Islamic fundamentalism

Gilbert Ashcar

Global Justice School 2003


Reasons for the resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism


Theoretical base:


* Is religion an empty ideological shell?

- The "affinity" between religious ideologies and social dynamics

- Fundamentalism and the affirmation of identity

- Christianity/Islam, Liberation theology/Islamic fundamentalism


* The "petty-bourgeoisie":

- as analysed by Marx/Engels

- as analysed by Trotsky: the specificities and generalities of the Russian example

- The peculiarities of the zone of Islamic civilisation


I — Islam and capitalist industrialisation


1) The challenge of capitalist industrialisation in the 19th century:

the superiority of the Christian west/the decline of the Ottoman Empire


2) The Islamic ideological reaction: reform (islah) and fundamentalism (salafiyya)

— the origins of fundamentalist puritanism in Islam: the wahabbi  (18th Century) 


3) The modernist "anti-religious" reaction in Turkey:

Mustafa Kemal (Atatόrk) and  secularisation/westernisation (1923-38)


II — The Egyptian model (1914-199?)


1) 1914-1952: The decrepit Egyptian monarchy, British domination;

feeble nationalist bourgeoisie and the weakness of the workers' movement

–- the rise and summit of the Muslim Brothers' Movement (objective reasons and organisational efficiency) 


2) 1952-1970: the marginalisation of the Muslim Brothers under Nasser — not just repression, but a socio-political victory (+ Nasser and Islam)


3) 1970 onwards: the end/failure of Nasserism; the social effects of the Infitah under Sadat

— Sadat, the sorcerer's apprentice (the Muslim Brothers against the left); differentiation of the fundamentalist movement


III — The Iranian model


1) The specific characteristics of Shiite Islam: the role of the clergy in Iran (autonomy and social role)


2) The assumptions of the "Islamic revolution": 1950-53, Mossadegh's failure; the "white revolution"


3) The "Islamic revolution", an inverted permanent revolution: the clergy-party (Khomeini's anti-shah intransigence); the national democratic platform; fundamentalist "regression"


4) The dictatorship of the clergy (the "mullarchy"): links with the bazaar; socio-political differentiation of the Khomenist movement (+errors of the Iranian left)  


IV — Some general questions


1) The fundamental reasons of the historical cycle of Islamic fundamentalism: "cultural-specific factors" or general cycle of economic evolution and of the regional and global situation; social decomposition, the effects of the social crisis and the absence of progressive perspectives


2) Islamic fundamentalism: a reactionary danger, although a differentiated phenomenon

— the suicidal illusions of the Stalinists and left populists

— the enormous hypocrisy of the imperialist west


3) Comparison with fascism: common points

— socio-economic differences: Islamic fundamentalism as a "pre-industrial" and anti-western ideology (apart from in certain specific periods, e.g. under Nasser)

— different political functions (in the context of the weakness of the workers' movement)

— different ideological references: religion, "natural" popular ideology; secularism and atheism


4) Islamic fundamentalism and women

— Islam and women

— the female base of the Islamic fundamentalist movements: an explanation


5) Our differentiated attitude towards the fundamentalists:

— attitude towards the Islamic religion: tactical questions

— the counter-revolutionary variant, linked to imperialism: a determined struggle

— the radical populist variant: convergence against the common enemy; alliance or defiance, the ideological struggle; the danger of concessions (Lebanon, Palestine)

—  attitude towards the question of repression by reactionary states (Algeria, Tunisia) ;


Epilogue: the future of Islamic fundamentalism