Thursday, August 03, 2006

East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…

Building upon the foundations of the first sourcefile submitted a deeper analysis of ideology presents as appropriate. We will deal with the concept of ideology, beyond the ‘science of ideas’ posed by the ‘Ideologues’ of the ‘French post-Enlightenment’ (Mullins, 1972, p.499), considering ideology ‘a particular form of consciousness which gives an inadequate or distorted picture of contradictions, either by ignor­ing them, or by misrepresenting them’ (Purvis & Hunt, 1993, p.477, citing Larrain, 1983) specifically, relating to ‘Western imperial hegemony’ (Asad, 1991, p.138) illustrated by the current nation-building in Iraq. The Western agenda for secular democratisation of the region illustrates the ethnocentricity inherent with Western ideology. The concept upon which this paper focuses is that of the prevailing philosophy in the world today which ‘…hinges on the agency of dominant social groups’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1991, pp.209-10), and is a ‘kind of ideology, organic ideology…producing…autonomous action (agency)’ (Smith, 2004, p.105) acquiring ‘“…the same energy as a material force”’ (Smith, 2004, p.105, citing Gramsci), whereupon such an ideology becomes manifest in praxis.

It would be far too easy to lay blame with institutions such as the White House. However the agenda of administrations, past and present, is as much a result of this ideology, as it is its cause; considering Bourdieu’s notion of habitus; ‘a system of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed towards acting as structuring structures.’ (Glendhill, 2000, p.139, citing Bourdieu, 1977, p.72)

A part of this current philosophy manifests as ‘…neo-imperialism…’ (Gough, 2002, p.112), the root of which has been formalised eloquently by Edward Said (alongside its historic colonial form) in his work ‘Orientalism’ (2003), and will be simplified here as simply ‘us’ and ‘them’ or as identifying those who are not ‘us’ as ‘the Other’ (Said, E. W., 2003, p.xii). This idea, in the present (Hall & Held, 1989, cited by Billig, 2002, p.94), far from disappearing, has been reinforced in the democratic model as ‘the sovereignty of the people’ (Billig, 2002, p.91 citing Fukayama, 1992), but people in ‘a world of different nations’ which is, as Billig states, ‘a world which has institutionalised ‘them’ and ‘us’’ (2002, p.94)

As the current president George W. Bush stated (Sept. 2001) ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.’ Such an idea may leave some, liminally, between a rock and a hard place. The president continues, ‘I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends’. The ‘hospitality’ of Western pseudo-secular states in respecting Islam as a spiritual path, as a ‘faith’, would appear on the whole to be true. But Islam, if it can itself be considered an ideology, is far more than this. This will be considered in depth as we consider the reconstruction of Iraq and the ‘hegemonic discourses of “progress,”’ (Asad, 1991, p.136)

To now focus on the Iraq situation, and the desired ‘democratisation’ post war, it adequately illustrates the programme for implementation of Western secular democracy, in Iraq and over the region generally, imposing an ‘idealistic superstructure’ (Marx and Engels, 1977, p.76), as reported ‘the “idealists” or neo-conservatives of the US Defense Department envisage a march to democracy, imposed on Iraq and spreading across the Middle East.’ (BBC, 16/04/03). Even the philosophy (read as ideology) of supposed liberals, such as Rorty, can be considered ‘as flags for the nationalism of the Pax Americana in the new global order’ (Bellig, 2002, p.161). The desire for the spreading of this ‘ideal’ may be historically compared with the missionaries of colonial times ‘who sought to convert ‘heathen’ peoples to Christian beliefs, yet the effect…was to reinforce the destruction of traditional cultures and the imposition of white domination.’ (Giddens, 1994, p.468) Contemporarily the development of a “‘New World Order’” (Herman, 1991, p. 42, citing Bush G. H. W., 1991) can be seen in contrast, in a photographic sense, with colonialism of old. Hence, the ideology that is defined and desired for Iraq may be considered as ethnocentric and a repeated attempt at domination from Western powers ‘aimed at polluting the intellectual and spiritual sources, and diverting Muslims toward other, alien, sources.’ (Al-Hashami, 1997, p.379)

Iraq has once before toyed with ideas of Western politics and ideology (Kienle, 1990). The Baath party may be considered the illegitimate child of socialism, and Pan-Arab nationalism. The Intellectuals behind the Baath movement were middle class educated Arabs with pretensions toward secular Western political structure, while opposing Western self-interest. It is the judgment of the writer of this paper that this alone can stand as evidence that a politic based within, and drawing from, Muslim cultural origins should be explored as the basis for any electoral/representative system in Iraq specifically, and for the region in general, rather than the paradigm shift the West imagines/desires. As Fuss observes ‘what, then, is the political utility of mimesis for the colonized, when mimesis operates as one of the very terms of their cultural and political dispossession’ (Cited by Linke, 1999, p.37). The idea of an ‘emic’ politic is in opposition to the following idea, ‘what explains the recurrent political assertiveness of Islamic tradition? Typically, the answers tend to be given in terms of the localized failures of modernization, or in terms of an irrational reluctance to abandon tradition.’ (Asad, 1991, p.136) as Fukuyama writes ‘this resistance to globalization has given rise to ‘Islamo-fascism’ – that is, the radically intolerant and antimodern doctrine that has recently arisen in many parts of the Muslim world’ (Bendle, 2002, p.219, citing Fukuyama, 2002, p.58). ‘Islamism’ can also be considered as ‘…an anomaly or as a spurious claim to historicity’ (Asad, 1991, p.136) and naught more than attempts at ‘…political and social inventions of tradition,’ (Hobsbawm, E., 1989, p.263) but as noted, drawing on Kapferer’s study on Sinhalese nationalism,

The organising and integrating potential of ideology, the propensity of certain ideological formations to unify, to embrace persons of varying and perhaps opposed political and social interests, and to engage them in concerted, directed action, may owe much to the logic of an ontology that the ideology prescribes
(1988, Kapferer cited by Eriksen, 1993, p.112)

Democratic processes were not imposed upon the West; they came to be not contra tradition, but gradually from within the culture, accompanied by reinterpretation. Many years passed between Magna Carta and universal suffrage.
The fundamental ‘political or intellectual/cultural’ (Smith, 2004, p.100), and thus ideological, differences are profound, and rest in part on a perceived separation of power within the ‘state’ and may lead, if they have not already, to a ‘clash of civilisations’ (Gledhill, 2000, p.166, citing Huntington) ‘the conflict’ being ‘a conflict of embodied ideas’ (Asad, p.613, 1979, citing Gellner, 1958), where ‘culture, not politics or economics’ will ‘dominate and divide the world.’ (Ali, 2003, p.299)

Christianity, and thus some ‘Christian’ countries, may be considered to have had a separation within the state defined for them in the famous axiom of Jesus; ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.’ (Bible, King James Version, Matthew Ch. 22 Vs. 21, cited by Asad, 1986, p.3 & Said, 2003, p.299, citing Halpern, M.). Here then can be seen a clear distinction between the political, economic, and the spiritual. Whether this is the reality within the (pseudo)secular West is succinctly characterised thus, ‘Today the USA has become a virtual theocracy (de facto if not de jure)’ (Kurtz, P., 2001). One must only consider the current president’s leanings on the subject of medical research (Pinkerton, 2004) and abortion (Loder, 2003) to see the role religion plays at the highest echelons of the USA.

This supposed separation is not the case with Islam. The prophet Muhammad received a divine revelation, which, with the words of the prophet himself, laid down edicts on all matters concerning humankind; social, economic, political, military, and spiritual. For the Muslims ‘religion penetrates all aspects of their lives - there is no experience or part of the day that does not come under its jurisdiction.’ (Bowie, F., 2002, p.27) and one may consider ‘Islamism’ as a political ideology, which ‘posits Islam as the central consideration in all spheres of life.’ (Bendle, 2002, p.214). Islam is considered by some to be a rigid orthodoxy. Weber considered Islam ‘steeped in tradition’ while, contrariwise, the progressive and revolutionary nature of Islam is considered by Maxine Rondinson, ‘…the ideology of the Koran was by no means traditionalist.’ (Morris, B., 2000, pp.86-87) Islam having been ‘a prophetically announced religion of redemption has had its permanent locus among the less-favoured social strata’ (Gerth & Mills, 1948, p.247, cited by Morris, 2000, p.76). As Bernard Lewis states, ‘the advent of Islam itself was a revolution…the Prophet Muhammad began his career in Mecca as an opposition leader, and was for some time engaged in a struggle against authority as established among his people and in his birthplace.’ (1987, cited by Khasan, 1997, p.7)
Thus the attempts to introduce a western concept of democracy in Iraq, and the Middle East generally, illustrate ideology, ethnocentricity, and the attempted imposition of a culturally foreign system. Indeed the very nature of the nation state in the region is a Western construct. The Arab nations themselves can be considered foreign to the region, having only been created during the twentieth century, and certainly fulfil the criteria for being considered as ‘hollow categories’ (Ardener, 1972, p.70). As a consequence, when Western powers, and their national press, talk of ‘foreign fighters’ (Fox News, 2003, & The Guardian, 2004) there is tragic irony. Without the arbitrary division of the Ottoman Empire post the First World War (Thomas, 2003), and had the promise made by the British been kept to the fighters of the Arab rebellion, the Arabic peninsula, at least, may have been one nation; a geographic population with a shared history, language, culture, and thus to a large extent shared ethnicity (Ardener, 1972, pp.65-71).

By way of conclusion, it appears to the writer of this paper that the concept of the Nation of Islam may be seen by some as a ‘clear and present danger’ (Bonca, 2002) by others comparable to a ‘utopian nonsense’ (Marx, 1977, p.404), but it is often misrepresented as being at odds with modernity. However, the ‘Ummah’ were it to be achieved politically would create an influential union that would combat/balance, in part, the overwhelming socio-economic, political, military and accompanying ideological domination of the West. It is then fortunate for the Western powers that negative and radical instances of what is termed ‘Islamism’ are manifest, for if they were not such powers would have to create them.


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