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Hardt and Negri on Islamic Fundamentalism

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    Hardt and Negri on Islamic Fundamentalism

    Michael Hardt is an American and Antonio Negri is an Italian who is currently in jail for offenses supposedly committed in the 1970s

    These authors are considered by many to be the Marx and Engels of modern times. These guys wrote a book called Empire which is taught by many radical professors around the world in many languages. They are active Marxists. Here's their view about Islamic fundamentalism(?). This is a summary by some American lawyer (whose opinions don't count). Future desi socialists will find it interesting.

    In discussing what they describe as the "passage" from the modern, nation-centered world order to the decentralized world order of Empire, Hardt and Negri identify various "symptoms" of that passage. One of those symptoms is the rise in the late twentieth century of religious fundamentalism, especially Islamic fundamentalism.

    I first read this part of the book before September 11. At the time, I found it interesting but probably not worth remarking on in a short review. Since then, of course, things have changed, and one inevitably (and properly) reads Hardt and Negriís brief discussion of Islamic fundamentalism with a different eye.

    Hardt and Negriís first point here is that all Islamic fundamentalism is essentially united in its rejection of the modern, secular, American-led world. In its place, Islamic fundamentalism posits a supposedly traditional world-view, based on what purport to be static religious values. Hardt and Negri point out, however, that "the current forms of Islamic fundamentalism should not be understood as a return to past social forms and values," but rather as a "new invention" based on "original thought."

    This part of the discussion is particularly important in light of the attacks of September 11. The point has been made already, but it bears repeating: The "Islam" apparently practiced by the terrorists responsible for the recent attacks is, at best, a serious distortion of the Islam practiced by millions of people around the world.

    In Hardt and Negriís terms, this fundamentalism is based on "original thought": ideas fabricated in response to present world conditions, and then dressed up as part of a religion to which they are in fact utterly foreign. This is a salutary point.

    But Hardt and Negri donít stop there. The inspiration for Islamic fundamentalismís "original thought," they contend, is "its refusal of modernity as a weapon of Euro-American hegemony." Without regard to whether such "original thought" is true to Islam, Hardt and Negri appear to applaud it as the "paradigmatic case" of postmodern resistance.

    In apparent admiration, they suggest that "[w]hat is novel in the contemporary resurgence of fundamentalism is really the refusal of the powers that are emerging in the new imperial order. From this perspective, then, insofar as the Iranian revolution was a powerful rejection of the world market, we might think of it as the first postmodernist revolution."

    Although they donít explicitly say so, Hardt and Negri here give the strong impression of supporting Islamic fundamentalism, at least to the extent it opposes what they see as an oppressive and exploitative Western world order. Indeed, one senses that Hardt and Negri may view Islamic fundamentalists as exemplars of how to resist the incursions of the existing global order.

    If that position were plausible before September 11, it seems entirely untenable now. Indeed, in light of the brutal attacks of that day we may fairly question what, if anything, Hardt and Negri would now modify or clarify in Empireís discussion of Islamic fundamentalism. We may, in fact, need to know the answer to that question before knowing what ultimately to make of Empire.
    Focus not on who you are but what you do...