Illustration by Abro

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a steady stream of academic literature began to appear in Europe and the United States, claiming that religion was making a comeback in the West.

But the early installments of this literature were eclipsed by the academic literature which claimed that “the collapse of communism” would usher in the dawn of a global democracy. Indeed, many dictatorial regimes have started to erode. And most countries have started to embrace democracy.

However, by the early 2000s it became clear that the new democracies were not evolving into liberal democracies as hoped, but into systems of “illiberal democracy” – a term coined in 1997 by American political commentator Fareed Zakaria. . Some also call this phenomenon “electoral authoritarianism”, in which elections do not stand up to democratic standards of freedom and fairness, and are meant to give dictatorial figures only “democratic legitimacy”.

As the optimistic post-Cold War theory of the global proliferation of liberal democracy crumbled, the quality of democracy in various established strongholds of liberal democracy, in Europe and the United States, also began to decline. alarmingly declining.

By shrinking secular spaces and expanding “Islamic” influences, many Muslim states have fragmented under the pressure of proliferating radicalization. There is a lesson in this for the West too

In the 2010s, with the eruption of populism in established Western democracies, the debate has now turned inward to investigate the causes of the decline. And since there is also an element of “Christian fundamentalism” attached to this populism, the debates also gave rise to studies which had predicted the rise of religion in the absence of a global Communist counterweight. Many books and studies are emerging on the revival of religion and the links of this phenomenon with politics in the United States and in Europe.

Read: Smokers’ Corner – The Deadly Mix of Religion and Politics

At the turn of the 20th century, influential German sociologist Max Weber predicted that a focus on science and reason would push religion completely into the private sphere. He based his prognosis on the speed with which economic and political modernization took place, and the way in which the secularization of politics and societies was accelerating (since the 18th century).

The idea of ​​”developed” countries is based on Weber’s theory of “modernization”, which poses a model of transition from a pre-modern society to a modern society. Modern societies, in this context, are secular and supported by modern economic modes.

Weber’s theory has become a leading paradigm in sociology, and for good reason. Until the 1960s, there was sufficient evidence to conclude that most regions in transition or “developing” aspired to adopt the theory of modernization. However, from the 1980s onwards, some academics began to question the claim of the theory that the modernization model would make religion completely private.

In 1984, Richard J. Neuhaus, in his book “The Naked Public Square”, declared that America had entered a “post-secular era”. Much of Neuhaus’s observations were based on the growing influence and politicization of evangelical Christians in the United States, during the conservative presidency of Ronald Reagan.

In the early 2000s, men like the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (in his magnum opus A Secular Age) argued that secularism had become extremely pluralistic and did not discourage coexistence with religion in the public sphere, as it has. did until the 1960s. Scholars writing about the post-secular condition also began to investigate Islamic revivals in the Muslim world.

But the question is, why did most post-secular Western theorists take so long to investigate something that had already started to take shape in various Muslim countries years ago? Indeed, from the 1940s onwards, a majority of newly formed nation-states in Muslim regions had enthusiastically adopted models of economic and social modernization, even if this was not their democratic dimensions.

Secularism, or at least modified versions of it, came with the modernization package. But, by the end of the 1960s, such models in these regions began to crumble, mainly because of economic mismanagement, losses in wars, refusal to introduce democracy and, ultimately, frustrations. consecutive to the growing population of these countries.

For example, in Egypt and Pakistan, the modernization model was adopted and applied after placing it in the context of Arab nationalism (Egypt) and Pakistani nationalism. But it began to erode from the late 1960s. Egypt suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of sworn enemy Israel in 1967 and Pakistan at the hands of sworn enemy India in 1971 .

The trajectory of the two countries towards Islamic revival would be similar. First, the shock and humiliation of defeat saw more and more people “Islamize” their personal lives and second, a steady increase in the number of people visiting mosques to pray. Islamist political groups, which had been suppressed or sidelined, surfaced and were given more opportunities to print and publish their propaganda literature. They demanded an end to “forced modernization” and the imposition of Sharia laws.

A defeated state began to cede more and more space to the Islamists, even going so far as to co-opt and transform many Islamist statements into politics. The same thing happened in socialist-secular Somalia when it lost a war with Ethiopia. And then, in 1979, the “Islamic revolution” in Iran erupted as a radical expression against the “tyrannical modernization policies” of the Shah.

The anti-Communist insurgency in Afghanistan by Islamist militants in the 1980s gave new impetus to the evangelical and social dimensions of Islamic renewal. It then turned revivalism into a poignant political expression.

In the 1990s and 2000s, most Muslim regions were ravaged by Islamist terrorism. States struggled to establish their hesitant mandate, even though they had “Islamized” themselves. Models of modernization may have failed, but their Islamist alternatives continued to sink into chaos.

A plethora of Muslim states that had attempted to reclaim Islamist influence by reducing secular spaces and expanding “Islamic” influences found themselves trapped. They felt trapped because their policies not only failed to stem the tide of Islamist radicalization, but also stopped any attempts by states to revert to a more moderate, let alone secular disposition.

There is much to be learned by post-secular scholars in the West from this example. Taylor believes that pluralism is healthy and will eventually lead to a peaceful coexistence of the sacred and the profane in public spaces.

It might well, because the democratic systems in place in Europe and the United States are seen as strong enough to neutralize a possible rise in religious activism. But recent studies have also suggested that some major democratic systems in Europe and the United States are facing serious crises and existential degradation.

Those concerned should keep an eye out for how an increase in religiosity in Muslim regions ended up mutating not only to push states to become more and more radical, but also began to tear those states apart.

Posted in Dawn, EOS, December 19, 2021

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