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Islam and the Political RegimeCNES Director Leonard Binder with Juan Cole, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Islam and the Political Regime

Colloquium considers the question of Islam and the political regime in ten Muslim countries, focusing on state policy and the political forces associated with Islamic interests, organizations and movements.

The study of Islam and Politics in recent times divides itself, for the most part, between (a) inquiries into the compatibility of Islam and democracy and (b) inquiries into the relationship between Islam and terrorism. In both cases, emphasis rests upon doctrinal, ideological and legal aspects of Islam rather than upon an empirical examination of the role of Islam in the politics of particular countries. That is to say that our understanding of political Islam is shaped by conceptions of an ideal Islamic polity on the one hand, and/or on the other, Islamic norms of conflict, conquest, coercion, rebellion, resistance, martyrdom and terror.

The almost exclusive focus on the Islamic ideal, and the unwillingness of both the regime and the exponents of Islamic interests to work out a political contract, have often left the day-to-day political role of religious elites and of the exponents of religious social movements in the shadow of ignorance or distortion. Much of the literature on Muslim civil society seems to argue that there is an informal social organization which functions in defiance or simply independently of the corporatist systems maintained by the regimes that imagine themselves to wield actual power. Similarly, the growing literature that purports to examine the indirect influence of the Neo-Salafi movements on the religious culture and mores of Muslim societies suggests the emergence of parallel and independent social and political structures.

The alternate perspective is to try to understand how these structures and other forces interact in a single political arena. From this alternate perspective, we should expect to turn our attention increasingly to the strategic considerations of the various participants in the regime, and to the ideological and coalitional constraints limiting their tactical choices. We can inquire into the number of diverse voices speaking for Islam and for the state; and we can inquire into the cases where cooperative arrangements were worked out and where they were not. We can compare the situations in which transnational influences were decisive and those in which state-based allocation or policy considerations were paramount. Most important of all, we can trace the way in which religious forces and state forces have influenced their mutual adaptation, resulting in the structuring of political regimes in the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It is this alternative worldly perspective which inspires our proposed Colloquium on Islam and the Political Regime, planned for Spring 2004 in conjunction with the graduate seminar on Islam and Politics taught by Leonard Binder (Political Science C245) and the limited-enrollment undergraduate seminar, Political Science 197D. The colloquium will meet weekly in conjunction with the seminar. The colloquium will be open to members of the university community and of institutions of higher education affiliated with the Southern California Consortium on International Studies. At each of the ten weekly meetings, the political regime of one Muslim country will be discussed by a specialist well-versed in the Islamic politics of the country concerned.

  • April 7, Iraq: Juan Cole, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • April 14, Turkey: Hakan Yavuz, University of Utah
  • April 21, Palestine and Jordan: Glenn Robinson, Naval Postgraduate School
  • April 28, Tunisia: Azzedine Layachi, St. John’s University
  • May 5, Egypt: Julie Taylor, Princeton University
  • May 12, Pakistan: Vali Nasr, Naval Postgraduate School
  • May 19, Nigeria: Muhammad Sani Umar, University of Arizona
  • May 26, Iran: Mehrdad Mashayekhi, Georgetown University
  • June 2, Indonesia: Munim Sirry, UCLA
  • June 9, Syria: Ellen Lust Okar, Yale University

Center for Near Eastern Studies