Saturday, February 12, 2005

Islamic fundamentalism

Francis Fukuyama, on pages 236-237 of his book The End of History and the Last Man argues that Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in European fascism and a failure to adapt to modernity.
Unlike Meiji Japan.....which used Western technology to defeat Russia in 1905 and to challenge the United States in 1941, most of the Islamic world never assimilated these Western imports in a convincing way, or produced the kind of political or economic success for which the modernizers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had hoped. Until the advent of oil wealth in the 1960s and 70s, no Islamic society was able to challenge the West militarily or economically. Many indeed remained colonial dependencies through World War II, and the project of secular pan-Arab unity foundered after Egypt's humiliating defeat by Israel in 1967. The Islamic fundamentalist revival, that came into view with the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79, was not a case of "traditional values" surviving into the modern age. Those values, corrupt and latitudinarian, had been soundly defeated in the course of the previous hundred years. The Islamic revival was rather the nostalgic re-assertion of an older, purer set of values, said to have existed in the distant past, that were neither the discredited "traditional values" of the recent past, nor the Western values that had been so poorly transplanted to the Middle East. In this respect, Islamic fundamentalism bears a more than superficial resemblance to European fascism. As in the case of European fascism, it is no surprise that the fundamentalism revival hit the most apparently modern countries the hardest, for it was they whose traditional cultures had been most thoroughly threatened by the import of Western values. The strength of the Islamic revival can only be understood if one understands how deeply the dignity of Islamic society had been wounded in its double failure to maintain the coherence of its traditional society and to successfully assimilate the techniques and values of the West.