From Persia to Arab, From Islamism to Post-Islamism
French Marxist Philosopher Luis Althusser's essay "Contradiction and Over determination," caught my eyes this month where he enumerated and analyzed the circumstances and factors, which contributed, to Russia's Bolshevik revolution in 1917. His findings were premised on the principle hypothesis that happening of any abortion of history or abrupt change―we call revolution―is not attributed to a singular instrumental force in a social multitude. Instead, as he dwelt on the contradictions prevalent in the pre-revolution Russia, the revolutionary change, he concluded, is the sum of all the factors or forces, which act like the multiple bullets of the men in a firing squad. As no single bullet can claim monopoly to death in this scene; there is no single factor in a revolutionary change, which can mother the final results.
The reading of Althusser's text dragged my attention immediately to the big changes taking place in the Middle East, which the world sees as revolutionary in their scope. It all began from Tunisia with the decisive rupture in the weakened fabric being caused by a fruit seller, Mohammad Al Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze in protest against police brutalities in a dilapidating economy of that Mediterranean Muslim country. The ensuing riots were to change Middle East's political spectrum for good, was in few people's intellectual grasp and foresight. President Zine El Abidine's 24-year-old regime fell. The sparks of change reached Tahrir Square of Cairo via Egyptian youth and civil society activists and world saw a monumental change through topple of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old rule. Insurrections in Libya are nearing the ouster of Col. Qaddafi who has been in office for over 40 years. Syrian regime has used iron hand against its own disconcerted masses to kill more than 2000 people till now. Algeria witnessed riots simultaneously with Tunisia. The situation in Bahrain took a sectarian color as demonstrations by the dominant Shia population were curbed by the Sunni regime via military aid from Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries to offset Iranian influence of any sort in the region. President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh―in office since May 1990―had to flee his country for Saudi Arabia after demonstrations by the masses and suffering an injury during an attack upon his palace. The new learning, social media revolution and information technology played a pivotal role in awakening social activism amongst the new generation in Middle East.
The most profound feature of the mass movements in the Middle East was people's thrust upon social justice, rights, reforms, inclusion, and democracy. The absence of theological content in their slogans for change, left extremist forces of apocalyptic change like Al Qaeda in a position of retreat as ground realities spoke counter to what they had prophesied in their violent actions and rhetoric since long. These monumental changes in the Middle East present a stark contrast to the Islamic Revolution of Iran specifically in terms of their secular content. The Khomeini led revolution of Iran in 1979, which was an experiment to realize a modern Islamic state; lost its aura after the Islamists' excessive and absolutist policies to circumvent the modern political system through the clerical template from above. Its obvious outcome was people's disillusionment with caesaropapism and ruthless subjection of ideology in state matters. Hence, after the end of Iran-Iraq war and Khomeini's death in late eighties, when revolutionary fervor cooled down and the excesses of the clerical regime became commonplace with regard to social obligations in place of social rights, the counterrevolution began with voices of reform in a new era, which Iranian anthropologist Asef Bayat calls post-Islamism. Post Islamism is not a departure from Islamic principles. Instead this is a master movement, which is there for the safeguard of religious ideology from subversion by the officialdom and the theocratic power elite. It begs for separation of matters of state from religion. This concept envisions ambiguity, multiplicity, inclusion and compromise in principles and practice of the modern state affairs while simultaneously embracing religion in its fold. Post Islamism is neither anti-Islamic nor secular; rather, this is an attempt to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty.
The distinguished feature of Arab revolutions is that they are an implicit inspiration from Iran's demonstrations for reform after 2009 presidential elections and at the same time they very smartly depart from 1979 Islamic revolution. The historical truths are known to the mobs. That's why they are articulating their voice for democracy, rights, good living conditions, and freedom instead of accepting tyranny of the sovereigns in secular, religious, or khaki cloaks. The post industrial Western world had so far been dealing with the Arab dictators in a unilateral style sans any concern for their masses as a legitimate force to reckon with. In a post 9/11 modern world where the Arab world is profiled and stereotyped by the West as backward, and avowed "other" of the western civilization in famous Orientals discourse, the new Arab awakenings are an onset of a post 9/11 modernity which is born in the Middle East by the Arab youth. The mood of the masses humbled the hubris of those power holders who saw generations getting old in their reigns. Where the snobbery for power persists, the perseverance of the mobs too.
Assessing the most recent regional development in the social and political realm of the Middle East vis. a vis. parallel historical developments in Iran; the Arab Spring looks a logical and good omen. It will be unrealistic to imagine that remnants of the old regimes would not thwart the massive gains of the masses by reasserting their fist upon power in different and disguised faces. Therefore it is indispensable for the reformists to invent new thoughts, treat history as their tutor and borrow thoughts from other cultures and societies, which suit their demands for modernity in post 9/11 Middle East.
Aamir Aziz is a PhD Research Fellow in the Department of English Language and Culture, Leiden University, The Netherlands [2006-2011]. He got his master degree in English Language & Literature from International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Russia, Yemen Channel: Opinion