Secular asabiyya?

I’ve been reading Bassam Tibi’s Political Islam, World Politics and Europe.

Don’t bother with the book itself: it’s almost unreadable. This is not, by the way, Tibi’s fault. He’s a Syrian social scientist who spent his life in Germany—English must be his third language. This book was in desperate need of a good editor, and some executive at Routledge no doubt thought editorial work was merely a cost that could be safely cut.

Still, Tibi has some interesting ideas. For example, he follows Ibn Khaldun in stating that vital civilizations have a strong sense of themselves. They have an asabiyya or esprit de corps that underpin a sense of identity and a sense of a collective engagement in a civilizational project. Tibi perceives very little of this asabiyya among Europeans. In contrast, Muslims—especially Islamists among Muslim immigrants to Europe, who most worry Tibi—are overflowing with asabiyya.

If so (and Tibi is not the only person who makes similar observations), there is reason to question the secular future of Europe. Secular ways of life, no less than religions, have to reproduce themselves. And secular liberalism has historically ridden on a high rate of defections from a surrounding religious culture, rather than being all that good at reproducing itself. Individualist consumerism and hedonism is, perhaps, more typical of European secularism today. Commitments to civilizational projects that span the generations do not so easily enter the picture.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University