The well of the past: reinterpreting secularism after 9/11
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 11:13 authored by Lailufar Yasmin
The ‘9/11’ bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 ushered in a new era in international relations in ways that are yet to be fully analyzed. Described as the first ‘world-historical event’ by Jürgen Habermas, it focused attention on Islamic involvement in international terrorism and promoted images of a unified ‘Islamic World’ at loggerheads with an equally unified ‘West’. Although such images have served conservative interests on both sides, neither the Islamic World nor the West is a unified category. More importantly, 9/11 has reinvigorated debates about what constitutes modernity and ‘civility’. Increasingly, both are being measured in terms of the role of religion in the public sphere: to be a modern, civilized state is to be a secular state. However, in examining problems with the interpretation of secularism as a concept, the thesis argues that there is a need to concentrate on the accommodation of religious difference within and between states and on maintaining state neutrality on issues of religious difference rather than insisting on secularism as a marker of civility per se. The thesis critically examines the adoption of a rigidly rationalist conception of secularism by two Muslim majority countries in their efforts to be recognized as civilized and modern members of the international system that has resulted in certain tensions in these countries between secularism and a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. These studies illustrate that the discourse of civilized versus uncivilized attached to the concept of secularism needs to be addressed so that Muslim majority countries can realize their aspiration to recognition as modern and civilized as well as Islamic.