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Enemy in the Mirror

Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism: A Work of Comparative Political Theory

Roxanne L. Euben
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 197
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  • Book Info
    Enemy in the Mirror
    Book Description:

    A firm grasp of Islamic fundamentalism has often eluded Western political observers, many of whom view it in relation to social and economic upheaval or explain it away as an irrational reaction to modernity. Here Roxanne Euben makes new sense of this belief system by revealing it as a critique of and rebuttal to rationalist discourse and post-Enlightenment political theories. Euben draws on political, postmodernist, and critical theory, as well as Middle Eastern studies, Islamic thought, comparative politics, and anthropology, to situate Islamic fundamentalist thought within a transcultural theoretical context. In so doing, she illuminates an unexplored dimension of the Islamist movement and holds a mirror up to anxieties within contemporary Western political thought about the nature and limits of modern rationalism--anxieties common to Christian fundamentalists, postmodernists, conservatives, and communitarians.

    A comparison between Islamic fundamentalism and various Western critiques of rationalism yields formerly uncharted connections between Western and Islamic political thought, allowing the author to reclaim an understanding of political theory as inherently comparative. Her arguments bear on broad questions about the methods Westerners employ to understand movements and ideas that presuppose nonrational, transcendent truths. Euben finds that first, political theory can play a crucial role in understanding concrete political phenomena often considered beyond its jurisdiction; second, the study of such phenomena tests the scope of Western rationalist categories; and finally, that Western political theory can be enriched by exploring non-Western perspectives on fundamental debates about coexistence.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2323-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. A Note on Spelling
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Re-Marking Territories
    (pp. 3-19)

    Despite a diversity of political sensibilities and theoretical concerns, political theory in the late twentieth century can in many ways be characterized as postfoundational. Rawlsian and other liberal theorists are concerned to show that the basis of the well-ordered society need not presume a metaphysical conception of the good.¹ This need to rebut charges of metaphysics is driven by political imperatives, in particular plural and conflicting theories of the good and the understanding that any defense—rational or otherwise—of metaphysical foundations has become an anachronism in post-Enlightenment theoretical discourse. Theorists grouped roughly under the umbrellas of postmodernism and hermeneutics...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Projections and Refractions: Islamic Fundamentalism and Modern Rationalist Discourse
    (pp. 20-48)

    What is the meaning of Islamic fundamentalism? How can and should we, as Western students of politics, make sense of its growing appeal in the modern world? From modernization theory to structural-functionalism, from class analysis to rational actor theory, there are a variety of models that can be used to answer these questions. Yet such methodological diversity belies the agreement among current social scientific explanations that fundamentalism is reactive, defensive, and nativistic, its appeal a function of its efficacy as a conduit for the fury, fear, insecurity, and alienation that are the concomitants of trying socioeconomic conditions and political circumstance...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A View from Another Side: The Political Theory of Sayyid Qutb
    (pp. 49-92)

    Perhaps the most common observation in Middle Eastern scholarship concerns the intimacy between religion and politics: the Prophet was both the recipient of the Qur’anic revelation and the founder of the first political community in Islamic history. The first year of the Islamic calendar is not the year of Muhammad’s birth or the date God’s word was revealed but rather marks the ascendence of the Muslim community in Medina. This actualization of God’s will on earth is the prototype for all Muslim political communities, the ideal in whose shadow Islamic political theory, jurisprudence, and ethics developed. This nexus of Islam,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A View across Time: Islam as the Religion of Reason
    (pp. 93-122)

    I have approached Qutb as a political theorist because, I have argued, his own preoccupations with the moral foundations of political authority are the preoccupations of political theory as a field, and, moreover, his political thought is significantly shaped by the experience of Western colonialism and cultural influence. In emphasizing this kind of context for Qutb’s work, I have tried to illustrate an approach that, to borrow and perhaps subvert Clifford Geertz’s language about interpreting culture, works to expose what is familiar in the unfamiliar without denying its particularity.¹ Within the proposed framework of comparative political theory, such exposure is...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Inside the Looking Glass: Views within the West
    (pp. 123-153)

    The extent to which modern Islamic thinkers from Afghani to ‘Abduh to Qutb are engaged with the problems and dilemmas of Western political thought suggests that, in a colonial and postcolonial world in particular, questions that define political theory have ceased to be, if they ever solely were, Western. This points to an understanding of political theory as a field attentive to broad questions about living together rather than answers located in a specific set of canonical texts. Such a broadened understanding of political theory, I have argued, actually entails a reclamation of a comparative dimension to “theory” presupposed by...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Conclusion: Cultural Syncretism and Multiple Modernities
    (pp. 154-168)

    Let me briefly summarize the argument threading through the preceding four chapters. In chapter 2, I demonstrated that rationalist discursive practices continue to define contemporary Western social scientific analyses of the phenomenon of Islamic resurgence. I did so to illustrate the ways in which rationalist discourse explains the appeal of fundamentalist ideas by reference to their function as conduits for processes and tensions in the material and structural realm. In deriving meaning from function, these explanations serve not to make fundamentalist ideas rational—in the literal sense, meaning intelligible—but to divorce explanations of Islamic fundamentalism from the fundamentalists’ own...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 169-216)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-239)