3. Islamist Fundamentalism
How could we define Islamist Fundamentalism? Can there be any single, authoritative definition at all? Bassam Tibi has proposed to separate the religious rhetoric from its political core: Fundamentalism, in whatever forms and variants it may occur, would be basically a political strategy, the religious elements taken from Islam forced into a framework whose main motivation is not religious but political. Due to the necessary brevity of this paper, I will follow that kind of definition, leaving out those shades in between which would fall into categories like that of an extreme conservatism just before the brink of fundamentalism.
In order to work, the political rhetoric has to take up certain elements from what belongs to the general discourse. The rhetoric cannot be entirely arbitrary. Such elements are the universalist claim manifesting itself in a narrow definition of Islam, and a radical understanding of Jihad not as a task of personal growth but as an outright war against all those defying one's own narrow, politicized understanding of Islam.
When the colonial empires of Britain and France were dissolved, the European notion of the nation state was imposed unto regions to which the concept of nation was rather alien, as it had been alien throughout most of European history as well. Despite all schisms within Islam, there seems to remain the central idea of the Umma, the House of Islam, the union of all believers. The political version of the idea of Umma would for instance be the talks of Pan-Arabian political unity, or universalist claims made by the recently dethroned self-made Caliph of Cologne, or by Bin Laden himself. In theory thus, there exists the notion of a unified Islamic world. In practical politics, however, the post-colonial nation states will still work to secure their future existence. The failures of short-lived projects like the unified Egyptian-Syrian state that existed between 1958 and 1961 show that the Umma may be an overall accepted idea, but not something to be easily put into practice.
This conflict between a religious idea and the political sphere stands at the center of the Fundamentalist perspective. Islam itself, like most religions, is first of all directed at the individual. It is first and for all an ideal, the unity in God; especially if you follow modern theologians like Yaşar Nuri Öztürk. It is not a concrete setting of coercive strategies, as Sura 2:256 states very definitely, "There shall be no compulsion in religion". The political sphere, however, demands for concrete answers to concrete problems - thus simplifying and thereby distorting cultural questions, exploiting them for a mere pragmatic use for power play politics.
The political rhetoric claiming to ground itself on Islam, however flawed and misguided it may be, does have an appeal though: It caters to the disenfranchised, making use of feelings of being left out of the picture. Any radical ideology with a drive for power will find avid followers if it can promise to not only better the situation of those who cannot partake in the shaping of society, but also to punish those who are seen as being responsible for the situation at hand. The follower needs to be told that he is better than someone other. The first victims of such a process of othering and de-humanization are all too often women, which leads Alice Schwarzer to draw a comparison between two such cults of masculinity and brutal strength, the ideologies of Nazism and radical Islamist Fundamentalism in the most extreme form of the Taliban.
The suppression of women is the clearest case of Fundamentalist disregard for Islam, for its being a political rather than a religious idea, as the Quran treats men and women as equals. Under the guise of religious righteousness, a cult of exaggerated masculinity in the far-right political spectrum has become a threat first and foremost to the Islamic states themselves, creating what Tibi calls a new world disorder.
For the continued prospering of such radical groups there needs to be a unifying outside threat, be it real, exaggerated or imaginary. Afghanistan has played a central role in the rise of fundamentalism: The defeat of the Soviets by the Mujahedeen was seen as a chance by the more xenophobic political circles within the Arab world to overcome the "humiliation" of the Six Days War (i.e. the success of Israeli troops in defying an invasion). A combination of themes, namely the unification of the Umma, the liberation of suppressed minorities, namely in Palestine and Kashmir, plus the recurring far-right and far-left motif of an alleged Zionist-American world conspiracy, brought into a framework of pseudo-Islamic masculine heroism has become a powerful grounds for terrorist warlords of the Bin Laden brand.