Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism

Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism

Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism

Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism

Synopsis

In an era of ethnopolitical conflict and constitutional change worldwide, nationalist and Islamist movements are two of the most powerful forces in global politics. However, the respective roles played by nationalism and Islamism in Muslim separatist movements have until recently been poorly understood. The conventional view foregrounds Muslim exceptionalism, which suggests that allegiance to the nation of Islam trumps ethnic or national identity. But, as Tristan James Mabry shows, language can be a far more reliable indicator of a Muslim community's commitment to nationalist or Islamist struggles.

Drawing on fieldwork in Iraq, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism examines and compares the ethnopolitical identity of six Muslim separatist movements. There are variations in secularism and ethnonationalism among the cases, but the key factor is the presence or absence of a vernacular print culture--a social cement that binds a literate population together as a national group. Mabry shows that a strong print culture correlates with a strong ethnonational identity, and a strong ethnonational identity correlates with a conspicuous absence of Islamism. Thus, Islamism functions less as an incitement, more as an opportunistic pull with greater influence when citizens do not have a strong ethnonational bond. An innovative perspective firmly grounded in empirical research, Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism has important implications for scholars and policymakers alike.

Excerpt

The word exceptionalism was born of politics. In its earliest incarnation, the term was invariably prefaced by the qualifier American and used by leftist intellectuals to describe the apparently unique ability of the United States to avoid class warfare. Muslim exceptionalism, on the other hand, is a much younger term that first earned currency in political science in the 1990s (Pipes 1996). Yet it bears a conceptual pedigree that easily predates Karl Marx. The idea that something sets Muslim politics and society apart from the politics and society of everyone else is the hallmark of Orientalism, a one-way conversation started by European an elites in the eightteenth century (Irwin 2006). However, following the publication of Edward Said’s withering magnum opus Orientalism (1978), much self-conscious scholarship may have eschewed the idea of Muslim exceptionalism for fear of committing academic heresy or even a “thought crime” (Kramer 2006). This is clearly no longer the case.

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the general belief that all Muslim societies are built on the bedrock of a shared, immutable, and alien faith influenced “dominant attitudes in academia and, with much more devastating effects, in the media” (Filali-Ansary 1999, 18). These attitudes hardened in the 1990s, when some observers noted that Muslim countries missed the “Third Wave” of democratization in the 1980s (Huntington 1991, 281). Moreover, following “the end of history,” that is, the collapse of the Soviet Union (Fukuyama 1992), and the ideological bankruptcy of communism, autocratic regimes were replaced with representative governments everywhere, it seemed, except in the cradle of Islam, the Middle East (Salame 1994). In the years since 9/11, well-meaning Western proponents of interfaith tolerance— including academics, journalists, and policy makers—have tried to promote a more nuanced understanding of Islam and (to a lesser extent) the diversity of the Muslim world. Yet there remains a per sis tent view—on both sides of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.