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Radical Religion and the Habitus of the Dispossessed: Does Islamic Militancy Have an Urban Ecology?

Authors

  • ASEF BAYAT

    Corresponding author
    1. The International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
      Asef Bayat (a.bayat@isim.nl), The International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden University, Rapenburg 59, 2311 GJ, Leiden, The Netherlands.
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  • I am grateful to Kian Tajbakhsh and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their extremely constructive comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article. I am also indebted to Eric Denis with whom I have discussed many ideas presented in this article, and to which he has contributed. All shortcomings are solely my responsibility.

Asef Bayat (a.bayat@isim.nl), The International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden University, Rapenburg 59, 2311 GJ, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Abstract

Abstract

There is a commonplace but powerful argument that links the religious resurgence in the Muslim world to the urban ecology of overcrowded slums in the large cities. Poverty and precarious life, together with anomie and lawlessness, condition the dispossessed to embrace ideologies and movements that offer communities of salvation and support while preaching radical politics. This article questions the premises of such arguments in an attempt to nuance the relationship between the urban dispossessed and radical Islam. By examining the politics of slums and militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably Egypt and Iran, I suggest that key to the habitus of the dispossessed is not anomie or extremism but ‘informal life’— one that is characterized by flexibility, pragmatism, negotiation, as well as constant struggle for survival and self-development. The relationship between the urban dispossessed and radical Islamists tends to be both contingent and instrumental.

Résumé

On rencontre communément une thèse convaincante qui relie le renouveau religieux du monde musulman à l'écologie urbaine des quartiers pauvres et surpeuplés des grandes villes. Pauvreté et précarité, associées à anomie et non-droit, poussent les déshérités à rallier des idéologies ou mouvements qui proposent des communautés de salut et de soutien tout en prêchant des politiques radicales. Cet article revient sur les postulats utilisés et tente de nuancer le lien entre exclus urbains et Islam radical. En étudiant les politiques des quartiers pauvres et l'islamisme militant au Moyen-Orient, notamment en Egypte et Iran, il suggère que la clé de l'habitus des déshérités ne tient ni à l'anomie ni à l'extrémisme mais à une existence ‘hors cadres’– dominée par la flexibilité, le pragmatisme et la négociation, autant que par une lutte permanente pour la survie et le développement personnel. Finalement, la relation entre exclus urbains et islamistes radicaux paraît à la fois plutôt contingente et instrumentale.

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