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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Understanding Globalization

By Ayub Khan

The Milli Gazette Online

Title: Globalised Islam: the search for a new Ummah
Author: Olivier Roy
Publisher: C. Hurst & Co, London
Pages: 349. ISBN 1-85065-598-7
Title:: Globalization Aur Islam (Urdu)
By Maulana Yaser Nadeem
Deoband: Darul Kitab, Pp. 456

Olivier Roy, France's leading scholar on Islam, had argued in his earlier book, Failure of Political Islam, that "the conceptual framework of Islamist parties was unable to provide an effective blueprint for an Islamic state." He had then concluded that the Islamists had no option but to either integrate into the political systems of the nation-state or take the path of neo-fundamentalism. The book under review is a translation from French of the sequel to the earlier one.

In his latest book Roy looks at the "post-Islamism" phenomenon beyond the "culturalist " framework, while stressing on the role played by the Muslim diaspora in the West. He rejects the "culturalist" assertion that "Islam is the issue," claiming that there is no need to put Islam or the Qur'an under the microscope. He then posits this radical claim that, "the debate on what the Koran says is sterile" and "the role of Islam in shaping contemporary societies has been overemphasized." One cannot but disagree with Roy on this point. The fact is that the contemporary Muslims, even those who live in the West, try to follow a considerable number of their religious injunctions (for example their insistence on Halal diet, Islamic mortgages, etc.) and this is enough to prove that Islam still does hold a grip on its followers. It is a completely different matter that some Muslims follow a more literalist and rigid interpretation than the others. 

According to Roy contemporary attempts at 're-Islamisation' are a result of the efforts of Westernized Muslims to assert their identity in a non-Muslim context. Going by his theory, the "global Muslims" are either those belonging to the diaspora or the "de-territorialized" Muslims who have distanced themselves from a given national or ethnic culture while stressing their association with the Ummah. 

Roy credits the diaspora for cultivating the neofundamentalist Islam and documents the use of technology in opening up the avenues of religious debate to just about anyone with access to the internet. This individualization has come at the expense of traditional values and scholarship. Consequently, "religion has been secularized, not in the sense that it is under the scrutiny of modern sciences, but to the extent that it is debated outside specific institutions or corporations." In this regard Islamic revival is in sync with the prevalent "culture of self" and violent actions of Al Qaeda have more to do with politics than they do with religion. 

"The real genesis of Al Qaeda violence has more to do with a Western tradition of individual and pessimistic revolt for an elusive ideal world than with the Koranic conception of martyrdom."

He points out that "Al Qaeda did not target St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It targeted modern imperialism, as the ultra-leftists of the late 1960s and 1970s did with less success."

Not only the militants but also the conservatives have been unable to escape the touch of the Western value argues Roy. He claims that the mainstream Muslim approach to the West is more in line with the Catholic Church and the Christian Right when comes to social issues like abortion and homosexuality and " not in reference to the orthodox debate of sharia in terms of hudud."

Roy writes about the culture of polemics against other religions by modern day Muslims and the evangelical Protestants and the US Christian Right. "Most modern Christians do not care to compare other religions. They criticize Islam not for being 'wrong' but for not being secular enough. Contemporary fundamentalist Muslims see Europe as 'Christian', while most European Christians have endorsed secularism, care little for interfaith dialogue or polemics, and simply want Muslims to be as secular as they are. The only Christian groups to indulge in such polemics and wage an open fight for conversion are Evangelical Protestants and the US Christian Right." Roy has clearly downplayed the Christian polemics. The fact cannot be ignored that the Evangelical Protestants are also very strong and powerful when compared to the other denominations and have a wide global reach. He also doesn't inform us if the modern non-fundamentalist Muslims views about religion are similar to or divergent from "most modern Christians."

In Globalised Islam, Roy's obsession with comparing Muslim neofundamentalists to radical Marxists and his exaggerated emphasis on the role of the diaspora has prevented him from doing justice to the topic. He has managed to collect a whole army of information on Muslim views, groups, attitudes and competing visions. But he has failed in presenting its coherent and systematic analysis. 

Maulana Yaser Nadeem, a young graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, provides an introduction to globalization in Urdu in Globalization aur Islam. He has relied mostly on Arabic sources and a few selected websites. He writes that globalization is a Zionist and capitalist conspiracy to dominate the world. Definitions of key terms and competing world views are dealt in considerable detail. 

The book lays the blame for all ills of the Muslim society at the door of the West and lacks objective self-criticism. The author writes that 'shamsher wa sanan' had absolutely no role to play in the expansion of Islam. While it is true that the history of expansion featured a very limited role of the sword, it is simply unfair to claim that it was entirely absent. The book also deals with the imposition of Western culture on others and the erosion of religious and societal values, culture, language etc.

While presenting numerous examples of ill-effects of globalization on third world countries, the author has failed to study its impact on the developed countries. Massive job losses in the West due to outsourcing and other events prove that it has not been all rosy for them. Globalization aur Islam is a laudable first effort on part of the author. It provides a good summary of Arab views on this hot topic of the day.

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