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François Burgat: The Political Trajectory of Islamic Movements

Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies| 2018-03-08 12:04:04 | 189 vue


After publishing his book: Understanding Political Islam, Francois Burgat, the Senior Research Fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research was invited by the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies on the 19th of July 2017 for a conference on the path of Islamic movements and their political development. The anthropologist and thinker performed in depth and comprehensive research on Islamic trends that are entrenched throughout the African and Asian continents. He studied what he describes as one of the most critical phases in the history of Islamic movements; namely,the epoch between 1973 and 2016. The writerbegan his contribution by raising somequestions: “Where are the Islamists?  Are they becoming extinct? Or do they still exist? And why istheir political identity still a controversy? 


Noting the title, the author revealed that he was impelled to use the term “political Islam”out offear of redundancy. Hementioned that the term was firstly used by the EgyptianIslamic thinker, author, academic and one of the leading liberal theologians in Islam Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd. 

Burgat‘s book was apainstakingpoliticalstudy of Islamism in the Arab region throughout the dynamic post-Arab Spring period.

During post-independence, the Arab World witnessed severe events, during which,Islamist groups were subject tocountless forms of suppression, that were illustrated through bloody confrontations with theirgovernments. Things remained the same until the wake of the Arab Spring. The promising period witnessed radical change among these groups through intellectualism.Their transformation from mere movements into active political components of the state drove them to adapt to changein spiteof protecting the main principles of Islam, bydint of establishing an Islamic culture that goes hand in hand with other religious cultures, such as Christianity and Judaism, and without posing a threat to the government ornational security.  

What we witness nowadays, particularly in the media, is an anti-Islamicpropaganda that aims to increase western distrust in Islamic groups, thus labeling them terrorists.Notwithstanding theSturm und Drangof the Sunni-Shiite antagonism,whichaddsmore insult to injury. 

The danger here is not only coming from across the borders, but more dangerouslyfrom within. We also cannot deny thatthe colonists purposed to folklorize the religion of Islam. Deracinationis the biggest menace to culture and religion. 

We can state that the Islamic-Arab region lived three forms of independence after its colonization. 

1)An unfulfilled,yet still existent,Political Independence. 2)EconomicIndependence, with regard tonet wealth and economic liberalization, for example:the nationalization of the Suez Canal.3) A“currently in-progress”Cultural Independence, occurring through thereinforcementof national identity,despite the existence of extremist tendencies. 

“I realize the existence of violent groups in the west which have relationships with, or support, terrorist groups. However, we can’t deny the local incentives which allowed the existence of terrorism in the Arab region to grow, such as the lack of liberties and the absence of nationalism. We cannot negate the role of society and governments and onlythrowthe blame on colonization.”  

The author laid great emphasis on setting individualsegments of the Islamic spectrum apart, thereby separating the “Salafist” and “Ikhwan” ideologies frombasicIslamicculture.  He also alluded to the dangers of being manipulated by some western media agencies, and influenced by their disseminated ideas and hoaxes, such as portraying Islamists as an enemy to civilization, and urging the West to sever ties with them.He then stated that the most efficient approach to defy terrorism is through further educating Muslimsabout their own Islamic culture asan essential component of their identity, rather than a folklore, and by turning this approach into an element that better defines and characterizes the Muslim youth, lest they fall into absurdum and fanaticism; and hence, become prone to exploitation by terrorist organizations whose primary objective is to target and attract young and other ideologically and spiritually vulnerable groups. 

Burgat's affinity to the Islamic community in the colonial period, which continued into the late Nineteen-sixties—and witnessed the rise of extremism primitively as a legitimate right to expel the colonists—prompted him to focus on the aforementioned time period. The tendency for extremism increased furthermore with the post-colonial rise of oppressive regimes and organizations that denied the basic principles of democracy and bolstered enmity towards the West and modern state systems. This provided a nurturing ground for certain hostile groups who adopted the traditional word for word Islamic principles that came in the year 570 to regulate the state rules in the wake of the Islamic state. 

In another publication, "Islam in France", Burgat draws attention to the perils of the rising far-right tide in Europe—stemming from concern over the looming threat of ''Islamic terrorism'' since the 9/11 attacks—thus, he deems it necessary for Europe to seek a consensual resolution that hinges on active interaction with the Arab community, within and outside of Europe. The author refuses the concept of ''French Islam'' which he considersa failed political ideology. Younger generations of Arab communities in Europe are suffering social isolation because of their inability to integrate with society, in the countries where they hold the right of abode. This issue has been acknowledged by western governments following the wave of terrorism that has struck France and Germany. 

In his closing remark, Burgat mentioned that political Islamwill playan important role in the stability of the region, contrary to the view of the anthropologist Olivier Roy who is known to have a rather different view of radical Islam.During the discussion, the intellectuals agreed on the fact that terrorism and extremism are global phenomena that do not belong to any religion, color or gender. The repercussions of Nazism and Fascism should not be blamed on Christianity, and as such, we cannot blame the religion of Islam for terrorism. The participants also stressed on bringing to light the successful experiences of certain countries with Islamic Democracy after the Arab Spring, as has been the case with the Moroccan, Tunisian, Malaysian, and Indonesian examples.

Seeking to portray Islam as a rival to modernity is prejudicial and a denial of the truth . 


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Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies

The Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies is a research institution covering a large regional territory, including the Maghreb, Africa and Mediterranean countries, with a focus on Tunisian affairs. The Center has two main headquarters in London and Tunisia.