Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Islamic Thought

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4th LIVIT conference report

September 17, 2013

Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Modern Islamic Thought

2-3 September 2013

Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

Conference Report

 

Discussions about the legitimacy of violence within the Muslim intellectual tradition are not ONLY about violence – more often than not these discussions reflect broader debates amongst Muslim scholars.  An upsurge in traditionalism, or a movement to reform supposedly decadent practices, or an assertion of a particular doctrinal orthodoxy can all be reflected in the precise discussions around whether this or that act of violence is necessary, or obligatory, or legitimate.  Our conference in Exeter reflected this, as modern discussions around violence were dominated by a number of more general interlinked themes, which are challenges to the development of Islamic thought in the modern period.  Authority was a recurrent issue in papers and discussions: who can call a jihad, and who can end one – and who legitimates a violent act as lawful?  Also, the ambivalence of the text was debated regularly – the variety of textual interpretations hints at the inability of texts to control how they are used – to legitimate violence, or to denounce it.  The two are linked, of course.  The one who has the authority to interpret effectively controls textual meaning, and hence its ability to act as a legitimating factor.  The final, frequent discussion point was the link between the intellectual justification of violence and the contextual understanding of that justification.  So discussions of violence in the movements of Hizbullah, HAMAS, the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qa’ida are difficult to assess outside of their context – more importantly, what counts as violence, and whether there are modes of argumentation particular to it, has been a focus of the LIVIT project generally.  It came up in the course of the conference regularly.

 

These are the general themes we discussed – and all the papers touched on one or more of these notions.  We are grateful to Ruud Peters and to Bruce Lawrence for providing such marvellous opening lectures on the two days of the conference.  Their contribution set the scene for subsequent discussions.  And we are grateful also to the many speakers, some of whom had travelled some distance to participate in the workshop.  This was the final LIVIT conference – and this time was held in combination with the Islamic Reformulations project – the team will be working on editing the proceedings, which will be, hopefully, in the form of a three volume set, reflecting the early, middle and modern period themes. The conference contributions have raised the central questions of violence in Islamic thought – and many have provided details and thorough answers.  There is still more work to do, but we hope that the work done to date will help make for better informed future discussions.

 

Islam In Central Asia conference report

December 3, 2012

The weather did its best to sabotage our Islam in Central Asia conference.  It failed – all participants reached Exeter (some a little late); and all were able to continue on their onward journey without major mishap.  The floods and high winds in the South-West of England were only part of the story – there were landslides, snow storms, vehicle breakdowns and powercuts.  Despite all of this, it is a credit to the participants that they remained good humoured throughout – and ready for ...


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3rd LIVIT Conference Report

September 6, 2012

We were fortunate to have (yet another) array of outstanding international scholars visiting Exeter for the third and final LIVIT conference, held on Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd September just passed.  The papers were rich in general observations and detailed analysis.  Perhaps the primary debating points came to the fore towards the end of the conference: in the pre-modern period, what counts as Islamic thought? What counts as violence? What counts as legitimacy?  A propos the first question,...


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Modern Salafism: Doctrine, Politics, Jihad. Workshop 25/04/2012

May 2, 2012

This one-day workshop on the subject of Salafism was organised by the LIVIT project and held at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University.


The aim of this event was to bring together postgraduate researchers and other established academics in the field working on various aspects of Salafism to present, discuss, and share their ideas. The event attracted a great interest from participants from different institutions in the UK and other countries including Germany, Belgiu...


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Activism, Ideology and Sacrifice: Shi’ism in the “Arab Spring”

March 6, 2012

There is at least one Arab opposition movement which will not, it seems, be the recipient of Western military and diplomatic largesse any time soon.  Bahrain remains a baffling embarrassment in Paris, London and Washington.  Tunisia and Egypt happened too quickly to even flummox us; we hedged our bets as the events streamed on.  For Libya and Syria, supporting the opposition was an easy call, given the history of relations, made easier by a longer period of resistance giving time for the inte...


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Report: LIVIT Conference, 5-6 September 2011

October 20, 2011

We felt saturated by scholarship following the second LIVIT conference – so sated were we that only now have we got around to putting our reflections together.  It was, we hope all present would agree, a very stimulating twodays.  Istvan and myself felt the quality of contribution – and the engagement of participants meant that the coverage of violence and its legitimization in early Islamic thought was impressive.  We included not only “strictly” religious writings looking at violenc...


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What comes first: a caliph or the jihad?

May 24, 2011

What comes first: a caliph or the jihad?

In its statement, Al-Qaeda called the death of Bin Laden an historic event. The statement was full of praise for what they called his bravery, but also full of cheer, for Bin Laden’s “martyrdom in the cause of God”, a martyrdom he had been seeking for about 30 years. This comes as no surprise: for proponents of Jihadi-Salafism, being killed by “the enemies of God” is the greatest personal achievement.  They refer to the Quranic verse “Sa...


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Sorcery, Punishment and Orthodoxy

May 16, 2011

Buried under the reports of Osama Bin Laden’s death (a subject for another occasion), the arrests in Iran of some prominent political figures associated with the President may seem rather minor news.  Those named have been accused of sorcery and unleashing metaphysical forces.  It may, or may not, be a real story; it probably tells us more about internal Iranian power politics than any surge in superstitious practices.  What it does reveal, however, is the potency of the accusation within...


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Caught by the Magic of Control: Who is afraid of democracy in the Middle East?

March 25, 2011

Not much attention was paid in the international media to the demands of the Iraqi protesters circulated on many Iraqi websites and Facebook pages inviting people to join demonstrations on February 25th in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. The lack of any media interest can be partly attributed to the fact that what they oppose is a scheme forced upon them in the name of democracy.

Arab regimes for centuries have denied freedom and economically abused their “subjects” and the available natur...


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What shall we do without our West friendly dictators? Part four. Do the Arabs really want Western liberal democracy?

March 14, 2011

Freedom is responsibility. In reality even Western citizens are happy to give up most of their political responsibility if in turn they live in comfort. Personal liberty is essential for Westerners but political liberty is important for us mostly as a guarantee that we can rid ourselves of those who we think harmful to our personal liberty or responsible for our countries’ economic problems. The role of the state is to ensure the collaboration or at least the coexistence of its citizens. Th...


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