Sadik al-Azm on Islamism’s last gasp

The Syrian critic Sadik al-Azm, perhaps best known for the essay “Orientalism and Orientalism in Reverse“, has a thought provoking piece on “Western dominance, Islamist terror, and the Arab imagination” in the new Boston Review.

The article begins, well, with a shocking admission.

“There is a strong injunction in Arab Islamic culture against shamateh, an emotion—like schadenfreude—of taking pleasure in the suffering of others. It is forbidden when it comes to death, even the violent death of your mortal enemies. Yet it would be very hard these days to find an Arab, no matter how sober, cultured, and sophisticated, in whose heart there was not some room for shamateh at the suffering of Americans on September 11. I myself tried hard to contain, control, and hide it that day. And I knew intuitively that millions and millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond experienced the same emotion.

I never had any doubts, either, about who perpetrated that heinous crime; our Islamists had a deep-seated vendetta against the World Trade Center since their failed attack on it in 1993. [. . .] Does my response, and the silent shamateh of the Arab world, mean that [Samuel] Huntington’s clash of civilizations has come true, and so quickly?

In the end, no. Despite current predictions of a protracted global war between the West and the Islamic world, I believe that war is over. There may be intermittent battles in the decades to come, with many innocent victims. But the number of supporters of armed Islamism is unlikely to grow, its support throughout the Arab Muslim world will likely decline, and the opposition by other Muslim groups will surely grow. 9/11 signaled the last gasp of Islamism rather than the beginnings of its global challenge.”