Check this very interesting passage of Asad’s series of lecture on suicide bombing:
…however reprehensible it was to liberals, the violence of Marxists and nationalists was understandable in terms of progressive, secular history. The violence of Islamic groups, on the other hand, is incomprehensible to many precisely because it is not embedded in a historical narrative – history in the “proper” sense. As the violence of what is often referred to as a totalitarian religious tradition hostile to democratic politics, it is seen to be irrational as well as being an international threat. (p.8, emphasis added)
Exactly! What is outrageous about violence discursively defined as “Islamic” is its non-inscription in History, that is in the writing of history by social and political institutions. Leftists, or “progressive” have their place in this history, they can be condemned, but they are pretty much part of it.
The secular discourse has a history. Ex: antiquity, middle ages, renaissance, enlightenment, modernity, etc. These are all historical events injecting the narrative, the story, the plots, that forms the Secular. Even when we read the history of the region labeled as Middle East, the history of Arabs, or Muslim, etc. We read it through these markers (from school years up to history books, etc). The hidden question is then how does the Islamic world fare with regards to the onward march of the secular world?
The secular system is perceived to be an abstract system people strive for, and the Europeans reached it. But in truth, it is overloaded with these historical markers. it is the product of a history. Reifying it this way makes it a political weapon to claim moral superiority and legitimizing coercion. I do appreciate better the historicization of specific conceptions of the political. Marxist, leftist, etc. are part of a euroamerican (as would call it Asad, when he, I assume, wants to avoid the term “western”) history. Things that just pop out of nowhere are bound to be demonized even further. Ok, we know the rest of the story.
But what interest me the most is how did the secular discourse permeate all our understandings of social and political processes (especially locally)? Why today when we talk of ‘religious’ movement, when we think of religion, or the religious, we cannot but think of it, in secular terms? The extraordinary conversion of the planet into “nation-states” with all the related institutions, rule of law, particular use of the written, etc must have something to do with it, and the way some Arabic state lived this change is surely symptomatic of our general conceptualization of what is religious. The modern subject is allergic to the religious not because of what came to called religious movements as such but because of what he thinks the religious is (that plugs back into his perception of these movements), and so what the secular is. Because of what he thinks “belief” is, or private/public life is etc. The whole repertoire of concepts that entail the secular/religious division paradigm have to be unearthed, in order to focus better on the actual practices any type of movement engage in and how they are conducive to social or political change.