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European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States >
Patterns of Development

Muslim states are also distinguished by the pace with which they pursued development. Some arrived at their independence more developed than others. For example, Turkey was more advanced economically and politically than the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire. Some Arab states, such as Egypt and Syria, were more developed than others, such as Yemen or Oman. Some Muslim states developed more quickly, because of greater international aid, natural resources, or their size and the possibilities of trade. After the oil price hike in the 1970s, the Arab monarchies thus outpaced the Levant states (Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon) and Egypt in development. But, Iran and Egypt were better able to use international aid and assistance in their development programs in the 1960s and the 1980s, respectively. Larger states were better able to mobilize resources to push ahead with development. Smaller states proved more versatile in responding to changes in the international economic trends, however. Whereas Indonesia initially advanced faster in industrialization than Malaysia, since 1980 Malaysia has outpaced Indonesia in that regard.

The centrality of the western model to the evolution of the Muslim states has been important to their politics. Given the legacy of the struggle against colonialism, any development model that looked to the west and purported to westernize ran the risk of mobilizing political opposition and cultural resistance. Such reactions tended to escalate when and if the promises of development failed to materialize, as in Nasser's Egypt, or were deemed as too costly in terms of cultural sacrifices, as was the case in Pahlavi Iran. In the 1960s and the 1970s resistance to, and the critique of, state-led development strategies drew on secular ideologies that were themselves of western origin. Socialist Muslim states thus had liberal oppositions; more notably, capitalist states had vociferous leftist oppositions. In these cases the opposition objected to close alliances between the ruling elites and the west but did not oppose the development agenda itself. Rather, they favored pursuing development based on another western ideology.

Since the late 1970s, a different form of critique of state-led development has surfaced in the Muslim world. Islamist movements now question some of the foundational principles of the postcolonial state, most notably that development is predicated on secularization and begins with accepting the qualitative superiority of western civilization values; thus, development must necessarily entail replacing some Islamic values in favor of western ones. In the Arab world Islamists have rejected the arguments of Arab nationalists regarding the “backwardness” of Islam and the superiority of socialism, just as in Iran and Turkey Islamists have refuted similar arguments presented by Kemalism and the Pahlavi state's nationalist rhetoric. Interestingly, secular Muslim states such as Malaysia and Indonesia also subscribe to a similar line of reasoning. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad has been at the forefront of the movement to defend Asia's right to live by its own values, rejecting the universality of western social, legal, and human rights values.

The Islamist opposition has also challenged the wisdom of the state's industrialization policy. In Algeria, Nasser's Egypt, and Syria, inefficiencies caused by socialism and centralized economic planning produced poverty, unemployment, a breakdown in social services, urbanization, and a decline in standards of living. In Pahlavi Iran, post-Nasser Egypt, Indonesia, and Malaysia, capitalist economic development produced income disparties, corruption, urbanization, and rapid cultural change. Islamism has not specifically rejected development, but as Islamism challenged the ideological underpinnings of developmentalism and adopted the cause of the poor and the disgruntled, it became a poignant critique of development strategies. In Malaysia, Islamist forces did not initially discuss state economic strategies directly, but they criticized the state for not favoring Malays. In Iran, the Islamist revolutionaries criticized economic development for its westernization and the income disparities it generated, and they proposed greater state control of the economy. In Algeria and Turkey, conversely, the FIS and the Refah party favored open economies and less government control. The FIS actually became a force in the burgeoning private markets that provided consumer goods to the population and as such became a critique of the state's heavy industrialization strategies that had denied the population those basic goods and instead produced corruption and promoted socialism. The Refah party meanwhile was strongly tied to small merchants and the business community. In all these cases Islamism has for the most part criticized the ideological underpinnings of development. It has proposed its own development strategies as alternatives to those implemented by the state. As such, those Islamists who confront socialist and state-controlled economies favor greater market reforms, whereas those Islamists who are in opposition to capitalist development favor greater state control of the economy. Still, it is by challenging the ideological legitimacy of the development process in the secular state that Islamism poses the most fundamental challenge to state development strategies.

The Islamist opposition also challenges the validity of the state's attempts to control the role of Islam in the public arena. Since their independence, many Muslim states have sought to regulate Islam in public life. In Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran, for instance, the state took over the management of religious endowments. In Turkey the state also took over the schools that train preachers and Islamic scholars. In Malaysia and Egypt preaching in mosques now requires a license, and in Malaysia the state has gone to great lengths to establish a nationwide network of mosques that are run by state-appointed prayer leaders. From Algeria to Indonesia, Islamic law was replaced by civil codes imported from the west, and Islamic courts were disbanded. In some states, such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Malaysia, the state has shied away from an outright secular image and has couched its policies in Islamic language and symbolism, going so far as to speak for Islam. Still, the intent of state policy clearly has been in the direction of secularizing change, and the control and marginalization of Islamic institutions, thus limiting the role of Islam in public life.

Islamism has put forward a political platform that is nothing short of a rejection of both the reality and the intent of the secular state's penetration of society—the continuation of the colonial establishment's programs of control and transformation of society to serve colonialism's aim of improving the lot of the local peoples. In this regard, Islamism has served as an important source of resistance to the expansion of state power and as the focal point for the rallying of those social forces that resist state domination. This function began in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt in the early part of the twentieth century. Since the 1950s it has gained momentum, as ulama and Islamist groups across the Muslim world have been at the forefront of opposition to land reform and nationalization of industries, and of course to state domination of education, commerce, charities, and religious endowments. The scope of Islamist resistance to state power is so broad that it undermines the entire raison d'être of the postcolonial Muslim state, as it denies the state the right to change society and to do so based on the same presuppositions that guided the colonial state.

Patterns of Development

A few colonialists were smitten by the local culture, such as Harry St. John Philby, remembered as an early Western explorer of Arabia. In 1925 Philby gave up his post as British political officer, settled in Jidda, and converted to Islam, taking the name Abdallah. By the early 1930s he had become a confidant of the Saudi Arabian king Abd al-Aziz and was allowed to traverse and photograph previously unknown areas of the region, recording such sites as the palace of Sultan Ali.

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The legacy of the colonial state has been so deeply entrenched in the postcolonial Muslim state that Islamism itself has not been able to avoid the temptation of championing developmentalism. Although Islamism rejects the cultural assumptions of colonialism and the secular state's right to transform social relations, it accepts the ideal of social advancement, albeit according to Islamic norms and without westernization. In so doing, Islamism portends to float an alternative paradigm for development, what Malaysia's PAS calls “developing with the ummah.” Islamism also, therefore, seeks to mold the individual and to regulate his or her music, dress, private beliefs, and cultural outlook—all as a prelude to its vision of development—and to change the distribution of resources in society. One can therefore conclude that Islamism too is concerned with development and predicates the process on top-down social engineering—the hallmark of the colonial state and its successor. Islamism's opposition to state power, therefore, emanates from the ability of the secular state to use it to further its secularist agenda. In effect, resisting state authority is tied to Islamism's rejection of state-sponsored secularization. In fact, in Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan, once Islamist forces were in a position to control policy making, they continued with the expansion of the state's power and reach and extended the control of the state over private life, religion, and education.

In essence, the public debate in the Muslim world—between secular and Islamist forces—has focused on ideology alone and has largely ignored the problem of the growing size of the state, which was a legacy of colonialism, and the reach of its public policies, which is embedded in the programs of both the state and its Islamist opposition. Muslim societies—as have many other developing societies—have become stuck with the notion of a large and intrusive state, and the ideal of defining Muslims has become central to all political discourse. The bone of contention is not the state's right to manage development but the goal and content of its policies. In short, whereas the ideological orientation—the degree to which society is secularized or Islamic identity is accepted as a part of national identity—and policy content of developmentalism have been debated and fought over in the Muslim state, the more fundamental legacies of colonialism have remained intact. All conceptions of the Muslim state—from capitalist to socialist to Islamist—view the primary function of the state to be top-down social transformation, with the aim of realizing development. The Islamist conception however, has entailed a modification of this grand vision of the state's role and function in that it no longer accepts that the West is the sole repository of the values that should guide the state in transforming society in its greater wisdom. The Malaysian Islamic youth movement, ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the Islamic Youth Force of Malaysia), for instance, directed its energies at informing the Malaysian development agenda of Islamic values, and many of its members pursued this goal by entering into government service.

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