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World: Analyst Speaks About 'Globalization' Of Islam

  • Antoine Blua

Prague, 28 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Olivier Roy is research director in the humanities and social sciences sector of France's National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. He is the author of several books on Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Islam, including, "The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations," "The Failure of Political Islam" and "Global Islam." At a roundtable held this week at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Roy looked at Islam as it faces internationalization, and at the impact of this phenomenon on its radical branches.

Question: Islam has become a Western religion with a growing number of followers in Europe. Most of the Muslims who have settled there came from Muslim countries but tend to recreate an identity that is less and less linked to their country of origin. Some believe the Westernization of Muslims necessarily leads to a more liberal and open Islam. Do you agree?

Roy: No, we are in a time of fundamentalism, including in the West. In America, there has never been such a strong revivalist movements [in] ages. The Muslims do not escape this movement of a fundamentalist return to religion. They do that along the same pattern [as] the other religions -- individualization, [i.e.] everybody is his own master, [and] weakening of the religious institutions. Return to religion goes along with the weakening of the religious institutions. It's very clear in the Catholic Church. You know, the Youth Day is done around the pope every year, it's not done around the church.

Question: The presence of Islam is increasing in the West through resettlement, study, and travel but also through exchanges of ideas via newspapers, television, radio, and the Internet. Is Islam's new "global" space of expression coupled with a homogenization of ideas on Islam?

Roy: I am struck by the homogenization of what is circulating all over the world under the name of Islamic religious literature. The ideas, the teachings -- especially under the Wahhabi or Saudi influence -- the media are more and more homogenous and transnational. If you go to the Internet -- in English or in modern Arabic -- you find all the literature which has been produced by the [radical] Salafis, the Wahhabis and so on. It's very important to the extent that young educated Muslims who are going to other countries for studying and so and so look at these websites. They exchange information. And I cannot say the same with liberal Islam, [whose ideas are] less circulating."

Question: How has the radicalization of Islam found expression in the West?

Roy: Al-Qaeda and its likes are not the spillover of the Middle Eastern conflicts into the West. They are largely Western movements. The last generation of Al-Qaeda militants -- except the Saudis, the Yemenis, the Pakistanis -- all of them have a Western trajectory. All of them are Western-educated. If we take the people from a Middle East background, none of them is a former student of a madrassah [Islamic religious school]. All of them went through Western secular education systems. Most of them became born-again Muslims in the West. Many of them did marry a European girl.

Question: What about the Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that advocates the nonviolent overthrow of the Central Asian governments and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate?

Roy: It's very interesting because the Hizb ut-Tahrir now is based in London. They are recruiting a lot in Northern Europe, in Great Britain, in Denmark, in Sweden, in Holland. They appeared in Central Asia after having been established in the West. So we have with the Hizb ut-Tahrir a very interesting case of an Islamic radical movement which has been exported from Europe to Muslim countries. So we have here a clear sign that the issue of Islamic radicalization is no more going -- you know -- from Muslim countries to the West but has become already a global phenomenon, which interacts in both directions. We have now a movement which has its own dynamic. And its dynamic is really purely global.