I just finished reading Akbar S. Ahmed’s Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World, a book well worth reading. Ahmed attributes much of what we in the West see as extremism in the Muslim world as originating in the breakdown of asibiyya, a concept of social solidarity he derives from the writings of Ibn Khaldun. Here’s one quote from the book:
“Asibiyya, which presupposed exclusivity, glorifies the group. But God while universal and generous in His attitude toward mankind is nonetheless possessive about praise. God certainly does not approve of sharing praise with rivals called ‘tribe’ or ‘nation.’ By conflating God and the group, leaders of the community employ an effective strategy: The honor of the group can now be defended in the name of God. As a consequence we see the emergence of a frenetic, distorted and dangerous form of asibiyya – one I am calling hyper-asibiyya. Thus God’s vision of justice and compassion are set aside for the group’s need for honor and revenge. To unlock the conundrum of hyper-asibiyya anthropologists who study communities and how notions of honor affect behavior need to be in discussion with theologians whose business is to attempt to understand God. One without the other would only comprehend part of the picture.”
While it’s easy to see how some Muslim groups have conflated the sense of God’s honor and the honor of their group, it looks like Americans – presumed Christians – are not off the hook here. Muslim experience of social breakdown and fear of its consequences lead to disastrous consequences. Our fear of terrorism (or of Muslims – or immigrants) will also likely lead to disastrous consequences – if fear is our primary motivator.