Lucas Glass: “Islamic Exceptionalism”

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In this article, Ahmad breaks down the book Islamic Exceptionalism by Shadi Hamid. Hamid believes that Islam, alone, is responsible for much of the political turmoil in the Middle East. He believes that Islam does not allow modern, liberal politics to take shape due to the “perfect state” outlined by the Prophet Mohammed’s early state. Ahmad primarily rejects this claim since the early Muslim state fell apart very quickly and none of the Sunni states have since tried to replicate this early state. Ahmad traces Hamid’s thinking back to Weber and his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He juxtaposes Weber to Hamid by saying that Weber made claims that Protestant denominations, only, could truly become capitalists, meaning Catholics could never truly modernize and move past traditions (later proved to not be true). Weber’s ideas support Hamid’s claim that Muslims are unable to let go of traditional Islamic politics to make way for a modern, liberal democracy.

Based on the information easily available on Hamid’s book, it is clear that he overlooked nearly every factor other than religion. As discussed in class, Weber’s ideas make us ask the question, “Which came first, the spirit or the economic order?” Given the Catholic world of western Europe, we can see that Catholics were able to move past traditions that Weber was not sure possible. From that evidence, I conclude that the economic order can come first and then popular opinion, based on the success of such order, would dictate whether it is acceptable and then religious ideas would conform to it. Hamid supports U.S. intervention in the Middle East, so he must think the liberal order of the western world forcing regime changes has nothing to do with Muslim hostility to a liberal order. From my earlier conclusion, it would be ridiculous to think that the Middle East would reject a more modern order if it worked so much better than the current one. The problem is implementing it, as it seems the western world isn’t necessarily interested in benefiting the people of the Middle East. Ahmad said that a UN representative of India claimed U.S. intervention in Libya was for a regime change, not for the benefit of Libyans. This is likely true for more cases than just Libya. Knowing the faults in Weber’s assumptions and Hamid’s conclusions on the Middle East, likely rooted in Weber’s fallacies, I would have to say the corruption of past rulers and the extreme lack of helpfulness from outside intervention are to blame for most the Middle East’s political problems. While religion does play a huge role in politics, Hamid failed to give an unbiased perspective on the issues in the Middle East and used sparse evidence to support his narrow-minded claim that Islam is the problem. The article used the title “Does your religion make your politics?” I would answer that question with yes and no because we’ve seen how Weber was probably wrong to attribute most of the success of capitalism to the Protestant Work Ethic, but we can also see across the world how religion shapes the laws and moral codes of societies. So, Hamid isn’t completely wrong to say Islam is the problem, but he’s very wrong to say Muslims can’t move past traditional thinking.


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