I think it is too early to assess the impact of recent studies of Islam in early modern studies. But I do think that looking "back" toward the Old World now, in light of the critical wave of research on colonialism of the New World, can provide a useful corrective to what Jerry Brotton has identified as a "historically and geographically monolithic concept of 'the' discourse of colonialism" (see _Postcolonial Shakespeares_, 1998). As is the best work on colonial discourse theory, the most innovative and relevant work on Islam in Early Modern studies must be animated by a desire to understand the contemporary political and economic struggles in today's Muslim world. To this end, in their insistence on the modern relevance of an "Old World" category like religious difference, both Daniel Vitkus ("Turning Turk") and Nabil Matar (Islam in Britain and Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery) challenge an orientalist discourse which insists on the epistemological difference between two worlds--and temporalizes that difference through a discourse of modernity--the Old is always past, the New is ever emerging.
What is so striking about late twentieth century orientalist discourse (Sam Huntington's much criticized "Clash of Civilizations" theory) is the persistence of the "Old World" ideologies that drive this debate. Huntington's invocation of a medieval rhetoric of clash between an infidel Islam and the West calls for a studied and serious response, yet both strands of the debate revise earlier orientalist tropes, situating them within an entirely new historical conjuncture. Current American foreign policy toward Islamism is ambiguous, reflecting a growing divide between two different perceptions of Islamist movements. While some critics agree with Huntington and see the Islamic resurgence as a demonstration of the inherent antagonism between Islam and Western institutions, many aligned with the corporate interests of petroleum and energy investment maintain that the US can reach an agreement with certain Islamist groups. As one critic of this debate points out, the orientalist racial discourse will do little to impede capitalist development in these regions. "The claim that Islamists are not truly democratic must not delay the development of a new foreign policy grounded in a critique of authoritarianism, global neo-liberalism and specious claims about the supremacy of Western civilization" (see Steve Niva).
Rather than celebrate a "postcoloniality" that is as singular and monolithic as 'the' discourse of colonialism, my hope is that studies of Islam in the early modern period will be cognizant of the current position of the Muslim world within the processes of globalization. We ought to explore the complex interrelationships between religious discourse, economic inequalities, and political struggles rather than segregate old world issues from the new.
Jill Holslin, Dept of Literature
University of California, San Diego
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From: Daniel Vincent [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Monday, November 06, 2000 10:54 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Islam in Early Modern Studies
I am interested in how Islam studies are making an appearance in studies concerned with early modern culture, particularly drama studies. For instance, I am intirgued by the potential genre-isation of 'Turk plays' and such questions as whether such categorisation or research founded on such categorisation will contribute to Islamaphobia in re-iterating Islam & Muslims as an 'Other' to a Huntingtonian 'West', or whether such research will meaningfully contribute to mutlicultural critical understanding? Or if such studies, alongside studies of 'travel plays' are an extension of the global village ideology, in either economics or mutual international co-operation? If anybody would like to respond, I would be very grateful.
Danny Vincent, Bath Spa University College.
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