POLITICAL REALISM AND FRAMING CONTMPORARY ISLAMISTS’ DISCOURSES ON JIHAD

By Sami Emile Baroudi
Submitted to Session P3591 (Speaking of Violence, 2013 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
While each of Jihad and political realism has received extensive treatment in the academic literature, no serious effort has been made yet to investigate the relationship between these two pivotal notions. This paper offers a fresh perspective on the discourses on jihad of two leading contemporary Islamist scholars –the Sunni Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi (b. 1926) and the Shia Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah (1935 - 2010) –, reading them in light of realist theory of international relations. I start by discussing Qaradawi and Fadlallah’s views on: 1) the different meanings and forms of jihad, 2) the centrality of qital (fighting) or military jihad (hereafter jihad) to the life of the Muslim community (Umma), and 3) the lawful purposes of jihad. I then highlight how realist assumptions – regarding international anarchy, human nature and the centrality of power to resolving conflicts – underpin the two scholars’ discourses on jihad. I argue that Fadlallah and Qaradawi subscribe to an instrumental view of jihad, seeing it as a means to achieve lawful ends, rather than as an end in itself. Stated otherwise, jihad’s chief purpose, for the two authors, is to ensure the survival and security of the Muslim community in an anarchical international system, where the intensions of others cannot be trusted. Jihad is thus prompted by the same forces that, according to realists, cause wars to erupt; namely the absence of international authority and the animus dominandi (craving for power) that classic realists see as central to human nature. A realist reading of the massive oeuvre on jihad by Fadlallah, Qaradawi and other Islamists serves at least three purposes. To start with, it underscores the political, rather than religious, causes of fighting. These causes tend to be the same across civilizational units, while the justifications for fighting are generally grounded in culturally-specific thought-systems whose source is often religion. Equally important, it paves the way for comparing contemporary discourses on jihad to different strands of realism, namely: classical, structural, offensive and especially Christian realism. This comparison is pivotal for mainstreaming these discourses, through demonstrating how they fit within realism which is the dominant tradition in international relations. Finally, it underscores that the concern with security – which is at the core of the realist paradigm – is universal (and not specific to Western culture); as is the tendency of serious thinkers, including Islamists, to see fighting (and preparing for fighting) as the chief means for coping with insecurity