A Different Perspective

A Different Perspective

Professor Wickham addressed an audience including both Midshipmen and USNA faculty members. She narrated her personal research experience in Middle East and especially Egypt. Her lecture generally focused on the origins of political opposition in authoritarian settings, focusing on the rise of Islamic activism in Egypt and other Arab states. Her research seeks to identify the conditions for the political integration of religious movements and parties in the Arab world, based on intra-regional and cross-regional comparison.

It was interesting to note how young people decide to resist social and political norms. Motivating people to join and struggle for a long term goal whose results one would not live to see seems an exceptional phenomenon. The Islamist leaders do not specify what their goals are. For them this is a materialistic world and the real life is the life hereafter. Since 1980’s the Muslim movements in Egypt and neighboring Arab countries have been shunning violence and are seen as adopting a moderate approach. Muslims who once refused to deal with secular elements of the society and categorized them as the wronged ones who do not follow the deen in its true spirit, are more open to interact with the West and secular elements within their own societies.

It is heartening to see that Muslims from different backgrounds have come closer to each other in recent times. Both Secular and non-secular politicians in Egypt are working together. Similarly in Oman, there was a conference which included Muslims from various sects such as Sunni, Shia and Ibadis who came together to discuss various political problems that modern day Islam faces. Islamists are seen to be moving away from violence and sharia’h is either postponed to a distant future or has been presented with certain modifications.  By entering competitive politics, Islamists have been able to present their point of view in a much peaceful manner. The exception of course is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to be an organization rather than a political party. Professor Wickham went as far as to call this trend very Global and felt that Islamist Organizations across the globe (or at least the Arab world) are showing positive signs of coordinated effort towards moderation and employing peaceful means to bring about a change in their societies.

Professor Wickham’s lecture, I thought, was very optimistic and encouraging. It was optimistic to an extent that it seemed too good to be true. I am not claiming that her findings are faulty but I think she might have been painting a far rosier picture of events. She is right in saying that in last few decades many Islamic Organizations have entered main-stream politics and are employing peaceful means as opposed to violence. However, during this transition from activist organizations to political parties, they have been influenced specifically by the existing conditions in their countries. If choosing peace over violence was a general trend in Islamists, there would be less violence in the Muslim world. Contrarily, just the opposite has happened. For instance, Jamaat Islami (Pakistan), which was a political party, to begin with turned more of an activist organization during the 1970’s era of Bhutto. (Prof Wickham did not include any such examples where a change occurred from political to more violent organization.) During late 1980’s they were back in the political mainstream and were an active part of the coalition “Islami Itehad” which ended up gaining majority in Pakistani province of Punjab.

In short, the more Islamists are turning towards mainstream politics to make their voices heard but there are plenty of Islamists who still believe in activism as opposed to a passive political way of life citing Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W) life as an active struggle against the darker forces and ultimately his engaging in Jihad to obtain successful incorporation of Islamic values in the Arabian peninsula. Islamists who participate in the field of politics to voice their concerns and dissatisfaction need to be further encouraged by giving them the respect they deserve. This will, hopefully, encourage other Islamists to employ peaceful means for making headway in solving the problems of Muslim world.