Islamism, a threat for the West?

Term Paper, 2011
29 Pages, Grade: 1,5



I. Introduction

II. Definition of “the Orient”

III. The Occident and Islamic Fundamentalism
1. Decline of Islamism?
2. Islamic Fundamentalism a danger for the Occident?
3. Combating Islamist Terrorism

IV. Conclusion

V. Bibliography
1. Essays and monographs
2. Internet

I. Introduction

Especially due to the terrorist acts on 11th of September 2001 in New York and Washington, the origin of the terrorists and their motivation, Islam came more and more in the western societies’ field of vision, in most cases with a negative connotation. Keywords like ‘fundamentalism’, ‘Islamism’ or ‘jihad’ as well as the frequent tendencies to associate them with Islam, contributed to the raise of the fear of the ‘Islamic threat’, which is believed to be a danger to western society.

The degrees of the Islamophobia become apparent in the USA, where many people were put into detention after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The fact that hundreds of people were arrested because of specious pretexts should, in the opinion of many civil-rights activists, only distract from the fact, that these people have been imprisoned because of their Arabic origins.[1]

In this research paper, I intent to analyse Islamism and its effects on the western world. Does Islamism really represent a danger to western civilisation? Is Islamism in decline, as written by the French scholar Gilles Kepel? What measures does the European Union take to ensure the security of the people and to protect them from terrorist acts?

To describe people’s view on the Orient and the Arabic world, I begin in a first chapter with a monograph written by the U.S. – Palestinian author Edward Said on Orientalism[2] and the representation of Muslims and Arabs in western media.

In a second chapter, I will continue with Gilles Kepel’s thesis on the decline of Islamism and oppose it in the third part to Bassam Tibi’s counter thesis. I will base my analysis mainly on Kepel’s book about the jihad[3], where he develops his thesis on the ascension and decline of Islamism, and on Bassam Tibi’s writings “ The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder[4] and “ Der neue Totalitarismus[5] where he describes Islamist fundamentalism and its impacts on the West.

The fourth part of this paper deals with the anti-terror measures of the European Union and the question on how they affect people’s privacy.

II. Definition of ‘the Orient’

To explain people’s view on the Orient, Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” seems to be ideal, because he describes clearly what people mean when they talk about ‘the Orient’, how they look at it and how the Orient is represented in the western world and the western media. As we will see, Orientalism is essential in our understanding of ‘the Orient’.

For Edward Said, Orientalism has three different meanings, which are all interdependent. The first designation is an academic one. Every Orientalist, meaning everyone who teaches, writes or researches about the Orient[6], does Orientalism.[7]

Besides exists a more general meaning for Orientalism, the ontological and epistemological distinction made between what we call the Orient on one side and the Occident on the other side. We encounter this basic distinction between East and West for example in the writings of Karl Marx, Victor Hugo and Dante.[8]

The last and in my opinion the most important meaning of Orientalism by Edward Said defines Orientalism as a “Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” .[9]

Edward Said doesn’t give a concrete geographical delimitation of ‘the Orient’, but he uses ‘Middle East’ and ‘Near East’ as synonyms. In his opinion, each of the Arab-Israeli wars changed the international configuration of forces. Thus the former European-based discipline of Orientalism has been released into new forms. This discipline is linked to regional expertise and often put at the service of government and business. Therefore, as Orientalism is no longer predominated by Europe, but by the United States, countries such as Japan, Indochina, China, India and Pakistan, became part of ‘the Orient’.[10]

Said saw the nineteenth century writings[11] on the Orient as a discourse. Together, these writings compose a discipline, by which European culture managed and produced the Orient.[12]

In his writing on “Orientalism” , Edward Said is strongly affected by the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault and the Italian political theorist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Said’s description of the relationship between knowledge and power over the Orient can be linked directly to Michel Foucault.

Foucault dissociates himself from a concept of power linked to oppression and prohibition. He defines power as an impersonal force, constructing through multiple channels sites a so-called ‘pastoral regime’, whose aim is to control its objects by reforming them, so that they are made conform to the social system as objects of power. Said adopts Foucault’s argument that the discourse is constructing his own store of knowledge and induces effective power.

With this perspective on the theory of discourse and power, Said is able to describe Orientalism as a specific aggregate of power and knowledge, which, from a western perspective, elucidates the Orient as ‘the other’.[13] Edward Said sees “ Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” . Moreover, by setting itself off against the Orient, European culture gained in strength and authority.[14]

Antonio Gramsci furnishes Edward Said his concept of hegemony, which makes it possible for Said to seize the dynamics of domination and subordination, to explain in which way certain ideas of the Orient prevailed over others.[15] Gramsci opines, that not a brute application of force in non totalitarian societies will enable the wide impact of an idea, but only a consent, often seen as a conventional wisdom, a common sense. By this way, Said illuminates Orientalism as an unwearying, cultural and political force in the representation of Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs in western media.[16]

In 1968, Said published his essay The Arab Portrayed , where he penned the idea, that later became the central theme of Orientalism[17]. With the Arab defeat in 1967, Edward Said sustained a personal loss. However Orientalism is more than “a history of personal loss and national disintegration”[18] , its aim is to “liberate intellectuals from the shackles of systems of thought like Orientalism” .[19]

As an Arab Palestinian in the West, Edward Said can bear testimony to the reinforcement of stereotypes, by which the Orient is seen in the western world. In Said’s opinion, an objective view of Orientalism is made almost impossible, because the West identifies the Middle East with “Great Power politics, oil economics, and the simple-minded dichotomy of freedom-loving, democratic Israel and evil, totalitarian, and terroristic Arabs […]” .[20]

To this pessimistic view on the Arabs, we can add the fear of terrorism and jihad, particularly increased since the 11th September 2001. Indeed, by reporting on terrorist attacks, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the danger of a new jihad, most of western media promulgate a subjective, mostly negative view on Islam and the Muslims.[21]


[1] Geyer, Steven: US-Terrorfahndung: Angriff auf die Bügerrechte , in:,1518,201827,00.html(04.01.2011).

[2] Said, Edward: Orientalism , New York: 1994.

[3] Kepel, Gilles: Jihad : Expansion et déclin de l’islamisme , Paris : 2000.

[4] Tibi, Bassam: The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder , Berkeley: 1998.

[5] Tibi, Bassam: Der neue Totalitarismus: „Heiliger Krieg“ und westliche Sicherheit , Darmstadt: 2004.

[6] “Near East, usually the lands around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, including northeastern Africa, southwestern Asia, and, occasionally, the Balkan Peninsula. The term Near East was used by the first modern Western geographers to refer to the nearer part of the Orient, a region roughly coextensive with the Ottoman Empire. Since World War II, the name has been largely supplanted by Middle East, though frequently they are used interchangeably.” (20.12.2010).

[7] „ […] that by Orientalism I mean several things, all of them, in my opinion, interdependent. The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number of academic institutions. Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient--and this applies whether the persion is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist--either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she says or does is Orientalism [. . .].” Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 2.

[8] „Related to this academic tradition, whose fortunes, transmigrations, specializations, and transmissions are in part the subject of this study, is a more general meaning for Orientalism. Orientalism is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and (most of the time) "the Occident." Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, "mind," destiny, and so on […]”. Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 2-3.

[9] „ […]Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authoring views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” Said, Edward: Orientalism , p.3.

[10] Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 284-285. Said’s definition of the Orient and Orientalism is however widely criticized. James Clifford for example noticed a certain ambiguity in Said’s three definitions of Orientalism. He points out, that Said frequently suggests some texts or traditions distorts, misrepresents, dominates or neglects some real or authentic feature of the Orient. But elsewhere, he seems to follow radically the ideas of the French philosopher, sociologist and historian Michel Foucault, and denies the existence of any ‘real Orient’. Clifford, James: On Orientalism , in: The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art , Cambridge: 1988, p. 260.

[11] Novelists, poets, politicians, philologists, above all the voyages and travel narratives of French authors, such as Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Nerval and Flaubert, but also the writings of Sylvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan, the adventure tales of Richard Burton and T. E. Lawrence. See also: Lamartine, Alphonse de: Souvenirs, impressions, pensées et paysages pendant un voyage en Orient : 1832-1833 , Paris : 2008 ; Lamartine, Alphonse de : Histoire de la Turquie , Paris : 2009 ; Chateaubriant, François René de : Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem , Paris : 1999 ; Nerval, Gérard de : Voyage en Orient , Paris : 1898 ; Flaubert, Gustave : Voyage en Orient 1849-1851 , Paris : 2006 ; Renan, Ernest : Histoire du peuple d’Israël , Paris : 2000 ; Burton, Richard Francis : The Jew, the Gypsy, and El Islam : Paris : 2003 ; Lawrence, T. E. : Seven Pillars of Wisdom : A Triumph , New York, London : 1991.

[12] Orientalism , in: Bayoumi, Moustafa; Rubin, Andrew (ed.): The Edward Said Reader , London: 2000, p. 63-113, here p. 64.

[13] Moore-Gilbert, Bart: Postcolonial Theory. Contexts, Practices, Politics , London, New York: 1997, p.36. Bart Moore-Gilbert believes, that in Said’s opinion, power can only be attributed to the colonizers, see : Moore-Gilbert, Bart: Postcolonial Theory. Contexts, Practices, Politics, p. 51.

[14] Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 3.

[15] Orientalism (Edward Said Reader) , p. 64.

[16] Orientalism (Edward Said Reader) , p. 65.

[17] „If the Arab occupies space enough for attention, it is a negative value. He is seen as a disrupter of Israel’s and the West’s existence, or … as a surmountable obstacle to Israel’s creation in 1948. Palestine was imagined as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom, its inhabitants inconsequential nomads possessing no stable claim to the land and therefore no cultural permanence.” Said, Edward: The Arab Portrayed , in: Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim (ed.): The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective , Evanston: 1970, p. 1-9, here p. 5.

[18] Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 337.

[19] Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 339.

[20] Said, Edward: Orientalism , p. 26-27.

[21] Here are some articles printed by newspapers during the last days. They all report about terrorism or anti-terrorist measures. In my opinion, none of these articles are really objective because they all promulgate a negative view on Muslims and the Islam:

Pays-Bas: cinq des douze Somaliens soupçonnés de terrorisme relâchés , in:; Flottille: «pas d'excuse» d'Israël à la Turquie , in:; Iran: 11 rebelles sunnites du groupe Joundallah exécutés , in:; British Police Charge 9 on Terror Offenses , in: (27.12.2010); Female Bomber Kills Dozens in Pakistan, Official Says, in: (27.12.2010); Dutch Arrest 12 Somalis in Terror Plot, in: (27.12.2010); Muslim ‘Radicalization’ Is Focus of Planned Inquiry , in:

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Islamism, a threat for the West?
University of Luxembourg
Regionalismin World Politics
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ISBN (Book)
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Regionalism, Regionalismus, Politik, Europe, Europa, Islam
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Isabelle Schleich (Author), 2011, Islamism, a threat for the West?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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