When it comes to political islam, it appears the majority of the western media have taken their lead from their political masters and bracketed it within the context of the ‘clash of civilizations,’ so beloved of George W Bush. Thus organizations as diverse as Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbullar, the Afghan Talaban and Al-Qaeda are all portrayed as terrorist groups beyond the pale, as if they were a single homogeneous Group. Whilst the Turkish Justice and Development Party [AK] is seen as less of a threat and is described as being only partially islamic, what ever that may mean. As to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood [MB] from whom much of todays political islam took its lead, they are hardly mentioned as to do so would entail an analyses of the US backed regime in Cairo led by President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, and that would not do at all. Even when the media find it is impossible to ignore the Muslim Brotherhood, for example when Murbarak is conducting one of his periodic show trials of his political opponents, they normally start by reminding us that Osama bin Laden’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri used to be a member of the Muslim brotherhood, hint hint, nudge nudge.
In reality political islam represents a host of differing political positions and to attempt to blanket them as a single homogenous group is ridiculous, dangerous and uninformative. Like the political parties in the west, political islam has certain core beliefs in common, those who adhere to it all claim to be culturally, morally and socially conservative, but even here there are different degrees of conservatism. Whereas the Talaban [and Al Qaeda] would cease all education for girls if it regained State power, and require all women to were Burkas. Hezbullar, Hamas and the AK party actively encourage girls to go to school and women to become socially active in all walks of life. For the AK party head scarves are a matter of personal choice, although like many conservatives in the west they believe women should be dressed modestly.
Organizations like the Talaban and Al Al-Qaeda basically believe ‘islam is the answer’ to all of life’s problems whether social or political and the words of the Quran should be law. They are reactionary to the core as they refuse to take into account how the world has changed since Mohammed’s day. On the other side of political islam the Turkish AK Party, whilst accepting the religious heritage that is common to all muslims, believes that political islam must be pragmatic and compete with other intellectual frameworks that islamist’s cannot ignore or remove from the arena’s of public activity. Thus it feels comfortable in a modern democratic State, indeed it thrives in such an environment as recent events in Turkey has proven.
Hamas and Hezbullar due to the violent circumstances of their birth, lies somewhere between Al-Qaeda and the AK, although having said this they are nearer the AK Party than they are to an organization like Al Qaeda, which worships death and positively encourages it activists to embrace it. To date neither organization has much in common with the Wahabi philosophy of Osama Bin Laden. Indeed if anything, organizationally political islam has taken much from the radical left of the the 20th Century.
Hezbullar, Hamas and the AK Party all put considerable energies into building their support base. All have a strong electoral machine at neighborhood level, which has proved it can get out the vote come election day. All three believe strongly in social infrastructure, education and health care being a priority. Where they have political power, as in the case of AK Party, they have channeled government funds into these areas and have been particularly successful when doing this at both municipal and governmental levels.
When they have no central government to provide these funds, as was the case with Hamas and Hezbullar and to a degree still is, they have gone ahead and set up schools and health centers to provide for the less well off economically, using as their pretext to finance these projects the Quran, which places both a high value and a duty on charitable acts. Whereas the only duty Bin Laden seems to place on muslims is to fight and kill the Kaffir. [non believer’s].
Broadly speaking it is therefore fair to conclude that political islam falls into three distinctive groups. Those who are inspired by Bin Laden and his acolytes, who blame all the worlds ills on non muslims with the USA to the fore. There main political aim is to re-establish a single Caliphate throughout the muslim world. This will be a dictatorship in all but name and will come into being by putting all non believers and those muslims who are prepared to coexist with the kaffirs to the sword. They do not appear to have a social program beyond the normal acts of charity every muslim must adhere to; and it has to be said when Osama Bin Laden closest supporters the Afghan Talaban held power, they governed in a barbaric and antiquated manner which saw Satan’s hand every where. Thus I doubt there are more than a tiny minority of muslims who would wish to live under such a yoke.
The second grouping is more interesting in that events, especially the creation of the State of Israel more than anything else has moulded it into what it is today, Hamas and Hezbullar are the two main adherents of this type of political islam and whilst they are both heavily influenced by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it is the way the Israeli state has behaved in southern Lebanon and the occupied West Bank and Gaza that has been the catalyst for their growth. Once Arafat’s Fatah and the PLO became a nest of squabbling bureaucrats, bent on enriching themselves at the Palestinian peoples expense, the rise of an organization to replace them in the affections of the Palestinian masses became inevitable. They alighted on Hamas because they were already within their midst having set up desperately needed health centers and schools within Gaza, indeed Hamas grew out of the educational work of its founder the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. That the Americans and EU refused to recognize a Hamas led government after free and fair Palestinian elections only added to their popularity.
The ignorance and unjustness of US foreign policy takes ones breath away, for had the US recognized Hamas electoral mandate, in all probability it would have evolved into a modern democratic party in the mould of the AKP. The fact that Hamas now has strong contacts with Iran is based on needs must. For having been black balled by the US and EU they had no one else to turn to. Hezbullar has found it self in the same position although it has some leeway due to its links with Syria. Despite the US administration stigmatizing Hamas and Hezbullar as terrorist organizations, it is often over looked that both organizations genuinely believe in representative democracy. It was only after PLO intelligence goon squads started to prepare a coup against Hamas in its Gaza stronghold that it was forced to act militarily against their Palestine enemies. That PLO intel in Gaza were led by Mohammed Dahlan, the CIA’s Palestinian point man, speaks volumes about who baked this particular pie.
Finally we come to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, [AKP] it is the strongest, most representative and democratic section of political islam. Whilst it is a product of political islam it is equally a product of the enormous social changes that have and are still taking place within Turkey. Where due to the growth of the economy in the last 25 years, a whole new social strata has emerged within the Anatolia heartlands, many of whom are using the AK Party to break through the glass ceiling that was put in place by the Kemalist middle class founders of the Turkish Republic to maintain themselves in power. The founders of the AK Party very astutely recognized that this newly emerging middle class had no direct political representatives that expressed and represented their interest; thus they had been denied access to the levers of State power. Not least because this emerging middle class were far from enamored with the brown envelope, get rich quick and to hell with the rest philosophy of the conservative parties like the ANAP and True Path Party who have mainly governed Turkey since the Military coup of 1980. That AK was able to appeal to this emerging middle class group without losing the support of the more conservative elements within the Turkish working classes and peasantry goes a long way to explain its current success at the polls.
Whilst political islam is far from the progressive socialism most of us on the left adhere to, sections of it are not the political pariah’s that they are often portrayed as by the Western media. Perhaps it is time we reserved our judgement and took time to look at political islam a little more analytically, instead of jumping to conclusions which often ape what our political opponents at home have to say about it.