Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism

Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism

Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism

Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism

Synopsis

A firm grasp of Islamic fundamentalism has often eluded Western political observers, many of whom view it in relation to social and economic upheaval or explain it away as an irrational reaction to modernity. Here Roxanne Euben makes new sense of this belief system by revealing it as a critique of and rebuttal to rationalist discourse and post-Enlightenment political theories. Euben draws on political, postmodernist, and critical theory, as well as Middle Eastern studies, Islamic thought, comparative politics, and anthropology, to situate Islamic fundamentalist thought within a transcultural theoretical context. In so doing, she illuminates an unexplored dimension of the Islamist movement and holds a mirror up to anxieties within contemporary Western political thought about the nature and limits of modern rationalism--anxieties common to Christian fundamentalists, postmodernists, conservatives, and communitarians.

A comparison between Islamic fundamentalism and various Western critiques of rationalism yields formerly uncharted connections between Western and Islamic political thought, allowing the author to reclaim an understanding

Excerpt

This book reflects the nexus of two political and intellectual interests or, perhaps I should say, preoccupations. The first interest really presented itself to me as a question, sparked by a paradox in contemporary politics: why is it that secular liberal democracies such as the United States are witnessing sharply decliningrates of voter turnout and increasingalienation from politics at the very moment that religio-political movements are galvanizing peoples into extraordinary attempts to remake the political world? For observers who see in the fall of the Berlin Wall the triumph of democracy or, at the very least, the triumph of the liberal capitalist state, this might seem an inappropriate question. Yet it is by now well recognized that the end of the Cold War has not revealed such a tidy landscape; those who wish it did, it seems, must attend to precisely these political paradoxes. This is especially so because in the late twentieth century it has become almost commonplace to unmask science, secularism, and rational accounts of nature and human nature as but several narratives amongmany that may or may not capture partial truths about the world in which human beings live. Such claims suggest that the search for knowledge must include forays into experiences and phenomena heretofore forced into the shadows by the discourse of rationality. Religious experiences and answers to questions about what makes life worth living, how humans ought to live, and what institutions are best for livingwith each other—experiences once relegated by reason to the periphery of politics or consigned to a period of historical immaturity—now press upon the consciousness of a remarkable variety of political actors, commentators, and intellectuals across cultures, demandingand receivingnew consideration.

The second interest arises from a tension within Western political theory. This is a tension between, on the one hand, political theorists' aspirations to engage questions about the nature and value of politics that, if not universal, are at least pressingto a broad range of peoples and cultures and, on the other, a political theory canon almost exclusively devoted to Western texts. Such an observation has been the occasion for a myriad of debates about multiculturalism and the canon in countless academic fields. This tension at no time suggested to me that political theory must fail to illuminate the broader world in which human beings live; on the contrary, my central argument is that this tension can recall students of politics to the promise contained in an older, yet never quite lost, understandingof theory as inherently comparative, one defined by certain questions about livingtogether rather than particular answers.

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