“If fanaticism was the sickness in Catholicism, if Nazism was the sickness in Germany, then surely fundamentalism is the sickness in Islam.”
So writes homme de lettres Meddeb (Comparative Literature/Univ. of Paris X—Nanterre) by way of an opening salvo in a polemic sure to irk the ayatollahs. Fundamentalism, he argues, has taken hold of the Islamic world since 1979—the year of Khomeini’s triumphant revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, events more than coincidentally linked—for any number of reasons, not least of them the decline of secular education and the proliferation of “semi-literate” followers of “candidates who claim the authority to touch the letter.” Other factors, by Meddeb’s account, are the general withering away of the Islamic world as an important place vis-à-vis the rest of the globe, a marginalization that began at least as far back as the 15th century and the transference of what he calls the “world-capital” “ever further away from the Islamic space”; the repudiation of Enlightenment-influenced attitudes on such matters as the liberation of women and universal suffrage; the failure of the Islamic world to develop any kind of meaningful, modern democratic tradition, and the failure of revolutionary leaders such as Atatürk of Turkey and Bourguiba of Tunisia “to rid themselves of the despotic tradition they had inherited”; and the rise of a strange kind of American imperialism that has done too little to remove the conditions conducive to creating “the man eaten away by resentment, a candidate for terrorist and insurrectional fundamentalism.” Meddeb’s analysis is provocative if touched by flights of rhetorical confoundedness of the sort beloved only by French philosophers. The payoff: Meddeb’s crystal-clear assurance that “al Qa’ida is destined to fail just as the Assassins failed . . . just as every similar movement throughout history has failed.”
For those seeking a window onto the Islamic world, though of tertiary importance at best.