Curtains for Universalism: Islamism as Fundamentalism in Modern Social Form (2008)

Karl-Heinz Lewed
“Western values are Western values. Islamic values are universal values.”

– Mohamad Mahatir, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia

The West has responded to the threat of Islamist terror, particularly since the attacks on the World Trade Center, in two ways: first, in practical, political terms through select campaigns of destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, second, in ideological terms through the myth of what Samuel P. Huntington called a “clash of civilizations” and the fundamentalism of “Western Values.” 9/11 had the effect of an ideological accelerant, which managed to inflame further an already growing culturalist firestorm. The ever increasing economic crisis in the centers of capitalism, together with the social and material insecurity of individual people, had laid the groundwork for culturalism in the 1990s. Its paradigmatic claim, that is, of a major line of confrontation between the West and “Islam,” was met with an even greater deal of approval as a result of the terror attacks of Islamist groups. Since then, a stream of culturalist elaborations has continued to pour forth, and the pervasive stereotypes arising out of Western culturalism are being rearticulated with growing and pervasive vehemence.1 “Islam” is said to have nothing to do with the history of Western civilization, its way of life, and its basic values; rather it represents a totally different culture. It is said to be premodern because its views of the world stem from religiously motivated, medieval thinking, and is therefore diametrically opposed to personal freedom, the core of the Western way of life. What “Islam” strives for, then, is continually to expand its horizons, representing a threat to “Western culture.” In fact, in the confrontation between Islamism and Western cultural warriors, we find not two essentially foreign cultures standing opposite each other, but two complementary variations of dealing with a globalization marked by crisis capitalism, whose common foundation takes the modern social form of interaction through the production of commodities, abstract labor and law, as well as the attendant forms of subjectivity. If the implementation of capitalist forms of socialization in “Islamic” countries has taken on a very specific and contradictory character, a fundamental transformation of social relations already took place long ago under the guidance of the nationalist modernizing dictatorships, and continues through to modern, bourgeois social relations.2

With the excommunication of the “Islamic” world from the social fabric of bourgeois modernity, however, the fundamental social forms that dominate in both the capitalist core regions and the global South are totally effaced. The growing social decay in countries on the periphery, in the end the product of a recuperative modernization, is painted over, seen through a culturalist lens as something purely the result of a culture foreign to the West. Thus, the asynchronous nature of the current crisis, further polarizing the periphery and the center, appears as an existential conflict between Occident and Orient. Simultaneously, the critique of the political and ideological background in its historical context is rendered impossible, since culturalism displaces critical distance in favor of classification and identity. For culturalism, one thing is fundamentally obsolete: comprehending social contradictions and their disavowals in a historical context. Identity-based logic simplifies the historical process to a cultural fashioning of a preconceived being residing inside totally self-contained and static cultural structures. Culturalism is constituted by the construction and classification of collective identities, including the formulation of a clash between them. Thus, the real historical dimensions are effaced, as are the developments looming on the horizon. Contrary to culturalist constructions, the current situation in these regions does not result from an ostensible continuation of centuries of cultural traditions; rather it has much more to do with a crisis-laden process involving the dissolution of social formations on the basis of modern bourgeois social relations. Indeed, a fundamental transformation of social structures took place under the modernizing dictatorships. The process of this transformation had as its prerequisite both colonial domination and the disentanglement and “emancipation” from this domination. The content of the newly created frame of abstract social relations was, however, the equally abstract valorization of labor. The central contradiction that Islamism’s ideology of decline attests to could and can only be found in the fact that although the framework of social networks is based on modern forms, the universalization of the production of abstract wealth failed in these forms. Islamism is the direct product of this failure. It represents a specific ideological and (post)political form of decline of recuperative modernization, participating as such in the continuity of that process. Both the genesis and the decline of the nation-state form are constitutive of the emergence of Islamism. Its orientation reflects central elements of the modern bourgeois form, which cloaked themselves in religious garb, in particular the claim to sovereignty and a single legal system for all relative to the religion-based form of law.3 For a serious critique, the ideology of Islamism is not to be understood without reference to the level of nation-statehood and form of law — in other words, the standpoint of political generality. For this reason, I will concentrate on those forms which, in the process of the decline in the economic content, have gone through a specific reformulation, taking on a religious semblance. Thus Islamism proves to be the fundamentalism of the modern social form.

The statist movement towards a national collective occurred not simply through the rationalized cobbling together of individual units, torn from their traditional modes of living and made into a functional whole; in fact, irrational elements played a central role. These elements are part and parcel of the patriarchal form of male subjectivity and its inherent impulse to classify things into an all-encompassing sociality. The requirement for the appearance of concreteness and identification with an imagined, pure totality — like a “people” or a certain culture — finds its deep subjective foundations here. Only with the universalization of isolated individuality and its concomitant powerlessness in the face of the social does it become necessary to submit and subordinate oneself to a national or ethnic community, thereby merging into it. In a future article, I will attempt to determine the implications of this relationship at the level of subjects, and show how patriarchal structures, antisemitism, and, finally, the rendering of collective subjects are re-elaborated in Islamism as specific elements of modernity, becoming virulent as means of coming to terms with socioeconomic upheaval and its contradictions.4

The Generality of Self-Seeking Interest

The implementation of modern bourgeois forms of social intercourse mediated through the commodity form took place fundamentally at the level of nation state formation. The statist sovereign played a double role in this process. On one hand, he spurred the dismantling of traditional forms of social hierarchy with their “ancient hierarchical and organic forms of association.”5 On the other, state-organized violence pursued a general rationalization of the social order, replacing the established social structures with new objectified power relations. The process of implementing commodity society turned out to be an “enterprise of general uprooting” of individuals and, simultaneously, a new social cohesion taking the form of abstract mediation, a social “reconstruction according to the principles of reason.”6 The constitution of state power and the creation of new and abstract relationships between individuals went hand in hand. Exemplary of this consonance is the development of absolutist power in France, which, as Tocqueville shows, anticipated the fundamental forms of bourgeois dominance.7 Seen in this way, political systems — from the absolutist state to bourgeois democracy and on to the modernizing dictatorships — represent different manifestations of a shared identity at the most fundamental level, an identity that lies beyond the concrete formation of the statist power apparatus that administers public business. Rousseau calls this level, which lies outside the individual organs of sovereignty, the general will.8 The general foundation of statist praxis is expressed in the fact that state operations are legitimated not from within, but through a public interest, which simultaneously underwrites and overlaps with the state.9 Marx aptly describes the character of this universalization in the Grundrisse: “The general interest is precisely the generality of self-seeking interests.” “The other [the partner in the generalized exchange of commodities] is also recognized and acknowledged as one who likewise realizes his self-seeking interest, so that both know that the common interest is only...the exchanges between self-seeking interests.”10 Of course, what Marx calls “self-seeking interest” is not the abject personal character of the individual but the result of generalized social interaction between commodity owners. Social connections in commodity society are thereby fundamentally marked by the fact that labor or the commodity function as social mediators. Every individual in this kind of social relationship of mediation is included only as the owner of his commodity — and that means, generally speaking, the commodity of his own labor power. Thus, he does not work in order to manufacture a specific object, but to secure money and hence a portion of the abstract wealth of commodities. The social connection of mediation through labor thus breaks down into two elements of concrete activity for others, that is, for the anonymous social context represented in commodities and in the sphere of private, “self-seeking” interest for money. “Each [both parties in the exchange process] looks only to his own advantage. The only force bringing them together, and putting them into relation with the other, is the selfishness, the gain, and the private interest of each.”11 In a society in which labor stands at the center of social mediation, every activity becomes external to individuals and therefore merely a means. At the level of social relationships, this form of mediation expresses itself in the division into separate relationships of the will of each individual commodity owner to his product or the value represented in it; that is, in property relations.12 This is precisely what Marx means when he uses the phrase “self-seeking interests.” It is no accident, then, that in the final article of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” the founding political document of modern bourgeois society, we read that “property” is an “inviolable and sacred right,” of which “no one can be deprived.” Property as “sacred right” obviously does not mean a “natural” relation to an object; rather, it articulates the abstract sociality of the individual commodity monads and the standpoint of their private interests. Social generality is therefore an abstract generality, a common framework of separate, individualized monads endowed with free will.

Through the notion of law, the other side of abstract generality, separate private interests are placed in an equally abstract relationship to one another and are as such mediated. The commodity-formed individual is therefore not only constituted (in relation to his private property) as free, but simultaneously as an equal among equals related to a polity (law), which forms the abstract framework of abstract individuals. In addition to freedom belonging to commodity owners, the general will emerges — in other words, the spheres of right and law, in which all are viewed as equal. The concept of universalism expresses the universalization of the abstract private standpoint as well as the equality of abstract individuals as equal subjects before the law. There are always two souls that reside in the modern universal subject: that of free will and that of “universal law.” The most advanced representative of bourgeois reason, Immanuel Kant, outlines in his Critiques precisely these two aspects of bourgeois subjectivity — free will and the universal form of law — and simultaneously formulates a program of complete submission to them. Kant is theoretically consistent insofar as his concept of the “form of law in general” is clearly not aimed at actual written laws — unlike the contemporary positivist simplified notions of “jurisprudence”— rather at the level of “law itself” underlying the statist legal system.13 This underlying form is nothing other than one pole of the individual’s abstract mediation relationship vis-à-vis the commodity. The mediation implies, on one hand, the discretionary power of commodity owners over their private property (including their own labor power) to the exclusion of all others; on the other hand, the constitution of a “generality of self-seeking interests” as right and law emerge. Abstract individuals are deeply affected by two sides of the same coin of subjectivity. Obviously, the combination of freedom and legality can be found in “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” Article I states that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” while Article VI specifically clarifies the content of social relations in the form of the generality of right: “The law is the expression of the general will.” This formulation makes absolutely clear how the societal cohesion of individuals reduced to commodities can only be expressed in the form of law.

The basic form of the relation of commodity owners we have been describing must take a concrete form in the daily circulation of individuals, a form which has a dual character: the abstract relation expresses itself on one hand in the sphere of the market, in which the individual commodity owners realize their private portion of the social mass of value; on the other hand, the mediation of abstract relationships through the form of law manifests itself in a highly differentiated system of public institutions: the sphere of politics and the state. The 1791 “Declaration” explicitly highlights the requirement of external force: “The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force.”

According to an uncritical understanding of human rights, they express only the interests of individuals with respect to statist force. Contrary to this limited perspective, however, the 1791 “Declaration” formulates clearly the dual character of private relationships: individuals are free to handle their hallowed property as they please and at the same time are necessarily tied to law and the state as community. Given their basic elements, the state and the free individual stand not in opposition to each other, but form a logical and complementary unity: “the Sovereign presupposes citizens to be individuals, he as an individual needs them...and he guarantees their existence as isolated citizens. Herein lies the ‘common interest’: that the two spheres require each other as much as much as they differ.”14 The general form of interest is private and the statist institutionalization represents this general and abstract form. The state is therefore only the external shape of the abstract form of relations between individuals. We can in no way find the underlying conditions of right and law in the empirical “forms of expressions” of state force, or likewise in the personal decisions of individuals. The profound depth of the Kantian critique quoted above therefore resides in the formulation of free will and the form of law as “transcendentality,” rather than deriving it from an empirical determination of will, in the way, say, Hobbes attempts to. The latter viewpoint leads back to the constitution of the Sovereign through a contractual relation between the isolated individuals and presupposes from the outset their monadic existence as natural “people.” Opposed to that, the Kantian “form of a Law in general” is a superindividual sphere, that is, a framework of “transcendental” legality and freedom in which individuals already operate. The Marxian critique of commodity production can identify this “transcendentality” as a historically specific form of relation and, to a certain extent, bring it down from the otherworldly sphere of reason to the earthly ground of commodity relations.

Independence and National Unity Within the Horizon of the General Interest

Not only has the ideology of bourgeois society underlined the categories of abstract generality and general will; the collective actors of later nation-state formations legitimate themselves explicitly by using these categories. And even its form of decline, political Islam, refers to them when legitimating itself. All of modernity’s political systems, no matter how differently they style themselves, stand fundamentally in a long and unified tradition of statist sovereignty as the standpoint of generality that stretches all the way back to the beginnings of bourgeois society, a standpoint which obliges the statist institutions of power to maintain the status of neutrality in the face of private interests. What follows from the form of law as the mediation of respective private property relationships is that the representative organs must constitute themselves as neutral and independent. Figuratively, this claim is embodied well in the figure of “Lady Justice”: blind to the items on her scales — that is, the respective private interests — it is only a question of legal equilibrium, the formal balance between abstract private interests.15 This claim to independence or rather the indifference to the specific matter at hand implies that the personnel representing the institutionalized general will, in other words the officers of the court and public administrators, are likewise forced to uphold a strict neutrality because, as functionaries of general operations, they operate in a sphere which is ideally located outside the particular interests, including their own as private persons. The infringement of this basic rule — that is, the mixing of general interests and the particular interests of public personnel — is however already implied. Officials, who are meant to take the general interest seriously, find themselves all too easily mixed up with their private interest. Broadly speaking, history shows that there is no clear correlation between the regular functioning of the sphere of private relationships (mediated by the market) and the near “disturbance-free” administration of general operations. The historical implementation of the modern forms, in which the sphere of private relationships was first created, was signaled by a mixing of the two spheres. The tendency towards the diffusion of particular interests is intensified in the crisis of commodity production such that a separation of the general operations from the outside private interest proves to be more and more difficult. In these cases it is common to speak of corrupt states, which are then ranked on a new scale created especially for them. Ultimately, this contradiction leads to the collapse of the crucial neutrality of the public sphere.16 The gravitational pull of corruption also affects the countries where Islamism has entered into the corridors of political power: “Empowered Islam offers neither new kinds of social or economic justice. Hypocrisy is dominant: under the veil of moral conservatism, corruption is pervasive. [...] Empowerment leads to corruption, compromise, and the loss of utopia.”17

The ideal of the formal and functional independence and neutrality of the sovereign as public authority is merely one facet of this relation. In addition, political sovereignty externally represents the national unity of private, individual relationships. In the nation, the mass of isolated individuals is coalesced into a broader constituency. So, too, does the individual, the presupposed sovereign, as the general will of private property relations, find its concrete form in an all-powerful nation. The mystical transfiguration of this submission as “devotion to the nation” (Marx) points out that the real-metaphysical quality of the abstract form is in fact a civil relationship, unconsciously produced through the mediation of money and law. The mythologically charged concept of the nation has resulted, since its first formulation, from this externalization of social relationships and the subsequent metaphysical Categorical Imperative. The sovereign is thus the extended community of the nationally defined individual, one who stands in a negative relationship with any other nation. The national whole stands only on one particular territory, one fenced in by its sovereign, ever-enclosed, and secured from the outside. And so, too, privileges (such as social benefits) only come to the members of the national community.

For both the self-image and self-legitimation of the nation as a whole, as for individuals, bourgeois social dynamics play an important role: first, the need for continuous circulation of the productive basis of wealth production; second, the dissolution of traditional relationships and forms of production; and third, permanent expansion. Material production, as the social structure that underpins the requirement of constant modernization, is turned into an ideology of universal social progress, and it finds general acceptance. The nation, now identified with this comprehensive, all-encompassing dynamic, must, as the subject of “progress,” grant meaning and achieve concrete goals. This identification with the national unity, however, is mediated through an individual perspective, whereby the respective private interests are included in the promise of progress of the whole. The legitimacy of executive state power is based on two rules: first, neutrality of legal institutions regulating private property relations; second, perceiving national interests in the sense of the dynamic of its own community and in contrast to all non-national interests.

These two moments are now playing an important role in the enforcement of modern social forms — not just as a real process, but also as an ideological reference point for the mobilization of the population. This is particularly true for recuperative modernization, in which the state’s sovereignty came to prominence with both the dissolution of traditional social structures and the implementation of the modern social form. In the “Islamic” countries, this development came along with the historical marks of colonialism, the subsequent national modernization regime, and finally — this regime’s rejection — as political Islamism. The respective contradictions, both of the recuperative modernization regimes as well as Islamism whose appearance on the historical stage they provoked, can be illustrated alongside the previously outlined two moments of national legitimacy.

Anticolonial Liberation in the World of Abstract Domination

In the European colonies and quasi-colonies, colonial policy and colonial institutions were subjected to the economic and political interests of the centers, a practice legitimated by the racist devaluation of the colonized population. Against the system of colonial domination now stand anticolonial liberation movements in the name of the nation or the people, which attack this domination on two related levels of public interest. On one hand, this was done with the demand for independence of the newly created public authority from the colonial interests. The national liberation movements stood against the particular interests of the colonial powers for political independence and for their own sovereign, who would follow the dictates of neutrality. On the other hand, linked to this was the call for the redistribution of the abstract wealth over which state authority presided and to distribute it among nationally defined members — that is, to realize national interests for the sake of their community.

Compared with colonial and imperialist oppression and exploitation, this step is undoubtedly progressive, as is the liberation of individuals from the mechanisms of racially legitimated coercive conditions, from social exclusion, and from violence by the colonial apparatus. Last but not least, the hope that the wretched living conditions of the majority of the population would improve rallied the anticolonial struggles. Still, the legitimacy and thus the practice of the national liberation movements remained essentially within the framework of abstract political universality. The independence strived for was not only independence from colonial rule, but rather a determinate content of a specific manner — namely, the constitution of a form of law independent of private interests. Thus modern forms of domination — that is, abstract domination — replaced the repressive structures of colonialism. The right to social participation and a secure livelihood for all, rights formulated during the fight for liberation, resulted in a social structure that precisely excludes this end. And so the upheaval of social relations proceeded for the most part not towards the differentiation and expansion of a national bourgeoisie, but towards “socialist” mobilization of labor under the direct supervision of the state. In these circumstances, its function was not limited to “general development,” like building public infrastructure, but also included the immediate content of this private relationship, the production of abstract social wealth. Insofar as the state appeared as the general contractor of labor-form mobilization, it manifested the “will of the people” in the triumvirate of production, expended labor, and income. The state control of recuperative modernization was based essentially on the latecomers to modernization, in the cities where the redevelopment of the national space was also driven by the industrialization program of a nation state. Exemplary here was the Germany of the nineteenth century. Industrialization should lead to a general revolution in the productive base. Within this process, the categories of labor and money are provided, as well as the political sovereign, who was to bring about this development. Nasser did so in Egypt in the 1950s. He pointedly expressed the clear difficulties of implementing a commodity-producing system when he said in a speech to striking workers: “In any case it is impossible today to raise the standard of living of workers. In order to do that we need to give them money, and to do that it is our duty to increase production by creating industries. To offer you any other prospect would be to deceive you. The only way which permits us to raise the standard of living of the workers is construction and labor.”18 With the universalization of the production of abstract wealth, private, individual interests simultaneously and necessarily took on a universal, social form. Money and labor increasingly became the center of social mediation such that the individual was ever more relegated to the context of personal relationships.

Beneath the surface of state intervention, which increasingly placed social reproduction on the basis of labor power and income, a fundamental change took place in the social fabric that effected every aspect of life. This change was both visible and tangible in phenomena such as the rural exodus and soaring urbanization, the disintegration of traditional family relationships, and integration into objectified social functions. The colonial rulers had already partially transformed social relationships into commodified exchanges and the play of private interests. Now, modernizing dictatorships fundamentally revolutionized the social mediations. Strikingly, even the greatest thinkers of the national liberation movements refer without bias to the basic contradiction between the general interest and “selfish” interest, by presupposing both as given. This is evident from Frantz Fanon’s indictment of colonial rule: namely, that it had failed to produce a bourgeoisie, which is precisely the class representative of private interests essential for further national development. The national dictatorships of modernization attempted to make up this gap as quickly as possible through a comprehensive political and economic development program: “The task is either to develop the national bourgeoisie, or, if that was too weak or too dependent on Western interests and influences, for the state to take it over. In light of this theory, the Communist parties in many former colonies — and especially in the Arab world — allied themselves with nationalist parties, representing an indigenous bourgeoisie, or even a military-bureaucratic state.”19 Everyone from nationalists to the state bureaucracy, from the socialists to the communist parties, shares a common position regarding the radical reformulation of social interaction under the guiding star of abstract universalism, namely, of the bourgeois categories of reason and labor. Freedom and equality before the law fall under the same framework as the mediation of labor and money. The anticolonial liberation movements made the enforcement of modern bourgeois forms their explicit program. Where attempts at continued social organization and the appropriation of social wealth developed (such as councils or cooperatives), they were relatively quickly suppressed or incorporated into state institutions.

The history of recuperative modernization shows how difficult it was to gain access to the economic standards of the West, especially the world market. Given the one-sided, metropole-aligned economy with minimal vertical integration and an orientation towards agriculture and raw materials, the starting conditions for producing value for the world system were very bad. The state needed not only to create the basis for a wide range of economic production (provision of necessary infrastructure from roads to communications, the expansion of public administration, creating an education system, and so on), but also, as a key economic agent, to begin the production of abstract wealth. But the concept of “import substitution,” which was followed in almost all developing countries and designed to reduce dependence on foreign capital goods imports by developing their own self-supporting industry, was ultimately unsuccessful. Most industrial production was limited to simple assembly, minimally vertically integrated and lagging behind the international standard, so the dependence upon high-quality and expensive capital goods remained. At the same time, exports became more expensive due to overvalued exchange rates, such that the increasing need for foreign exchange led to a growing national debt. Even more serious was, however, that the aim of general, self-sustaining industrial production failed on its own terms. Not only did the unassailable lead in productivity of the industrial centers play a central role, but most important of all was the basic contradiction of trying to build a differentiated and complex system of production under the rule of a central planning bureaucracy. The cumbersome command economy was structurally incapable of organizing flexible manufacturing processes, such as are created almost automatically under conditions of capitalist competition, which is the dictate of the market. Overall, therefore, the modernization regime became entangled in structural contradictions that finally plummeted the nation state’s politics of industrialization into crisis.

The Ruins of Modernization and the Emergence of Islamism

The dynamics of abstract wealth production in the “developing countries” increasingly lost its momentum in the 1970s and 1980s due to the lacking generalization of its industrial basis. Even the increasing oil revenues in some central “Islamic” countries could not compensate for this industrial stagnation, contributing instead to a one-sided orientation of the economy towards these sources of revenues, substantially benefiting only a minority. And so the system of abstract relationships was generalized, but not their content: not the abstract production of wealth. Islam expert Gilles Kepel dates the beginning of the “Islamic period” to the early 1970s, and more precisely to the first “oil crisis.”20 Saudi Arabia, as an ideal core country and source of material support for Islamism, rose at that time due to rising oil prices, becoming the leading power in the region. This refers in part to the last, failed attempt to develop an independent national economy. On the other hand, there is a certain irony: in spite of Islamists’ anti-Western and anti-American polemics and demarcation they materially remain attached to the IV-drip of the local valorization of value due to their reliance on the shift to a petrodollar economy.

For the populace, the implementation of modern forms of socialization meant, especially in regions that were once predominantly rural, that social relations were transformed by the process of modernization: a sprawling urban migration to the cities took place; and urban ways of life prevailed. Initially, this change represents a real improvement of material conditions, because within the newly established framework of abstract forms of relationship, opportunities for advancement and participation emerged. The ideology of national progress depended explicitly on the program of universal participation in abstract wealth. This first transition, perceived as a largely positive social change, was over no later than the mid-1970s, mainly due to a sharp population increase, and a young generation who did not see material conditions improving and lost the perspective of the social whole.21 Bernard Schmid describes the situation in the period of national progress for Algeria:

A majority lived with the expectation that progress in the development of the country would in the long run benefit the “lower” echelons of society. This hope was in line with reality insofar as schools and transport links were all built in the seventies, and the Algerian population benefited from relatively developed social systems, such as a free health care (in 1974). Picture this: sitting in the last car, the occupants could bear hardship as long as they had the impression that the entire train — the whole of Algerian society — was going forward and so was also transporting them towards the target. But the situation becomes unbearable if the passengers in the rear wagon have the impression that they have been suspended from the rest of the train and the front of the car is going on alone. This perception intensified in the course of the eighties: social inequalities grew, corruption became ever more obvious and determined access to artificially discounted consumer goods — which are imported by state structures, but are often sold in parallel channels on a shadow sector and distributed there.22

The situation in the regions with failed modernization is now felt more generally, causing economic frictions to be experienced as comprehensive social misery and the utter loss of prospects. This train of events puts the prospect of individuals participating in the blessings of the national whole ever more into question. On one hand, the system of private interests prevailed. On the other hand, the content of said system, the production of abstract wealth, remained very fragile, so that a growing proportion of the population had no access to this wealth. Islam scholar Olivier Roy in his study The Islamic Way West has convincingly shown the extent to which the social transformation process was generalized and the individual standpoint is now the foundation of social relations. He shows the close relationship between the “Islamic” countries and the West in key social developments. The disintegration of traditional social relations has led to a matrix of individualization, which Roy has also identified as a central feature of Islamic fundamentalism. As in the West, the situation is dominated by strategies based on professional success and individual performance.23 He describes the current situation as a “crisis of indigenous cultures,” the moment of a “process of deculturation” in that the “social authority of religion is gone,” and there is a general loss of “social authority.”24 The current re-Islamization, Roy argues, has the secularized concept of the individual as its foundation. It appears from the will of the individual” and leads to the “individual reformulation of personal religiosity.”25 “Central is the self, and consequently the individual. […] Currently taking place among Muslims is an individualization of belief and behavior, especially among those living in the West. The ego is highlighted, each strives for self-actualization and looks for an individual reconstruction of his attitude to religion. […] Individualization is a prerequisite for the Westernization of Islam, and that’s what happened.”26 In the process, Roy distinguishes between the form and the content of praxis: Westernization means something more than just the West. The content may be different, but the “form of individuality is the same.”27 The modernization of social relations within the formation of the nation state took place therefore as the transformation of relations towards the position of the abstract individual. The process of “acculturation” and the change of the “common grammar of social relations” evolved in the horizon of modern bourgeois relations on the basis of private interest and “free will.”28

Therefore, it is anything but surprising that in these regions the generalized private subject position, in one of his main fields of activity, is the consumer. With the generalization of private interest and the individualization of living conditions, the Western consumerist attitude arrives. From the get-go, little remains of the imagined collective future or the belief in the progress of the nation as a whole. Rather, now the abstract universality of “the spirit of the people” faces the abstract privacy of the individual. This is clearly noticeable, for instance, in Algeria: “after industrial policy has been abandoned in favor of free trade and the importation of Western commodities, the predominant fascination with the colorful world of commodities is, for the time being, displayed on the shleves of specially established state supermarkets.”29 This “free will” given to the abstract individual is subject to the temptations of the increasingly colorful commodity aesthetic that makes up an essential moment in the world of modern subjectivity. But an increasingly large part of the population cannot participate in the consumer world because the experiments spawned by recuperative modernization produced not a system of mass production, mass employment, and mass consumption, but rather one of mass poverty and exclusion, where living and working conditions are increasingly precarious, and where a rapid increase in the informal sector followed.

Large parts of the population did not perceive the mechanisms of social exclusion as an expression of economic contradictions and the structural crisis of the overall system but interpreted them through their individual, biased subject positions. Thus general misery appeared to be due to corruption, that is, in the illegal mixing of “general operations” with the private interests of executives. The national nomenklatura procured gross benefits through their privileged access to the material resources of the public. This widespread perception was not entirely wrong, as corruption, obvious to all, grew along with the economy. However, this confuses cause and effect. For the ever-increasing diffusion of private interests in the public sector can be considered a consequence of the fact that the state was interested in erecting itself as abstract universality against particular interests, along with the failure of recuperative modernization. From the individuals’ perspective, the social regression appears to be caused by the nomenklatura, who are responsible for the crisis. The latter have driven the sovereign into the abyss, in that they wrongly used him in terms of their selfish, individual interests, rather than as a general framework for the mediation of diverse, social, private interests, thus creating appropriate private development opportunities. The structural failure to generalize the production of abstract wealth appeared, from the perspective of their own social frame of reference, to be due to the individual misconduct of the “privileged elite” governing the country.30

With the national state bureaucracy the concept of the nation largely came into disrepute. The charge that the national elite oppressed and exploited the individual was, retrospectively for the entire period of nationalism (i.e., of recuperative nation building), interpretively integrated into the anticolonial period. Thus, the national phase appeared to be an extension of colonial domination and exploitation, except the bearer of this rule was now not the colonial powers, but cliques of the state bureaucracy, which were characterized as spittle-licking lackeys of foreign powers, especially the United States. And just as the colonial powers kept their colonies in a relation of economic dependency and allowed them no independent political sovereignty, the postcolonial regime undermined the social order further, thereby causing general social malaise. Because they pursued only their particular interests rather than serving the public good, the sphere of the independent sovereign itself had been discredited. The result of this is the view that nationalism is identical with the particularist position and responsible for the increasing exclusion of the population from social participation. The independent sovereign, according to this logic, broke with the principle of equality that is attached to sovereignty, which, after all, enshrines the idea of equal rights for all. The anti-imperialism and anticolonialism of the past era were now actualized against the failure of modernization and became largely identical with nationalism. In this way, Islamism was a reservoir for a new anti-imperialism, one able to give political expression to the growing social upheaval and the resulting social tensions — though not without also installing certain religious motives in this protest. This results in a general shift of the voice of social protest in a direction that had heretofore been politically marginal. A common reference point for the different Islamic movements was the criticism of the oppression of national regimes as particularistic, accomplices of the West, particularly of the United States and of Israel. The Western Hemisphere and its democratic system becomes a symbol of particularism against which Islam’s universality is asserted: “Western values are Western values, Islamic values, however, are universal values.”31 As a counterpoint to the particularistic point of view of foreign rule, Islamists argue for the organization of a “just society” in which the same law (understood, however, within the meaning of “Islamic law”) for all would be guaranteed through the transcendence of sovereignty, the sovereignty of God. Both the movements of political Islam in the early 1980s as well as today, especially terrorist networks, share this belief. The law as the embodiment of divine order and as the central goal to be achieved was the reference point both for the “Islamic revolution” in Iran and al-Qaeda. Before analyzing this ideological shift and showing that the reformulation of the general religious standpoint reflects the contradictions of the global crisis, I would first like to clarify some statements by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Sayyid Qutb.

The “Spirit of the People” According to bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Sayyid Qutb

We begin with three quotes from George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden:

“These people despise freedom. It is a fight for freedom. It is a struggle, so that we can say to all lovers of freedom: We will not let them terrorize us...”32

“They have declared war on us. And the United States, they are hunting. As long as I am president, we are determined to be firm and strong in our pursuit of these people who kill innocent people because they hate freedom.”33

“Bush said…that we hate freedom….On the contrary, we want our country to return to freedom; pursuing your freedom destroys our freedom.”34

The last quotation is from a video release by bin Laden entitled “Message to the American People.” The entire text is instructive insofar as the theoretical framework — if you want to call it that — is quite familiar: first, freedom for the people and security, but also values such as justice, humanity, work, business, and common sense. So all terms that reference the modern form of socialization. The train of thought he develops in his message to the American people reflects the tradition of anti-imperialist liberation struggles as well as the dimension of sovereignty strived for, the “spirit of the people.” The dominance of the West, that is, the United States and Israel, means that Muslim countries are doomed, according to bin Laden, to suffering, injustice, and misery. Since the dominant nations are only pretending to defend freedom, the war of the oppressed peoples, the war of the Jihadist, is not offensive, but rather defensive. The United States is a repressive regime, similar to the military and neo-feudal regimes in Islamic countries who are dominated by “pride and arrogance, greed and corruption.”35 Bush, too, prevailed due to his family clan, partly by choice and partly by open fraud and lies, similar to the regimes in the “Islamic” countries. Bin Laden characterizes Bush and Bush Senior in the following: “He transferred to his son, who passed a ‘Patriotic Act’ under the pretext of fighting terrorism, both despotism and a contempt for freedom.”36

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s position is therefore not one of implacable opposition between “Islam” and the “West,” or between the “Orient” and the “Occident,” in the sense the Western culturalists (like Huntington) discuss the “clash of civilizations.” In contrast to this, al-Qaeda’s position is much closer to the abstract universality of the public interest. After all, their criticism is not directed against the “American people” as a whole, as a cultural community, but rather claims to represent their “true interests.” The Patriot Act, bin Laden claims, shows the despotic rule of the Bush clan, which will be consolidated with the help of this law, and will restrict the freedom of individuals and control them. This rhetoric reproduces exactly the perspective of Islamic anti-imperialists regarding the national development regimes, which they held responsible for suppressing the “true interests” of the people. Insofar as it is a global network, al-Qaeda transcends this perspective, since it is not limited to “Islamic” countries and seeks to combat state bureaucratic cliques as well. They universalize the standpoint of a global framework, and claim to be the true representatives of all individual interests in the context of the abstract universality of the global scale. It follows therefore that they attempted to mobilize the American people against the assumed particularism of the U.S. government and the U.S. oligarchy: “The real losers are you, the American people and its economy.”37 Bin Laden refers not only to the position of abstract universality in the form of the “American people” but also that of its immanent contrary, individual freedom in the economic sphere of the market. Both moments warn against the “greed” of the private interests of the Bush clique, asserting that their policies only respond to the particular interests of private companies. The American people in turn have been manipulated by these economic cliques and have made a mistake. The end of the message reads: “Know that it is better to return to the good than to remain in error and that reasonable people sacrifice neither their safety, nor their money, nor their children for a liar in the White House.”38 Bin Laden here appeals to the private interests of isolated individuals, along with their essential attributes of money and family, which under the given situation could not be realized. Reason should assist in the effort to establish a rule where both the individual and the totality of the people would have a place — and bin Laden claims this as the rule of al-Qaeda and the global Islamist movement. They are the true representative of the universal law, he claims, being based upon Islamic law, while, on the other hand, democracy represents the rule of special interests and of private interests by certain power groups at the expense of the public. This means not only that the national modernization regimes, with their nationalism, but also that the Western democracies are representatives of vested interests.

Al-Qaeda’s chief theorist, Ayman al-Zawahiri engages the dialectic of general and private interests, even more thoroughly. Just like bin Laden, he identifies democracy with the rule of special interests over the standpoint of universality. According to al-Zawahiri, in a democracy, the parliament, or, more precisely, individual parliamentarians sit in the place of the people. “In democracy, the legislature is the people, represented by a majority of seats in parliament. These delegates are men and women, Christians, communists, and secularists. What they say becomes law, that must be imposed on all, by which taxes are levied and people are executed.”39 In the parliamentary systems, deputies rule according to their own private interests, which they impose on “the people” through the law, instead of the sovereign, who represents the “real interest” of the people. In this respect, democracy is not the right form to achieve the universality of the law, but instead subjugates the people under the arbitrary will of certain private interests. The claim of universal interest thus corresponds to a basic level of common anti-imperialist argument. Al-Zawahiri thus shares the latter’s total blindness regarding the general standpoint as the dominance of the abstract form of sociality. One could claim that it finally becomes crazy when this perspective, instead of criticizing a universal standpoint as such, formulates the latter in neo-religious terms: “These people, who are making laws for all in a democracy, revere idols. There are those rulers whom God […] has mentioned, ‘and do not take others as lord next to Allah.’”40 The parliamentary system, fundamentally corrupted by individual interests, culminates in the arrogance of being the supreme sovereign. It puts the private interests of a few in the place of the public interest, a handful of idols in the place of the one God.

This conception of divine universal law was already formulated by Sayyid Qutb, the most important theorist of political Islamism. He interprets the condition, “if people worship people, and human beings claim that they, as such, have the right to be entitled obedience, and the right, as creatures of law, to set values and set rules,” as the presumption of divine sovereignty. “This happens both in democracies and in dictatorships: the first divine characteristic is law […] to be able to establish rules and doctrines, to adopt laws and regulations, to establish values, and to judge as referee. […] To elevate terrestrial systems to this Right, in one way or another, in all cases, the case is decided by a group of people, and this group, which imposes on others their laws, values, and ideas, consists of mere terrestrial men, some of whom obey men instead of God, and allow men to claim to be divine. They worship men instead of God, even if they do not bow down before them or fall on their knees.”41 And Qutb added, “This is the difference between Muslims and those who are committed to each other instead of God. This clearly shows who the Muslims are. They are the ones who worship God alone.”42

Transcendental Legitimacy and Divine Sovereignty

The position Islamists oppose to particular interests is the public interest understood in terms of legality and justice, but related not to the secular context of a nation, rather to a higher divine authority and metaphysical sovereignty. The enlightened, Western cultural warriors understand this orientation of the Islamists as proof of their premodern or, alternatively, regressive and totalitarian backwardness, and also use it to promote their progressive civilization on the basis of modern reason. The enlightened Westerners’ preferred critique of Islam is the lack of separation between religion and politics. In return the Islamists argue for the achievement of universal law in relation to the highest divine authority. The question is whether this alleged identity between the monotheistic God and the unity of the Act is actually a premodern and archaic worldview, the expression of a premodern social structure, or whether, on the contrary, it corresponds to the forms of civic association specific to bourgeois society. Looking more closely at the position of Islamists with respect to traditional religiosity, one must first clearly state that they have vehemently fought the religious traditions and cultural heritage of Islam. “The main targets of Neofundamentalists are the so-called Muslim Cultures.” They “speak against local forms of Islam, such as exist in Egypt and Morocco, and lead a relentless fight against old traditions...for example, against all the ‘saints cults,’ such as the ‘Ziarat’ in Central Asia or the ‘Moussem’ in North Africa, a religious pilgrimage to draw in people to pray at the graves of the local patron saint.”43 The premodern communities were — both socially and in their religious practices — the opposite of a strict standardization of social relations in general laws. Traditional Islam integrated a variety of pre-Islamic moments, such as the ancient Egyptian cult of the dead. These adaptations of pre-Islamic religiosity and diverse religious practices have been a thorn in the side to the Islamists because their perspective of the reign of eternal law requires the production of a uniform basis for all Muslims and therefore includes the task of breaking up the diversified pattern of religious and cultural life. Under premodern conditions, focusing social reality on a standard principle of statutory form and politics was unthinkable. The modern character of Islam aspires to just that. Insofar as the secular regimes of modernization have not ousted traditional social relations in favor of the system of abstract social mediation, the Islamists continue that work under the banner of “eternal law.” Their struggle is thus directed not only against the national regime and its “Western backers” but also against traditional cultural and religious social structures. Both of these together, according to the Islamists, are complicit in the miserable state in which the “Islamic” countries as a whole find themselves. The resistance against neocolonialism, understood as domination by the national regime, is linked to the struggle against traditional Islamic cultural remnants, insofar as both hold responsibility for the social decline of the “Islamic” order. This idea mainly comes from the already-cited Egyptian thinker of Islam, Sayyid Qutb, who traces impoverishment and social disintegration back to the fact that the “Islamic” society is falling away from the only true social and religious practice: the focus on a single principle, one given by divine law. The heterogeneous and diverse religious heritages that exist in the “Islamic” countries appear to him as equivalent to the apostasy of the individualist form of legality, that marks the depraved and dissolute life of Western decadence.

In this, the Islamists proclaim the identity of religion and politics, discredited in the West, not through arresting the development of Islamism in the premodern and religious Middle Ages, but rather in the context of the specific standardization of the practice of life within commodified modernity. The desire to orient the social whole according to the criteria of reasonable religious legalism corresponds to the enforcement of abstract forms of relationship. The ambiguity of Enlightenment thought is that it thought itself to be antireligious and secular, but that the abstract rationality of modernity is in fact based on the transcendental nature of social mediation. The Enlightenment philosophy of Kant at least was consistent inasmuch as it formulated forms of reasons as otherworldly, as a matter of metaphysics, independent of concrete human experience and sensible practice. The actions of individuals, in accordance to the Kantian foundation of bourgeois reason, must correspond to a “transcendental” framework a priori, and only this metaphysical framework established the specific conduct of subjects. As we saw earlier, this is connected by the forms of modern rationality to a system where freedom and legal status are understood as expressions of abstract private relationships.

It is more coherent to understand the law of Islamism that is oriented at the beyond in the context of this transcendentality, rather than as an extension of “backward” social relations. The concept of sovereignty came first with modernity and its system of abstract social relations, as did the categories of the “will of the people” and the uniform statutory form. The metaphysics of the divine law of the Islamists should, therefore, be seen within the horizon of modern bourgeois relations, as formulated by Kant in The Metaphysics of Morals.

This connection is also plausible insofar as, in the process of crisis in its entirety, the sovereign state as the realization of the universal standpoint is eroded. The sovereign is thus no longer the authority that mediates diverse private interests and provides for the operation of the abstract whole. So, where do those who seek legitimacy, who demand, in the face of growing social polarization, “social equality,” “justice,” and “equal rights for all”? No longer upon the earth, a real-metaphysical sphere of the unconsciously created mesh of private relations, the nation or the state, but rather only in the imagination of a supernatural, otherworldly realm. Therefore the metaphysics of the legal form ascends to the heavens and the universality of private interest finds, as its destination, divine sovereignty. That this transcendence is assumed to be identical with the “spirit of the people” has become clear in the texts of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Qutb. The transcendental foundation of the general will in Islamism seems anything but arbitrary. The positivist and flattened Enlightened perspective of today cheats these dimensions, in that it assumes its constructed counterpart to be theocracy and cultural retrogression; it thus hides the problem of its own foundations.

In the early days of the enforcement of civil commerce systems, to interpret Kant’s Critiques explicitly, the forms of “free will” and legality were far from obvious. The transformation of social relations was so fundamental that a non-negligible interest in the self-legitimation of these forms existed. An important aspect was to resolve the apparent contradiction: how one can present the comprehensive and non-empirical general spirit in the legal form of an appropriate state representation. The problem therefore consists in the attempt to realize the “spirit of the people” in the institutions of the public sphere, or rather the resolution of the fundamental tension between the real-metaphysical universality of the form of relating, on one hand, and the concreteness of a governing, legislative body, on the other hand. In the wake of the French Revolution, this tension was expressed in the form of an opposition between the sacred and the all-encompassing nation and the respective representatives of the national whole. The distrust of the representatives of state power from the perspective of the general position of the people was, in the course of revolutionary events, ever-increasingly virulent and partly caused the radicalism that sought to end the separation of the people from state power. Robespierre’s criticism of the French Constitution of 1791 zeroes in on this logic, describing a “strange, fully representative system of government, without any counter weight to the sovereignty of the people” — “such a government is the most intolerable of all despotisms.”44

The events surrounding the year 1789 in France are now long past, but the fundamental tension between the real-metaphysical universality of the form of sociability and its concrete realization in the state legislative authority remains. And this contradiction is most apparent in the Islamic reformulation of sovereignty. It is precisely in the diffusion of private interests into the sphere of the government system in the failed national modernization regimes that the state bureaucracy is “the most intolerable of all despotisms.” By contrast, Islamism was consistent and moved the standpoint of universality away from the paradigm of the nation, and gave it a new religious upholstering. In view of the canonization of the nation or people, as is characteristic of all nation-state formation processes, the reference to a religious foundation presented itself. Islamism and the “Islamic revolution” thus occur as the historical legacy of national liberation. Responding to the discrediting of the national fabric in the crisis regions, Islamism, however, reclothes the general spirit in religious terms. Central to this revival of the general spirit is the right of the excluded to participate in modern forms of socialization. This claim is asserted against the corrupt regimes of modernizing dictatorships through a religious reformulation of the ideals of equality and justice, asserted against the dictators who have been accused of increasing the social exclusion of broad sectors of the population and of particular advantages to others, thus violating constitutionally promised equality.

From the Machine of Progress to the Legislative Form

The guiding star of the national independence movements was the nation as the subject of real social progress, repressing and destroying traditional structures in favor of a new national unity of the whole. Related to this was the right to bring about the production of abstract wealth. This coincided with an emphasis on the progress and development of productive forces, which aimed to revolutionize, both technically and organizationally, the production of wealth, and to focus it on the utilization of labor power. By cranking up the state-sponsored progress machine, the idea of progress was linked to creating increasingly rich forms of sensual gratification for the individual. In Islamism, this moment of material modernization takes place only in the background. Its program for liberation from domination, identified as neocolonialism, systematically masks the plane of the conditions of wealth production. Instead, the Islamists’ program is reduced to the dimension of compliance with the law given by God as shaped by Muhammad. Islamism as a political force obliges itself to enforce Islamic values and principles against “depraved” society. This is the background for the integrated politics of moralization of the Islamist movement in terms of abiding by sharia law. The real social content of the legal form, the abstract production of wealth, is, for the Islamists, only a minor problem that will be corrected by the restoration of the correct law without any further action. “If the company once again respects its religious commandments and its cultural identity,” so the idea goes, “then everyone would find a place in it.”45 “The reform of the soul should precede […] the reform of the state. Policy does not help in the purification of the soul.”46 Hence the non-concrete, porous, and cloudy provisions on specific social goals. Ultimately, the control of the individual in relation to compliance with legal statutes remains the central content of government action. In Afghanistan, when in power, the Taliban realized this program with a sort of postnational, Jacobin dictatorship of virtue. With the actual social contradictions and tensions due to the continuing deterioration of the material situation, the Islamists were distant and ultimately helpless, or rather helpless and ultimately distanced: “In power (Iran) or in the opposition (Egypt), Islamists have so far always been unable to cope with the social and economic changes in which they participate. The revolutionary social message […] of the Islamists has faded in favor of a conservative program: the insistence on a ‘sharia-ization’ of constitutional law.”47 This legal orientation as the sole content of state action only reflects the ongoing crisis process. The thrust of Islamism is the defense and delimitation of the outside, so that the inside can be brought under legal order. “For the radical Islamists, the priority is more to ‘re-establish their own morals’ in their own society so that they can be ‘healthy’ and can withstand the ‘cultural aggression of the West.’”48 This reduction of the task of government to upholding the law once again documents the core state function. Especially in the ongoing crisis process, the legal form excludes direct social relations and entrenches the individual in the system of abstract socialization.

Conspiracy Theory

It would therefore be too simple to characterize the religious reformulation of the legal form as a mere revival of Islamic anti-imperialism in the tradition of anticolonial movements. This emphasis on the legal form makes clear that this is a matter of the restoration of a social order that threatens to fall apart at the seams. The subjugation of the individual to divine law has to be judged as a psychosocial way to work through a crisis that involves, and to process a general hopelessness regarding the possibility of effective change. Its powerlessness regarding the structural crisis and the decomposition of abstract social connection forces out the interpretive paradigms that exceed the horizon of “classical” anticolonial resistance in the phase of national liberation. The real threat of the dissolution of social relationships is made noticeable — among other things in the ideological matrix — when one tries to explain Islamism’s powerlessness in the face of social collapse. Ultimately these explanations are a projective defense mechanism that explains general misery as a result of a conspiracy, of external interventions and interests, so that it can continue to believe in the fiction of a just society. The cry of “equal rights for all” is at the same time the projection of an identity wholeness in a religious-legal collective. The subjectivity threatened by this process of social breakdown attributes that threat to the external domination of certain social groups, and creates, at the same time, an identity, a collective “grandiose self” (Heinz Kohut) in an imagined community of the faithful. Conspiracy theory thus supplements the anti-imperialist critique of the failed modernization regime as an alleged neocolonial system. This perspective informs the entirety of Islamism. Behind the disintegration of the imagined harmonious whole was not only a corrupt elite who had pushed their private interests to the fore while neglecting the overall interest of the public, or who had passed on that, but rather an authority that secretly and systematically worked on behalf of a plan. The national elites did not simply act according to their private advantage — which they were doing more effectively in the wake of the crisis — rather, they were primarily puppets of the true masterminds of the decomposition, who are identified, depending on the perspective, with the West as a whole, or at least with the United States and Israel.

In Algeria, this pattern of projecting conspiracy theories was already present in the founding manifesto of the FIS whose name — “Islamic Salvation Front” — references the sense of threat it produced. It says: “The State providing service to the colonizer, in his undertaking of war on our religion and our dignity and by questioning the unity of our country, is a clear aggression against our sovereignty and our personnalité (i.e., identity).”49 It denounces “the existence of elements inside the state apparatus that are hostile to our religion and are the only agents of the executive from colonialist plans. […] It is vital to thwart this plot by a purge of government institutions from all telltale elements on one hand, and resolute action to end the sabotage of the entire country, on the other hand.”50 Here the alleged close links between the strong unity of a country and its related institutional framework fade into the perspective of current Islamism, which, however, increasingly favors a vague territorial identity of spiritual community of all Muslims, known as the Ummah. At heart it is always the same: to attribute to threatening external influences or claim as already foregone the loss of the unity and order of the state, which will be recovered through the consistent application of the law. The process of disintegration of the system of the abstract form of socialization is thus explained away as due to external forces, who conspired to bring it about. These conspiracy theories, which are an antisemitic form of understanding the crisis, prove once again that Islamism is a child of modernization or a crumbling form of modernization and not a premodern phenomenon.


Islamism reveals a specific current that counteracts, through a religiously inverted prosecution of the sovereignty of the law, the symptoms of social decay and of the global process of exclusion from the universe of abstract wealth production through a religiously inverted prosecution of the sovereignty of the law. The contradiction between the form of social relations and the crisis of its content is resolved in the affirmation of religious reformulation of the form of the universal standpoint.

Developments in the “Islamic” countries are, however, to be valued as a kind of negative preview to the processes that began long ago in the capitalist centers, and that continue to accelerate, albeit in different concrete forms, of course. Putin as a paragovernmental “godfather” represents one pole: the resolution of the universal into the realm of individual interest. Islamism represents the other: as the revival of the standpoint of universality in the form of a dictatorship of moral values and principles. Just as the implementation and universalization of commodity production was characterized by a qualitatively new form of violent domination, so too does the universalization of exclusion represent a release and potentiation of these moments of domination and violence. To look at this more closely in all its forms and levels requires that the irrational aspect of free will, law, and the system of binding together of free agents to support a “rational” whole, be discussed more extensively than in the case here. Then one could also clarify the previous section’s question — the manner in which the community becomes charged with an identity, whether the “great self” (Kohut) or the “grandiose We” which is bound up with the universal standpoint of Islamism more precisely. This “we” is the collective equivalent of the masculine subjectivity of modernity, whose obsessive goal is to reassure itself perpetually of its own perfection, and which is ultimately willing to sacrifice the world for this desired perfection. In this respect the collective subjects, as they are brought into being by Islamism, are not just its passive products, but themselves contribute to its active, propulsive moments.

  1. Hamburg-based writer and publisher Ralph Giordano claims, for example, regarding the building of the Mosque in Cologne, that it is “not the Mosque, but Islam itself [that] is the problem,” and adds that the integration of Muslims in Germany has totally failed and that it could never have been otherwise. In the end, these “millions of people” come from a “completely different culture.” “So I wonder,” he adds, “how someone can consider the Koran, this archaic charter of a sheep-herding culture, to be holy, and how it can form the basis of law....One precludes the other” (Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 1 June 2007).
  2. One can see both how far the culturalist perspective has spread and how unquestioned it remains in the collective imagination given the terminology used to express it: from everyday speech to academic statements, people speak of “the Islamic world,” of a “Muslim culture,” and also, in a milder form, of the “Islamically-influenced countries” and “regions with an Islamic religious tradition,” and so on. All these formulations are marked by a certain degree of culturalism and the idea of a unified culture characteristic “of Islam.” To avoid this linguistic error, I will place “Islamic” in quotations marks. My goal is to take the relevance of the religious tradition in the process of modernization seriously without hypostasizing it as an independent being.
  3. Of course, the universalism of equality under the law collapses in the face of the fundamental patriarchal power structures of modern social relations that are inherent in the bourgeois mode and become explicit in Islamic fundamentalism.
  4. Radical social critique could find harmony here with deconstruction, if the focus were to reside only at the level of the construction of shared identities. However, the standpoint of generality remains at that level unthematized. This constructedness is valid at a general level, that is, nations and political systems are quite obviously historical products, which, as we know, did not take shape until the modern era, namely, in the last two centuries. However, they are at the same time the result of a process of mediation organized around the commodity form, a process that takes place unbeknownst to individuals, the expression of a precise yet unwitting modern form of praxis. The state and the form of law are thus not just manipulative forms of sociality deployed symbolically through cultural structures, but result from the unconsciously executed praxis inside the system of commodity-based social relations. Nationalist state formation can therefore in no way be adequately formulated as the product or result of a simple “concept,” as Benedict Anderson’s constructivist formulation of “the invention of the nation” suggests. Through this conceptual idealism, nation-statehood is reduced to a matrix of semantic structures and meanings, thereby overlooking the central level of the state, justice, and nation as specific elements of commodity-formed social structures and the forms of free will constituted from it.
  5. Marcel Gauchet. Die Erklärung der Menschenrechte. Die Debatte um die bürgerlichen Freiheiten 1789 (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1991) 59.
  6. Gauchet, Menschenrechte 19.
  7. “This is about the reduction of social relations to the pure, direct opposition of the public and individual poles, which the Monarchy had promised and the ‘democratic monarchy’ (as Tocqueville once said) emphatically demanded” (Menschenrechte 51). With the dissolution of society into isolated individuals, a social relationship is constituted in which “there are no more corporations, there is henceforce the special interest of each individual and general interest. No one is permitted to grant an interest in-between these to citizens” (ibid.).
  8. For more on this, see Peter Klein, “Das Wesen des Rechts” Krisis 24 (Bad Honnef: 2001) 73 and following.
  9. The difference between concrete state power and the standpoint of generality continues to hold even if, in the wider sense, the “will of the people” is not always precisely separated from the explicit forms of the exercise of state power.
  10. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Penguin, 2005) 245, 244.
  11. Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, trans. by Ben Fowkes, (New York: Penguin, 1976) 280.
  12. Sieyès makes clear in the debate over the Declaration that the core of the bourgeois constitution resides precisely in every citizen’s relations of free will over their respective property: “If we were to write a declaration for a new people....four words would suffice: equality of civil rights, that is, equal protection of each citizen in both his property and his liberty; equality of political rights, that is, the same influence in the formulation of law” (quoted in Menschenrechte iv).
  13. For more on this, see Klein, “Rechts” 51-64.
  14. “Rechts” 81.
  15. This illustration of the abstract form of Law in the feminine form of Lady Justice is both a euphemism and the expression of bourgeois, patriarchal projection. Kafka’s Gatekeeper vividly depicts this androcentric projection and how the modern legal form represents a totally objective, unfeeling relation of violence and an insanely rational relationship marked by compulsion. For the individual units, law as the comprehensive cohesion of abstracted power means both inclusion under the spell of the legal form and the rendering impossible and exclusion of direct and consciously formed social bonds. The neutrality can also be found in Kafka, though in the generalized exclusion from authority of law conceived as neutral.
  16. In the post-Soviet states, this process has reached a remarkably mature stage: Putin (even if he is now Medvedev), the most powerful “public Godfather” to date, represents a new quality both in the spread of private interests and the pervasiveness of power. The dimensions the mafia-like penetration of the state apparatus have taken on is clearly documented in the execution of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose journalism aimed directly at this widespread corruption. In her book, Putin’s Russia, she shows how “Putin’s new-old nomenklatura has taken corruption to new heights undreamed of under the Communists or Yeltsin. It is now devouring small and medium-sized businesses, and with them the middle class. It is giving big and super-big business, the monopolies and quasi-state enterprises, the opportunity to develop (in other words, they are the nomenklatura’s preferred source of bribes). Indeed, they represent the kinds of businesses that produce the highest, most stable returns not only for their owners and managers but also for their patrons in the state administration. In Russia, big business does not exist without patrons (or ‘curators’) in the state administration. This misconduct has nothing to do with market forces. Putin is trying to gain the support of the so-called byvshie, the ci-devants, who occupied leadership positions under the Soviet regime. Their hankering after old times is so strong that the ideology underpinning Putin-style capitalism is increasingly reminiscent of the thinking in the Soviet Union during the height of the period of stagnation in the late Brezhnev years the late 1970s and early 1980s” ([New York: Owl Books, 2007] 82-83). The visibility of Putin’s “patenting of the state” together with his crony and clique-economy has not, however, stopped the international political class or the public media from supporting him in this theater of self-reinvention as a trustworthy man of state. Overall, we can now speak of a period of transition, at least with respect to the capitalist centers. The trend in which private interests spread into the public sector to a such a degree, thus not only eroding the claim to state independence and neutrality but also ultimately calling it into question, is at any rate new only for these centers.
  17. Olivier Roy, The Islamic Way West (Munich: Pantheon, 2006) 89-91.
  18. Eckart Wörtz, “Die Krise der Arbeitsgesellschaft als Krise von Gewerkschaften: Die unabhängige Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Ägypten” (Diss. Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1991) 84.
  19. Bernhard Schmid, Algerien – Frontstaat im globalen Krieg? Neoliberalismus, soziale Bewegungen und islamistische Ideologie in einem nordafrikanischen Land (Münster: Unrast, 2005) 75.
  20. Gilles Kepel, Das Schwarzbuch des Dschihad. Aufstieg und Niedergang des Islamismus (München: Piper, 2002) 28 and following.
  21. Kepel, Schwarzbook 86 and following.
  22. Schmid, Algerien 89.
  23. Roy, Way West 30.
  24. Way West 38, 41 and following.
  25. Way West 48, 43.
  26. Way West 46.
  27. Way West 48.
  28. Way West 51.
  29. Algerien 89.
  30. Algerien 92.
  31. Mahathir, quoted in Schwarzbuch 120.
  32. Bush on 17 September 2001, quoted in Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli, Al-Qaida. Texte des Terrors (München: Piper, 2006) 137.
  33. ibid.
  34. Al-Qaida 129.
  35. Al-Qaida 132.
  36. Al-Qaida 133.
  37. Al-Qaida 134.
  38. Al-Qaida 136.
  39. Al-Qaida 329.
  40. Al-Qaida 330.
  41. Al-Qaida 332.
  42. ibid.
  43. Way West 255.
  44. Quoted in Menschenrechte 26.
  45. Algerien 127.
  46. Way West 244.
  47. Way West 84.
  48. Algerien 122.
  49. Algerien 121.
  50. ibid.