Eric Rouleau Discusses Political Islamic Movement at UCLA Conference on "Fundamentalism"

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Eric Rouleau Discusses Political Islamic Movement At UCLA Conference "Fundamentalism"

One of the first things Prof. Afaf Marsot accomplished after her appointment as associate director of UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies was to schedule an international symposium, entitled "Whither Islamic Fundamentalism?"

The Feb. 10 conference dealt with fundamentalist movements of the past, the present and their effects on women.

Journalist Eric Rouleau, who served as France's ambassador to Turkey and Tunisia, addressed the topic of "Political Realities of Fundamentalism."

Prefacing his remarks with the precept that all Muslims see themselves as fundamentalists, Rouleau said he preferred to use the phrase "political Islamists." And, he stressed, these movements reflect social forces within their countries.

"The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt today has changed tremendously from the Ikhwan of the 1940s and '50s," he said. "Likewise, the people who brought about the Iranian revolution are not the same individuals you meet there today."

Political Islamist movements tend to be generated by a national crisis, Rouleau asserted. Drawing upon examples, he said that in Egypt after the 1967 war, people turned to the mosque because they were told the Jews were victorious because they stuck to their religion. In Iran, as the masses rejected the shah, the political vacuum that existed because political parties had not been allowed made it easy for the Ayatollah Khomeini to emerge as a leader. In Algeria, the people could not stand up to the corrupt FLN regime and turned to Islamic leaders who decried FLN policies.

"Islamic parties can be conservative or progressive, but they must appeal to society," he continued. "This can be done by defending social justice, by demanding that the economically excluded will participate in government."

These groups tend to call for a Western model of democracy, but they don't use that term and instead talk about human rights and Islamic identity, he explained. Often they attempt to integrate Islamic ethics into their programs while more conservative groups may include the role of women into their agendas.

The most notable change in recent years, Rouleau opined, is that outlawed movements are ready for democracy.

"Violence led them nowhere, it didn't enable them to take over the government. …