Asef Bayat ed. Almost two decades after the articulation of the concept and its development in his later studies, Bayat has edited the book Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam. Asef Bayat, a professor of global and transnational studies, is currently working in the areas of political sociology, social movements and change, religion and public life, urban life and politics, Islam and modernity, and the contemporary Middle East. It also represents geographical distribution among modern Islamist thought. Bayat highlights the role of internal dynamics and global forces contributing to the post-Islamist turn since the early s. In this context, he mentions examples of Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Egypt, and Lebanon as an outcome of critique from within, in which they faced their own paradigmatic limitations, external pressure, and the realities of their societies.
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Here, I want to suggest that current globalization has added new dimensions to the Orientalist imagination, distinguishing it from its 19th and 20th Century articulation.
In this sense, Orientalism refers to a discursive apparatus that produces knowledge as an instrument of power, as a means to establish or maintain domination. In the classical 19th Century Orientalism, the Orient and here my focus is on the Muslim Middle East was presented as essentially monolithic, fundamentally static, and basically traditional society and culture.
Some developed deep affection towards the Orient and mesmerized by its exoticism. But most remained ignorant about the inner diversity and texture of the Eastern societies. While they wrote about the East, few of them knew local languages, and they had little or no experience of on-the-spot observation.
These Orientalists were operating at the time when the West and the East were still very distant in terms of time and space, with the main contact limited to trade, traveling, and mainly colonial encounters. It was largely the West that had outreached through the colonial expansion onto the East. Neo-orientalism But things seem to have shifted considerably.
Of course many features of the classical Orientalism such as the tendency to reify, superficial understanding, or homogenizing continue to inform the narratives of the contemporary Orient.
But much has changed. Today the protagonists consist mostly of think-tank people, politicians, journalists, the Hollywood, sound-bite experts, Christian preachers, and some in academic circles.
And they are busy producing knowledge primarily about the Muslim Orientals not halfhazardly, but systematically through powerful institutions, with experts, money, media, and extensive venues of dissemination.
The images of the Orient, now dominated by Islam and Muslims, reach out to the vast sectors of the Western population, shaping their ideas and vision of the Muslim East. Their influence extends beyond informing public opinion into the domain of foreign policy strategies and international relations.
In this current neo-Orientalist imagination, the Muslim Orientals are not only trapped in archaic traditions, a frozen history and irrational behavior; they are, far from being exotic or benign, dangerous; they are threats to the cultural values, civilizational integrity, and the physical well being of the West.
Unlike the 19th Century when the West established a presence in the East through trade, travel, and Colonial ambition, the Orientals have now established a presence in the West as immigrants, refugees, students, or wealthy tourists and investors in real estates and corporations. They have become part of the social and cultural fabric of the Western nations.
A cursory look at the current immigration debate in Europe, including the island of Malta where I recently attended a study tour on boat migration from the South, would reveal the extent of panic amongst the authorities, the media and intelligentsia. This is curious, because globalization and the movement of people are not just the narrative of incursion, anomy, or cultural detachment; they are also moments of cultural exchange and enrichment, indeed key elements in building cosmopolitan habitat.
Proximity and interpersonal interaction are supposed to generate a cosmopolitan life-world where members of different cultural groups would have the possibility of sharing mutual experience, understanding, and trust—not just mistrust- between them. But this seems not to be the case. Rather, these Muslims are often ignored as if they do not count as a segment of Muslim population in the West.
More importantly, they are rarely taken as evidence to help the European mainstream to construct a more complex and multi-layered image of Muslims. Instead, all Muslims are lumped together in the image of either the very small groups of religious radicals who make the headlines, or that segment of benign, peaceful but subaltern Muslim migrants whose plebian habitus their headscarves, beards, or prayers seems to disturb white European sensibilities.
I am referring to the first generation migrants who while striving to speak the European languages, to hold regular jobs, and to live a normal life, they are also oriented to practicing many aspects of their own home cultures—food, fashion, rituals, or private religious practices. In their attempts to survive, thrive, and be part of these foreign and often hostile societies and economies, these migrants feel compelled to restore and revert to their own immediate circles, the language and religious groups, informal economic networks, and communities of friends and status groups built in the neighborhoods or prayer halls.
The very precarious status in the host society and economy compel them to feel at home on the margins. The neo-Orientalist imagination finds in this Muslim subaltern the first-hand evidence to construct its prejudice and extend this to the entire Muslim world—an image that is backed up by the dominant media, the Hollywood, and policy circles.
So while the unrelenting process of globalization has in reality turned Europe into a multi-ethnic continent, the mainstream Europeans have yet to acknowledge and come to terms with this historic shift. In reality, a multi-ethnic Europe means also a multi-religious citizenry; it means recognizing the reality of mosques, minarets, headscarves, even burqas in the public squares along with churches, temples, and synagogues.
Otherwise, many Western academics or journalists who write about the societies and cultures of the Middle East may critically depart from those who fall under Orientalism. In other words not all orientalists are Orientalist.
Bayat has published widely on issues of political sociology, social movements, urban space and politics , the everyday of politics and religiosity, contemporary Islam , and the Muslim Middle East. He has conducted extensive studies on the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Islamist movements in comparative perspective since the s, the non-movements of the urban poor, Muslim youth, and women, the politics of fun, and the Arab Spring. Biography Asef Bayat was born in a small village located approximately sixty miles west of Tehran in an Azeri family. Later, his family moved to the capital city, where his first experience of schooling was with an Islamic institution.
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Asef Bayat Revolution in Bad Times Back in , the Arab uprisings were celebrated as world-changing events that would re-define the spirit of our political times. What value does it attribute to them? Police, army and judiciary; state-controlled media; business elites and the clientelist networks of the old ruling parties—all remained more or less intact. The polarities of opinion echo the profound disjunction between two key dimensions of revolution: movement and change. The attention here is centred on those extraordinary moments in every revolutionary mobilization when attitudes and behaviour are suddenly transformed: sectarian divisions melt away, gender equality reigns and selfishness diminishes; the popular classes demonstrate a remarkable capacity for innovation in activism, self-organization and democratic decision-making. It may even serve to disguise the paradoxes of these upheavals, shaped by the new political times in which grand visions and emancipatory utopias have given way to fragmentary projects, improvisation and loose horizontal networks.
Dr. Asef Bayat
Asef Bayat (ed.), Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam