Can we live without islamists?

by Hervé Pugi.

« It’s a dangerous word which makes more noise than it enlightens », here in the introduction is the precision that François Burgat never fails to bring. He is a researcher at the Institute of islamic studies and research (IREMAM) in Aix-en-Provence, when we approached the subject of Islamism with him. While specifying that it « would undoubtedly be necessary to learn to live without it if we want to perceive the political and non-religious interior of this turbulent world. » And yet, we speak about it again!

Because the question of Islamism interrogates, calls out and causes worry to the point of transforming the most serious debates into real places of discussion so much so that the notion lost its essence amongst the confusion which too often associates Islamism with terrorism. « An error in fact, possibly ignorance, not to say intellectual laziness, unless it is simply a question of bad faith. » This idea has already found its place in an article, dedicated to the same subject, in the special issue called Libya. For François Burgat, to « rationally » study Islamism, is primarily « to focus on the phenomenon by firstly associating it with the dynamic search of identity more than religion « to show Islamists » as being, before anything else, those who intend to reaffirm the legitimacy and the universality of « speaking Muslim. »

A rehabilitation of an endogenous lexicon which is more than sacred. And the researcher at IREMAM advances in his reflection: « Islamism, is a reaction and a continuity all at the same time. The Islamists extend the nationalist initiative in line with an approach which consists of limiting demonstrations of western domination. The nationalists do this on the political terrain to reach independence. The first elite nationalists did it on the economic terrain and it caused nationalizations. While occupying this double terrain, the Islamists also do it on the cultural and symbolic register. » For what message in the end?

« They tell us that from now on, to express themselves they will use a lexicon in a favored manner which is extracted from their historical heritage without using the suggested or imposed categories via colonization ». A deciphering which is not necessarily accepted by the public opinion but, more disturbingly still, nor by western political elites. If speaking about Islam awakens turmoil and hubbub, to speak with Islamists looks a bit like like a pact with the devil!

« The West has an emotional appreciation of the phenomenon. We communicate only with Muslim interlocutors who say what we want to hear in a language that we understand. This is not enough … If we have Daesh today, it is also because the Westerners were never capable of trusting the ordinary Muslim which we could call the « republican Islamists. » We don’t want political positions other than those in our image. It is to ignore a gift. But wanting to create so-called civil societies in the East which would unite with the West in the excommunication of Islamists, this is a serious mistake. » A questionable position because, as François Burgat explains it: « The west sends a message which makes jihadists. On one hand we create jihadists and on the other we want to fight them. » But to understand what led us to such a situation, there is no need to dig a lot: « the authoritarian Arabic regimes sold the idea of the threat of radical Islam to Westerners, as the only alternative in their power. For decades they were thus supported because this idea was interiorized. The fear of seeing these dictators replaced by more terrible ones loomed large. »

Even so, as specified by Hatem M’Rad, Professor of Political Science in Tunis, in our previous publication, « we cannot refuse to associate Islamists with politics nor can we consider them as not serious partners. It is not a cultural choice but a political one. » The radically opposed experiences currently taking place in Egypt and Tunisia do not say anything else. « When we say political Islam, concludes François Burgat, we say Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi but also Rached Ghannouchi. If there is going to be a centra-lity of the Islamic political lexicon in the future, the practice of it which will especially vary, according to extremely profane contingencies. If everything goes well, political Islam will know particularly liberal expressions. On the other hand, if it has to make a storm of repressions and constraints, we risk seeing the appearance of monsters, resembling Daech members, at the end of the tunnel. »

That is what is said…

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