Islamism and Empire: The Incongruous Nature of Islamist Anti-Imperialism

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An animated debate is under way within the Left, the Right, and among Islamists themselves about the status of current Islamist movements vis-à-vis neoliberal imperialism. Rightist circles are clear that Islamism is a regressive, anti-modern and violent movement that poses the greatest threat to the 'free world'. Islamism represents, in their view, a 'totalitarian ideology', a 'cousin of fascism and communism', which stands opposed to modernity and to the enlightenment values enshrined in the capitalist free world. In a sense, the idea of a 'clash of civilizations' captures the 'objective contradictions' of Islam and Islamism with Western modernity and its universalizing mission. Leftist groups, however, seem to be divided. While some groups see Islamist movements as 'analogues to fascism', so that the best socialists can hope for is to break individuals away from the Islamist ranks and lure them into progressive camps, others consider Islamism as an anti-imperialist force with which the Left can find some common ground. What then is the relationship of the current Islamist movements to neoliberal imperialism? Do they pose a genuine challenge, or are they no more than reactions which offer unfortunate justifications for neoliberal hegemony? I suggest that the fundamental question is not whether Islamists pose resistance to empire, nor whether they are anti-imperialist or fascist. The relevant question rather is what does Islamist anti-imperialism entail vis-à-vis the mass of Muslim humanity.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-54
JournalSocialist Register
StatePublished - 2008


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