Analysis of Fukuyama’s article on Islamic radicalism

The operative theory in Francis Fukuyama’s November 2 article in Opinion Journal is alienation triggered by modernization. The Muslims in Europe have been separated from traditional Muslim communities, where their identity and way of life are a given, and placed or born in Western societies where they have no inherited culture but must choose their Muslim identity. And, as often happens when people choose a religion rather than merely inherit it as part of their cultural/social environment, they adopt the pure doctrinal core of the religion.

I am in agreement with Fukuyama thus far. It is true that a reversion to serious Islam, a.k.a. Islamic radicalism, is often a result of Muslim immigration into the West. Thus the London bombers were raised in weakly Muslim or non-observant Muslim families, and then, in fury against Britain because of Britain’s war with Iraq, and in total alienation from Britain, returned to Islam. Not the Islam of a Muslim living in some Muslim village where the religion and way of life simply exist, but the true, fighting Islam, the Islam of Muhammad, which he developed in a society dominated by non-Muslims who despised Islam, a fact that forever shaped Islam as a fighting faith driven by a passion for revenge against the infidel.

However, the problem that immediately becomes apparent with Fukuyama’s explanation is that he acts as though Islamic radicalism is solely a product of Muslims immigration into the West. In reality, of course, there are lots of devout, true, militant, jihadist, and terrorist Muslims in Arab and Muslim countries as well. Think Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia. So Fukuyama’s theory is not a well-rounded theory of militant Islam, but is very one-sided, focused on the interaction between Muslim immigrant communities and their host societies in the West. Why is this? The answer, I suspect, has to do with the recent ideological split within the neoconservative camp, which led Fukuyama to leave The National Interest and form his own journal, The American Interest. The disagreement is over the fact that Fukuyama is far more critical of President Bush’s Iraq policy than other neocons such as Charles Krauthammer, and thinks we need to be much more cautious about spreading democracy to Muslim countries. Therefore he is portraying radical Islam as a Western problem, while ignoring it as a Mideastern problem. His theory is situational, intended to undermine the premises of the Bush policy and distinguish his own position from that of his fellow neocons who are still in the pro-Bush camp. (As another example of the situational rather than principled considerations that appear to drive Fukuyama in this debate, let us also note that prior to 2001, he was touting the assimilability of non-Western immigrants, and he didn’t except Muslims from this rosy scenario, a fact that he fails to mention in his current article.)

In any case, starting from his assumption that true or radical Islam is exclusively a product of alienated Muslim immigrant communities in the West, Fukuyama develops the idea of alienated individuals seeking radical solutions into his ruling paradigm, which not only explains Muslim radicalism, but makes that radicalism a mere subset of that alienation.

… the challenge that Islamism represents is not a strange and unfamiliar one. Rapid transition to modernity has long spawned radicalization; we have seen the exact same forms of alienation among those young people who in earlier generations became anarchists, Bolsheviks, fascists or members of the Bader-Meinhof gang. The ideology changes but the underlying psychology does not. [italics added]

So, Fukuyama, neocon theorist, has found his theory—radical Islam is merely another species of the totalitarian romantic/revolutionary impulse that is so familiar in the history of the modern West. Also, while Fukuyama says that Islamic radicalism is a combination of religion and modern alienation, he doesn’t mean it. What he really means is that radical Islam is spawned by modern alienation, and has nothing to do with religion. How comforting, how satisfying. Fukuyama no longer needs to learn anything specific about Islam, its sacred works, its authoritative doctrines, and its history and practices. He already has a category—a nice, familiar, Western category—into which to fit Muslim radicalism.

Having determined that the problem of radical Islam is a product of modern Western alienation rather than the uniquely Islamic experience of finding oneself as a Muslim living in an infidel society, Fukuyama must find a solution to this radicalism that will fit with yet another comforting, familiar idea that intellectuals of his type are skilled at promoting. What is that idea? American-style assimilation, which (as tattered as it actually is) he holds up as an ideal against European-style multiculturalism. The Europeans separated the Muslims from mainstream society, validating and giving rights to their culture, but otherwise severing them from any vital participation in the mainstream culture. But America, oh America, that’s the ticket. That’s the country that has the answer. America believes in assimilation and individualism. Fukuyama lightly skims over the fact that radical Islam is a problem here as well as in Europe (though obviously not yet as bad as in Europe).

We arrive finally at Fukuyama’s clueless proposal for a solution to Europe’s Muslim crisis:

Two things need to happen: First, countries like Holland and Britain need to reverse the counterproductive multiculturalist policies that sheltered radicalism, and crack down on extremists. But second, they also need to reformulate their definitions of national identity to be more accepting of people from non-Western backgrounds.

But the much more difficult problem remains of fashioning a national identity that will connect citizens of all religions and ethnicities in a common democratic culture, as the American creed has served to unite new immigrants to the United States.

First, Fukuyama is wrong when he says that the rioting Muslims of France want to be included in France. He has no grasp of the fact, evidenced by French Muslims’ own statements, that they are asserting their own Muslim identity, and indeed a claim to quasi-sovereign control of Muslim populated areas, against and apart from France. Second, his tossed-off conclusion—let’s find some way to fit a square peg, Islam, into a round hole, the West, we don’t know what the way is, but we’ll come up with something—demonstrates his utter superficiality and lack of seriousness. As long as people refuse to see the reality of civilizational/cultural/racial differences in general, and the radical incompatibility of Islam with the West in particular, they will keep producing one off-base explanation of the Muslim problem after another, and one useless “solution” after another, as Fukuyama’s article amply demonstrates.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 08, 2005 11:52 AM | Send

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