A linguistic theory (or perspective) to understand "Islamic" movements

Ok friends, here we go. After a couple months of ‘deep’ thinking, I got my own eureka. Here is what I think serves as a binding device for all the arguments I’m going to be making in my work. But I need to have an idea of what you think, if it makes sense, or is my eureka just a figment of my imagination (well it is one) that cannot be shared.

A couple of questions:

Is there something that differentiates Islamic movements from other movements? Is this something has to do with some “Islamic” component? If yes, how to understand this “Islamic” component?

My tentative answers respectively to each questions:

The difference is in the language used as representative of a different ‘form’ of consciousness (culture, etc.) shaped by different institutions and power relations in place. It has to do with something ‘Islamic’ in so far as the discourse and practices used to act are different and claim to borrow ‘legitimacy’ (understood as ‘linguistic coherence’) from a pool of metaphors, symbols, and clusters of meaning (of course constantly changing) derived from the spoken (here Arabic, but other languages too), and the written (Koran, etc.). The Islamic is understood as a powerful pool of meanings anchored (taking authority) from written heritage (Koran, etc.) that provides an all encompassing forms in order to direct changing practices on the social ground. The difference here between the spoken and written is crucial, I will try to explain this in a later post. The borrowing happens in hectic, unpredictable, and even contradictory way sometimes (depending on symbolically powerful actors who are at the forefront of this knowledge creation.

My argument (heavily indebted to ‘critical thought’ in general) then is: Islamic movements are resistance movements to a slowly maturing colonizing process, the one that penetrates and changes the consciousness of subalterns. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of modern state, and the entry of new forms of economic and social exploitation, all reverberating in the intrusion in the language used (here Arabic that completely changed its modes of work included new formulations, meanings, etc.), all are examples of this colonizing process. The most successful form of resistance is the one that strives to create separate forms of consciousness (different understandings (symbols, meanings, etc.) of social reality. Islamic movements to varying degrees are about that, that is their only a priori similarity, they go back to a specific articulation of the “language”, the one of the Koran for example (Gramsci rightly points out that language is a worldview). Now depending on historical, social, institutional etc. circumstances in their respective geographies, you have completely different experiences that arise. Most importantly, their relation with other forms of consciousness (like the more hegemonic, “western” form) is crucial to understand the evolution of meanings amongst these movements.

I’m not saying that Islamic movements are a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic as a language. First, this does not mean anything, just as much as the ‘Nahda’ of the XIX century was not a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic but more aptly described as a re-appropriation and development of linguistic devices to assert new forms of consciousness representing a specific social class etc. There is no aesthetic judgment in what I am saying, I’m just putting into light certain processes that I think can be derived from the reality we live in. However, I want to say that Islamic movements strive to master a certain use or practice of Arabic, one that sees specific concepts fusing in. It is like a laboratory of already existing clusters of meaning that is constantly re-worked to include the contemporaneous pressing concerns. the important thing is the artifact, the form in place (the language and its potential of asserting independent forms of consciousnesses)

Also more importantly, I’m not saying that Islamic movements are ‘regressive’ or ‘progressive’, leftist or rightists, fascists, etc. because all these are ‘western’ categorizations (meaning institutionally and historically determined in Europe and elsewhere) for political organizations. One can always compare and derive certain similarities and difference, some of them being very interesting, but remember that this categories are political programs in themselves. Fascism exists in Leftist political formations and vice versa. The dichotomy of right and left in Europe and elsewhere serves as a political disciplining device. Anyway that is another subject. And for fear of diverging too much I leave you with that.

This entry was posted in Concepts, Language, Middle East, Social movements, Social practices. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A linguistic theory (or perspective) to understand "Islamic" movements

  1. Winston Smith says:

    Sounds like progress, congrats.

    first: i didn’t have much time to go into the depth of it(maybe) but I would need a couple of clarifications to easy me into it.

    questions: are all Islamic movements resistance movements? Define Islamic movements?

    secondly help me to untangle: this because this is how i read it at the moment: Islamic movements are different form other movements because they are Islamic.

    so are they different than other movements or do they (simply) drive their legitimacy from an other pool of meanings. Since “The borrowing happens in hectic, unpredictable, and even contradictory way sometimes (depending on symbolically powerful actors who are at the forefront of this knowledge creation.)”

    and then is that: “Now depending on historical, social, institutional etc. circumstances in their respective geographies, you have completely different experiences that arise. Most importantly, their relation with other forms of consciousness (like the more hegemonic, “western” form) is crucial to understand the evolution of meanings amongst these movements.”

    the question that you are after, and deciphering these encoding processes?

    And finally in such an analysis, what is your motivation, i think it is important because it also gives meaning to it as well?

    “of a slowly maturing colonizing process, the one that penetrates and changes the consciousness of subalterns. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of modern state, and the entry of new forms of economic and social exploitation, all reverberating in the intrusion in the language used (here Arabic that completely changed its modes of work included new formulations, meanings, etc.), all are examples of this colonizing process.” i think TV and advertisement play an important role in changing consciousness.

    that was my twopence. hope i contains something useful and if not i still would like it explained too me.

    cheers

  2. Anonymous says:

    bech: i read your post with great interest, particularly because i’m fascinated with pioneers of Islamic revivalism of the twentieth century (Qutb, Shariati, and such). Language plays a pivotal role in depicting shared epistemological and ontological beliefs, all of which revolve around islamic tenets derived from the Quran and the Shariah/Sunnah, etc. Given that many of the revivalists in question are considered spiritual fathers of contemporary islamic movements, it might be helpful to go back to their texts and analyze similarities/differences between them. the differences between modernist/fundamentalist revivalists on the one hand, and shi’i/sunni revivalists on the other, is also fascinating in terms of how they affect language (and subsequently, the depiction of an “ideal islamic state”).

    in my studies on certain revivalists, my conclusions revolved around the fact that the language of political islam (particularly written) shares epistemological and ontological constructs yet differs when it comes to sociological and political contexts – this is quite clear in oral testimony (you allude to some of the political issues which may impact different states/thinkers in different ways, hence giving rise to different rhetoric). Good job.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Young Bech, are you seeking maximum input from blog readers or a pat on the back by two PhD candidates? Insight comes through communication on a larger scale. As an admirer of your work, I would suggest that for now you speak the language of the people. Vox populi, vox dei. To diverge from academic jargon is to choose the path less traveled but as an old academic myself, I can assure you semantic padding in the research stages does not a groundbreaking paper make. You have the ability and material. My advice: do not squander it by shielding yourself from the masses you seek to understand.

  4. north guinea hills says:

    is not critical theory, from which much of your analysis arises, to the tradition of western thought?

    if it’s not related to your argument, forgive.

    p.s. this is the all i can come up w/ before the bossman looks over my shoulder here at work.

  5. m. says:

    Bech,

    Interesting material, seriously. Two comments. The first is similar to one that W.S. mentioned, and it may be something you’ve already done but didn’t write up here (which is understandable). What are “Islamic” Movements? It doesn’t need to be the conventional definition, but it needs to somehow pass a clarity test.

    The second: From other posts on this blog it seems you’ve been studying Hezbollah oriented Islamism. I don’t konw if you’ve looked at other Islamic groups (Yemen, Egypt, etc.), but applying conclusions drawn from your Hezbollah studied to general Islamic groups may be a large step to take, especially for academic settings. Youmay be dealing with this already, in which case you can just ignore this comment🙂

    good luck mate.

  6. bech says:

    Hello everyone,

    ok so I explained what I thought was “Islamic”: a specific use of language as a worldview. So Arabic plus legitimating texts etc. that mirror specific social practices on the ground. What is the common point with other movements (of resistance)? the striving to get to different forms of consciousness. Need a language for that. Now the way it is used are endless. that is why Hizbullah can have nothing to do with say Muslim brotherhood in Egypt.

    Anyway I’ll write more on that.

    and for the anonymous reader giving me an advice to lose the academic jargon I thank you kindly. I’m actually trying as much as possible to lose it. It seems that I am not succeeding. I really want to say something very simple about misconceptions and trying to see more clearly what’s at stake. Where I failed, please point it out so that I can correct my English. After all it is a question of language. Also I’m really not looking for pads. I don’t think anyone can get me out of my depressive mode. I’m looking quite the contrary on the views of people not especially versed on the subject who can tell me if any of this makes sense.

  7. m.i. says:

    Your Eureka moment makes perfect sense & the questions raised in the comments section are valid, but to anon with advice re language, the ‘masses’ need neither ideas nor language dumbed down. As for the voice of god, I think we’re knee-deep in it… If language is a worldview, Bech’s is complex, clear, & inclusive at once. And in short supply. So keep it coming.

  8. nadia says:

    bech,

    If you have a paper where you elaborate this pont – please let me know. I would like to refer to your work on that.

    Interesting, very interesting. It would be a challenge – i believe – to demonstrate that a different language, vocabulary and semantic is carried and articulated. I also look at the narratives and languages, and more partiuclarly the subject positions it creates and fosters.

    I have seen some bits and pieces of what could hint at the presence of a ‘different’ language (i.c. different episteme), but never in a coherent or sustained manner. It more often seems to be intermixed with liberal jargons of rights, freedom etc.

    Please keep me informed about any of your work.

  9. bech says:

    m.i.. thanks… it is really nice of you. but it is true that i have to try to write in a more concise and simple way..

    nadia, i think it is too early to speak of an article, things are not that clear in my mind and if i want to write an article i’m going to have to put it in perspective with the literature on the subject something i am far from mastering.
    In terms of social constructivism theory, and other similar theoretical articulations I am not saying something very new. It is the precise articulations of these approaches to understand “islamic” manifestations of all sorts that I think need work. I don’t think the public piety” concept of Mahmood is sufficient too. It is a bit rigid to my taste, although highly enlightening.

    But i will try to reformulate what I am talking about in later posts. There are many illustrative implications of what I am saying that I should point out first and then probably go back to the theory.

  10. yaman says:

    This was an illuminating read, I think it definitely needs more work but it’s a good starting point. I agree with the questions others raised above.

    As for academic speak, it’s not a matter of “dumbing it down” for “the masses”–this in and of itself is a pretty derogative notion, especially for anybody who claims to be concerned with the subaltern–but of minimizing the use of specialized language, that takes different meanings within the context of your academic setting than it does in a general setting. A lot of this is building on other conceptualization, and it assumes a familiarity with that conceptualization. That said I don’t think anybody should be afraid to use this sort of language, but that it should be tailored to the audience you intend to reach.

  11. Anonymous says:

    You know I think this is important, because I don’t seek just truth but “médiatisation” too. And I believe it’s far more important as an issue to counter what is being to fed to the “West”. Once you make something reachable and understandable to the “masses”, we’ve won. I’ve read this article about “les caricatures de Mohammed” today on voltairenet.org, and how only this was instrumentalized to again try to assert “the shock of civilizations” : In a far, far away land, there are ugly men with beards that pray an evil god and want to take our freedoms away. until Fth el Islam, I believed in “Al Qaeda”, but not anymore. It’s vital to throw it in front of people’s faces that they’re being misled. And in that spirit, I’m having a friendly thought towards that sicko Ahmadinejad.

    Sandrine

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