Westernization as Cultural Trauma: Egyptian Radical Islamist Discourse on Religious Education

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article, the relation between the Westernization experience and the radical Islamists reaction in Egypt is examined. It is argued that it is necessary to focus on the historical imagination of Westernization to understand the Egyptian reaction as manifested in Islamist religious educational discourse. The historical imagination appears to be based on a traumatic experience which was triggered by a traumatic event, namely British colonialism. The religious educational discourse in Egypt, an opportune case to observe radical Islamist response to the trauma experience, is found to be a mediating structure between the historical experience and the Islamist reaction. The study indicates that emic categories and societal emotions play a significant role in this mediation.

Keywords: Cultural Trauma, Radical Islamism, Religious Education, Westernization, Colonialism, Egypt

Introduction

The rise of radical Islamist education in various parts of the Islamic world is often presented as simply a reaction to the impact and experience of Westernization by a wide range of researchers including proponents of political Islam.1 It is not uncommon to observe that those who advocate for Islamist education repeatedly refer to the ill effects of Westernization in their discourse.2 Seyyed Husain Nasr, for example, argues that the Western sciences are a "cancer."3 The view that there is a straightforward and causal link between the experiences of Westernization and the religious reaction is frequently borrowed by other scholars studying the phenomenon. Since the nature of the interaction between Westernization and Islamist reaction, and the mediating structures, agencies, and discourses are thought to be evident, they rarely receive the critical scrutiny they deserve. This article, therefore, aims to problematize the linkage between Westernization and political Islam's challenge through education by pointing to the various ways in which mediating structures, agencies, and discourses have been influential in constituting the Islamist "reaction." We specifically examine a range of radical Islamist emic categories that play a crucial role in this mediation through the constitutive role they play in shaping the practice, discourse, and agency of radical Islamists in general. Our goal is to demonstrate that the linkage between Westernization and Islamist reaction is not straightforward, and therefore, cannot be taken for granted.

In the imagination of Egyptian radical Islamists, the experience of Westernization is associated with the event of British colonialism and the subsequent developments. Islamist reaction to Westernization, however, does not solely target colonialism but also the post-colonial state. Nikki Keddie, for example, argues that the "Islamist reaction in the Middle East" was directed more against post-colonial states than colonial states since the former's actions were "perceived as tyrannical and anti-Islamic."4 According to Keddie, the reason behind this is the fact that "[p]ost-colonial states often interfere with all aspects of life more than did colonizers, who were wary about interfering with personal and family arrangements."5 It is true that various contemporary Islamist movements present alternative institutions, policies, and social order to current post-colonial states and regimes.6 This, however, does not result in a singular discursive attack of the radical Islamists on the post-colonial state. On the contrary, the post-colonial state is seen as a pawn and manifestation of (neo)colonial domination. Although we agree with Keddie that radical Islamist reaction poses a significant challenge to the post-colonial state, we argue that the scope of radical Islamist imagination and discourse transcends the confines of post-colonial state and encompasses colonialism and the experience of Westernization.

Cultural Trauma

In this article, we conceptualize the historical experience of Westernization in Egypt as a "cultural trauma. …