Crimm on Globalization and Domestic Islamic-Socio-Political Activism

Nina J. Crimm’s (St. John’s U.) newest article, What Could Globalization Mean for Domestic Islamic-Socio-Political Activism?, has been published  in the most recent issue of the Fordham International Law Journal. The Article’s Introduction is reprinted below.

In this post-modern era, religion has been experiencing a worldwide transformation. Some see a resurgence of traditional religion, including Islam, evidenced by an increase in renewed religious rituals and practices in countries of varying levels of economic development, political structures, and religious traditions including those of North America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Others do not agree entirely. An emphasis on conservative religious beliefs and practices has declined in many industrialized, rich countries, with the United States as one prominent exception. Yet, most analysts appear to agree that developing countries in the Southern regions of the world are increasingly populated by individuals holding conservative religious beliefs. Moreover, “there are more people alive today with traditional religious beliefs than ever before in history, and they’re a larger percentage of the world’s population than they were 20 years ago.” Many think that morality-based values, if not religious precepts (Islamic, Catholic, Protestant), in all parts of the world have become more relevant to, if not a significant influence on, ideological, social, economic, and political issues.

These alterations are tied directly to globalization by which the world is experiencing a “‘historically unique increase of scale to a global interdependency among people and nations’ . . . characteri[z]ed by (1) rapid integration of the world economy, (2) innovations and growth in international electronic communications and (3) increasing ‘political and cultural awareness of the global interdependency of humanity.’” Those interconnected attributes have presented opportunities for individuals and nations to reconsider their identities and renegotiate their relationships. All people are forced to realize that the continuing process of globalization is depicted by polarities. It intensely accentuates both individuality and pluralism, powerfully implicates political, economic, and social dependency as well as autonomy, and strongly challenges models of democratic, secular governance and society adopted by many western, industrialized nations but eschewed by autocratic theocracies, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The centrifugal force of globalization, with its “temporal and spatial dimensions of planetwide human interaction,” inexorably causes tensions. Simultaneously it emphasizes commonalities and distinctions, stabilizes and destabilizes, and unifies, as well as divides, groups, societies, and countries.

For the large number of Islamic believers, post-modern globalization engages them rather than denies their relevance. It presents a time when they are challenged by technology, capitalistic economic structures, democratic and other political regimes, and human rights systems. In response, they endeavor to “psycho-spiritually” reconfigure themselves. The reformation is a form of an Islamic resurgence through a process of “re-establish[ing] Islamic values, Islamic practices, Islamic institutions, Islamic laws, indeed Islam in its entirety . . . re-creat[ing] an Islamic ethos, an Islamic social order, at the vortex of which is the Islamic human being, guided by the Qur’an and the Sunnah [original Islamic sources].” A spectrum of Islamic believers, ranging from moderate reformers to radical extremists, is involved in this religious-socio-political awakening. Thus, the “renaissance of Islam and its ethos in all sectors of Muslim societies, from culture and political life to private beliefs and civic networks of faith,” is bound to have tremendous consequences for the global world.

As part of the revival, Islamic believers harness contemporary technologies—computers, cell phones, audio and video tapes, radio, television, the Internet including Twitter and social networking sites, modern transportation, and the like—to disseminate broadly religious-socio-political messages, organize and mobilize mass support, electronically transfer funds, and move physically within a country and trans-nationally. Indeed, during the first decade of the twenty-first century Islamic extremists, such as Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda militants, and other fundamentalists, actively used such technologies to plan, fund, orchestrate, and carry out numerous Islamic-socio-political campaigns against the West. Without exception, such technologies were integral to the planning and execution of the September 11, 2001 attacks that sought to destroy symbols of US financial, military, and political power. They also were used in the bombings on July 7, 2005 in London and on March 11, 2004 in Madrid.

With the unfolding of the twenty-first century’s second decade, internationally there already is a new wave of Islamic sociopolitical activism. These outpourings were partly spurred by the confluence of technology, Islam’s resurgence, and politics as facets of globalization. Most prominent are the Arab Spring uprisings that emerged as major “bottom-up” attempts to democratize various Muslim countries suffering under authoritarian rule, such as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. These revolts were enabled by various technologies, such as Twitter, and then viewed worldwide on television and the Internet. Protestors received support from foreign individuals and countries, including the United States, if not financially at least ideologically. In Egypt, the uprisings have already led to a democratically elected government. In January 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood, described as “combin[ing] revivalist Islam and Arab sympathies with modern technology, organization, and communications,” won approximately half of the seats in Egypt’s Parliament. Then, despite opposition from Egypt’s military and young Arab Spring revolutionaries, in June 2012, voters elected Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as Egypt’s president. And in Tunisia, Said Ferjani, of the Islamist party Ennahda, now governs.

Islamic sociopolitical activism impelled by technologies in the second decade of the twenty-first century is not reserved for foreign realms. On the domestic front, US policymakers are considering a dramatic shift in US foreign policy in response to the Muslim Brotherhood’s new political power. As suggested in Parts I, II and III of this Article, such a change, along with other conditions—some seemingly stagnant and others rapidly evolving—might newly spur Muslim Americans, their leaders, and the charitable sector to mobilize for modifications to post-9/11 domestic policies, laws, and government actions. These modifications would address the policies that problematically have alienated many Muslim Americans, chilled Muslim Americans’ philanthropy, hurt US-based Islamic charities, and blocked aid to needy Muslims abroad, tarnishing the reputation of the United States as a result. Assisted by contemporary communicative technologies, new Islamic sociopolitical activism in the United States could bring not only domestic and worldwide attention to these injuries, but also improvements and perhaps even remedies.

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