Everywhere you look nowadays, Islam is used (and misused) as a political force. Some Muslims employ it as a call to action; many in the West (and elsewhere) perceive it as an "other" demanding containment and exclusion. As a Turk, I feel both sides of this debate directly.
The reason that Islam seems like a religion of the "other" to Western eyes is that the West has witnessed a systematic de-institutionalization of religion. It is not religion that disappeared from modern Western life, of course, but rather the claims that religious institutions can make on individual behavior. Religion in the modern world is a much more personal and spiritual experience than ever before.
Yet a process of de-institutionalization of religious experience is also taking place within Islam. Politicization of Islam is displacing the authority of Islam's religious classes, the ulema. As in the West, Islamic religious experience is becoming more personal. Interpretation of religious texts by individual Muslims, including political militants, intellectuals and women, is one result. Another is the vulgarization of religious knowledge, with the Koran's teachings abused and taken out of context to support political ends.
Who now decides what is legitimate and what is illicit in Islam? Who has the authority to interpret religious texts? Who can issue a fatwa or declare jihad? Nowadays, activism and terrorism provide, or rather impose, a new source of legitimacy. So lay people decide what Islam does and does not mean, without the authority of religious schools and specialized training.
Indeed, Islam today is primarily interpreted through political actors and cultural movements, not religious institutions. This de-institutionalization has enabled Islam to move from being a local and national social bond to forging imaginary ties between all Muslims, everywhere, who feel oppressed or displaced.
Thus, Islamism can unite adherents who previously were deeply divided: spiritual Sufi and canonized Shariat Muslims, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, conservative Saudi Arabia and revolutionary Iran.
At the same time, Islam is on the move, with its believers leaving rural areas for cities, including the cities of the West. Many see this movement as something negative, emphasizing the fact that these people are socially uprooted, which leads to alienation and, for some, to terrorism. But social mobility is also a precondition for creating a modern outlook.
Of course, through migration Muslims experience a sense of distancing, if not an outright break, from their social origins. So their religious experience is of a new kind, bereft of theological, community or state institutions.
Religious experience instead becomes a form of social imagination within which they reconstruct a sense of belonging to Islam in new and strange surroundings. It is not distance from modern life, but proximity to it that triggers a return to religious identity.
Indeed, most radicalism arises in groups who, by their experience of mobility and displacement, are acquainted with secular Western ways of political thinking and urban living. Disoriented by unfamiliar surroundings, Islam becomes their anchor.
But for this anchor to work, Islam must be liberated from its traditionally subservient, passive and docile posture in the face of modernity. By wearing a veil or beard, claiming the right for places to pray at work or school, and demanding special foods, Muslims identify themselves overtly as Muslims. They are telling everyone around them that they are more zealous and meticulous in their religious observance than those who confine their religiosity to private life.
For example, non-Muslims usually see veiling as a sign of the debasement and inferiority of Muslim women. From a stigma, however, it has become for Muslims a sign of their positive affirmation of an Islamic identity.
Young Muslim women in Europe illustrate this transformation perfectly. Girls who adopt the headscarf in French and German schools are closer in many respects (namely youth culture, fashion consciousness, and language) to their classmates than to their homebound, uneducated mothers. In adopting the headscarf for Europe's public sphere, these girls are unintentionally altering the symbol and the role of Muslim women.
This tendency extends deeper than headscarves. All Western Muslims possess a double sense of belonging, a double cultural capital. They define themselves through their religiosity, but they also have gained universal, secular knowledge. Because they have a double cultural capital, they can circulate relatively freely between different activities and spaces -- home, school, youth associations and urban leisure space.
Being a Muslim and being an Islamist are not the same thing. What we are witnessing today is a shift from a Muslim identity to an Islamist identity. The religious self for individual Muslims is being shifted from the private to the public realm. The question for everyone is whether that search for identity can be satisfied with headscarves and wide public acceptance of Islamic religious practice, or if positive affirmation of Islam demands a more fundamental renunciation of modernity.
Nilufer Gole is directeur d'etudes, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. This column belongs to a series produced by a working group, named by European Commission President Romano Prodi and chaired by the rector of Vienna's Institute for Human Sciences, Krzysztof Michalski, charged with identifying the long-term spiritual and cultural perspectives of the enlarged Europe.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences
Since COVID-19 broke out in Taiwan, there has been a fair amount of news regarding discrimination and “witch hunts” against medical personnel, people under self-quarantine and other targets, such as the students of a school where an infection was discovered. Quarantine breakers are almost certainly on the loose and it is only natural for people to be vigilant. One in Chiayi was found by accident at a traffic stop because his helmet was not fastened. However, those who follow the rules by quarantining themselves should be encouraged to keep up the good work in a difficult situation, instead of being
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷) has said that there is a huge difference between Chinese military aircraft circling Taiwan along the edges of its airspace and invading Taiwan’s airspace. He also said that whether it is US or Chinese aircraft flying along or encircling Taiwan’s airspace, there is no legal basis to say that such actions imply a clear provocation of Taiwan, and asked the Ministry of National Defense not to mislead the public. People who hear this might think that it is not a very Taiwanese thing to say. US military activity in the vicinity of Taiwan
Burger King Taiwan on Wednesday last week posted an update on Facebook advertising a new “Wuhan pneumonia” (武漢肺炎) home delivery meal, catering to customers hankering for a Whopper, but who wished to avoid visiting one of its outlets. “Wuhan pneumonia” is the term commonly used in Taiwan to describe COVID-19. Beijing has been waging an extensive propaganda campaign against the use of the words “Wuhan” or “China” in reference to the novel coronavirus, calling it racist and discriminatory. Meanwhile, Chinese officials have claimed that the coronavirus might have originated in the US. The intention is obvious: to distract attention from the Chinese Communist
Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early-warning aircraft and Shenyang J-11 fighters on March 16 conducted a nighttime exercise in the waters southwest of Taiwan and, in doing so, came close to the nation’s air defense identification zone. Three days later, the PLA Navy’s fleet for Gulf of Aden escort mission sailed north in the Pacific off Taiwan’s east coast via the Miyako Strait on its way home. Meanwhile, the US carried out freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and assembled the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group with the Expeditionary Strike Group to conduct