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How Islam Survives Within Liberalism

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Shaikh argues that while liberalism presents itself as a universally progressive economic system, it functions as a defining tool in its implications and actions. In non-Western colonial societies, liberal discourse dominated the transformation of religion and societies with the imposition of liberal democratic politics and secularism, despite the desires of its recipients. Thus, when assessing the rhetoric of resistance movements in Muslim societies, one must consider the “hegemonic qualities, normative assumptions and ways in which liberalism remains peculiarly blind to other kinds of political and social projects and moral-ethical aspirations” (Shaikh 149). The feminist movement in the Third World is a perfect example of this. While the inherent idea remained promotion of self-interests in opposition to those of a society, the mutations in liberal ideology make it difficult to assess what that means. The hegemony of liberalism brings individual freedom and autonomy to the forefront above all else, blurring the lines between individual and societal desires for women to encompass the liberal project.

Furthermore, the universality claimed by liberalism is often exclusive, and poses the question of which kind of liberal democracy societies to aspire to embody. Shaikh notes that the Holocaust took place under a democratic system, but the “openness to different kinds of political futures of arrangements is almost completely gone… leaving a singular version of what “democracy” could be” (Shaikh 155). Due to this nature of liberalism and its practices, various responses have developed. Islamist movements, in particular, whether they are blatantly or implicitly political, face severe opposition from Western liberal societies. It is even more dangerous that, progressive-liberal Muslims, who aim to secularize Islam from the inside, tend to reproduce the rhetoric of “Islamic fundamentalism,” erasing the distinctions within Muslim communities. This reductionist perspective, when embraced on an international scale, “helps legitimize the current U.S administration’s vicious campaign to target and shut down a range of Islamic charities and traditional Islamic reform groups” (Shaikh 157). Since state power, whether in a secular state or a religious one, bleeds into the daily lives of all individuals, responses tend to be politically charged because they exist in a political realm by default. As historical attempts to privatize religion reveal, the relationship between politics and religion has always been intertwined, so the critique of Islam that it is too politically intrinsically ignores the necessity of political interactions for any activity, even those of charity and spirituality, to be effective.

Massad argues that Islam exists within liberalism, but the “ruse of externalizing,” (Massad 1) it as to hide the true project of establishing superiority, conveys the hegemony of liberalism rooted in resistance of the Other. The development of liberal democracy automatically exists in a binary with an “Islamic cleric,” and the values of liberalism are perceived as morally and ethically superior. Thus, Muslim resistance to this mission of “proselytization” (Massad 3) is presented as a rejection of sane, rational, humane system. This is especially problematic since justifications for violent methods towards liberization derive from this inherent hegemony. Democratization of Islam was born out of this hegemony, but the pluralism that exists within the fight towards democracy further opens doors for violence and bigotry. Rhetoric plays a key role. Huntington’s pluralization of Islam(s), suggesting the development of a “new Islam,” simultaneously allows the U.S to wage an ideological and physical war against the “other Islam”. These historical tendencies, both in practice and in thought, produced the Islamic theological trends that exist today. The idea that liberalism had prevailed above all else was prominent after the Cold War, so the preservation of liberal democracy, especially considering expanding Soviet influence in Afghanistan, was crucial. With this agenda in mind, U.S CIA operatives manipulated the language of the Middle East’s war against the Soviets, as a “holy war”. This agenda was consistently pushed, and in the process, the U.S “created and trained Islamists” who would later retaliate the very system that facilitated their growth. In this sense, the legitimacy of Western-style liberal “democracy” is scrutinized, since it is “as malleable as the “Islam” [it] seeks to mobilize for different strategic ends” (Massad 84).

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