I can’t link to it yet, but Francis Fukuyama and Nadav Samin have a provocative article in the September issue of Commentary called, “Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?” The first part of the article argues that Al Qaeda’s brand of Islam is best understood not as a traditional fundamentalist movement, but as a very modern phenomenon. While conceding that “it would be foolish to downpaly the role of religious or civilizational factors,” the authors see the movement mostly in 20th century European terms. Specifically, they trace its political roots through the Muslim Brotherhood back to fascism and Marxism. This passage sums up that thesis: “The key attributes of Islamism — the aestheticization of death, the glorification of armed force, the worship of martyrdom, and faith in the propaganda of the deed — have little precedent in Islam but have been defining features of modern totalitarianism.” The authors also see a sociological connection between the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the advent of Islamism in the Arab world. Both, they argue, stem from the social transformation caused by villagers moving en masse to large urban slums. Ideology fills the void, “offereing a new identity based on a puritanical, homogenized creed.”
If this analysis is controversial, the second part of the article is more so. The authors ask whether, “like both fascism and communism before it,” Islamism “could serve as a modernizing force, preparing the way for Muslim societies that can respond not destructively, but constructively to the challenges of West.” The answer, they optimistically suggest, is affirmative. But they are wise enough to acknowledge that the wait for Muslim modernization “is likely to be a long one” and that, in the meantime, “the determined application of military power is part of the answer.” Just as it was with fascism and communism.
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