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Thinking Past Terror: Islam(ism), Critique and Alternative Futures

A037
Panel Chair: Ahmed Zubair | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Since the cataclysmic moment summoned up by 1492 Islam has been situated as a constitutive outsider to European modernity. While Europe was (as it still is) defined as the subject and “silent referent” (Chakrabarty 2000) of all histories, Islam remained part of the ontologically and epistemologically distinguishable space called Orient. It was precisely in that way, that Islam as a religious formation as well as a phenomenon located outside the West became Europe’s “silent Other” (Said 1985). Within the last years, however, Islam has been re-framed as a radical form of “immanent critique” (Buck-Morss 2003) or a “counter-hegemonic force” (Evans 2010) interested in “De-Centering the West” (Sayyid 1997) and hereby trying to alter the cultural-political-economical underpinnings of colonial modernity. Against this backdrop, the panel seeks to provide a forum for exploring and discussing themes and topics related to this issue.

Nadia Fadil

Europeanizing Islam: a colonizing trap or a process of emancipation?

This paper delves into some recent conversations among Muslims in the Francophone intellectual milieu on the desirability of a European Islam and its relationship to the process of secularization. Comparing Tariq Ramadan’s seminal “Être Musulman Européen” (1999) with a recent publication by Aissam Ait-Yahya “De L’Ideologie Islamique Française” (2013), it seeks to examine how structural contradictions that are internal to Europe’s modernity (universal vs. particular) play out in the contemporary engagement of Muslims with the Islamic tradition and the European public sphere. Ramadan’s work gained prominence through its attempt to synthesize the Islamic Reformist intellectual legacy and cultivate ethical and theological spaces that would enable Muslims to inscribe themselves as citizens in the European society. Ait-Yahya’s work, on the other hand, centers on a deconstruction of the narrative of “modernity” by demonstrating its Christian roots and pointing at the incommensurability of Christianity/Secularity and Islam. I take these discussions as a starting point and illustrative of a deeper epistemological shift that is ongoing amongst the Muslim intellectuals on the position of Islam in Europe and on Europe as a project.

Arun Rasiah

Readings of Emancipation: Muslim Resistance from the Underside of Empire

Malcolm X embodied a project of decolonization, reflecting the historical moment of anticolonial struggle and an emergent politics of sovereignty. While the international dimension of his thought and action pushed the borders of thinking on Black emancipatory politics, his radical thought originated in the confines of prison. This paper considers his learning methodology in which the unified commitment to learning and self-discipline constitutes a literacy for self-determination and decolonial ethics marked by the epistemological shift of Islamic and intellectual conversion. Elaborating a praxis exemplified in the mastery of the word and the self, Malcolm X’s embodiment of the struggle to learn helps to reconceive self-determination as a far-reaching ontological movement of self-actualization, in which the quest for and transmission of knowledge through literacy and pedagogy interconnects individual and collective advancement. As a revolutionary Muslim, Malcolm X can be positioned alongside theoreticians of decolonization in the global South and Islamic ummah.

Syed Mustafa Ali

Immanently Too Far, Yet Not Far Enough: A Decolonial Critique of Critical Leftism and Critical Islamism

Islam stands in a paradoxical relation with European modernity / coloniality / "The West": on the one hand, as the latter's historically constitutive 'Other'; on the other, and more recently in the form of Islamism, as a political theology contributing to an "immanent critique" (Buck-Morss 2003) and "de-Centring of The West" (Sayyid 1997) within an allegedly emerging global public sphere. Drawing on strands of decolonial thinking, I want to argue that framing Islam(ism) in relation to immanence is problematic on at least two counts: Firstly, in critical Leftism, mmanence has been totalistically-globalised from a Eurocentric site that tends to undermine the possibility of Islam(ism) as a "relatively exterior" site of non-Eurocentric and non-immanent critique; secondly, in critical Islamism, a failure to engage with immanent critique in its reflexive / self-critical mode has resulted in a defence of questionable political formations such as Islamicate imperialism. In the first case, the appeal to immanence has gone too far, while in the second it has not gone far enough.

Since the cataclysmic moment summoned up by 1492 Islam has been situated as a constitutive outsider to European modernity. While Europe was (as it still is) defined as the subject and “silent referent” (Chakrabarty 2000) of all histories, Islam remained part of the ontologically and epistemologically distinguishable space called Orient. It was precisely in that way, that Islam as a religious formation as well as a phenomenon located outside the West became Europe’s “silent Other” (Said 1985). Within the last years, however, Islam has been re-framed as a radical form of “immanent critique” (Buck-Morss 2003) or a “counter-hegemonic force” (Evans 2010) interested in “De-Centering the West” (Sayyid 1997) and hereby trying to alter the cultural-political-economical underpinnings of colonial modernity. Against this backdrop, the panel seeks to provide a forum for exploring and discussing themes and topics related to this issue.

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Thematic Outline

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