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Why care about Political Islam? A multi-level analysis

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With the outbreak of the Arab Spring several social forces throughout the Arab world have found a political space where to frame their claims; among them, Islamists are undoubtedly getting the better of. On October 23 the Islamist Ennahda Party got 41 percent of the votes in Tunisia, while on November 25 Morocco's Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) took 107 out of 395 seats; most recently the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party - Hizb Al-Hurriya wa Al-Adala - got 47 percent of the votes, followed by the Salafi group Al-Nur Party , winning 29 percent of seats in parliament. Beyond the most optimistic views, interpreting the electoral results as a hope for a future democracy in the countries, the strengthening of Political Islam has given rise to numerous concerns. Apparently no one seemed to expect this rising phenomenon; yet, it would have been easily predictable to an expert eye. The interest of Islamic movements in politics should not be seen as suspicious, since it is closely related to the genuine nature of the religion itself. Basically, Islam has to be considered an orthopraxis where the ethical and behavioral doctrine prevails over the theological speech. Islamic speculation has always been linked to the resolution of practical problems and philosophical issues have developed in connection with juridical matters. The religious basis of Political Science let us understand as politics and religion are two dimensions intimately interconnected in the Islamic movements developed in the course of the centuries. Furthermore, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood and its variants in North African countries was expectable also from a political point of view, being these movements the best well-structured, most poplar as well as most influent parties among the ones competing for elections.

Nevertheless, if the international public opinion has been so negatively impressed by Islamic parties achievements, it was also because of the Islamophobic message western countries had promoted to control their outcomes on the international background. Indeed, the most cumbersome uncertainty is about the changes in international balances and strategies. It is not sure that alliances would maintain the same shape, especially considering the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is worldwide spread and so powerful to be able to impose its requests. What is the role these new actors are expected to play amid the international community?

At the beginning of the new Millennium a group of influential scholars in International Studies suggested an innovative perspective for the International Relations analysis. In their book “Religion in International Relations. The Return from Exile” - first published in 2003 by Pavols Hatzopoulus and Fabio Petito- they asserted the necessity of considering religion a core issue of both international and domestic politics. Attempting to provide a framework to understand the interaction between politics and religion, that is how the letter could influence the theoretic principles of the former, Vendulka Kubalkova proposed the creation of the International Political Theology (IPT), a subfield founded on the rule-oriented constructivism (ROC), rather than on positivism. The basic assumption was that the pursuit of power could not be considered independently from the pursuit of identity principles as well as of wealth. Ten years later this paradigm reveals to be the most appropriate to approach the rising of political Islamism in the international scenario. As Vendulka Kubalkova alleged in her essay “Toward an International Political Theology”, “the constructivist framework actually relaxes the understanding of what is rational “ by overcoming the positivist idea that “the only reasoning is the reasoning which is associated with judgment, which takes the form of deduction or induction. Abduction - which means acceptance on faith of conjecture, guesswork or whatever proposition is at the heart of the religion-is also a form of judgment. People exercise judgment when they actually accept certain things”. Religion has all the characteristics to play a public role in the construction of both domestic and international society because it consists of specific kind of rules, mainly assertive (conjecture and customary), but also directive and commissive. The key solution of how the international order could change with the empowerment of the Islamic movements in the political field is in the close examination of these rules and their interactions in the different contexts.

Lastly, the most worrisome implication of the rising Political Islam is the way it could affect these countries’ path toward a legally constituted State. The risk is to see some human rights - such as equality, freedom and women’s right - subdued to restrictions in the name of principles inspired to the shari’a. Here is the great task of liberal and secular forces in sparking off a balanced political debate in which could grown a democratic speech suiting everyone’s needs.


di Paola Mitra