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The Crisis of Post-Modernity

July 1, 2009 No Comment

For the Arches Quarterly - The Crisis of (Post) Modernity: The De-Sacralisation of the Social, the Death of Democracy, and the Reclamation of Islamic Tradition

In early 2007, then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, described the ‘War on Terror’ as a continuation of “the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace the modern world and those who reject its existence… In the era of globalisation, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress will determine our future… We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us… This is, ultimately, a battle about modernity… That is what this battle is about, within Islam and outside of it; it is a battle of values and progress; and therefore it is one we must win.”

From this perspective, Islamist extremism – exemplified in al-Qaeda’s brand of violent puritanism – represents a rejection of modernity and thus, opposition to the Western model of civilisation based on technological progress, liberal democracy and scientific reason. Yet this understanding of the ‘War on Terror’ as a defence of modernity against reactionary extremists who would fundamentally challenge its legitimate achievements is deeply problematic, raising probing questions about our contemporary predicament as a global civilisation. Is Islamist extremism really a virulent strain of violent anti-modernism? Is a violent defence of modernity the right answer? And, while we may easily reject the legitimacy of anti-modernism, should we accept the superiority and desirability of modernity as a given?

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