A RADICAL ISLAMIST CONCEPT OF CONFLICT
Lew B. Ware
The “new world order” is as much a term of uncertain significance for the nations of the Middle East as it is a representation of the profound ambiguity that today qualifies the reconceptualization of the international political system. Statism and pan-Arabism, for so long a comfortable context for the evolution of the regional social and political order, can no longer be considered exclusive formulas for the comprehensive solution of contemporary Middle Eastern socio-political ills. Only religious nationalism, as the primary competitor of statism and pan-Arabism for regional dominance, has demanded the right to define both the place and the meaning of the Middle East in the “new world order” and to recast its options in radically different political terms.
Of course, the appearance of religious nationalism in the Middle East is not new. During the past century and one half of Middle Eastern history, the politicization of Islam has played an important part in crafting the response of Middle Easterners to colonialism and nation-building. What is new is the demonstrably radical solution that, in the name of a rejuvenated faith, religious nationalism offers to meet the challenge that the “new world order” presents to a traditionalist Islam allegedly betrayed by secular philosophies. We in the West have been content inaccurately to label this challenge “fundamentalist.” The nature of the challenge from religious nationalism clearly indicates that it embraces a revolutionary ideology the definition of which the indeterminate nature of Islamic fundamentalism simply cannot encompass. We are not talking here about the various aspects of reformism as ideology in terms of which Islamic fundamentalism is commonly qualified. We are talking, on the contrary, about radical Islamism, an activist and nationalist religio-political force that has been evolving since the early decades of this century, has had its epiphany in the Iranian revolution of 1979, and which continues today to exert an important influence on contemporary Middle Eastern society. Underpinning radical Islamist activism and justifying its use of violence is jihad, a theoretical and practical concept of conflict whose roots stretch back to the very earliest days of the Islamic ecumene which Islamism has revived and now employs to serve the purpose of reshaping the regional political landscape.
The author of this chapter proposes to trace the historical evolution of the meaning of Islamic jihad, demonstrate in what ways it has been radicalized, especially by Khomeini and Hizbollah, and to pose the question of its importance for the stability of the post-Gulf War regional environment. To