Modern Extremists

April 30, 2007

I’ve stated this many times using varying phrases, but I am saying it again because I found a new quotation from Eqbal Ahmad that illustrates it more effectively. Extremism (or if you prefer fundamentalism) in the case of 21st century Islamists is a product of the 19th and 20th centuries, not the 7th century. Perhaps the largest flaw of the Western world’s understanding of extremist Muslims is that they are, as one U.S. described it “trying to turn back the clock on the Muslim world” or to establish a 7th-century style caliphate.

In reality, however, they are not traditionalists or even imitators of traditionalists. Their movement is a modern phenomenon and is not even loosely based upon the principles of Islam. Their political (not religious) ideology is not even exclusive to Islam. Ahmad explains:

“Neither Muslims nor Jews nor Hindus are unique in this respect. All variants of contemporary ‘fundamentalism’ reduce complex religious systems and civilizations to one or another version of modern fascism. They are concerned with power not with the soul, with the mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing or alleviating their sufferings and aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and time bound political agenda.”

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