Leonid Fituni, Irina Abramova: Islam, Global Governance and a New World Order
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The authors of the peer-reviewed monograph – Leonid Fituni and Irina Abramova – are well known among Russian specialists for their publications on the economy of Arab countries and international economic cooperation. In the monograph Islam, Global Governance and a New World Order, published by the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, they pay no less attention to political issues than to economic problems. The authors set themselves the task of reflecting “the complex socio-economic processes and the very mixed dynamics of the development of the countries of North Africa, the Near and Middle East over the past decade and the transformations associated with a change in the place of Islam in the polycentric world” (p. 13). Thus, speaking of the Muslim world as a whole, the authors focus on the so-called Greater Middle East.
However, the study of global security issues and the fight against international terrorism, which have been given a lot of space in the book, obliges Leonid Fituni and Irina Abramova to shift their attention not only to Muslim countries, but also to regions where Muslims do not make up the majority of the population. In particular, in the fifth chapter called Beyond Identity: Migration and the Diaspora the focus of researchers turns out to be the position of Muslim diasporas in Western Europe. In this chapter, the authors consider the features of migration from different regions of the Middle East and analyse the current situation of Muslim diasporas in European countries.
Particular attention in the book is given to the phenomenon of jihadism. The authors proceed from the fact that the spread of terrorism under Islamic slogans is not so much the result of miscalculations of the security services of European countries, but the result of a well-thought-out policy aimed at ‘using them (supporters of radical Islam. – R.B.) openly or blindly for one’s purposes’ (p. 325). The authors, in particular, argue that ‘the West is nurturing, financing, and strengthening the cadre of organizations and structures necessary for it to combat geopolitical rivals’ (p. 325). This position obviously has its adherents, including in the Western world itself, however, it needs a more serious evidence base than the one given in the book. Additionally, the impersonal term the West, which appears on the pages of the book when it comes to complex political processes affecting a significant part of the world, does not seem to be quite correct. The authors use the concept of collective West (p. 9), but it also needs to be substantiated.
However, it would be unfair to blame the authors for a preconceived approach and bias. On the contrary, they try to show that there is a variety of reasons underlying certain recent historical events or phenomena. For example, in Chapter three, devoted to the causes and consequences of the Arab Spring, the authors write the following: ‘The authors unequivocally believe that the causes and premises of what is happening lie in the Arab societies themselves and their problems. Nor does it require proof that the revolutionary actions in the region cannot be explained by the influence of just one single factor or reason...’ (p. 205).
Rather, we can talk about the presence in the book under review of some elements of a journalistic style, when it comes not to economic issues, but about issues related to world politics and international relations. This is a common phenomenon in Russian scholarly works which touch upon pressing political issues, including international terrorism. The theme of terrorism under Islamic slogans runs throughout the book. Chapter four is devoted to the phenomenon of the Islamic State (IS). Speaking about this terrorist formation, the authors consider issues such as the geography of the spread of IS on the African continent, technology for involving children and adolescents in extremist and terrorist activities, the gender policy of IS among others.
The authors rightly point out the difficulties of a statistical description of organizations like IS. Their study is complicated by the fact that:
even if the researcher receives the primary data, the reliability of the latter is not easily fully confirmed by alternative methods from other sources. Since, as a rule, samples “from the ground” are small and random, they can differ significantly and even contradict each other. In these cases, the reliability of any initial examination can easily be called into question ... Unlike the exact or natural sciences, repetition of an experiment by other researchers under identical conditions is practically impossible. (p. 256-257).
Nevertheless, the authors as a whole managed to show the essence, as well as the forms and basic methods of activity of IS. When writing the chapter, the authors used materials from their own field research (for example, interviews with employees of one of the prisons in Morocco where representatives of the Islamic State were detained).
However, the most powerful part of the work is still the first three chapters, where the authors consider the economic development trends of the Muslim world (using the example of the Arab countries). Chapter one The Muslim World: Between Traditional Values and the New World Order addresses issues such as: Islamic finance and alternative models of global governance, Islamic economic modernization models, and the influence of structural and macroeconomic imbalances on the fundamental trends of socio-economic development. Analyzing the structures of the economies of the Middle East, the authors conclude that avoiding oil dependence is objectively impossible for many countries of the region in the foreseeable future. Regarding economic problems in the modern Arab world, Fituni and Abramova note that:
the socio-destructive reaction of large masses of the population to structural and economic imbalances is one of the features of the MENA region. In no other large economic and geographical region of the world has the sharp rise in price of consumer goods ... and the clumsy attempts to reform in recent decades led to such outbreaks of violence and bloody consequences as in the Arab world (p. 56).
The authors attempt to introduce a new term: Muslim economy, by which they mean ‘the modern economy of Muslim countries’ (p. 25). The Muslim economy in the monograph is contrasted with the Islamic economy, which is understood as “an economy created entirely or mainly on the basis of Islamic law (Shariah)” (p. 25).
I will not discuss the ambiguity of the term Islamic economy, which the authors of the monograph under review point out. The concept of Islamic economy has already firmly entered the language of theorists and practitioners and is generally accepted among economists and representatives of other disciplines. As for the term Muslim economy, an attempt to introduce it into circulation may not be recognized as completely successful.
The authors argue that the words Muslim and Islamic are complete synonyms. I disagree with this point of view. The definition Islamic refers to a concept derived from Islam as a religion. At the same time, the word Muslim refers to the adherents of Islam (Muslims). In other words, if we were talking about the Muslim economy, it would be more correct to understand by it not the sum of the national economies of Muslim countries, but the totality of households owned by Muslims, regardless of the country of residence. After all, in Muslim countries Christians and representatives of other religions live, as well as unbelievers. All of them are involved in the production of public goods. At the same time, Muslims living outside the Muslim East are also active participants in economic relations. Thus, if we were talking about the economy of countries where Islam is the state religion or the majority of the population is Muslim, it would be preferable to talk about the economy of Muslim countries or the economy of the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The theme of Islamic finance is continued in Chapter two, Islamic World and Global Governance: Challenges and Opportunities. It also addresses issues such as institutions and legal instruments of global governance in the system of counteracting international terrorism, the role of aggressive non-state actors in the region, global governance and the development of science in Muslim countries, etc.
Speaking about the prospects for the participation of Arab countries in the world economy and international economic relations, the authors write:
In the foreseeable future, the determining factors of the active, not passive participation of Muslim countries in the world economy and in the formation of a new system of world order will be their natural resource potential and rapidly growing and qualitatively changing population. The growth of human capital through the growth of the scientific potential of the Muslim countries of the continent is an important condition for the realization of their development goals in the 21st century. It is these determinants that will have a significant impact on the development of the global economy and determine the socio-economic prospects of the Muslim states themselves (p. 137-138).
Chapter three The Neoliberal Order: The Trap of the Arab Spring discusses the causes and consequences of the revolutions of the early 2010s for the economic development of Arab countries. The chapter gives the main characteristics of the macroeconomic and financial situation in Egypt and Tunisia in the first half of the 2010s. Fituni and Abramova give a balanced and objective analysis of the causes of the mass protests in North Africa. According to the authors, ‘the main fundamental problem that led to the collapse of the old regime was the inability of the latter to create the paradigm of (re)distribution of national income adequate to the changing conditions’ (p. 158).
Conceptually and methodologically, the book stands in line with the famous monograph The Islamic Concept of the World Order by N.V. Zhdanov the first edition of which appeared in 1991. Both of these works present both political and economic aspects of the problem being studied. Despite the fact that Zhdanov’s work continues to attract the attention of researchers even today, some conceptual flaws inherent in the Islamic Concept of the World Order can also be found in the book Islam, Global Governance and a New World Order. This applies mainly to those parts about Islam and the political situation in the Arab-Muslim world. The question of the ideological and political struggle in modern Islam is actually reduced on the pages of the monograph to the problems of jihadism and terrorism under Islamic slogans. The ideology of jihadism is undoubtedly important for a researcher who studies current problems in the Middle East, but it is not the only modern political thought in Islam. The jihadist movement itself is so mottled from an ideological point of view that it requires a separate study. This circumstance, apparently, should explain the insufficiently detailed consideration of this problem in the book under review.
However, despite the controversial points noted above, Leonid Fituni and Irina Abramova’s Islam, Global Governance and a New World Order is an important work that provides a comprehensive understanding of the political and economic phenomena occurring in the modern Arab-Muslim world. Given the light language and style of presentation, this book could be recommended for educational use.
 Zhdanov N. Islamskaya koncepciya miroporyadka: Mezhdunar. pravovye, ekon. i gumanit. aspekty. Moscow, 1991. The second edition of the book: Zhdanov N. Islamskaya koncepciya miroporyadka. Moscow, 2003.