Islam in Politics: A Spectrum

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SUMMARY: Shadi Hamid, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, talks with Center for Global Policy senior fellow Kamran Bokhari about Islamism and the role of the Islamic faith in politics and public life.

Hamid, author of the book Islamic Exceptionalism, talks about his book and the idea that Islam has a unique role in politics, law and other aspects of public life. He also mentions that Islam has resisted secularization throughout history and into modern times. Though Islam does allow for secular space in areas like economic policy and executive decision-making, historically it has provided a framework for laws and morals in Islamic societies.

He mentions parties like Ennahda in Tunisia, which tries to portray itself to the West as an agreeable, post-Islamist party, though it still sees a role for Islam in public life. Hamid argues that people don’t have to vote for Islamists to get Islamic law. For example, he says, Turkey is ruled by an Islamic-oriented party that has not implemented as many Islamic laws on the national and local levels as the Pakistani government has, even though Pakistan is not governed by an Islamist party. Hamid also mentions Indonesia and Malaysia as cases in which Islam plays a large role in politics and lawmaking though the countries are not ruled by Islamist parties. Though these countries are religiously conservative and there is widespread support for limitations on religious minorities, they are democracies, and the governments reflect the will of the electorate.

Hamid says that since his book came out, he has noticed the rise of ethno-nationalism in Europe, of white nationalism in the United States and far-right Hindu nationalism in India, so the desire for sharply defined identities seems to be universal. These developments show that people should rethink some of the basic assumptions about what motivates different countries and groups politically.