Summary for the September 4 to 9, 2005
Islamic Fundamentalism Conference
Hosted by Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR)
Written by Jacob Sherman
Introduction and Biographies
The Esalen Center for Theory and Research and its ally in this regard, TRACK TWO: A Center for Citizen Diplomacy, have a long, genuinely distinguished history of citizen intervention in arenas of conflict and mutual misunderstanding. Under the standard of peace, civility, and friendship based upon a common humanity, CTR and TRACK TWO helped give birth to the practice of citizen diplomacy, and it was in the Big House that this practice was first dubbed ‘TRACK TWO’. The results of this activity have been commented upon both in the popular press and in scholarly considerations of Esalen’s history and importance. But is there a role for TRACK TWO diplomacy in a world without the Iron Curtain? If the activities of Sept. 4 -9, 2005 are any indication, then the answer is a decisive ‘Yes’. Citizen diplomacy is not only alive and well, it is also fruitful, crucial, and it still finds a home at Esalen.
For five days in early September, activists, political psychologists, media personalities, and religious leaders gathered in the Big House to strategize, educate one another, and develop friendships with the intention of addressing one of the crucial diplomatic issues of our day: the global rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The participants who gathered brought both intelligence and the will to act with wisdom. This was not a conference content to theorize, but a gathering of those who make a difference. Those who joined us in the Big House for that first full week in September included:
- Asma Afsaruddin, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Department of Classics at the University of Notre Dame and previously taught at Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities. Her fields of specialization are the religious and political thought of Islam, Qur’an and hadith studies, Islamic intellectual history, and gender studies. She is the author of Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002), the editor of Hermeneutics and Honor: Negotiation of Female “Public” Space in Islamic/ate Societies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1999), and co-editor (with Mathias Zahniser) of Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East : Essays in Honor of Georg Krotkoff (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Ind., 1997). She has also written over fifty research articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries on various aspects of Islamic thought and has lectured widely in this country and abroad. In fall 2003, Afsaruddin was a visiting scholar at the Centre for Islamic Studies at the School for Oriental and African Studies, London, UK, and was previously a fellow at the American Research Center of Egypt, Cairo and the American Research Institute of Turkey, Istanbul. Afsaruddin is chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, and serves on the advisory board of Karamah, a human and women’s rights organization, and on the advisory committee for the Muslim World Initiative of the United States Institute of Peace, all based in Washington, D.C. Among her current research projects is a specially commissioned monograph on the history of early Muslims and a book manuscript about competing perspectives on jihad and martyrdom in pre-modern and modern Islamic thought.
- R. Scott Appleby, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, where he also serves as the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. From 1993 to 2002 Appleby directed Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. From 1988 to 1993 he was co-director of the Fundamentalism Project, an international public policy study conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. From 1982 to 1987 he chaired the religious studies department of St. Xavier College, Chicago. A historian of religion who earned the Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1985), Appleby is the author of The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000); and co-author, with Gabriel Almond and Emmanuel Sivan, of Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World (Chicago, 2003). Appleby is also the editor of Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East (1997) and the co-editor, with Martin E. Marty, of the University of Chicago Press series on global fundamentalisms, which won the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion. Essays and articles by Professor Appleby have appeared in Foreign Policy, Harvard Theological Review, Journal of American History, The New York Times Book Review, American Journal of Education, Lingua Franca, The Review of Politics, Church History, The Christian Century, America, Commonweal, U.S. Catholic and U.S. Catholic Historian. A consultant for the PBS film and NPR radio series on the topic, Appleby co-authored the companion book, The Glory and the Power: The Fundamentalist Challenge to the Modern World. A fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, he holds a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Scranton (1998) and from Fordham University (2004).
- Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini, imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, founder and director of the Assadiq Foundation (a Muslim community center) in Southern California (1996-2004), and the founder of Development and Relief Foundation, an organization devoted to bring quality education to the children of Iraq. Born in Iraq (1958) to a prominent religious family, Imam Ghazvini earned his BA in political science from Tehran University, Iran (1990), Certificate (equivalent to Master) of Islamic Theology from the Islamic Seminary in Qum, Iran (1994), and MBA from University of La Verne, California (2003). He is a member of the board of trustees at the Ahlul Bait University in Karbala, Iraq – a private university established 2003. He has Participated in more than 25 national and international conferences about Islam, and the Middle East. Imam Ghazvini is a strong advocate of interfaith dialogue and co-operation for the protection of the family, the environment and for peace awareness.
- Graham E. Fuller, currently an independent writer, analyst, lecturer and consultant on Muslim World affairs and Adjunct Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He received his BA and MA at Harvard University in Russian and Middle Eastern studies. He served 20 years in the Foreign Service, mostly the Muslim world, working in Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, North Yemen, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong. In 1982 he was appointed the National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asia at CIA, and in 1986 Vice-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at CIA, with overall responsibility for all national level strategic forecasting. In 1988 Mr. Fuller left government and joined the RAND Corporation where he was a Senior Political Scientist for 12 years. His research focused primarily on the Middle East, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and problems of ethnicity and religion In politics. His studies for RAND include a provocative 1991 study on the geopolitical implications of the Palestinian Intifada; a series of studies on Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria; the survivability of Iraq; the New Geopolitics of Central Asia after the fall of the USSR; and problems of democratization and Islam. He is author of numerous articles and books, including The Future of Political Islam, (Palgrave, 2003). Mr. Fuller has been a regular op-ed contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Christian Science Monitor. He has appeared frequently on ABC’s Nightline, ABC Evening News, CNN, PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and Fox Television News; and comments regularly for BBC radio, Voice of America and other news stations. He has an extensive knowledge of foreign languages including Russian, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese, and is the author of the popular book How to Learn a Foreign Language.
- Shadi Hamid was, this past year, a Fulbright Fellow in Amman, Jordan, conducting field research on Islamist participation in the democratic process. Hamid was previously Legislative Fellow at the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, where he worked on Middle East policy. His articles have appeared in numerous venues both in the US and abroad including, most recently, the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Post, The Jordan Times, The Daily Star, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, and Insight Turkey. His article “The Moderating Effect of Democratization on the Islamic Movement in Jordan” will be published by Cambridge Scholars Press in the forthcoming book From Islamic Theology to Muslim Politics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Dialogue. Hamid has also been co-founder of two organizations, Muslims for John Kerry and the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, both of which have aimed to promote greater Muslim involvement in the American political process. A recent recipient of the David L. Boren Fellowship, Hamid is currently completing his Master’s degree at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
- Claire Hoffman, a reporter for the Business section of the Los Angeles Times. She graduated this June from the University of Chicago Divinity School, with a masters in religious studies, focusing on religion and politics. In May of 2004, Claire finished the masters program at the Columbia School of Journalism, where she began work on a book about growing up inside the Transcendental Meditation Movement, which is based in a small farming town in Iowa. While in New York, Claire worked as a freelance reporter for the New York Times, and as a researcher in their investigative department. While working at the New York Times, she contributed reporting to a Pulitzer-prize winning series that investigated fraud and death by the American freight railroads. She hopes to someday cover global religions as a beat.
- Shamil Idriss, Senior Adviser for Islamic-Western Relations Programs for the World Economic Forum and for the international conflict resolution organization, Search for Common Ground (SFCG). He serves on the Coordinating Committee and the Secretariat of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders, which convenes political, corporate, religious, and academic leaders from predominantly Muslim countries, the U.S. , and Western Europe to initiate projects that foster Islamic-Western understanding. Prior to his current position, Mr. Idriss served as SFCG’s Chief Operating Officer from 2000-2004, managing the organization’s global operations and its headquarters in Washington, DC. He coordinated some of the first projects under SFCG’s US-Iran initiative, an effort to improve American-Iranian relations that started with facilitation of the first public visit of Americans to Iran since the 1979 revolution – the American National Wrestling Team’s visit to Tehran in 1999. From 1999-2000 he served as Director of SFCG’s Burundi Program, managing projects of Hutu-Tutsi ethnic cooperation, including the first independent multi-ethnic radio outlet in Burundi, Studio Ijambo. Mr. Idriss has published numerous articles in German, South African, Arab, and American journals and newspapers.
- Radwan A. Masmoudi, the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting freedom, democracy, and good governance in the Arab/Muslim world. Under his leadership, CSID grew from a small organization into a major institution based in Washington DC, with programs and activities in over 20 countries, an annual budget of almost $1.5 Million, 58 Founding Members, and over 600 regular and associate members. Radwan has written and published several articles on Islam, democracy, freedom, and human rights in the Muslim world. He has also appeared on several TV networks including CNN, Al-Jazeera, FoxNews, Algerian TV, and MBC. Radwan is married and has four children. Radwan has written and published several papers on the subject of democracy, diversity, human rights, and tolerance in Islam. In recent years, Radwan has visited, organized events, and spoken at major international conferences in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Sudan, Nigeria, the Philippines/Mindanao, Germany, South Africa, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Radwan has a Masters and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
- Anisa Mehdi is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist specializing in religion and the arts. Her specific commitment to broadening Americans’ understanding of Muslims and the Middle East has led to unprecedented access to people and places around the world. She produced and directed the critically acclaimed National Geographic Special “Inside Mecca,” and was executive producer of the Frontline special “Muslims.” In the course of over 20 years in journalism, Anisa has produced for ABC News “Nightline,” for CBS News, and for New Jersey Network (PBS). She was a correspondent on the national PBS program “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.” Anisa writes commentary for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and is Adjunct Professor of Communications at Seton Hall University. She is founder and president of Whetstone Productions, a New Jersey-based production and consulting company. Anisa is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She serves of the Board of Trustess of the Esalen Institute, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and Music for All Seasons.
- Joseph Montville, Diplomat in Residence, American University; Senior Fellow, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University; Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Expertise: Conflict resolution: East Central Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Russia, Canada, and Latin America. Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at CSIS in 1994 and directed it until 2003. Previously, he spent 23 years as a diplomat with posts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureaus of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Intelligence and Research, where he was chief of the Near East Division and director of the Office of Global Issues. Montville has held faculty appointments at Harvard and the University of Virginia Medical Schools for his work in political psychology. He defined the concept of TRACK TWO, nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Columbia, and Harvard Universities, Montville is the editor of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1990) and editor (with Vamik Volkan and Demetrios Julius) of The Psychodynamics of International Relationships (Lexington Books, 1990 [vol. I], 1991 [vol. II]).
- Dulce W. Murphy, a founder and director of the Esalen Institute Soviet American Exchange Program that began in 1980. Murphy then became the president and executive director of The Russian-American Center (TRAC) in San Francisco, a continuation of the same program. For the past twenty-five years she has been on the cutting edge of non-governmental Russian-American relations. In the spring of 2004, The Russian-American Center changed its name to TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, that expands its mandate as a non-profit organization to include other countries, teaming up with its Russian colleagues to that end. Track-two diplomacy involves non-governmental individuals and groups that aim to fill the moral and intellectual voids of official peacemaking leadership. TRACK TWO’s major goal is to re-humanize relations that are dysfunctional. It works to make relationships better.
- Michael Murphy, co-founder and Chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for metanormal capacities in human beings, including Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. A graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the first Americans to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India in the early 1950s. In the1980s, he helped to start a successful Soviet-American Exchange Program, which was a premiere diplomacy vehicle for citizen-to-citizen Russian-American relations. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to America was initiated by Esalen. His other books include God and the Evolving Universe (co-authored with James Redfield),The Life We Are Given (co-authored with George Leonard), The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, An End to Ordinary History, In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (co-authored with Rhea White), and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.
- Jay Ogilvy, an Esalen regular who has served as a facilitator for more invitational conferences in Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research than any other human being. Trained in philosophy (Yale PhD in 1968), he taught for 7 years at Yale, 1 at Texas, 4 at Williams College. Then he transitioned into contract research and consulting at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) from 1979 to 1986. In 1987 he and four friends founded Global Business Network, a boutique consultancy that specializes in using scenario planning to develop long range strategies for large corporations and government agencies. Jay is the author of Many Dimensional Man: Decentralizing Self, Society and the Sacred (Oxford, 1977; Harper& Row, 1980); Creating Better Futures (Oxford, 2000); China’s Futures with Peter Schwartz (Jossey- Bass, 2001); Living Without a Goal (Doubleday, 1996); and a special report for the clients of Global Business Network, “Post-modern Fundamentalism” (GBN, 1990).
- Farid Senzai, Fellow and Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU where he leads the research effort for the organization and its continued focus on the Muslim community in the United States. Mr. Senzai is also an Adjunct Professor in the Political Science departments at California State University and Santa Clara University. Prior to joining ISPU, Mr. Senzai was a research associate at the Brookings Institution where he researched U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. In addition, he was a research analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations where he worked on Muslim Politics. He has also served as a consultant for Oxford Analytica and the World Bank. Mr. Senzai received his MA in International Affairs from Columbia University and is completing his Ph.D. in Political Science at Oxford University.
- Jacob Sherman, a staff member and conference coordinator at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research. He is adjunct faculty and a PhD candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he teaches philosophy and religion. Jacob is co-editor (with Jorge Ferrer) of an anthology entitled, The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, and Religious Studies (SUNY Press, forthcoming), and is completing his dissertation, Partakers of the Divine: the Philosophy of Contemplation, which concerns the philosophical import of and problems posed by contemplative traditions within Christianity.
- Lawrence Wright, author, screenwriter, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Wright is presently completing a history of Al Qaeda for Alfred Knopf Press, a portion of which, “The Man Behind Bin Laden,” was published in the New Yorker and won the 2002 Overseas Press Club’s Ed Cunningham award for best magazine reporting. Wright is also the co-writer (with Ed Zwick and Menno Meyjes) of The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, and Annette Benning, which appeared in November 1998. Currently he is working on a script for MGM about John O’Neill, the former head of the FBI’s office of counterterrorism in New York, who died on 9/11.
Mention should be made of two participants who, at the very last minute, were unable to join us due to unforeseen circumstances. Sulayman Nyang was needed in New Orleans to help coordinate the relief efforts for the many Gambians stranded there. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was called to the Saudi Arabia for an emergency meeting of Muslim clerics.
- Sulayman S. Nyang, professor at the Department of African Studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 1972. Professor Nyang served as the Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of the Gambia to seven Middle Eastern and North African countries from 1975 to 1978. From 1999 to 2002 Professor Nyang served as a principal investigator and co-director of the Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and housed at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. This project will publish two volumes of scholarly research on the state of American Muslims and two volumes dealing with a Who is Who among American Muslims and a directory of their mosques and centers around the United States of America. Professor Nyang has written extensively on African, Islamic and Middle Eastern affairs including Islam, Christianity and African Identity. He is one of the most widely known African or Muslim academics in the United States of America and is currently on the advisory boards of several national African and Muslim organizations.
- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA Society) and Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in New York City, twelve blocks from Ground Zero. He has dedicated his life to building bridges between Muslims and the West and is a leader in the effort to build religious pluralism and integrate Islam into modern American society. By establishing ASMA in 1997, he created the first American organization committed to bringing Muslims and non-Muslims together through programs in culture, art, academia and current affairs. As Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, he preaches a message of peace and understanding between people, regardless of creed, nationality or political beliefs. His inspiring sermons have made him one of the most sought-after Muslim clerics in the country. Imam Feisal is the architect of the Cordoba Initiative, an interreligious blueprint for improving relations between America and the Muslim world and pursuing Middle East peace. As a tireless advocate for an ecumenical solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has impressed his vision on US lawmakers and administration officials, most recently as member of the National Interreligious Initiative For Peace in Washington DC. Regarded as one of the world’s most eloquent and erudite Muslim leaders, Imam Feisal speaks frequently at major international conferences, including the Fortune/Aspen Institute Annual Conference in Colorado and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In addition, his ability to motivate religious novices and experts alike has made him a popular teacher of Islam and Sufism at many respected New York institutions, including the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Church, the New York Seminary and the Chautauqua Institution. His published writing includes the books Islam: A Search for Meaning, and Islam: A Sacred Law. His latest book, What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, has received much critical acclaim and has become widely popular since its release in May 2004. A charismatic public speaker, Imam Feisal has appeared in national and international media such as CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS and BBC.
Summary of Content
Mike Murphy opened the proceedings by reminding us all that this symposium on Islamic Fundamentalism was part of an ongoing series focusing on the problem of Fundamentalism not only within Islam but also within Hinduism (December 2004), Christianity (Spring 2006), and Judaism (Fall 2006). The conferences will conclude with a larger conference in 2007 that will treat the problem globally. There is support for these conferences, Murphy pointed out, in the history and theory of TRACK TWO diplomacy.
Joe Montville explained that TRACK TWO arose in response to the recognition that there are severe limits to what governments in general can accomplish when it comes to diffusing a mutual hostility that the government itself is a party to. As we learn from the discipline of political psychology, governments are (by and large) confined to a limited toolkit and vocabulary that has to conform to assigned roles, or else suffer social and political dissent. In general, then, governments end up playing out the prejudices of their people, even when individuals in office may wish to do otherwise.
The essence of citizen diplomacy is to gather representatives of differing cultures and states in a friendly, non-official atmosphere where the entrenched enmities of statecraft can be more easily disregarded so that new approaches to understanding and peace can be developed. Montville illustrated this by pointing to ways in which enmity was deconstructed in relational dialogue through the Soviet-American exchange at Esalen. As Montville, John Mack, Sam Keen and others have pointed out, the concept of enmity arises from the recognition that societies need enemies as well as allies. We define ourselves as special in opposition to others-indeed, this is what a border means, whether it is mapped geographically or ideologically. This self-definition can be normal and manageable or it can become destructive as it did in the Soviet-American standoff. The psychology of enmity was exposed in friendly dialogues at the Big House but it didn’t remain confined to Big Sur. Soon after it was discussed at Esalen, it filtered its way into the official policies of the Soviets. Soviet officials began to make public statements acknowledging the existence of a psychology of enmity and issuing their intention not to participate in such mutual antagonism.
Montville’s point was that citizen diplomacy can work and bear tangible results. It was, for example, Jim Garrison, the executive director of the Soviet-American Esalen exchanges, who proposed to Gorbachev that he form his own foundation, and it was Esalen that sponsored Yeltsin’s first, seminal visit to the United States. As Montville said, “We took initiatives based on our discourse here and it had an impact.” This spirit of respect and understanding informs our present relationship to Islamic fundamentalism. Our goal, Montville reiterated, is to lay a basis for a credible alliance between the Abrahamic faiths. We want to help facilitate, in whatever ways possible, the Abrahamic family reunion of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
After Montville set the stage for our week with a discussion of citizen diplomacy, Scott Appleby outlined his understanding of fundamentalisms in the modern world. He began with a caveat: fundamentalism is a problematic concept. It should always be spoken with scare quotes and never about religions or groups themselves. It describes a way of behaving, not a particular creed.
Appleby pointed to three problems with the term that ought to be understood at the outset. First, it carries with it the danger of neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism. It is a term indigenous only to Christianity where it originated in the early twentieth century as a self-designation for those Protestant groups (associated with ‘Old Princeton’, the more conservative theological tenor that held at Princeton until 1929) who sought a return to “fundamentals” in the midst of rampant modernism within the surrounding political, social and ecclesial culture. We need to remember this Christian pedigree when using the term with regard to other traditions lest we uncritically impose a properly Christian category upon them.
Second, the term fundamentalism carries with it the danger of essentialism. It is easy to label some group fundamentalist and then associate it with all the errors ascribed to fundamentalism as it occurs elsewhere. A blatant example of this is the patently false (but nonetheless common) syllogism that runs: all Muslims are fundamentalists, all fundamentalists are terrorists, and therefore all Muslims are terrorists. Premises one and two are obviously wrong but such perceptions continue to persist in the Western imagination and need to be combated. Appleby suggests that not only are all Muslims not fundamentalist, but even all fundamentalisms need not be religious. There is a fundamentalism in certain strands of science, just as there is a fundamentalism in business, in Christianity, in Judaism, etc. Some of these are violent, but physical violence is not integral to the concept.
Third, we should keep in mind that some individuals and groups wear the term ‘fundamentalist’ as a badge of honor. They like it. In other words, fundamentalism need not be a slur. Some see it as a recognition of fidelity to their traditions, as indeed did the Protestant theologians who coined the term.
So then, what is fundamentalism? Appleby outlined five characteristics necessary to the concept of fundamentalism (especially in the Abrahamic traditions, but these five characteristics apply somewhat to Buddhist, Hindu, and even scientific fundamentalisms, as well). It should be mentioned here that these five attributes were identified by the Fundamentalist Project that Appleby led, which involved many scholars in the rigorous study of many groups over many years time. The defining marks of fundamentalism are:
- These movements are reactive.
Fundamentalisms pose as returns to a pristine past, but they are in fact reactions to the crisis of historical consciousness within secular modernity. In so reacting, Appleby said, such groups perform “an awkward mimesis of the enemy.” They are thus dialectically united to that which they oppose. This reaction is prompted by the militancy of secular modernity, which (in its rhetoric and in the perception of fundamentalists) has sought not just to be an alternative to traditions but to erode the very traditions themselves. In choosing to fight this onslaught, fundamentalism adopts the tactics of the supposed enemy. So, for example, we find fundamentalisms marked by a commitment to progress, that most modern of concepts. Moreover, many fundamentalists have peculiarly modern vocations: they are business people, engineers, medical technicians, etc.
- The reactionary aspects of these movements are selective.
These movements are not properly considered traditionalist since their retrieval of the tradition is partial. They choose what parts of the tradition to embrace, and also what parts of modernity they are willing to countenance. Moreover, when they select parts of the tradition to emphasize, fundamentalisms also tend to embolden this aspect beyond its traditional claims. For example, when Protestant fundamentalists sought to defend the concept of inspiration they went significantly beyond traditional affirmations and created the (non-traditional) concept of inerrancy: a much stricter version of Scriptural authority than had hitherto been held.
- Fundamentalism is absolutist.
Fundamentalism, Appleby said, is in the business of epistemology. They make claims about how we know what we know, and these claims tend always to absolutely privilege certain texts, granting them incontestable authority.
- Fundamentalism is Manichean (i.e., dualistic).
Fundamentalisms are marked by reified dualism, a tangible feeling of us versus them. As often as not, this includes some powerful form of ‘signing on the dotted line’, a necessary commitment to certain fundamentals, goals, or behaviors that visibly demarcate who is in and who is out. This dualism thus helps to define identity, which is what many fundamentalist groups are seeking. Notably however, as such movements grow, this dualism is among the first things to go. Dualisms have to compromise to allow the sort of alliances required if such groups are to achieve their political and social goals.
- Fundamentalism is marked by millennialism.
Millennialism is shorthand for the expectation that we are in a decisive moment, a turning point in time. While most religious traditions have some eschatological (end times) element within them, fundamentalists differ by making end-times language central. Millennialism makes possible behavior that would otherwise be seen within the tradition as patently aberrant. By imagining that the very epoch is changing, license is granted to ignore the dominant language within religious texts about love, forgiveness, etc. Instead, believing that the end times have come, fundamentalisms find a way to retrieve the most violent aspects of the tradition. This age of the world has ended, they say, and therefore the old ways of being religious are also discarded. At this point, all bets are off, and the fundamentalists are freed to reconstruct the tradition without the pacific constraints at the heart of the religion traditionally understood.
Appleby added that fundamentalisms tend to be political, and that this is also due to a millennial imagination for the world is in its death throes and, so the reasoning goes, if we don’t intervene, we will be held complicit. But even in politics, fundamentalism remains chiefly religious. It is a mistake to view these movements as, on the one hand, traditionalist, orthodox, or conservative, or, on the other hand, as ethnically motivated, racially motivated, or class motivated. The paramount motivation-even when practical issues such as power, oil or politics are at stake-is the religious motivation, which can seep into every arena of life. Indeed, secularity itself (by claiming politics, economics, etc. as its exclusive domain) necessitates that every contest about religion is today always already also a contest regarding secularity.
Larry Wright’s presentation added a crucial historical component to our discussion. Based on extensive research and firsthand interviews with key players in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Wright sketched the story behind the headlines. He focused especially on biographical details from the life of Sayyid Qutb, the prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood who may be most responsible for the radicalization of Islamist movements (Islamism is a highly politicized form of Islam). Wright told of Qutb’s sojourn in the United States, both in Colorado and California, where Qutb encountered an ostensibly Christian country that was nevertheless violently racist, rampantly commercial, and overwhelmingly materialistic. Although Muslim countries considered the US an ally at this time, Qutb felt that the US was “without heart and consciousness” and he began to formulate the idea that Islam and modernity were essentially incompatible. He believed that Islam could not endure or tolerate the secular separation of value spheres, the partitioning of culture, science, and politics from God.
In this regard, Qutb’s views were not that different from any Islamist, but his theories began to turn violent during his time with the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Though he initially held a place in President Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s Egyptian government after the 1954 coup, it soon became clear to him that his vision could not be reconciled with Nasser’s modernism. On October 26, 1954, Nasser was the object of a failed assassination attempt by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasser retaliated viciously, rounding up the Muslim Brotherhood (Qutb included) and subjecting them to torture and indiscriminate execution. During his time in prison, Qutb was tortured and stories about his suffering have become legend amongst radical Islamists.
Witnessing this brutality, committed by Muslims against Muslims, Qutb reached a decisive conclusion. Those committing such acts could not be true Muslims and with that idea he excommunicated those whom he opposed and withdrew from conventional engagement in the state. This allowed Qutb to authorize violence against other Muslims in a way that could not have been allowed previously.
Wright pointed out that other radical groups within Islam followed in Qutb’s footsteps. Al-Qaeda in particular, which was formally created in 1988, extended Qutb’s program to suicide bombing in 1994. Suicide is strongly prohibited in Islam-the penalty is a hell in which the victim repeats his suicide endlessly for eternity-but Al-Qaeda rationalized it by blurring the concept of suicide with the concept of martyrdom. Following the logic of millennialism, suicide was imagined now as being allowed within this particular dispensation, this special time when the heavenly war is at its fiercest. Wright’s presentation of Qutb’s radicalization and his description of the later transmutation by Al-Qaeda of suicide into martyrdom was a window into the logic of fundamentalism, its strange amalgamation of tradition and modernity, its millennialism, and its sharp Manichean delineation between good and evil.
Our historical discussions continued with Asma Afsaruddin’s presentation. Afsaruddin pointed out that, as they grow and develop, Islamist movements tend to create historical narratives in order to legitimate themselves. This creation is both imaginative and convincing to many but, by any historical standards, it is hardly accurate. Asfaruddin demonstrated this through a careful textual analysis of early caliphate practices. She presented a detailed history based on traditional sources, most of which greatly preceded the 14th century, and all of which pointed to the fact that early Islam had no one blueprint for how to structure the political realm. This assertion runs counter to the Islamist claim that there is but one authentic way to be an Islamic nation. Afsaruddin pointed particularly to the way that early Muslim governments tended to reason and not just appeal to scripture or the shariah (post-Koranic law). She argued strongly that God’s sovereignty in early Muslim communities had no political side, that the caliphate was not religious per se, but was intended as an institution to contain chaos and promote order, and that the Koran, by contrast, had no political side but was a religious and moral sourcebook.
Afsaruddin’s presentation was quite strong, particularly in its critique of the claims made by contemporary radical Muslim groups that they are returning to more ancient traditions, but it also raised intriguing methodological questions. Her work, as an academic at Notre Dame, is based on the careful application of the historical-critical method, but what weight does historical-criticism carry with fundamentalists themselves? Indeed, aren’t fundamentalist groups reacting in part precisely to the application of modern textual-critical methods to the scriptures and sacred history? What will it take to build bridges capable of connecting university scholarship to communities of belief, especially communities in threat of radicalization?
Graham Fuller began his presentation with a critically needed definition. He defined an Islamist as anyone who believes that the Koran and the words and actions of the Prophet (the Sunna) have something important to say about Muslim governance and society, and who tries to apply those views in some way. This definition applies across a wide spectrum that includes bin Laden as well as the highly moderate ruling party of Turkey today; radicals and moderates; violent and nonviolent radicals; those supporting or opposing democracy; traditionalists and modernists. Having clarified this contested term, Fuller declared his intention to speak about Islamism on the ground, and not in terms of theology. He even wondered whether Islamism in essence is actually first and foremost a religious movement at all. After all, he said, consider Palestine’s three liberationist movements. First, there was an Arab nationalist phase, followed by a Marxist-socialist phase, and today we have an Islamist version. These three iterations of the movement for liberation vary widely in ideology but nevertheless aim at the same immediate goal of political power and independence. The point is that Islamism can be understood as offering something markedly similar to what Marxism or nationalism offered-that is, a means to a political end. Islamism, thus understood, provides four powerful political tools:
- It is a critique of the current state in the Muslim world that is mired in corruption, dictatorship, incompetence and repression.
- It is a weapon against imperialism. (As Fuller said, if you scratch it, Islamism begins to look just like a nationalist movement in terms of its views on foreign imperialism.)
- It is a means to organize power. (In this regard, Fuller pointed out that Islamists don’t so much want to be like the West, as to discover for themselves the secret that made the West so powerful.)
- It can serve to produce a moral justification for political action of all kinds. (For example, Islamism bestows gravitas and historical roots upon various political projects.)
Fuller continued his political analysis of Islamism by considering its relationship to the United States, especially now that America is the sole global superpower. The disparity between the Middle East and the West (America, in particular) is stark. Traveling between the two cultures is like SCUBA diving-we have to deal with two very real but entirely noncontiguous worlds each of which is hardly aware of the other. This disparity has reached the point where most people in the Middle East-whether radicalized or not-believe that the United States has declared war on Islam. And, Fuller argued, the U.S. does have a history, maybe even a habit, of regularly intervening in Middle Eastern politics even to the point of removing those leaders that challenge U.S. hegemony. This perception of the United States as the enemy of Islam has further shaped Islamic self-definition. Where thirty years ago individuals may have identified themselves as Moroccan or Egyptian, they are now increasingly inclined to say at the outset, “I am Muslim.” Fuller called this the “salience of identity” and compared it to a situation from Germany’s past. A German Jew might, in 1915, self-identify as a Berliner or a German first and foremost, but by 1938 their Jewish identity took over and had become a life or death issue. So too under today’s conditions of the post 9/11 world, the salience of being a Muslim often transcends ethnic or regional identities when Muslims identify with all other Muslims whom they see as objects of oppression.
Fuller wondered out loud whether the current enmity between Islam and the US-including the current perception of America within the Middle East-doesn’t render most of the American project suspect? Has our image been so thoroughly tarnished that no matter what aid or assistance we bring, the messenger is too tainted for the message to be accepted? Fuller believes the United States is in possession of certain universal salutary values, but can we begin to share these with the Middle East now that our (disfigured) shadow looms so large?
American intervention is therefore highly problematic at this moment in history and this curtails any efforts we make to encourage reform in the Middle East. The problem is yet larger, for even Arab-Muslims face serious setbacks when they attempt to encourage reform from within Muslim culture. This is because the Middle East feels itself under assault, by the West, and more specifically by the United States; cultures do not reform under siege. The picture is bleak, Fuller argued, but not without options. If even one third of the massive US military budget for the War on Terror had been put into developing and building universities, clinics, etc. then the US image and reception in the region might be very different today. We need, for strategic reasons, if not for humanitarian ones, to redirect our tactics in the Middle East towards building infrastructure rather than employing military means to attain American goals.
In one of the most inspiring discussions of the week, Radwan Masmoudi delivered a three-pronged presentation that focused on the historical understanding of Islam, the root causes of fundamentalism, and the real ways that we can constructively engage this situation. He began by presenting a version of Islam that Muslims would recognize. What is Islam? It is not, he said, a new religion introduced by the prophet Muhammad but rather the religion of all the prophets. At the core of this universal, aboriginal tradition is simply submission to God, which is what Muslim itself means. In Islam God is called Allah, the Arabic name for the deity, but he may be called by other names in other traditions. Wherever God is called and by whatever name, those who submit to his will are Muslims.
Islam is centered upon monotheism, egalitarianism, justice, and dignity. It focuses on submission but not on coercion, for belief must be genuine and therefore personal. From the 1st through the 8th Muslim centuries (7th-15th c. on the Christian calendar), Islam was the dominant civilization on earth. It was marked by an unrivalled artistic, scientific, social, and philosophical excellence, and these centuries are still renowned for their tolerance. Masmoudi told a wonderful story of a 12th century caliph who himself held monthly meetings with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim theologians to work together on substantive theological matters. Indeed, one could argue that the great Muslim empires were the original sites for genuine ecumenism and that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have never lived so peacefully together as they did under the caliphates. This marvelous history is still alive in the minds of many Muslims today and should be remembered in the midst of the sometimes polarizing debates about Islam current in our media.
Looking at this golden age, one can hardly keep from asking, whence fundamentalism? How did things change so drastically? The decline of Muslim civilization began in the 15th c. and can be said, for historical ease, to coincide with the 1492 fall of Spain and the loss of the Alhambra in Granada. After the collapse of the Muslim empires, Muslims began to reject innovation, especially new ideas that came from the outside. This despite the hadith that guided the first eight centuries of Islamic civilization and proclaimed that all wisdom, wherever it is found, is God’s wisdom.
Muslim insularity was compounded further by the onset of colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 1924 end of the Ottoman empire saw Muslim countries divided among the Western powers like so many trophies. These divisions moreover were arbitrary, cutting across familial and cultural lines, and were thus unsustainable. The ravages of colonialism destroyed civil society within Muslim countries. Education, for example, was limited to that one or two percent of the population able to attend colonial schools. By the middle of the twentieth century, many of these countries-peoples that once led the world in learning-suffered abominable illiteracy rates of 80-90%.
And then came tyranny. As colonial powers exited en masse, they handed authority over to whomever they felt would protect colonial interests. Inevitably, these figures were strongmen, more interested in power than in justice, in maintenance than in culture. These new states became tyrannical-leviathans unlike anything known in previous Muslim history. The new bureaucracies were cruel in ways that only the centralization of modernity allows.
These modern tyrannies forced secularization upon an unwilling people and this prompted results such as the radicalization of Qutb discussed in Wright’s presentation. The average Muslim thus found herself wedged between two extremes: the religious extremists were on one side, but even worse than these (because out of touch with 95% of the people) were the secular extremists and their tyrannies.
There occurred a revival of religion throughout the world (eg., in India), during the 1970s and 1980s. In Islamic countries this rise in religion was accelerated because these societies were in severe crisis and, when in crisis, one turns to God-as the proverb has it, there are no atheists in foxholes. This crisis continues today; it is social and political, but it drives the turn to religion with a fervor it would otherwise lack. What does this crisis really look like? At present, in the Islamic world, there are an estimated 120-150,000 political prisoners, rampant unemployment reaches 30% of the population, and 50% of the population in the Middle East is under the age of twenty. This is a recipe for crisis.
What can be done? Graham Fuller was probably right when he warned about any messenger from the U.S. being tainted at this moment in history. Even in the last year, Masmoudi estimates, anger at the United States has multiplied in Muslim countries. Americans are not welcome; everyone is suspect. But this anger is also directed at themselves and at their leaders. People in the Middle East want change. They want democracy, but they want it on their own terms.
There is an almost unanimous sentiment throughout Muslim countries that they simply want the United States off their back. They believe that they are still fighting colonialism but that it now clothes itself with the American flag. The Muslim world casts the U.S. as the enemy and will not accept democracy from the enemy’s hand. However, this does not mean that Muslims themselves will not accept democracy. Indeed, 90% of those Middle Easterners surveyed in a recent PEW research poll said they want a democracy, but it cannot come from the U.S. It has to be grown at home. We, in the U.S, have to trust that democracy will grow on its own in a different soil and climate than ours.
The governments in the Middle East are highly unstable at this time and they face a public with more access to the outside world than ever. Even in Iran, satellites dot the tops of houses beaming CNN, Al-Jazeera and visions of a different world into Muslim homes. People throughout the Middle East are imagining democracy, and this imagination is the first step towards its institution.
Change will happen in these countries, Masmoudi asserted, but the question is: will change be peaceful or violent? It is, of course, in the interests of the Western nations that this change be peaceful and so we must consider non-invasive ways to promote democracy within Muslim countries. In this scenario, American-Muslims (especially Arab-Americans) have a crucial role to play. Masmoudi’s own organization is a hopeful case in point. The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) has sponsored over 60 conferences in the last 6 years that mainly bring Islamists and secularists together, facilitate their dialogue, and help foster the institution of democracy. Beyond simply offering one form of government, CSID and Masmoudi aim to show that, at this point in history, democracy is the only system of government still compatible with Islam.
To editorialize for a moment, the depth of Masmoudi’s analysis and the practical success and promise his organization has demonstrated was, without doubt, one of the most uplifting moments of our week at Esalen. Masmoudi represents the possibility of a genuine third way forward, a citizen-centered approach to real structural and cultural change within the Middle East. In this, his life’s work dovetails with the kind of paths that Esalen and TRACK TWO have pioneered in the past.
Shadi Hamid was our youngest participant and brought with him an infectious combination of zeal, hope, and acute insight. His presentation focused, like Masmoudi’s, on practical approaches that can facilitate justice and greater peace in the Islamic world. He pointed out that the more freedom a country enjoys the less likely it is to produce terrorism. Terrorism originates in the sense of having been wronged by history. It is an extreme means undertaken by those who believe they have no other option to get a stalled history moving again. Those who have been denied historical agency, those who have been the recipients of history and not its actors, often birth terrorism. Their radical disempowerment feels inevitable and terrorism is the equally radical means of combating this crushing inevitability. Terrorism is an extreme bid for historical agency.
This being the case, Hamid believes that political reform must precede religious reform in Muslim countries. He argued that we have to assist the Arab people to the point where they are determining their own lives, their own governments, their own leaders and economic policies. If we truly want to eradicate terrorism, we have to give the Middle East its agency and this means democracy. Hamid pointed out the irony that liberals today shy away from democracy promotion and suspect it of being a neo-con plot unleashed by Karl Rove, while conservatives have adopted the democracy-promotion policies of past liberals such as Kennedy, Truman, and Roosevelt. However, democracy in the Middle East is too important an issue to allow it to become the privileged domain of one party. Democracy is that without which the Middle East will not overcome the problem of terrorism. Despite the current rhetoric however, democracy in Muslim countries remains a hard-sell in Washington, where policy-makers have been historically skittish about the possibility of democratically elected Islamist governments. There is no way around this issue. If we are to see democracy in the Middle East, we will see Islamists elected, and we need the courage to assent to this. One crucial stateside agenda for activists then, should be the demystification of Islamism. We need to see in it more than the violent face of terrorism or the foreboding of the unknown Other.
Hamid believes therefore, that the key to Middle East democratic success lies in the hands of moderate Islamists. Where do we find these Islamists? They are prevalent already throughout the Middle East (Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, etc.) and their ranks swell to the extent that democracy itself takes root. Hamid spent many months in Jordan on a Fulbright interacting with and studying Islamist groups there. He pointed out that, as a result of joining the democratic process, the Muslim Brotherhood began to abandon its most hardline positions. Democracy pacifies not by denying agency, but by granting it so that violence (whether real or rhetorical) is no longer felt to be necessary.
Real democracy promotion requires that the United States match its current rhetoric with actual policy changes. We can no longer preach democracy and turn a blind eye to totalitarian regimes. So long as the U.S. continues to play the Janus-promising democracy at one moment, and propping up dictatorships in the next-it will continue to lose the credibility and gain the animosity of the Muslim world. Hamid believes however, that a genuine, courageous, moral stance in favor of democracy regardless of the consequences would meet with public acclaim throughout the Arab world. People want democracy and they want the freedom to pursue it on their terms. There is, of course, a lot to be depressed about when one considers the current situation in the Middle East, but there are everywhere signs of hope, and opportunities for change that we must nourish.
Hamid’s presentation prompted much discussion. While most agreed that democracy was needed and even inevitable, some wondered what role the United States can really play in its promotion. Gordon Wheeler, who was present for most of our conversations, pointed to the decades-long history of American democratic interference both in the Middle East and elsewhere. We have a distressing record of toppling those democratically elected governments that we deem unfavorable. Why should this change suddenly? How can it change? Is it just a matter of different policies or is there not a structural problem inscribed in our very forms of government?
Subsequently, Imam Ali Al-Ghazvini, an Iraqi Shi’ite cleric and the head of the Islamic Cultural Center in Fresno, CA, joined us for the afternoon. Imam Ghazvini spoke hopefully about the prospects for democracy in Iraq, and particularly lauded the Shi’ite rejection of violent means. He pointed out that over the last two years most victims of terrorism have been Shi’a. He believes that despite the severity of the attacks against them, the Shi’a have chosen the way of Mandela-that is to say, they have sought to work with their opponents and not to fight against them.
Why do the Shi’a continually choose in favor of democracy? Imam Ghazvini suggested three reasons. First, democracy is not new to the Shi’a but was debated by scholars more than a century ago (in the late 18th and early 19th century) and so they are able to receive it as something immanent rather than an external imposition. Second, Shi’a have a history of pluralism, of allowing that there are various authorities (mirja) to which an individual Shi’ite might attach himself. This plurality of authority however, exists within a shared fraternity. You may follow one mirja and I another, but we recognize each other as fellow Muslims. As Imam Ghazvini said, the litmus test for fundamentalism is precisely whether or not one can accept such pluralism. Finally, the Shi’a have been oppressed for many years and have learned by necessity how to work with others. In short, history has taught the Shi’a to share. Another less structural reason for the Shi’a embrace of democracy, said Imam Ghazvini, is certainly due to the wise counsel of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shi’a cleric.
While the picture of Iraq Imam Ghazvini painted was hopeful, he had words of warning, as well. In particular, he cautioned that the kind of democracy one ought to expect from Iraq will not always be familiar to Western eyes. Western style civil liberties will not emerge overnight and have to allow that cultures follow their own course. We should also be realistic when considering what democracy will cost the United States. We cannot have democracy in Saudi Arabia and cheap oil supplies at the same time. Democracy will cost America, but it is a sacrifice worth making and, over the long run, it will pay us back.
Imam Ghazvini’s presentation prompted a sometimes heated discussion, particularly around his favorable portrayal of the Shi’a compared with his more pessimistic views regarding Sunnis. Both Shamil Idriss and Shadi Hamid insisted that we recognize the genuine grievances and plausible fears held by the Sunni minority within Iraq. Democracy requires more than just a majority; it requires trust enough to maintain a genuine conversation. While Imam Ghazvini’s portrait of Iraq was hopeful, the headlines that confront us daily qualify this optimism and force us, as ever, to hold our hope always alongside a robust realism.
Hope and realism led perfectly to the next conversation, which was led by Shamil Idriss who told the story of his own involvement in international conflict resolution. In 1995, in the lingering carnage of the Rwanda genocide, at the invitation of U.S.A.I.D., Idriss was invited to take a team from his organization Search for Common Ground (SFCG) to Burundi and to work towards reconciliation there. Though the prospect was daunting, the solutions they developed were successful. After many conversations with locals, SFCG embarked upon four projects. The first of these was the establishment of a radio station. Since radio had been the chief means for stirring up violence during the genocide, Idriss’s team sought to establish a jointly run Hutu and Tutsi radio program. Until then, reporting throughout Burundi was fatally contaminated by inaccuracies due to the programs being broadcast by partisans on one side or another of the conflict. SFCG’s radio program, Studio Ijambo, sought simply to broadcast pure news as accurately as possible. The mixed Hutu-Tutsi staff at the radio ensured this accuracy and the public quickly realized that the SFCG radio station was the only really accurate source of news around and it soon became Burundi’s chief news outlet.
The second project was the establishment of a women’s center. This too flourished and spawned a vibrant women’s movement, the infrastructure of which was a network of sister centers founded throughout the country.
The third project focused upon youth, especially young men who had participated in ethnically motivated violence. But how to bring Hutu and Tutsi young men together when they were otherwise at war? Idriss’s group hit upon the idea of soccer tournaments and the success of the project was phenomenal. When it began it literally involved pulling young men out of the bush where they were fighting each other at night and setting them on the field for a game in the daylight or a weekend tournament. The soccer field allowed another insuperable boundary to be crossed and began to establish seemingly impossible relationships.
The final project was a more mainstream political dialogue program, the success of which depended in large part on the fruitfulness of the other less overtly political programs.
The Burundi program proved a case study in successful conflict resolution and has been the model for many programs elsewhere. Particular actions will, of course, vary from place to place-a radio station may work in Burundi but fail in Bosnia. The point is not to emulate details but the process of listening to a culture, establishing the priority of relationship discerning strategic points for potential action, and thinking creatively. Idriss suggested that wherever such programs are implemented there are eight principles that can guide movements towards conflict resolution:
- Remember that conflict is natural.
- Adopt a plurality of strategies some of which work from the top-down, others of which move from the bottom (base community level) up.
- Engage the situation as a social entrepreneur. An entrepreneur sees opportunities for ‘profit’ regardless of the situation. Look for these opportunities, remembering that a social entrepreneur’s profit is building social relations.
- Seek deep cross-cultural immersion. This is the only way to understand a culture, and only understanding allows us to see opportunities for effective action.
- Give your energies to high-leverage points, i.e. actions that have a large effect (such as work with youth or the mass-media).
- Model the change you aim to bring about.
- Have hope. Hope is not naïveté, but vision. (Oftentimes the best analysts have the hardest time seeing possibilities for reconciliation.)
- Remember that peace-building is a process. It does not happen overnight.
Idriss was emphatic that engagement itself is not enough. Dialogue alone does not bring peace. We must facilitate cooperative action, action that overcomes social barriers and establishes relationships by enlisting factions in common projects (even something as simple as a sports team if that is the only politically feasible option).
The question however, is how can we promote cooperative action when the conflict is a global one? Idriss and SFCG have worked mostly in small countries, and their greatest successes have been in such situations, but the problem of fundamentalism traverses countries, cultures, and languages. Idriss has recently begun a partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Council of 100 Leaders in order to develop action-oriented projects for this global predicament. The project is still in its early stages but they are working on connecting key communities (e.g., an Anglican-Muslim exchange), amplifying constructive voices, facilitating cooperation on issues of shared concern, and demonstrating cooperation through pop-culture (e.g., an Arab-Western exchange reality TV program). Idriss added that, beyond the Islam-West divide, there may be a more fundamental struggle within the Muslim world itself. We need to consider ways to facilitate cooperative actions that can bridge this intra-Muslim divide as well, connecting secularist and Islamist, Shi’a and Sunni, etc.
With the week more than half over, Jay Ogilvy used his time to recount much of what had been said in previous discussions and to consider what had been thus far left out. Ogilvy made two points in particular. First, he warned about the danger of competing monotheisms. Polytheisms, he suggested, can get along with each other just fine, but monotheism seems to necessitate a certain logic of intolerance. It may also be that polytheism is more compatible with the modern world than monotheism. Secondly, he suggested that we had not yet considered the crucial role of psycho-social development in the fundamentalist problematic. As modern and now postmodern life increase their rate of developmental acceleration more and more people are, as he said, “left behind.” Not in the sense of the best-selling fundamentalist novels, but in the sense that the leading edges of psycho-social consciousness increasingly outpaces the majority of earth’s population. The problem of fundamentalism therefore, if it is to be adequately treated, must be understood in light of this consciousness divide. These comments met with a mixed reaction from participants, some of whom welcomed the new perspective, while others objected that the portrayal of monotheism was one-sided, and still others worried that the focus on psycho-social stages flew dangerously close to certain forms of neo-colonialist rhetoric.
When it was her turn to present, Anisa Mehdi told her own story as one of the few prominent Muslim-Americans working in news media. Her account was not only personally moving, but also provided a window on Muslim-relations within the United States. Mehdi’s father came to the U.S. at about the same time period as Sayyid Qutb during the post-World-War-II ‘brain drain’ that saw Arab intellectuals emigrate in large numbers to America. Like Qutb, Mehdi’s father found himself in California, but rather than finding hypocrisy, he found Berkeley. There he fell in love twice-once with the nation’s freedoms, and again with a blonde from Canada, Mehdi’s mother.
Mehdi was thus raised in a progressive environment, taught both Christianity and Islam, and given the freedom to find her own way. She grew up watching her father who was, at the time, something of a lone voice protesting the occupation and expulsions of Palestine in 1962-65. His activities drew ire from many and resulted in fierce opposition, even bomb threats, from those who preferred not to consider the Palestinian position. In those days, as Mehdi recounts, being Muslim was not something about which people tended to be forthcoming. But Mehdi’s father was ‘out of the closet’ and politically active when few others were.
The climate for Muslim-Americans, Mehdi observed, has changed drastically since 9/11. More and more Muslims are out of the closet and up-front with their faiths and their own activism. On the day her father died in 1998, 3000 people gathered at the United Nations to protest the American presence in Iraq. One hour before he passed, knowing this protest was happening, he raised his glass and said to Mehdi with a smile, “And we don’t have to be there.” The struggle was no longer isolated to a few individuals. It had become a movement.
These gains however, should not distract us into thinking that the struggle itself is over. Mehdi has had a unique vantage point to observe just how insular the United States media, for example, can still be. In 1998, it was still acceptable to make a major documentary for the American public on Islam without having a single Muslim on the production team. Fortunately, when such a project was still gearing up, someone thought to bring Mehdi on board as executive-producer and this led to her acclaimed documentary, Muslims, which aired on May 9, 2002. A day later, National Geographic enlisted her to do a documentary on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mehdi let us in on a secret, and a telling one at that: it was only coincidence that led National Geographic to call Mehdi immediately after Muslims aired. They had neither seen nor knew about the documentary. When Mehdi asked them why they called her then, they told her frankly that when they ‘Googled’ “Muslim + journalist” hers was the only name that came up.
Mehdi ended with some programmatic suggestions. There is still, she emphasized, a tremendous amount of awareness about Islam to be built in the United States and in the mass media in particular. Journalists, even after 9/11, perhaps especially after 9/11, still know too little about Islam and about the diversity of Muslims. Stereotypes still abound and we need to communicate the cultural diversity within Islam. Beyond front-page violence and religion-page interest stories, we need to find a way to cover stories about Muslims involved in art, science, research and development. Esalen, with its connections and resources, may indeed have a valuable part to play in communicating some of these messages to the media and the American public.
Farid Senzai gave the last individual presentation at the conference. He turned our attention back to the issue of democracy promotion in the Middle East, but looked at the issue from the funding side. He began with a brief historical outline of US democracy promotion and its weaknesses. Two caveats govern America’s efforts at democracy promotion in the Middle East: the first is that security of Israel is always paramount; the second states that we must maintain a continuing access to cheap oil. These two problems severely hurt US credibility when it talks about democracy promotion and most people in the region tend to suspect every US group (whether government or NGO) for precisely these reasons.
Nevertheless, the US has made efforts to see some movement towards democracy in the Arab world. The Reagan administration brought with it an idealism about democracy and stressed the peace dividend that democracy abroad could secure for the US at home. This was a wedding of idealist and pragmatic concerns and it persisted through the administration of the elder Bush. The Clinton administration used the language of democracy, but its primary concerns still seemed to be oil and military bases, and this led to its support of various undemocratic regimes.
Everything changed after September 11. On Nov. 6, 2003, president Bush unveiled his plan for democracy promotion in the Middle East and the European Union followed suit. The spigots were opened and suddenly many of the NGOs that had previously presented themselves as concerned with ‘civil society’ were overnight experts in ‘promoting democracy’. In this atmosphere a certain sentiment prevailed that seemed to view the matter as a simple one: use the right language, implement a few steps, and voila! Democracy.
Of course, on the ground, democracy doesn’t grow that way. Senzai is interested in finding out who gets funding for democracy promotion and whether they are any good at it. The way to do this is to follow the money, which he has done and in so doing has found that: 1. it generally does not go to Muslims who are suspect either because of stereotypical fears or because they are considered anti-Semitic; and 2. that it tends to be given to NGOs and especially overtly secular NGOs. Otherwise, the money tends to go to various interest groups.
In all cases, money tends to be doled out according to a neo-Toquevillian logic that trusts precisely those groups capable of speaking our language (i.e., fashionable jargon). This means that money tends to be given to those non-profits willing to change their pitch according to the latest funding fad. When ‘civil society’ is in fashion, present your organization accordingly; when democracy promotion is on the rise, change the mission statement, adopt new language, even change your name. This ‘whatever it takes’ mentality works in getting funding but it also means that most of our aid goes to those groups that are poised to be ineffective. Senzai considers this a problem with all external funding and lists four reasons for this trouble:
- They lack roots in the Muslim community which is why they can change their language so quickly.
- These are the groups that most imitate Western conventions, which reduces their effectiveness abroad.
- External funding creates elitism in the NGO world, a strict division between those who have funding and those who do not.
- External funding likewise results in competition precisely when what is most needed is cooperation. Groups engage in protective infighting and turf wars in order to secure their external aid.
All of these problems can be seen in what Senzai called BONGOs-that is to say, Busineess Oriented NGOs. BONGOs see democracy promotion (or whatever happens to be fashionable) as simply a means to secure a living. Working for a NGO funded with US money is an attractive prospect in many regions where good work is hard to find. BONGOs pay well.
In Senzai’s view, this kind of Western aid leads to a series of problems. At base, there is the problem of dual accountability. Western funding forces an organization into a schizophrenia where its goals on the ground always have to be weighed against what will make foreign funders happy. Soccer games may be the most important action to implement, but do they read well on a quarterly report? The second related problem is that external funding produces a donor driven organization without any coherent identity or mission. So much time and emphasis is placed on keeping donors happy-writing reports, designing material, etc.-that real work is often pushed aside. This moreover, leads to an overemphasis on quantitative results, because numbers look good to donors. But, as Senzai said, on the ground, numbers can mean nothing at all. Finally, external aid leads to a misappropriation of funds. Because the money comes from the West, there is a privileging of those groups dedicated to secular human-rights work or women’s organizations, and there is a corresponding neglect of Islamic organizations. But it is the latter that generally have a larger constituency, and that are thus capable of enacting tangible change.
Our final meetings were spent discussing prospects for future action. This, it should be noted, was not an incidental conclusion to the week but an essential component of the entire project. The CTR/TRACK TWO fundamentalism conferences are not merely convened as informative conferences, but aim to make real strategic differences in the world. Among the most promising ideas entertained during this brainstorming time were plans to convene further conferences (including ones that might invite more conservative members of the Muslim community to the table), suggestions about an Esalen sponsored interfaith popular concert (modeled on the successful Spirit of Fez concerts) as a way of bringing together estranged members of the Abrahamic family, and plans for the creation of a media reading/viewing/listening list to help reporters to become informed about Muslim culture and, moreover, to achieve that imaginative identification that allows real insight and enables truly great reporting.
The importance of partnering with Shamil Idriss’ continuing work for the Committee of 100 of the World Economic Forum which selects projects for funding that promote reconciliation between Islam and the West was mentioned, and also with Radwan Masmoudi’s Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). Radwan, in particular, staunchly advocated for our reaching out to the 150 thousand Muslim students in American universities. He also spoke about finding funding for exchange programs and debates among religious scholars. While the U.S. has been timid about such debates until now, it is crucial that such events occur if we are to advance the cause of Islamic democracy and non-violence. We even imagined the possibilities of a radio or TV station-perhaps a cable program or even an entire network– that would broadcast such debates and dialogues both here at home and to the Muslim world. Finally, Michael Murphy outlined a broad action program for Esalen as a result of the workshop and in anticipation of the sessions on Christian and Jewish fundamentalism next April and September:
- Esalen needs an Islamic presence on its board and has already taken action to remedy this. (Anisa Mehdi was elected to Esalen’s Board of Trustees on September 23, 2005.)
- The current series of three workshops on fundamentalism in each of the three Abrahamic faiths must be expanded with a fourth. This would combine four to five participants from each of the first workshops to come up with a combined Muslim-Christian-Jewish action program that reinforces the efforts toward what Joe Montville calls the Abrahamic family reunion. This conference is now set to happen in the spring of 2007.
- Scheduling more Esalen public seminars that deal with Muslim cultures and concerns, in part by drawing on the CTR private workshops.
- Establish Bay Area Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue groups. Farid Senzai, who lives in the East Bay and who has strong connections with liberal Muslim communities, has already agreed to spearhead such a program.
- Continue the CTR collaboration on outreach and network building with TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy.
Reflecting on the participants, content and energy of the week, two important conclusions present themselves. First, the week was strong evidence about currents of reform already alive within contemporary Muslim culture. Reza Aslan, a young exceptionally gifted Muslim author who could not attend our conference but voiced support for our project, has produced one of the most important indications of this reform in his popular book, No God but God. Therein, Aslan argues for what he calls a restoration of a more authentic Islam, a progressive Islam not marked by bigotry or fanaticism but an Islam focused on compassion and justice-the community of the Prophet Mohammed in which women fought and prayed side by side with men. Aslan points out that, unbeknownst to most in the West, we are in the midst of a Muslim civil war over the face that Islam will wear in the world. Our participants, like Aslan himself, are committed and active in this struggle and believe that this is a crucial contest for the heart of both Islamic religion and politics. With this conference and those that will follow, Esalen has joined this cause and yoked itself to one of the central geo-political struggles of our time.
A second conclusion from the conference, less about Islam than about diplomacy, is that TRACK TWO is alive and well and much needed. While the current series of conferences are crucially important, conflicts over fundamentalism are not the only conflicts that Esalen might have a hand in easing. We might begin to wonder where else in the world TRACK TWO techniques are needed. For example, though public attention and policy are presently focused on the Middle East, the rise of a new left in Latin America will not be long ignored in American politics. The stage is set for a revisiting of the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century, a divide between North and South that may become as difficult as the historical divide between East and West. At the height of U.S. and Soviet tension, Esalen made a difference. As new tensions begin to fester, Esalen could play an equally significant role in the promotion of peace and inter-cultural understanding.