The Middle East Tribune

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Why Nationalism Couldn’t Overshadow Islamism

The existing interminable regional conflicts among several nation countries along with the recurring armed clashes between political factions, fundamentalist groups, and state authorities are now common features of modern times. In most of the Muslim world, the core of most political instability issues is related to an old conflict between two main ideologies: Nationalism and Islamism.

Since four decades as yet, conflicts and disagreements are becoming more fundamental and conceptual in nature than being circumstantial and temporal. In the Muslim and Arab world, it is about the scope and limits of Islamism and Nationalism, and most importantly about the compatibility and contradiction of each ideology with the other. No wonder, there are profound disputes concerning the constructive elements, causes, and effects of these two ideologies.

During the past century, Nationalism was the most popular and preponderant of all ideologies. Many nationalists relate nationalism to mutual geopolitical philosophy, language, religion, social and cultural traditions. Others interpret it as the racial and hereditary factors of a community of people who populate certain land or continent. Obviously, nationalism is not purely a theory-based issue: it is an active conception that has vital importance in determining the course of action and policy of any social and political unit.

In this modern era, in Europe, nationalism is conceived as a group of common race people who live within particular geographical boundaries and share similar historical, cultural, and traditional background. This Western European nationalistic configuration spread out to overshadow other ideological dispositions in most of the world including liberalism, conservatism, and Marxian socialism.

At its origin, the inspirational factors that led to the outburst of nationalism and rise of nationalist movements in several European nations were to eradicate injustice and oppression; and establish a justly shared community. Nonetheless, it was the same nationalist spirit in its extreme form that triggered the ideology of ethnocentrism and racism, which gave birth to the two World Wars. Avoiding to discuss the Western perspective of national interests at this time, it was the same extreme nationalistic notion that drove some European nations to colonize most of Asia, Africa, and South America.

Nations Flags-photo

In large part of our world, we see several nations that have different languages, traditions, racial descent, diverse geographical conditions, dissimilar political units, and separate independent states but form a world in and of itself. The most prominent factor among these nations is their common religious belief. The best-known illustration of these faith-based worlds is the Islamic world.

For most Muslims, Islam is not just a divine faith to believe in. It is a world in its own nature, rich in culture, traditions and life regulations. To its credit, Islam commands its followers to disregard any criterion of separation or distinction among Muslims and between Islamic nations. Be it of color, race, geographic or language attribute.

During the first centuries of the Islamic era, the principles and objectives of Islam were conveyed in a clear and moderate approach to most of the world at which non-Muslims have either respected or embraced its universal teachings, which led to the formulation of the Islamic Nation or Islamic world. However, this universal philosophy and general concordance have vanished with time; since rigid lines of thoughts and divisions emerged among the masses, mostly because Muslim rulers then—as now—did not comprehend or center their judgments on the objectivity of Islam.

A Few centuries ago, most of the Islamic world came under the direct rule and exploitation of western invaders, not to mention the effects of the protracted Ottoman occupation on the Arab world, at which their cultural and religious identity was threatened, and their material resources were plundered. Besides foreign dominance, the prolonged state of forced slumber in many Arab and Muslim countries has intensified the captivity of Muslim nations producing a defeatist mentality and bitterness in the Islamic world. This resentment of foreign domination, among other things, has strengthened the rationale of Islamist and nationalistic movements throughout the Islamic world

However, as European empires subjugated most of the Islamic world during the last century, which made the anti-imperialist resistance to use Islamic “fatwas” (judgments) to solidify their cause. And hence, many Muslims considered the war against imperialism as a form of jihad since they occupy Muslims land. Actually, the distinction between Muslim and infidel became intertwined with the distinction between the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus and so, the hostility against subduers qua unbelievers were infused with a new meaning of jihad. This actuality, however, has generated unfortunate consequences on religious minorities in the Islamic world: Jews were deemed collaborating with Zionism and Israel, and Christians were suspected of sympathizing with the Christian West.

Islamism and nationalism are conventionally thought of as opposed ideologies, yet there is often a nationalistic dimension to Islamism. Religious and national identities tend to be fused in many parts of the world. The links between Eastern Orthodoxy and Russian identity, between Roman Catholicism and Irish national identity, and between Hinduism and Indian national identity; for instance, illustrate the silent connection between nationalism and faith-based ideologies. In most of these cases, religion serves as a badge of national identity, as in most Islamic countries.

Nevertheless, in the twentieth century, Christian Arabs played a prominent role in the creation and promotion of Arab nationalism concept, as it is founded on common language and culture instead of religion (a point which Islamists invariably criticize and rebuff). However, in the public intellect, being an Arab still means a Sunni Muslim.

Initially, Islamic fundamentalism was fueled by moral outrage provoked by the violation of Islamic values and religious traditions. However, it became more intense as pious Muslims felt that the foundation of their religious belief is under assault by their very own governments. Calling to mind that neither exclusion nor oppression put them down. Instead, it flares them up to undertake violent protestations and underground activities against anti-Islamist governments and political parties.

The main core of most Islamic movements is fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism contains two major dimensions: Reformism and Radicalism. Radicalists, at large, blame the Western domination of Islamic nations and portray the emergence of nationalism as part of a Western and Zionist conspiracy to divide and conquer the Islamic world. Though the right to a Muslim nationhood is an inherent and consistent demand of all Islamic movements, yet reformists and moderate Islamists share some statehood views with nationalists of which they are considered the soft hand of Islamic doctrine.

For fundamentalists as well as other Islamists, the ‘return to Islam’ impulse, which necessitates the establishment of an exact Islamic state and society, is somewhat linked to the goal of overcoming corruption and direct and indirect foreign domination. Nonetheless, the underlying logic of the Islamist argument is more religious than political. For them, Muslims are suffering because they have deviated from the laws of God. And, the only pathway to end their suffering is to comply with God’s laws (Sharia). Once they conform, God shall grant them victory and prosperity. Within that context, they consider the return to true Islam a precondition of regaining self-esteem and independence.

The patriotic sense of resentment from foreign domination is not the sole source of Islamist magnetism. An adequate description of what led to the rise of Islamism must also take into consideration the dire social and economic situation in much of the Islamic world.

During the past century as yet, the rapid socioeconomic, cultural and political changes in the world have shaken up most nations and communities. The prolonged miserable conditions of most Muslim citizens have generated an unrelenting urge and aspiration among the Muslim masses for reform. Not surprising that Muslim and Arab nations were top candidates to set sails with that spring waves of change.

Unfortunately, as the magnitude of Muslims suffering swollen up to an unprecedented level, Islamic movements gained momentum in which their philosophy “Islam is the answer” became more popular than ever. All because Nationalist governments and political parties were incompetent throughout most of the past century to ensure security, establish development, and generate growth in Muslim countries

In reality, Muslim and non-Muslim nations alike, need to have peace and security, justice and freedom, education and development so that to become liberal and broad-minded nationals. Be it nationalism or any other civil system, people need to live free from oppression and corruption; otherwise, they would not live in peace and harmony. All people, irrespective of their religions, have the right to decide the form of their own governing system by themselves, without any foreign or domestic pressure and oppression, as long as the freedom of others is fully preserved.

The diversity of colors, languages, religions, cultures and other differences observable in nature, are manifestations of the richness of societies and nations. These differences and distinctions should not be regarded as divisive factors but generative components of pluralism and human development.

However, before most nations embrace similar civil states of mind, security and stability of the world will remain the daydreams of this time.


Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette


8 comments on “Why Nationalism Couldn’t Overshadow Islamism

  1. Pingback: Why Nationalism Couldn’t Overshadow Islamism | Larry Muffin At Home

  2. Kopep Dabugat
    August 20, 2014

    What this article has succeeded in achieving is to portray Muslims as having a “complex” whereby they feel they have been downgraded by Islam not being the one main influencing idea in the world. Such thinking can only lead us back to the era of the crusades of the Middle Ages. But to the specific issue of Islamic Radicalism and fundamentalism, it is the duty of all Muslims to actively oppose them. It is a live and let live world we are in right now. DO what is best for you and allow others to do what is best for them as well.


  3. Deena Stryker
    February 3, 2013

    I agree with the original article, and believe that most of the West’s problem with Islam is lack of knowledge as to its basic tenets: the West sees only violent jihad, ignoring the original meaning of the world which was about an internal, personal struggle to live as God commands.
    On the other hand, it is difficult for a polity that for centuries has believed that an entity can command humans to suddenly adhere to the notion of personal freedom – including freedom to live as one chooses.
    However, the extremes to which Western rationalist thought has brought society in terms of what Boudhists call neglect of ‘right living’ suggest that the ideals of all religions, which are similar, are worth emulating in an (ideally) secular world.
    Nationalism, on the other hand, while liberating in 19th century Europe, has become the single greatest impediment to peace in a an interdependent world.


  4. Wim Roffel
    January 31, 2013

    Interesting to read a discussion about this subject. However, I would like to make a few remarks.

    Nationalism comes from seeing the country as a common project. This may come from democracy, but it may also be the result from a (business)elite wanting to further its cause. If it turns itself against other states it is dysfunctional. However, mostly it gives people a common goal and can so be considered a good thing.

    Racism usually arises when there are sudden shifts in ethnic relations. This can be mass immigration (as we see now in Western Europe) but it can also be a shift in power between the ethnic groups. Hitler was the product of Vienna in a time when it had been flooded by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

    Colonialism is more the “might makes right” type of racism. In that it is not different from India’s caste system or the inferior status of other religions in the Islamic world.

    Nationalism based on religion is a rather primitive form that stopped being of interest in Europe centuries ago. It works nowhere and the main state based on it – Pakistan – has been a resounding failure. Instead modern nationalism tends to be based on language. That has to do with the modern education based economy where speaking the wrong language can seriously harm your career prospects.

    Inside Europe there are some exceptions to this rule – Northern Ireland and former Yugoslavia. But in both places the religious differences cover much wider differences in history. In Northern Ireland the memories of the old British oppression are still alive.

    The Arab stress nowadays on the Islamic religion is mainly a product of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States pumping massive amounts of money in fundamentalist parties in the Arab world. In addition is raises memories of the greatness of past Muslim empires.

    I believe that the stress on religion is harmful. It distracts from the questions that should be discussed in a modern society: how can the state improve the life of its citizens?


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 3, 2013

      Wim, I agree with your last para. Yes, the real question and solution thereof is about improving people’s life. Thank you


  5. Dr. Ali White
    July 27, 2012

    How sad! After showing how nationalism (and other secular creeds) are bankrupt due to their hopeless records, the author asserts ‘At any rate’ that Muslims need liberalism, democracy, etc. This forgets that Islam’s appeal — its great mobilising strength — is its capacity to unite people across all barriers, for a common cause, based on its God-given, unifying, vision. This is noted in the introduction to the article, but forgotten by its end! ‘At any rate’ why cannot Muslims be free to select governance based on a Divine model? Why should Muslims be ashamed of their religion? Isn’t it great that they no longer feel the need to scamper after Western models? Indeed, isn’t that what got them into this mess in the first place?


    • M. Moussalli
      July 30, 2012

      Dear Dr White,
      At first, I thank you for your comment. I am certain that you won’t be sad if you meticulously read it again. However, I assure you that I have not forgotten what I wrote in the introduction. You have placed your quotes in your words and in your own order. I didn’t wrote [“‘At any rate’ that Muslims need liberalism, democracy, etc.]
      Actually, at the END of the article, I wrote:
      “At any rate, Muslim and non-Muslim nations alike, need peace and security, justice and freedom, education and development so that to become liberal and broad-minded nationals. Be it nationalism or any other civil system, humans need to be free in order to live peacefully and happily. People should have the right to decide for themselves, without any foreign or domestic pressure and tyranny, the form of their own governing system as long as freedom of others is fully preserved”.

      You noted that I have forgotten what I wrote in my introduction, which is not true. In the introduction I wrote about Islam and its strength “For Muslims, Islam is not just a divine faith to believe in. It is a world in its own nature, rich in culture, traditions and life regulations. To its credit, Islam commands its followers to disregard any criterion of separation or distinction among Muslims and between Islamic nations. Be it of color, race, geographic or language attribute”
      As for your inquiries, I don’t think that there is something that disallows Muslims to achieve their inspirations. Maybe the majority don’t want Islamic states. As a Muslim, I never heard or met one single Muslim who is ashamed of his faith. On the contrary, Muslims are very proud of their religion. To answer “What get them into this mess in the first place ”probably needs another article to cover the subject.


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Mohammad S. Moussalli

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© 2018 Mohammad S. Moussalli; ----------------------- Sharing, reblogging, excerpts and republication of this material, or part thereof, are permissible PROVIDED that it's clearly attributed to the author with reference to the original publication.
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