ISLAMISTS MAKE USE of a tendentious reading of history to justify their causes, for the putative ‘Islamic Nation,’ for the call for the Sharī‘a, for the Caliphate, or for the existence of a ‘perennial struggle’ against the forces of Disbelief. This pre-supposes a view of the universe which does not see history as a sequence of events each with their own conditioning factors. Instead, historical events separated by centuries can be linked up and used to explain a preordained thesis, a ‘metanarrative’ that determines all the contours of history, hermetically sealed from the effects of events that contradict this thesis.
History is unfolding according to a pre-determined logic. The Muslim is held to be part of a great historical enterprise unfolding. This history is constantly repeating itself. Or rather, it is a permanent constant – the past and the present are indissolubly merged. The same formula applies down through the centuries and this provides the correct basis on which to engage with current and future events, for it is essentially one and the same contest – the Primordial Struggle between the forces of Truth and Falsehood. It is a formula of conflict that enables Islamists ideologues to claim that:
the conflict of cultures and the hatred has been burning since long before our attacks and in fact before Huntington and Fukuyama with their books on the Clash of Civilizations. This war has been going on ever since the existence of Faith and Disbelief. [Abū Muhammad al-Maqdisī]
As a self-contained entity, the Islamist revision of history immunizes its user intellectually, in much the same way as a fundamentalist doctrine immunizes the believer from challenge. In both cases, the immunization is a key tool to enable the exponent to avoid the implications of contradictions to the system.
Left unchallenged the Islamist historical narrative is a radicalizing force. There is therefore a special responsibility placed on the shoulders of the historian to educate the reader to understand the complexities of actions, reactions, developments and evolutions, against the highly manipulable shorthand of the conspiratorial ‘connecting thread.’ The authors of the articles in this section are taking on this responsibility.