2002 December 03 Tuesday
Fukuyama's Critics On Modernizing Islam

In the Commentary Magazine there are responses to an earlier article by Francis Fukuyama and Nadav Samin entitled “Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?”. You can find the original article republished on the WSJ site and also at this URL as well.

Here are a couple of excerpts of responses published in the Commentary December 2002 issue:

Martin Kramer:

In “Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?” [September], Mr. Fukuyama and his co-author Nadav Samin concur that Islamism is a destructive force that warrants comparison with Communism and fascism. But, they write, it might also be a modernizing one—it might, despite itself, strip away the traditional constraints that have prevented Muslims from modernizing. And if Islamism, in turn, can be stripped of its ideology, then perhaps it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

If. And if only. In Francis Fukuyama, Hegel springs eternal, and it was Hegel who passed this judgment early in the 19th century: “Islam has long vanished from the stage of history, and has retreated into oriental ease and repose.” The persistent refusal of Islam to do just that remains one of the principal flaws of “endism,” from Hegel to this day—that is, for as long as the modern West has rubbed shoulders with Islam.

After some two centuries, the evidence is compelling. Islam has been an inexhaustible power cell for scores of movements that have defied the values of modern liberalism. From Mahdism to bin Ladenism, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Taliban, Islam continues to generate new and potent antidotes to the infection of the West. All of which suggests that the power of radical Islam (like Islam itself) is its ability to mutate—to adapt itself to ever-changing circumstances. Today it ingeniously exploits the very modernism that it seeks to thwart. Just when you think it is outmoded—as many analysts thought 30 years ago—it suddenly reappears in some completely new (and often more virulent) form.

The only mechanism by which Islamism could strip away the old order in the Middle East would involve revolutions, decades of repressive Islamic regimes ala Iran, and likely a war (or series of wars) of such proportion that millions or even tens or hundreds of millions would die. Even if revolution followed by Islamist rule could be gauranteed to eventually produce a liberal secular backlash we can not afford to wait that long. If more Islamist governments came to power the likely result would be more regimes working to develop WMD while supporting terrorist attacks on Western targets. The threat of growing WMD proliferation should be an argument against the idea of allowing Islamists to take over more countries. We can not afford to allow Islamists to play out some big Hegelian learning experience to cause Muslim people to see that repressive Islamic rule is a bad idea.

Stanley Kurtz:

This seeming resignation about the prospects for Islamic societies also points to a problem with Mr. Fukuyama’s famous thesis, in “The End of History?” (1989), that the world is moving inexorably toward liberal democracy. By conceding that modernization among Muslims is far in the future, Mr. Fukuyama implies a measure of agreement with one of his key critics, Samuel Huntington, who argued—presciently, many believe—that the end of the cold war would bring about a “clash of civilizations” based on religion and culture. Huntington has advised restraint in America’s efforts to spread democracy.

Huntington was right about the sources of our current conflict, but he failed to take account of technological advance, especially with respect to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This has made it much more difficult for America to tolerate undemocratic regimes based on non- or anti-Western cultural assumptions. Mr. Fukuyama, for his part, did not foresee this particular turn of the wheel, but he has long argued that the “mechanism of modern natural science” would bring about global democracy.

The question we face today, and which neither thinker has fully addressed, is what will happen when the irresistible force of Western conquest and democratization bangs up against the immovable object of Islamic social and cultural tradition.

The problem is that technological advance steadily increases the amount of damage that smaller countries and groups can do to the rest of the world.

As part of their rebuttal Fukuyama and Samin say:

No one knows whether this will in fact happen, but there is some reason to expect that the political wheel will turn again. While Islamism may be a highly effective tool of political mobilization, it has been a disaster as a governing ideology in the three countries where it has come to power: Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. None of our respondents save Larry Diamond has acknowledged the real prospects for liberalization present in a country like Iran that has had to endure Islamist theocracy—the backlash to the backlash, so to speak.

Their inclusion of Saudi Arabia in their list of countries that have been governed by Islamic ideology ought to show them an error in their argument. Unlike the case of Iran we do not see large street demonstrations and growing calls for secular government in Saudi Arabia. The people in Saudi Arabia have lived under a strict religious system of government for decades longer than the case of Iran and yet there is little in the way of a secular backlash in Saudi Arabia and in fact quite a few Saudi Arabians are radicalized and willing to join terrorist groups.

Where are the signs of an Islamic Reformation that would parallel Protestant Reformation? Moderate Muslim voices are frightened into silence. Even in the US they are threatened.

See my previous post on Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntington, and Stanley Kurtz.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 03 12:52 AM  Religion Secular Ideologies


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