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The Future of Political Islam

Session I-01, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 3:00 pm

RoundTable Description
Since the 2011 Arab revolutions and the Syrian conflict, new questions on the role of political Islam have emerged. The access to power of Islamic political parties, with very contrasted results across countries, have led to reconsider some dominant approaches, like the paradigm of inclusion-moderation or social movement theories. Common conceptions of Islam and the nation-state as incompatible or in conflict have come under review. With the rise of ISIS and its attempt to create a caliphate, the distinctions between religion and politics, national and international have been more than ever challenged. The thematic conversation assesses the limits or blind spot of the existing literature and discuss new scholarship with a particular focus on Islamic governance, religious institutions and political Islam as well as international and regional disparities of Islamic mobilization. In the 2020 and 2021 meetings, it has addressed the following questions: Is political Islam decipherable through the tenets of the Islamic tradition--or is it a tool of secular actors who shrewdly misuse religious references? Are Islamism and Political Islam synonymous? In 2022, the focus will be on the intersections between political Islam and populism. It will explore the following questions: Just what is Islamic populism and how does it compare with other varieties of political Islam and Muslim public ethics? How does Islamic populism resemble and/or contrast with religious populism and religious nationalism in other religious traditions? How does Islamic populism engage and redefine non-religious varieties of nationalism ? Drawing on the disciplines of political science, sociology, and anthropology, the participants in this round table will offer analyses and juxtapositions on Islamic populism in different countries of the world, including Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia, among other.
Political Science
  • Islamic populism: Indonesia and the Middle East Compared The presentation discusses a particular conception of Islamic populism, whereby the idea of the ‘ummah’ substitutes for the ‘people’ usually associated with mainstream forms of populism. The ummah is understood as being composed of the morally upright but socio-economically and culturally marginalised, in relation to rapacious and/or culturally aloof elites. It is suggested that Islamic populism gains strength when it is able to articulate cross-class aspirations and grievances, and therefore resonate with sections of the urban poor, the educated middle class and even the bourgeoisie. These ideas are examined in relation to the case of Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world but where Islamic populism has struggled to make real headway and to cases in the Middle East.
  • Political Islam or Islamic populism? Based on the rising literature on religious populism in Europe and the USA, this presentation will debate the heuristic value of revisiting Political Islam as religious populism by looking at the conceptions of the People promoted by Islamic parties like Jamaa’t Islamiyaa in Pakistan or Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as by state leaders like Saddam Hussain and Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
  • Since 1998-1999, Indonesia has undergone a successful return to electoral democracy and a more open public sphere. But the country has also witnessed an upsurge in Islamist populism. In my remarks, I examine the root causes of Islamist populism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy. I emphasize that a key feature of Islamic populism has been a pattern of epistemological populism. The latter is marked not just by attacks on Muslim democrats, but by efforts to delegitimate the cosmopolitan cultural apparatus for knowing Islam that has allowed Muslim democrats to affirm the compatibility of Islam with multireligious citizenship.
  • Faith in Populism: Comparative Insights? This contribution offers an assessment of how Turkey's Justice and Development Party and its leader and current president of Turkey, Erdogan, deploys Islam in his political appeal by using his public speeches. My analysis draws on a content analysis of the texts of around 600 Erdogan's available speeches. I broaden my assessment of Erdogan's use of Islam by comparing his approach to the ways Russia's Putin and India's Modi refer to religious ideas and symbols in their political discourses. Mirroring my analysis of Erdogan's speeches, this part of the argument uses a systematic analysis of Modi and Putin's official speeches. The comparison of Erdogan, Modi, and Putin's populisms draws attention to different variants of populism based on the religiously defined peoples, aspirations and the idealized global role-- precarity-centered messianic populism (religious and security-based populism), developmental-nationalist populism (growth-centered populism), redemptive pioneering-populism (populism that seeks to restore the lost global role), respectively. The findings emphasize why careful contextualization and precising of populism through inductive comparative studies are needed to understand how populist discourses operate, justify a wide range of otherwise contradictory policies, and explain the leaders' resiliency.
  • Islamist Civilizationalism and how it compares with the European versions Civilizationalism is a form of discourse that uses a religio-civilizational classification of peoples in order to define national identity. In the 21st century, across a variety of democratic political contexts, civilizationalism has become a component of political rhetoric. Governing parties in India, Turkey, Pakistan, Hungary, Poland, and Brazil, as well as opposition and minor parties and individual politicians in Western Europe, Indonesia, and Australia, have achieved political and electoral success using civilizationalist rhetoric. Much of this civilizational rhetoric has come from populist parties, movements, and politicians. I will discuss the role civilizationalism plays in populist rhetoric, and the manner in which religion and religious identity is instrumentalized by populists to create a sense, among the public, that their culture and identity are by people from foreign civilizations and their religion and/or values. I will present a brief survey of manifestations of civilizationalism in Europe and the Muslim World, and compare how populists in these parts of the world have added civilizationalism into their discourses.