Friday, September 02, 2005

Michel Foucault's Misunderestimated Islamist Insights

The Nation features an article on Michel Foucault, "the gentle apostle of radiant uncertainty."

Michel Foucault, as a talismanic French intellectual superstar, is often misunderestimated by people who suspect he may have been an obscurantist, overpartial to left-wing dogma. But this is emphatically wrong: the reverse is true.

Foucault was driven by a deep scepticism about self-congratulatory Western "narratives" of modernity and progress. He saw obscurity as "a kind of despotism," even whilst admitting that his own writing sometimes suffered from effects of cafouillage (obscuram per obscurius, or making something more confused by one's explanation).

In his sole venture into journalism, Foucault went to Iran before the revolution there in 1979, and he gained some notable insights, most of which were misunderestimated, in their turn, by Foucault's leftist opponents back in Paris.

Foucault saw that the revolution was not so much against the ideas of "progress" - which many Western observers saw as represented by the Shah - but more against the corruption to which the Shah's regime had succumbed.

Additionally, Foucault was powerfully struck by Islam's "political spirituality" and saw that this could not be reduced to a retrogressive step back into anti-rationalist religiosity.

Both of these insights went counter to the approved leftist take on the Iranian revolution, and both are doubly relevant to an understanding of politicised Islam - and its declension into Islamism - today.

The Treason of the Clerics

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