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June 25, 2001

Carnegie gives $240,000 to fund study of Islamic social movements

By Jennifer McNulty

As global economic integration widens the gap between those who "have" and those who "have not," the fate of the world's most vulnerable populations is in jeopardy, according to sociology professor Paul Lubeck and associate professor of politics Ronnie Lipschutz.

Photo of faculty members and project leader
Faculty members Ronnie Lipschutz, left, and Paul Lubeck are teaming up with project director Bryana Britts. Photo: Jennifer McNulty
Many of the poor and politically disenfranchised are followers of Islam, the fastest-growing religion in the world, and Lubeck and Lipschutz have recently received a Carnegie Corporation grant of nearly $240,000 to examine the ways in which Islamic social movements are challenging existing states and the continued expansion of economic globalization.

More than 20 percent of the world's population follows Islam, and Lubeck and Lipschutz are eager to evaluate whether Muslim movements have been empowered by the erosion of state control that is accompanying economic liberalization. One of their hypotheses is that Islamic forces and civil society groups are stepping in to fill the void left as governments withdraw from economies and cut back or even eradicate some of their traditional social services, such as welfare, health services, and education. Ironically, increasing globalization is correlated with Islamic activism, noted Lubeck.

The time is right for a study of Muslim activism, said Lipschutz. "Islamic groups are mobilizing and demanding greater cultural autonomy and political power," he said. "It remains to be seen how states will cope with these demands for greater self-determination. And there is, of course, violent opposition to taking the Islamic alternative seriously in the West."

The "Quran Belt," as Lubeck refers to the densest concentration of Muslims, stretches across Africa from Morocco to Tanzania, and over to Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines in Asia.

Within the broad swath, however, are highly diverse community practices, ideologies, and nations with varying concentrations of Muslims. In their two-year study, "Comparative Muslim States, Movements, Networks and Strategies," funded largely by the Carnegie grant, Lubeck and Lipschutz will compile case studies of how globalization impacts Muslim social activism in nine areas: Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, India, Western Europe, and the Silicon Valley region of California.

"Between the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the Asian economic crisis of 1997, there was an enormous drive by Americans to liberalize the world," said Lubeck. The resulting social stress and inequality has had destabilizing effects that have contributed to the global revival of Islamic consciousness, said Lipschutz.

The nine areas were selected to represent the diversity of Muslim activity and government interaction that is occurring around the globe, said Lubeck. For example, Muslims in Indonesia mobilized to support the prodemocracy movement led by the current president, while Algeria, where the Islamic parties were poised to win elections, has fallen into civil war following the collapse of the petroleum-based economy and an Army takeover that reneged on a promised democratic transition.

By contrast, Iran, where women have the same voting rights as men and where everyone can vote at age 15, represents a complete reinterpretation of Shi'ite political theory. "The Iranian notion of an 'Islamic Republic' is an entirely new concept," said Lubeck, adding that it hints at the possibility of an Islamic state with the seeds of "some kind of democracy" embedded in it.

Anti-Western sentiment is strong among Muslims, to whom economic liberalization smacks of Americanization, said Lubeck. Yet Muslims--from the orthodox Shi'ites to the more moderate Sunnis--have embraced the new global information and media networks that have both accompanied and fueled globalization.

"The Iranian revolution was televised and recorded," Lipschutz noted with irony. "And then those recordings helped build popular support for Khomeini."

As part of the study, project director Bryana Britts, who won highest honors in sociology at UCSC in 1999, will oversee the identification and coding of all of the Muslim sites on the World Wide Web and the creation of a public database. Other initiatives include public lectures, workshops, and the hosting of two international conferences.

Lubeck and Lipschutz were reluctant to speculate on what is likely to transpire in coming years, as Muslim interests pursue an agenda that clashes with the unbridled market forces of Western capitalism. "Who knows what's going to happen," shrugged Lubeck. "Would you have predicted in 1980 that the U.S. would fight a war with Iraq? Who could've predicted that?"

Violent revolution remains a possibility, and both scholars noted that corporate interests, government leaders, and international lobbyists might temper the zeal with which they pursue economic liberalization if circumstances continue to degrade.

"Capitalism is sufficiently adaptable that the drivers will, at some point, start to recognize the flaws of what's happening and try to compensate," observed Lipschutz, who expects the interplay among governments, Islamic activists, and citizens to vary by nation and region. "We want to examine the processes that are creating the destabilizing conditions, and see what is done to satisfy people and maintain order," he said.

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