1 Nationalism, Globalization, and Fundamentalism: Some Reflections on Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East Valentine M. Moghadam Illinois State University September 2003 Is nationalism a thing of the past, or does it continue in familiar as well as new forms? If the twentieth century was the era of imperialism, revolution, and Third Worldism, does the current age of globalization herald the end of Asian nationalisms? Aside from any Marxian-inspired political objections to nationalism, what are the implications of the diminishment of the nation-state and the growing influence of supra-national economic and political institutions? Or of the globalization of discourses of women’s rights, human rights, indigenous people’s rights, and social justice? Although some have declared that in the post-Cold War era of globalization, the political, economic, and international-relations bases for nationalism have collapsed, others point to the continuing salience of the state, of ethnicity, and growing inequalities within and across countries – and these may be seen as the material bases of nationalist enterprises. Elsewhere I have argued that revolution is still on the agenda, although in the future it might take different forms, drawing on both domestic and transnational resources and discourses (Moghadam 2003). If (economic and social) developmentalism was the driving force of many Asian nationalist movements during the 20th century, cultural identity and assertion appear to be the focus of many contemporary movements. One type of political-cultural movement is Islamic fundamentalism. Given their emergence in the late 20th century – in the context of the post-Keynesian neoliberal shift, the collapse of non-alignment, and the strengthening of the capitalist world order under the domination of the United States – the fundamentalist movements of various Muslim countries may be seen as nationalist responses to changing domestic, regional, and international relations. They mobilized cultural and religious discourses and resources partly because the secular ones appeared to be exhausted and unsuccessful, and partly because religious discourses already had a long history, extensive social base, and legitimacy in Muslim
2 countries. Hence the rallying cry became “Islam is the solution”. In the fundamentalist discourse, Islam was the solution to the failures of development, to domestic economic crises, to political authoritarianism, to imperialist and Zionist plots, and to moral decay (Moghadam 1994). It is important to understand Islamic fundamentalism as both national/nationalist and transnational/transnationalist. That is, the roots of fundamentalist movements must be sought in the specific histories and conditions of the countries in which they emerged; at the same time, fundamentalism was/is a transnational or global movement. Fundamentalists often decried the artificial, colonial borders that divided the umma (the community of believers) and sought the unity of the world of Islam; in this respect they engaged in solidarity and cooperation across borders. More often than not, however, the movements were nationally-oriented, focused on problems within their own national borders. The fundamentalist movements of Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine would exemplify this tension between transnational and national orientation. To a certain extent, this would also be true of the Afghan Islamist movement of the 1980s, which was concerned with driving out the communists in Kabul and eliminating all Soviet influence, and of the Taleban, who sought to reinstate Islamic orthodoxy and morality in their country. Identifying local-global linkages in the resources and discourses of fundamentalist movements is a complicated matter, however, because pace the simplistic assumptions of the clash of civilization thesis and similar perspectives, Western countries, and especially the United States, played a role in the emergence and expansion of fundamentalist movements, mainly as part of their shared anti-communist crusade/jihad. In contrast to the developmentalist nationalist movements of the earlier part of the 20th century, the fundamentalist movements of the late 20th century were less interested in crafting programs for economic and social development than in legislating Islamic laws and norms, including codes of public morality and restrictions on women’s activities and dress. Although they have paid lip service to issues of social justice, in fact fundamentalist movements have shown themselves to be (a) capable of coexisting with any type of economic arrangements, including neoliberal, (b) concerned mainly with regulating citizens’ religious and public behaviour, and (c) preoccupied with women’s comportment, dress, and position within the family. This is the sense in
3 which Islamic fundamentalism exemplifies the project proposal’s thesis regarding the shift from a developmentalist to a culturalist nationalism. At the same time, fundamentalist movements have not been immune to external influences, whether these be forms of resistance from other social groups within their borders, or global pressures. The evolution of Islamism in Iran is a case in point. What began as a highly ideological and orthodox movement that executed dissidents, took diplomats (and apparently, spies) hostage, launched an Islamic cultural revolution, made veiling mandatory, scoffed at Western human rights, and insisted on the superiority of its own system, has evolved into a hybrid structure attuned to criticisms from citizens and from the international community. Khomeinist Islamic ideology has been eclipsed by the discourses of Islamic feminism, reform, and globalization. The authorities are split between the fundamentalists who retain their zeal even though they have lost their enthusiasm for transnational Islamism, and the reformers, who focus on repairing national divisions and building unity. Within the population as a whole, there is a strong demand for change, although not one that would bring back United States influence. While one may argue that nationalism has always been a strong force in Iran, fundamentalist nationalism is clearly subsiding.
References Cited: Moghadam, Valentine M. 1994. “Women and Identity Politics in Theoretical and Comparative Perspective.” Pp. 1-30 in Valentine M. Moghadam, ed., Identity Politics and Women: Cultural Reassertions and Feminisms in International Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. -----. 2003. “Is the Future of Revolution Feminist? Rewriting ‘Gender and Revolutions’ in an Era of Globalization.” Pp. 159-168 in John Foran, ed., The Future of Revolutions in the Context of Globalization. London and New York: Zed Books.