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January 11, 2005



Okay, I'm going to weigh in with what may be a moderately unpopular view.

Talk of "reform" in the Arab media is a popular buzz phrase with a properly "authentic" Islamic lineage (cf. the overwhelming number of parties, groups, and publications that adopt the rallying cry of "Islah"). Some of these groups - and I can speak particularly about the Islah party in Yemen - have begun to concretize their calls for reform and push for change through formal and informal political institutions, though I would argue that such action is more the exception than the rule.

What Saghiye's calling for requires a paradigmatic shift in discourse that would rest on an even more substantial change in worldview. While I would argue that changes in discourse can be effected by elites, fundamental changes in mentality on the order that these two are (justifiably) calling for need to emenate from below. All of this brings me full circle back to institutions, namely educational and popular religious institutions.

So, here's the rub: Islamists both lobby for and receive influence in the education ministries of several regional governments. While I am making no statement whatsoever about whether Islam (however defined) should be included in state curricula, what is important to note is that the vision of some Islamists (especially regarding the binaries, for example, of Dar as-Salaam and Dar al-Harb, or Hizb Allah and Hizb al-Shaytan) may be helping to produce the very form of identity politics cited by Saghiye, and that institutional reforms can just as likely produce outcomes that are antithetical to Saghiye's aims, depending on the reformer.

I wholeheartedly agree that none of us should expect to be of concern to those whose plight we ignore, which is why a number of admirable Islamist activists are seeing tsunami relief efforts as an opportunity for daw'a-through-deeds. But for now, calls for "thought reform" such as Saghiye's are implausible without a more systematic look at the institutions that produce thought (that sounded more Orwellian than I intended).

Vikash Yadav

I actually realized that my students (at an elite university in the Middle East) had no knowledge of the world outside the Middle East when they failed to identify China and India on an unmarked map. That day I cancelled class and cried.

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