Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Maxime Rodinson's interview on Islam, fundamentalism and the West - September 28, 2001

Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was one of the greatest Western scholars of Islam. A French Marxist historian, sociologist and orientalist; he was the son of a Russian-Polish clothing trader and his wife, who both died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. His study of the Arab world was strongly influenced by Marxism, and he described himself as having been a communist for 20 years. This post carries the text of the interview given by him two weeks after the WTC attacks of 9/11

Rodinson was interviewed by Gilbert Achcar in 1986, who said of him:


His relationship to Marx is furthermore the source of the great variety of themes and focuses that characterizes his writings. For this reason his work cannot be pigeonholed in the category of Islamic studies alone. His theoretical contributions, in permanent dialogue with a Marxian inspiration that he never renounced, in fact cover broader reaches of historical and sociological research than the Islamic world alone. The Arab-Israeli conflict was an equally important dimension of Rodinson’s work. His article “Israël, fait colonial?” (“Israel: a colonial reality?”), published in the special issue of Les Temps Modernes devoted to the debate sparked by the June 1967 war, was an essential contribution to defining a critique of Zionism from the left. [2] This same Marxist inspiration colors Rodinson’s reflections on Islamic fundamentalism in their entirety: not only in his analytical approach, which is both fundamentally “materialist” and comparative, but also in his political attitude. His understanding (in the deepest sense of the word) of the sources of the resurgence of fundamentalism as a political-religious ideology did not lead him, thoroughly anti-clerical atheist that he was, to have the least sympathy for it. [3] The Achcar interview of 1986 may be read here

This important interview was given to the newspaper Le Figaro on September 28, 2001, two weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. It is significant for its reflections on Islamist fundamentalism & extremist ideologies. It appears as an epilogue to the 2002 edition of his biography of Muhammad that first appeared in 1961. 

Le Figaro: Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, many commentators wondered whether Islam and the West were incompatible. What is your analysis?

MR – That’s an old notion, a notion revived by recent events. But to put it that way is to pose the question badly. What is Islam? What is the West? Islam is a world of very different ways of thinking, that are sometimes even in conflict with each other.. download the PDF here

Also see
Janet Afary & Kevin B. Anderson: Revisiting Foucault and the Iranian Revolution