Preface to the 2002 Transaction Edition
In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power
As the attention of Americans abruptly focused on Islam and Muslims in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, to many in the United States this felt like an unprecedented turn of events. But Islam and Muslims had dominated American public life once before, during the period of the Iranian revolution and the U.S. embassy hostage crisis, from 1979 to 1981. On both occasions, Americans found themselves targeted by peoples they had thought of as basically friendly (Iranians then, Saudis now) for reasons stemming from a militant interpretation of Islam (Khomeinist, Wahhabi). In both episodes, Americans were stunned by the hatred felt for them among some Muslims ("Death to America," "I pray to Allah [for] the destruction of the United States of America").1
I wrote In the Path of God in response to that first heightened interest in Islam. My goal was to present an overview of the connection between Islam and political power through fourteen centuries and to do so in a way that would help explain the origins of that crisis. Because the issues then in important ways resemble those again discussed today, I am very pleased that Transaction Publishers is again making In the Path of God available.
How has the book stood up since its original publication in 1983?The first two sections, being historical in nature, have done well, confirmed both by more recent experience and by research into the past,2 though with some exceptions.3 No subsequent analysis of Islam in history has remotely the same outlook or conclusions as this one; I believe that these two sections contain some of the most original and important writing of my career.
In contrast, the third section, "Islam in Current Affairs," can only be read today for an understanding of how things looked when the "Islamic revival," as it was then known, was yet in its preliminary stages. This section begins with a novel attempt at a country-by-country review of the entire Muslim world and then addresses the burning issue of that time: Whence the Islamic revival? I made the case that fundamentalist Islam (now most commonly called militant Islam) was surging because of the Muslim economic gains from oil and gas revenues.
Although the survey of countries still provides a useful, if dated, outline of Islam's circumstances around the world, I no longer argue for the tight connection between oil and Islam found in In the Path of God. I did establish that oil revenues helped give militant Islam a start; but once up and running, I accept that it no longer depends on this financial boost as shown by oil revenues having several times in the intervening years gone down without a noticeable reduction in militant Islam's steady gains. That said, oil revenues certainly do enhance militant Islam's stature and reach, as even its supporters acknowledge.4
More basically, I no longer try to account for the rise in militant Islam with a single explanation, finding that this phenomenon is too complex for such monocausality. Rather, I see it resulting from the interaction of identity and circumstance. The Muslim world feels something has gone very wrong, but has been frustrated in its attempts to right matters. The attraction to militant Islam manifests that frustration.
I urge the reader to focus on the first two sections of this book which offer a still-rare attempt at a cohesive interpretation of Islam in politics; the third section serves mostly to see how things looked at the start of militant Islam's recent surge.
Ideally, I would like to have replaced the third section with an entirely new essay. A brief preface can hardly substitute for over a hundred pages, so the interested reader is urged to look up my writings on this topic,5 found most conveniently in my book Militant Islam Reaches America (Norton, 2002). Here I can just note some of the evolution concerning Islam and politics over the past two decades and then record my changed views.
* The debate over causes of the Islamic surge has become less important. That surge is nearly thirty years old and has become an enduring part of the landscape. To the extent that its causes are still questioned, the conventional wisdom has shifted: it used to point to Israel's military victory of 1967 and the failure of alternate ideologies; now, the usual culprit is economic backwardness and political repression. This change marks an improvement but still it misses the depth and the global nature of the causes, which lie deep in questions of identity and standing. This explains how militant Islam so commonly attracts Muslims who are neither poor nor repressed.
* Militant Islam has evolved from the primitive impulses of Muammar al-Qadhdhafi and the revolutionarism of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to the savvy efforts of leaders like Rashid al-Ghannushi of Tunisia and Hasan at-Turabi of Sudan. What was raw and vague is now refined and targeted. Qadhdhafi (a military officer) and Khomeini (a member of the ulama) have been overtaken by more sophisticated and media-savvy thinkers and operators who can convincingly speak the language of democracy and reform.
* In 1983, militant Islam was primarily a Middle Eastern phenomenon; by now, it has spread to many other regions, including West Africa, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia. Countries relatively untouched then, like Algeria, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, are today grappling with the full import of militant Islam.
* Muslims living in the West were a negligible phenomenon then; now they represent a major presence and a growing political force that is beginning to change the terms of the Islamist effort; in France, for example, Islamist violence and the Islamist vote have growing, if contradictory, roles in elections. Having co-religionists in the belly of the beast reduces geographic distinctions but sharpens cultural ones.
* The U.S. government responded very differently to the Islamic dimension in the late 1970s and of late. President Jimmy Carter felt compelled to say barely a word about the nature of Islam, whereas President George W. Bush has been voluble on this subject. This points to the far greater role Islam plays in the life of Americans.
* The aggressiveness and ambition of militant Islam have greatly increased since the late 1970s. Back then, the goal of militant Islamic was seen as merely the infidel's expulsion from Muslim lands; today, the goal is his conversion. Note that the great act of violence in 1979 (the seizure of the U.S. embassy) occurred in the Iranian capital; in 2001, its counterpart occurred in New York and Washington, the twin capitals of the United States.
* As militant Islam has made its mark around the world, the policy debate has heated up. In the Path of God contains hardly any discussion of choices to be made; this would now take up a large part of its final section. Governments and other institutions, both in majority-Muslim countries and elsewhere, need to figure out how to respond to this aggressive ideology. Engage in dialogue with Islamists or fight them?Distinguish between moderate and radical Islamists or see them all as aiming for the same set of goals?Accept their democratic credentials or see them as inherently despotic?
As for my own views to these policy questions, here they are, again in very brief compass:
Militant Islam is best understood not as a religion but as a political ideology. Indeed, it is the successor of both fascism and Marxism-Leninism in its nature (radical utopianism), its means (totalitarianism), and its goals (world conquest). Just as fascism was the ultimate enemy in World War II and communism was the ultimate enemy during the cold war, so militant Islam is the ultimate enemy in the war on terrorism. Fascism provided the motivating ideology behind its German, Italian, and Japanese manifestations; communism provided it for the Soviet, Chinese, and Vietnamese manifestations, and militant Islam provides it for the Iranian, Afghan, and Sudanese manifestations.
Militant Islam is inherently incompatible with liberal values and no dilution of it can be made to fit into the modern world. There is, in other words, no such thing as a moderate Islamist. Islamist professions of democratic intent are false and need to be discounted.
It is necessary to adopt a tough line against militant Islam. Governments and other leading institutions need to fight this phenomenon, not compromise with it. Militant Islam is a tough and dedicated enemy but with resolve, it can be defeated.
While militant Islam has uniformly aggressive intentions toward non-Muslims, Muslims themselves are the first victims of this movement. This has a profound implication:the battle against militant Islam amounts not to a clash of civilizations but a struggle for the soul of Islam. The West is engaged, but only in so far as it can help moderate Muslims defeat militant Islam, then work with them to develop a reformed, modernized, and moderate version of Islam. Like it or not, the message of September 2001 is that the United States is tasked with the indirect burden of bringing Islam into harmony with modernity.
1 Ayatollah Khomeini; and Zacarias Moussaoui at his trial, Associated Press,22 April 2002.
2 For example, I wrote on pp. 140-41 that organizations like the Muslim Brethren of Egypt attracted "Muslims most in contact with modern life and who bore modern identities."This ran contrary to the accepted understanding of the Muslim Brethren. The best known study of this movement, Richard Mitchell, Society of the Muslim Brothers (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), portrayed it as the reactionary response to modernization by those left behind by it. More recent research however - especially Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928-1942 (Reading, U.K.: Ithaca, 1998) - see the Muslim Brethren as a facet of modernization, with its adherents on the cutting edge of modern problems.Almost everything about them (ideas, methods, goals) incorporate modern ways and the organization shows far more willingness to learn from the West than hitherto realized.
3 Perhaps the most profound challenge comes from Frank E. Vogel, Islamic Law and Legal System:Studies of Saudi Arabia (Leiden: Brill, 2000), who argues that "Islamic law could and often did enjoy far-reaching implementation in legal systems of the past" (p.363).
4 For example, this analysis from Saudi Arabia: "The determination of the Kingdom to support Islam and Islamic institutions to the best of its ability was evident from the formation of the kingdom by King Abdul Aziz but it was only when oil revenues began to generate real wealth that the kingdom could fulfill its ambitions of spreading the word of Islam to every corner of the world, of assisting Muslim countries less well endowed economically and of alleviating the suffering of Muslim minorities wherever they might live. ... The cost of King Fahd's efforts in this field has been astronomical, amounting to many billions of Saudi Riyals. In terms of Islamic institutions, the result is some 210 Islamic centers wholly or partly financed by Saudi Arabia, more than 1,500 mosques and 202 colleges and almost 2,000 schools for educating Muslim children in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia" (Ain Al-Yaqeen, 1 March 2002).
5 In particular: "Fundamentalist Muslims between America and Russia,"Foreign Affairs, Summer 1986; "The Muslims Are Coming!The Muslims Are Coming!"National Review, 19 November 1990; "Islam's Intramural Struggle," National Interest, Spring 1994; "Same Difference," National Review, 7 November 1994; book review of Olivier Roy, "The Failure of Political Islam." Commentary, June 1995; "It's Not the Economy, Stupid: What the West Needs to Know about the Rise of Radical Islam," Washington Post, 2 July 1995; "There Are No Moderates," National Interest; "The Western Mind of Radical Islam," First Things, December 1995; "Islam and Islamism Faith and Ideology," The National Interest, Spring 2000; "God and Mammon:Does Poverty Cause Militant Islam?" The National Interest, Winter 2001/02.