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Post-Jihadism and the Inevitability of Democratisation

Post-Jihadism and the Inevitability of Democratisation
13th November 2009 ICSR Team
In FREErad!cals

Major ‘Abbud al-Zumur, the former military intelligence officer who served on the governing bodies of both the Jihad organisation and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group – IG) in Egypt, published in August 2009 a book entitled The Third Alternative: Between Authoritarianism and Surrender which analyses the causes of violent radicalism and prescribes ways of ending political violence within Arab- and Muslim-majority states.

This book is the latest development in what can be called a second wave of modern Islamist de-radicalisation. It is one of several instances of this literature to address political participation and pluralism explicitly. However authors from the very same movement sometimes have different views on this topic: IG’s ideologue Nagih Ibrahim, for example, has called on Islamist movements to abandon politics and focus on missionary activities, while IG leader, Karam Zuhdi, declared that the group’s current rejection of democracy could change based on its interests.

This new literature features a departure from upholding fiqh al-‘unf (Islamic jurisprudence justifying violence) toward discouraging armed confrontations in general and de-legitimising political violence in Muslim-majority societies in particular. Most of the arguments in de-radicalisation literature are not new but the message bearers made a difference. As one of the former commanders of the IG’s armed wing puts it: “Hearing the [theological] arguments directly from the sheikhs [IG leaders] was different….we heard these before from the Salafis and from al-Azhar…we did not accept them…we accepted them from the sheikhs because we knew their history.”

The new body of literature mainly deconstructs the eight major arguments of jihadism:al-hakimmiyya (God’s exclusive right to legislate), al-riddah (apostasy, mainly of ruling regimes), al-jihad/qital (fighting) for the Islamic state, jihad al-daf’(defensive jihad), ahkam al-diyar (rules of conduct in the “abode of Islam” and the “abode of infidelity”), methods for sociopolitical change, the inevitability of confrontation, and the “neo-crusader” arguments.

Deconstructing those arguments in post-jihadist literature entails an inference shift. The theological arguments of jihadism rest on the idea that literal orders from God supersede any rational calculations or material interests. This usually translates into an impetus to engage in armed confrontations against much stronger powers. In post-jihadist literature, there is a shift to the idea that interests determine the interpretation of the text. If a confrontation, or any other behaviour, is likely to lead to negative consequences, it must be forbidden and should be avoided.

Despite the persistence of jihadism, violence, and the conducive conditions to both paths, a post-jihadist era has begun. On the ideological level, post-jihadism involves de-legitimisation and discouragement of political violence in general as well as upholding theologically-sanctioned pragmatism. On the behavioural level, it criticises Islamists who still engage in violence is another feature, and on the organisational level, it aims to disband armed wings and secret units.

Most post-jihadist literature does not take a clear stance on democracy. But accepting the “other,” moderating rhetoric and behaviour, and participating in electoral politics may be the only viable options for these groups if they want to remain politically significant. In other words, if jihadism heralded the inevitability of armed confrontation, post-jihadism might well entail the inevitable acceptance of democratisation.

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