Friday, 9 September 2011

9/11 ten years on: the reinvention of Islam

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Illustration by Martin Rowson
Many words have, of course, been written to mark the ten year anniversary of September 11, and you're unlikely to find time to read them all. Nevertheless, we'd like to draw your attention to what we think is a wonderful essay on the subject in the current issue of New Humanist by the historian Stephen Howe.

Howe examines the global impact of the attacks on New York and Washington and argues that the greatest, and most dangerous, change to the world has been the emergence of "Islam" as a monolithic cultural identity – a change brought about both by Islamists and their enemies:
"Perhaps the greatest political and intellectual change since 9/11, then, has been this: the reinvention of Islam, both by many of its adherents and by those who view it from outside, and often with fear or hostility. That change has not come only since, let alone because of, 9/11. It had been in process, more slowly, unevenly and hesitantly, for some time: in Britain, arguably at least since the Satanic Verses controversy. But in the new century it seemed suddenly to accelerate, to become global and ubiquitous. The idea of a worldwide Islamic ummah, as something far more than a simple religious attachment, indeed something like a “people” or a “nation”, politically self-conscious, essentially uniform (at least in some versions) across both time and space, took hold. Like Communism, but unlike almost any other “alternative” to capitalist modernity, political Islam came to be seen as a supposedly rival universalism to that (or those) of the West. In that, it stands virtually alone – and certainly in unique prominence. And even though Islamism evidently functions in many parts of the world as a form of – or perhaps surrogate for – cultural nationalism, the central thrust of the ideology is determinedly antinationalist, decreeing loyalties far more inclusive and compelling than any more localised identity-claim."
Read the full essay on the New Humanist website.
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