Modernization of the Islamic World
The historical forces that produced Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and a look at U.S. involvement in the Muslim world.
BY: Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'
The third major response was Islamic revivalism. One has to consider three types of Islamic revival: Pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. Wahabiyyah in Saudi Arabia is a pre-colonial Islamic movement which reacted to internal Muslim decadence and sought to revive Islamic practices in the light of a strict adherence to Islamic law and theology. To do so, the charismatic figure Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahab allied himself with the Saudi family, which led to the creation of the modern Saudi state as we know it nowadays.
Wahabiyyah is the wedding of Islamic activism and political activism. However, one could see a number of cracks in this alliance between formal religion and state in Saudi Arabia, especially after the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Because of the unlimited oil resources Saudi Arabia has, the modern Saudi nation-state under the leadership of the family was able to launch a very ambitious modernization program in the 1970s which created a brand new class of Saudi modernizers who opted to Westernize their society.
However, the Saudi family created modernization without any indigenous form of modernism, without an Islamic version of modernism. Its version was copied from the Western version. In addition the religious classes in society began to be wary of the short and long-term impact on religious values. Bin Laden was the product of this huge tension between Saudi modernization and Islamic values, between Saudi modernization that was imposed by the power of the tribe and Islamic values. Although he was a force in this modernization, he realized early on that it would lead to the destabilization of Islamic Saudi society, and hence his revolt against this historical alliance between the forces of capitalist modernization and the Saudi monarchy that refused to give away its financial and political positions. Bin Laden is an important phenomenon in contemporary Muslim societies; he exemplifies a charismatic generation that is the product of a tense encounter between tradition and modernity.
The Taliban is a post-colonial movement, as well. However, the Taliban movement arose in a highly traditional society that did not have a chance to modernize. The Taliban was born in a big vacuum, against the background of the disintegration of Afghani society after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the American, Saudi, and Pakistani intervention in support of the Mujahiddin against the Soviets. Afghanistan was the last battleground in the Cold War era, in which the USA defeated its historical enemy, the Soviet Union. After that defeat was achieved, Afghanistan was left alone to tend to its profuse wounds. The beautiful people of Afghanistan had suffered a great deal in the 20th century, and after the defeat of the Soviet Union, the superpowers forgot about Afghanistan, which disappeared from our globalized mass media.
Ten years ago, only a few people heard of the Taliban. But as a movement, it arose, not just out of the ranks of traditional Islamic madrasas, but in response to the violence of the state represented by the Afghani state that was the ally of the Soviet Union. The Taliban stress in their historical narrative of their origin that there main aims were: to stop violence and chaos in the country, to stop any form of foreign intervention, and to restore the dignity to the common people, to the masses, refugees, and women. Ordinary people began to raise their voices. Those who were victims of atrocities committed by the warlords turned their attention to those who first issued the Fatwa (religious order) of Jihad, i.e., the religious scholars, and those who led them in the prosecution of this order, i.e., the Taliban. The people asked: " Why do our religious scholars and students, who preach justice and peace, not do something to save us from injustice and war?" The Taliban, who were students of religion and who thought that learning the religious text was more sacred than martyrdom, took upon themselves to restore order to the shattered Afghani society.