Liberal Political Discourse, Islamism and "The Political"

By Ali Kaya
Submitted to Session P4820 ("The Political" in Political Islam: Conflict, consensus, or something else?, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
This proposed paper examines the shortcomings of the liberal political discourse in understanding Islamism, and offers an alternative perspective based on the political conception developed by the political theorists such as Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Carl Schmitt.

There is a growing literature to evaluate the political project of Islamism from the perspective of political liberalism. The literature includes both liberal scholars studying Islamism and leading Islamist scholars and intellectuals who explicitly or implicitly have a liberal approach to politics. In this paper, I would like to focus on the idea of such prominent Islamist figures as Rachid Ghannouchi, AbdolKarim Soroush and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im. They have a set of common ideas on Islamism, which can be perfectly understood and become compatible with the basic premises of liberal political discourse such as imagining politics as a field of consensus and rational reasoning, making a sharp distinction between political and social domains, or assuming state as a neutral apparatus. The main problem of this literature is its noncritical stance towards liberal political discourse. All of these assumptions based on liberalism are accepted without any hesitation. The inevitable conclusion of the approach is that Islamism does not have any special and distinctive political demand characterising itself. I would like to discuss and problematize this idea drawing from accounts of ‘the political’ developed by political theorists such as Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Carl Schmitt. I will claim that the concept of the political offers a better understanding about distinctiveness of political ideologies and identities especially when it comes to Islamism. The political can be defined with the following three sets of inter-related concepts. First, the political is the moment of making a decision (not a rational choice). Second, the political is the process of identification, of creating political subjectivities and maintaining those subjectivities. And third, the political exists whenever there are political frontiers and a distinction between friend and enemy.