns that led to this book were both academic and personal. My academic interests and involvement in trying to understand the ways in which human rights can be enhanced in the Muslim world date back to the 1980s, when a wave of Islamic revivalism throughout the Muslim world resulted in a profound transformation in perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of many Muslims, living in both the homeland and the diaspora. My earlier research involved aspects of continuity and change, modernity and tradition, the emergence of civil society, and the discourse surrounding secular versus Islamic movements. In my subsequent research, I became interested in the impacts of globalization on Muslims' attempt to accommodate shifting identities and their search for new interests and sources of power while raising dissenting voices against their inept and abusive governments. Not surprisingly, resistance to both national governments and external powers in the Muslim world has found deep resonance with human rights campaigns. My personal curiosity about and deep commitment to the study of human rights and democratization in the Muslim world are both emotional and rational.

As globalization permeates different societies, the debate intensifies over how to develop self-assertion, recognition, and new meanings in life. Integral to the definition of culture in a globalizing world is the desire for recognition and determining how to coexist with those of different cultures. Arguably, recognition rather than self-assertion constitutes the culture's most hopeful posture. The quest for authenticity in the pursuit of solutions to socioeconomic, political, and cultural problems (in this volume, most often referred to as cultural politics) has become inseparable from power politics. Muslims' cultures, identities, and interests are dynamic and evolving. Reform-minded Islamists have proven capable of creating hybrids potent enough to challenge existing regimes.

Militant Islamists, in contrast, have either rejected or confronted any intermingling with and exposure to outside cultures. U.S. policies in pursuing the war on terrorism since 2001 have played a key role in elevating resistance and defiance. The rise of Shiism, with its emphasis on the power of beliefs, jihad, and sacrifice, has created a pan-Islamic identity of resistance that is fast spreading throughout the Middle East. Cultural dialogues and exchanges, as well as transnational ties and interests, are likely to empower Muslims and change the way they construct images of the self and the other. When combined with the absorption of new ideas and norms, such exchanges could change domestic structures within which identities, interests, and capabilities are formed.

Globalization has created both limitations and opportunities for cultural politics. A new transnational identity in the form of religiosity—with no attachment to a particular culture—has emerged in the Muslim diaspora in the West and elsewhere. Gender issues, by contrast, have renewed the debate over cultural politics in many Muslim countries. Both reformists and militants have used international law and internationally recognized human rights to promote their ideological and strategic goals. The upshot has been a world of multiple identities, each staking out a claim to authenticity and legitimacy.

This book argues that the task of winning the "hearts and minds" of Muslims throughout the world must be based on certain corrective measures. To offer an alternative to the agenda of Islamic militants (jihadis), who are in fact a tiny minority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, the United States and Europe must recognize several realities. The corrective to militant Islamism is to integrate mainstream (moderate) Islamists into the political process of their respective countries. In the cases of Jordan, Turkey, and Yemen, political integration has been the key to reducing violence caused by militant Islamic groups. Islamists themselves are increasingly outspoken about the need for democracy and human rights. The opening of previously closed societies to freedom of the press, civic activism, and electoral competition has served to moderate Islamist political movements—as the 2003 elections in Turkey demonstrated. Without inclusionary politics, the radicals in Islamist movements can often prevail in rationalizing their own exclusionary version of politics.

Finally, effective democratic reforms and state building—that is, establishing strong, legitimate, and successful states—in the Muslim world are likely to diminish the possibilities of growth for the radical Islamic groups. The Western world can help in this endeavor by not imposing its vision. Pushing for its preferences is likely to lead to a nationalist backlash, which could further intensify the link between religion, culture, and politics. Local politics and attitudes will play an important role in the place Islam will have in Muslim countries' laws. Islamic law is applied in broadly different ways, as we will see in the following chapters, across the Muslim world. Identity-based politics, both locally and globally, are the key to understanding why this is the case. The surest way to advance stability and progress toward democracy in the Muslim world is to incorporate Islamic reformists into the political and legal systems. No longer can identity politics be separated from the articulation of social justice and human rights issues in the Muslim world.

This volume is a comparative examination of similarities and differences between Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, whose people seek new identities and interests. In Egypt, Islamists and secularists have conflicting religious and national identities. Such tensions have significantly subsided in Turkey, as the ruling elites have opted for coexistence between these groups in the name of democracy and national reconciliation. In Iran, the tensions between Islamic groups—that is, traditionalists, reformists, and militants—have come to a head, with a great majority of people supporting reformists' notions of identities, interests, and human rights.

The conservatives and modernists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in contrast, have reached a broadly based consensus on promoting economic growth. To achieve this, people's civil liberties and basic rights have been marginalized. The UAE government has pursued this policy without having to provide democratic freedoms for its citizens. In Iraq, the presence of occupying forces and the fear of instability after the U.S. invasion of that country have intensified national, ethnic, and sectarian identities. In such circumstances, the Iraqi people's aspirations have been shaped largely along national and sectarian lines rather than by democratic forces. It is not difficult to understand why the Bush administration's project of democracy promotion has encountered serious setbacks.

In the post-Suharto era, most Indonesian Muslims do not appear to be in favor of implementing a formalist and legalistic conception of the shari'a, preferring to stress its ethical and social justice aspects. Given the country's ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims are steadily moderate in their political views. This moderation renders negotiating between modern and traditional praxis not only feasible but sustainable in the long run.

The Muslim diasporas in Europe find assimilation problematic in some cases while at the same time hoping for political and cultural liberation in the land of the "other." In the face of globalizing forces, they struggle to strike a balance between maintaining the integrity of their culture, faith, and language and adjusting to the forces of change. The younger generations of Muslim immigrants seek new identities and rights. Born and raised in Europe, these second- and third-generation Muslims have reactions to living in Europe that are contradictory: they are both hopeful and skeptical. While some deny the legitimacy of both European values and the values of their parents, others attempt to solve the tension between their newly acquired citizenship and their faith. The latter group tends to emphasize (dependent reasoning) by questioning the dichotomy between reason and revelation.

The issues of identity and interests are worth closer scrutiny, especially in the face of the apparent contradictions of globalization (e.g., the simultaneous fragmentation and interconnectedness of cultures) and the mind-boggling pace with which change is unfolding on the global scene. Given that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, this book addresses an often-asked question: How will the Muslims living in both the homeland and diasporic communities in Europe and North America come to grips with shifting identities and interests? The study of identity construction, which is a more complex feature of globalization, rightfully is concerned with the extent to which social structures and cultural politics determine dominant interests. There is a complex but consistent view of how identity formation can be used to advance our understanding of international relations. It is important that we not stop at merely understanding identity as one's self-definition, in-group membership, or recognition, but that we place identity in a larger context and explore it in relation to power relations/dynamics, nationalism, developmentalism, human rights, and social justice. Viewed from this perspective, identity is relevant to and an integral part of international relations.

Equally critical to this volume's main thrust is Muslims' growing demands for democratic rights and internationally recognized human rights. To the extent that Muslims' demands relate to human rights, their ruling elites have yet to solve the issue of what is properly "universal" and what is properly "cultural." Moreover, globalization has further intensified the struggle over who is to define modernity, authenticity, legitimacy, and rationality. Muslim experts as well as laymen will find this volume helpful in gaining a better understanding of how globalization works and/or affects their society. The book will also appeal to scholars with interests in international and area studies. Likewise, the implications of this study will be of particular interest to policy makers who have seen the dramatic changes of the post-Cold War era—a period of extraordinary change in the world, especially since 1991. Never before have scholarship and policy making been so closely tied to each other as well as to the real world. We live in a highly complex and evolving world that requires a fuller and deeper understanding of how modern ideas, rules, and institutions interact and, better yet, how different societies adjust themselves to emerging realities. I have tried in this book to convey such a new understanding in a clear and systematic way.

Structure of the Book

The book's theoretical parts (Chapters1-3) broaden and sharpen our analytical view of culture and identity as factors that help define the interests of Muslims on the global scene. Chapter 1 introduces conceptual and theoretical frameworks. Different constructions of identity (ethnicity, religion, language, and nation) have become the cornerstone of debate. What is identity? How is it constructed and reconstructed within the context of globalization? And why is it important? These are among the central questions in the contemporary Muslim world. Chapter 2 examines Muslims' reactions to emerging and evolving international norms. In this chapter, I present a fourfold typology of Muslims (conservatives, neofundamentalists, reformists, and secularists) to show how they construct their identities as agents, what sites they use, and what strategies they adopt.

Special attention is paid to Muslim women's struggle for identity and human rights in Chapter 3. Here I argue that "borderless solidarity" has led to the promotion of women's rights across and within cultures. Having contextualized gender analysis in the cultural, economic, and political domains, this section then examines why Muslim women have become the agents of change, reform, and democratization in a globalizing world.

The case studies are presented in the chapters that follow. The countries examined in Chapters 4 through 9 were selected for geographic representation and relevance. Three cases—Egypt, Iraq, and the UAE—were chosen to represent the Arab Middle East and North Africa. One country (Egypt) represents the oldest Muslim civilization, another (Iraq) is a country under occupation, and the last (UAE) is a young and culturally conservative country that has become the hub of the world's growing international trade and foreign investment. Chapter 4 examines the struggles between secularist and Islamist movements in Egypt, which vie over constructing identity and gaining power in that country. Although cultural Islam has become a symbol of resistance to globalization, political Islam is searching for a middle ground in national politics. At the same time, mainstream Islamic forces have increasingly transformed themselves into a more accommodating force at the national level.

In Chapter 5, I explain how the U.S. occupation of Iraq has succeeded in destroying a sense of nation and nation-based identity. While some Iraqis continue to see their future in terms of their religion and a larger Arab identity, others rely on cultural traditions, family nexus, and tribal associations. The resurgence of Islamic culture and identity is bound to shape the future of Iraqi Shia politics whereas Sunni resistance will most likely be directed at both the surge of Shiite power and U.S. occupying forces. In the Kurdish north, Kurdish clans and their leaders appear unlikely to merge with other Sunni Arab Islamist movements in the foreseeable future as long as Kurdish aspirations are not met and a distinct nationalist cause remains among the Kurds.

Chapter 6, on the United Arab Emirates, is designed to unveil the unique character of state and society while revealing the formation of new but contradictory identities among the people of this country. The process of social change in UAE society has been paradoxical. Just as the country's oil revenues and economic development have initially undermined the traditional life of the indigenous people, they have also strengthened the position of the advocates of local cultural traditions.

The discussions on Iran and Turkey are of particular relevance largely because these are two Muslim countries in which Islamists hold sway, even as they pursue different paths to globalization and identity politics. Chapter 7 deals with the way Turkey is struggling to carve out a new national identity for itself. Turkey's pragmatic desire to become a member of the European Union (EU) could redefine the meaning and values associated with the country's Islamic and Western identities. Islamists in Turkey are constructively engaged with the EU in order to advance their modernization project.

Chapter 8 highlights the revival of populism in Iranian politics and the process by which it has generated new forms of identities and agencies. I attribute the cyclical rise and fall of Islamic populism to economic decay following the growth of social freedoms, political reforms, and civil society during Khatami's two-term presidency. The above case studies represent a mix of both the oldest civilizations and cultural entities in the Muslim world (e.g., Egypt, Iran, and Turkey) and the youngest nation-states (Iraq and the United Arab Emirates), which gained their independence after the British Mandate ended or when Britain withdrew from the Persian Gulf region.

In Chapter 9, I turn to Indonesia as a multiethnic state that has had serious concerns about the uneven impact of globalization on its populace, with its ethnic Chinese minority benefiting most from it. This chapter demonstrates how the issue of globalization has weakened the government and undermined the country's national identity and social cohesion. The last case study, Chapter 10, deals with transnational identities and their impact on Muslim migrants in Europe. In this chapter, I examine different types of identity formation (separate but equal, different but equal, respect and recognition, and resistance and protest) as well as different European models (assimilation and multiculturalism) to deal with the immigration issue.

The Conclusion provides a comparative commentary on the relationship between political context, identity formation, and promotion of universal rights. Here I return to the fourfold typology of Muslims' accommodation of and resistance to evolving international standards introduced in Chapter 2 with a view toward providing a general framework for understanding identity politics in the Muslim world. The chapter concludes by arguing that Muslim identities are multiple, fluid, and contentious and that the construction of identity is influenced by the various and complex ways in which local cultures and globalization interact.

The book's intent is not to provide an exhaustive study of the Muslim world. Rather, at the heart of this volume lies the desire to contribute to our understanding of identity politics and the way in which engagement in culture-based politics could affect human rights. The exclusion of the Maghreb countries (Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria) and other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Malaysia, had much to do with practical choices that had to be made in relation to space, priority, and the lack of financial support to travel to these countries. The exclusion of these cases was by no means intended to slight their importance.

Let us briefly acknowledge what would be gained if additional countries were considered. Although Islamists have made considerable adjustment to modernizing pressures in some Muslim countries, they have leaned toward militancy in others. Islamists, for example, have assumed top positions in countries like Pakistan and Tunisia and have played an active part in secular political processes in Malaysia. In Tanzania, Islamists have pushed to expand radical versions of Islamic law by attacking bars and beating women they thought inadequately dressed. Similarly, the rise of radical Islamism in Moroccan politics and society has posed a serious challenge to the nation's democratic reform. Diversity, tolerance, and a relatively liberal brand of Islam, which have for decades characterized Morocco, now face a looming threat from the surging Salafist and radical Islamists. These groups' activities will surely have negative consequences for the country's politics of moderation and inclusion, with moderate Islamists and their party (Justice and Development Party—PJD) having much to lose in the process.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, a country generally known for its democratic politics and democratic notions of citizenship, cultural pluralism, tolerance of political dissent, and the great strides it has made toward economic and human development, we have recently seen the rise of Islamist militants. This surge in militancy has exacerbated the problems stemming from ideology-based politics. This development, along with deterioration in the rule of law and human rights conditions caused by two predominant nationalist parties, has led to a deepening crisis in governance. Together, these tensions have undermined the democratic atmosphere that the vast majority of Bangladeshis have enjoyed in recent decades. The study of all these diverse political contexts and how they affect people's identities and their struggles toward gaining freedom is beyond the scope of this book.