The key issue in the Middle East, increasingly, has less to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict and more to do with fundamentalist Islam. What is fundamentalist Islam? On the one hand, it manifests itself as a new religious conviction, reaffirming faith in an awe-inspiring God. On the other hand, it appears as a militant ideology, demanding political action now. One day its spokesmen call for a jihad (sacred war) against the West, evoking the deepest historic resentments.
Another day, its leaders appeal for reconciliation with the West, emphasizing shared values. Its economic theorists reject capitalist greed in the name of social justice, yet they rise to the defense of private property. Its moralists pour scorn on Western consumer culture as debilitating to Islam, yet its strategists avidly seek to buy the West's latest technologies in order to strengthen Islam. Faced with these apparent contradictions, many analysts in the West have decided that fundamentalism defies all generalization. Instead they have tried to center discussion on its supposed "diversity." For this purpose, they seek to establish systems of classification by which to sort out fundamentalist movements and leaders. The basic classification appears in much different terminological appearance, in gradations of subtlety." We need to be careful of that emotive label, 'fundamentalism', and distinguish, as Muslims do, between revivalists, who choose to take the practice of their religion most devoutly, and fanatics or extremists, who use this devotion for political ends."  Fundamentalist Islam remains an enigma precisely because it has baffled all attempts to divide it into tidy categories.
"Revivalist" becomes "extremist" (and vice versa) with such rapidity and frequency, that the actual classification of any movement or leader has little prognostic power. They will not stay put. This is because fundamentalist Muslims, for all their "diversity," orbit around one dense idea. The West thus sees movements and individuals swing within reach, only to swing out again and cycle right through every classification.
The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion, the religion of God, and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God's revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, have forsaken Islam. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power. That return, to be effective, must be comprehensive.
It is not merely a religion, in the Western sense of a system of belief in God. It possesses an immutable law, revealed by God that deals with every aspect of life, and it is an ideology, a complete system of belief about the organization of the state and the world. This law and ideology can only be implemented through the establishment of a truly Islamic state, under the sovereignty of God. The empowerment of Islam, which is God's plan for mankind, is a sacred end. It may be pursued by any means that can be rationalized in terms of Islam's own code.
At various times, these have included persuasion, guile, and force. What is remarkable about fundamentalist Islam is not its diversity. It is the fact that this idea of power for Islam appeals so effectively across such a wide range of humanity. Fundamentalists everywhere must act in narrow circumstances of time and place. But they are who they are precisely because their idea exists above all circumstances. Over nearly a century, this idea has evolved into a coherent ideology, which demonstrates a striking consistency in content and form across a wide expanse of the Muslim world.
Fundamentalist Forerunners The pursuit of supremacy for Islam first gained some intellectual rationality in the mind and career of Sayyid Jamal al-Din "al-Afghani" (1838-97), a thinker and activist who worked to transform Islam into a force against Western imperialism. In many respects, Afghani was the prototype of the modern fundamentalist. He had been deeply influenced by Western rationalism and the ideological style of Western thought. Was Afghani a liberal or a proto-fascist, a reformist or a revolutionary? Was he the forerunner of those fundamentalists who plead their case in political ways? Some fundamentalists still pose this same obstinate dilemma of classification, although most of them have far weaker "liberal" and "reformist" credentials than had Afghani.
Between Afghani and the emergence of full-blown fundamentalism, liberal and secular nationalism would enjoy a long run in the lands of Islam. An Egyptian schoolteacher named Hasan al-Banna (1906-49) founded a faction he called the Society of the Muslim Brethren. It would grow into the first modern fundamentalist movement in Islam. The Muslim Brethren surfaced against the background of growing resentment against foreign domination. The Brethren had a double identity. On one level, they operated openly, as a membership organization of social and political awakening.
Banna preached moral revival, and the Muslim Brethren engaged in good works. On another level, however, the Muslim Brethren created a "secret apparatus" that acquired weapons and trained experts in their use. They began to enforce their own moral teachings by intimidation, and they initiated attacks against Egypt's Jews. They assassinated judges and struck down a prime minister in 1949.
At the same time, a smaller and more secretive movement, known as the Devotees of Islam, appeared in Iran, under the leadership of a charismatic theology student, Navvab Safari (1923-56). Like the Muslim Brethren, the Devotees emerged at a time of growing nationalism and mobilized against foreign domination. The group was soon implicated in the assassinations of a prime minister and leading secular intellectuals In the checkered history of Afghani, the Muslim Brethren, and the Devotees of Islam, clear patterns emerged. They saw foreign domination as an indication of Muslim weakness, and its elimination as the key to Muslim power. Such domination could be attacked directly by jihad against foreigners, or indirectly by promoting an Islamic awakening. Those who gave priority to direct confrontation sometimes favored alliances with other nationalists who opposed foreign rule.
They also sought to replace weak rulers and states with strong rulers and states. Such a state would have to be based on Islam, and while its precise form remained uncertain, the early fundamentalists knew it should not be a constitutional government or multiparty democracy. Preoccupied with the defense of Islam and the acquisition of power, they preferred the strong rule of a just and virtuous Muslim. The pursuit of this strong utopian state often overflowed into violence against weak existing states.
The fundamentalist forerunners also determined that fundamentalist Islam would have a pan-Islamic bent. From the outset, then, fundamentalists scorned the arbitrary boundaries of states, and demonstrated their resolve to think and act across the frontiers that divide Islam. The jet, the cassette, the fax, and the computer network would later help fundamentalists create a global village of ideas and action, countering the effects of geographic distance and sectarian loyalty. Not only has the supposed line between "revivalist" and "extremist" been difficult to draw, but also national and sectarian lines have been erased or smudged, and fundamentalists draw increasingly on a common reservoir for ideas, strategies, and support.
A resolute anti-Westernism, a vision of a totalitarian Islamic state, a propensity to violence, and a pan-Islamic urge: these were the biases ofthe ancestors of fundamentalist Islam. No subsequent fundamentalist movement could quite shake them. Indeed, several thinkers subsequently turned these biases into a full-fledged ideology. An Ideology of Revolution In the middle of this century of beliefs, the fundamentalists set out to make over Islam into the most complete and seamless ideology of them all. All-encompassing Islamic law, based upon the Que " an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, constituted their ideological policy and program. Many of the necessities of that law had been remote ideals, enforced unevenly over the centuries by weak states.
Now fundamentalists, recognizing the enhanced coercive power of the modern state, began to imagine that this law could be implemented in its entirety, and that this total order would grant up till now, unimaginable strength on the Islamic state. Fundamentalist ideology therefore insisted not only on power, but also on absolute power, an insistence, that "has tended to make modern Islamists into proto-fascists, obsessed with dragging their compatriots kicking and screaming into paradise."  Much of the ideological groundwork was done by Maulana Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi (1903-79), the founder of the fundamentalist Jama " at-i Islami in India and Pakistan. In his many writings, power would belong to God alone, and would be exercised on his behalf by a just ruler, himself, guided by a reading of God's law in its entirety. As an ideological state, it would be managed for God solely by Muslims who adhered to its ideology, and "whose whole life is devoted to the observance and enforcement" of Islamic law. Non-Muslims, who could not share its ideology, and women, who by nature could not devote their entire lives to it, would have no place in high politics. It was Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-89) who finally wrote the ideological formula for the first successful fundamentalist revolution in Islam.
Khomeini made a breakthrough with his claim that only the persons most learned in Islamic law could rule: "Since Islamic government is a government of law, knowledge of the law is necessary for the ruler, as has been laid down in tradition." The ruler "must surpass all others in knowledge," and be "more learned than everyone else."  Khomeini also reconfirmed the anti-Western and anti-American credentials of fundamentalism. Khomeini then drew a striking metaphor: America, historical heir to unbelief, was the "Great Satan." In fundamentalist ideology, political conflict with the West was distorted into a timeless cultural and religious conflict with the "enemies of Islam," led by America and represented on the ground by its proxy, Israel. Khomeini also showed how cultural estrangement could be translated into a fervid anti foreign sentiment, an essential cement for a broad revolutionary coalition. Later it would be assumed that only "extremists" beyond Iran were thrilled by Iran's revolution.
In fact, the enthusiasm among fundamentalists was almost unanimous. As a close reading of the press of the Egyptian Muslim Brethren has demonstrated, even this supposedly sober movement approached the Iranian revolution with "unqualified enthusiasm and unconditional euphoria," coupled with an "uncritical acceptance of both its means and goals." Repackaging the Islamic State Yet at the same time, a younger generation of thinkers added crucial refinements to the ideology, adapting it to the times. Even fundamentalists could not reject the West in its entirety. The West, despite fundamentalist faith in its ultimate decline, continued to produce technologies and institutions that gave it immense power. Muslims, to acquire that power, had to import these tools or risk being overwhelmed completely. This next generation of thinkers imagined the Islamic state not so much as a barricade against the West, but as a filter screening the flow of Western innovations and influences.
This ideological filter would admit whatever might enhance the power of the Islamic state and reject whatever might diminish the unity and resolve of Islamic society. Sudan's Hasan alt-Turabi (b. 1932) is the most notable representative of this successor generation. Coming from a strong religious background, Turabi took a doctorate in law at the Sorbonne from 1959 to 1964.
He was not altogether repelled by his sojourn in the lands of unbelief. He was excited by the richness and precision of the French language, the culture, the history of the revolution, the relations between church and state, and the study of the different constitutions. This unique formation has helped to transform Turabi into the chief of contemporary "Islamism," for he is presumed to know the West intimately enough to decide what should be borrowed and what should be spurned. Another figure of comparable stature, certainly among Shi " is, is Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah (b. 1936) of Lebanon.
Fadlallah, born in Iraq, is a product of the Shi'i academies of Najaf in Iraq. But even there, he was drawn to study the forbidden knowledge of philosophers and unbelievers. He, too, produced a nuanced argument for borrowing from the West while battling it. To achieve the empowerment of Islam, Islamism must first come to state power. Given the strength of existing regimes, its leaders must build coalitions with other groups if they are to stand any chance of breaking out of that hold.
However, today's Islamists, certainly in the Arab world, usually have been unwilling to suspend enough of their beliefs to find a common ground with potential partners. The reason is violence, not against the West, but against other Muslims. Even in opposition, Islamist movements cannot resist the temptation to intimidate opponents, rivals, and even lukewarm supporters. The kind of purge Khomeini carried out once in power is being attempted by Islamist movements today, when it only serves to isolate them. As a result, the Islamists have no allies, and without allies their chances of assuming power are slim. There are some Islamists who know this, and who are trying, late in the day, to borrow a page from Khomeini's techniques of false appearances.
But for dissimulation to succeed, it must be consistent and seamless. As it is now practiced by many Islamists, dissimulation is no more than telling each audience whatever it prefers to hear. It is not too difficult to assemble these statements and demonstrate their inappropriateness. In the absence of other allies, the temptation of befriending the military may also prove irresistible to other fundamentalist movements.
Generals and colonels who take leading Islamists as guides are likely to discard them, even as they appropriate their ideas and language. Perhaps this will be the next phase of Islamism, as men of theory are thrust aside by new military potentates, hungry for Islamic legitimacy. It is impossible to predict the future fortunes of Islamism. Of its many outcomes, only one seems absolutely certain.
Islamism may fail at a great cost with its adherents gradually becoming its victims. References 1. H. R. H. The Prince of Wales, Islam and the West: a lecture given in the Sheldon ian Theatre, Oxford on 27 October 1993 (Oxford: Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 1993), p.
16. 2. Nazi Ayumi, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World (London: Routledge, 1991). 3. Abdelwahhab El-Af fendi, Who Needs an Islamic State? (London: Grey Seal, 1991), p.
87. 4. Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, trans. Hamid Alga r (Berkeley, Calif. : Miz an Press, 1981), p. 59.
5. Rudi Matthew, "The Egyptian Opposition on the Iranian Revolution," in Juan R. I. Cole and Nikki R.
K eddie, eds. , Shi " ism and Social Protest (New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1986), p. 263.