Farid Esack’s concept of the “clash of fundamentalisms”

In the reading titled In Search of Progressive Islam Beyond 9/11, author Farid Esack makes several valid observations. At the outset, he admits that the word ‘progressive’ is very hard to define due to elements of subjectivity and scope. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets, cultural and religious scholarship is full of calls for a progressive followers. But what is often left out in speculating about progress is its political basis. In political discourse, the term progressive is associated with Left-of-center ideologies such as Marxism. The 911 attacks were commonly seen as an attack on the American way of life with or seen as a continuation of the historical conflict between Christianity and Islam that goes back to the Crusades. But what is not represented in mainstream commentary is the economic disparity between the terrorists and their targets. If the terrorists are acting on the basis of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs such a Jihad, then they are expected to progress by adopting a liberal, open-minded attitude toward their religion. In the same vein, the United States (especially its government and large business corporations) would have to introspect about entrenched Market Fundamentalism, whereby the pursuit of profits and market expansion have economically impoverished and politically weakened people in the rest of the world.

Esack is correct in pointing out that the neo-liberal capitalist agenda set by American and European elite is causing and accentuating discontent among poor peoples of the world. Since most of the Arab Muslims are poor (excepting their ruling class, which is mostly allied to Western capitalists), the 911 attacks can be seen as an outburst of their frustration toward their rulers and their allies. In this analytic framework, the Market Fundamentalism of neo-liberal capitalism is definitely a more sinister and potent instigator of terrorist acts. The prevailing global economic order is also hostile to progress within Islam, as Esack rightly points out.