The tragedy of Islamism in Britain: a fetishism for politics

Genovese, D. 2011. The tragedy of Islamism in Britain: a fetishism for politics. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

TitleThe tragedy of Islamism in Britain: a fetishism for politics
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsGenovese, D.

This dissertation critically argues that the dominant representation of the dominated groups

can mirror its way into the self-representation of those groups. Moreover, a fetishism for

politics (i.e., a repression and denial of engagement in the political arena) deflects the

interaction between the dominant and the dominated groups (in this case, the UK

Government and Islamist parties in the UK) and ultimately disempowers them both.

This research is an analysis of the discourses and practices of a large number of Islamist

parties in the UK over a period of nearly 20 years (1989-2007); a period when they gained

public attention during the debates over multiculturalism and the supposed threats to

security from the rise of radical Islam.

By ʻIslamist partiesʼ, I mean political groups who place their Muslim identity at the centre of

their political practices and who see their political future in Islam. Such political groups are

not just Muslims, but Islamists. In asserting this, I argue against the commonplace

culturalist-orientalist approach that denies and rejects any ʻpoliticalʼ in relation to Islamists.

As part of a dominant discourse, this culturalist-orientalist approach consists of a binary

view whereby Islam is either a matter of private professed belief or a matter of a terrorist

disruption into the Western democratic systems.

In response to this stark dichotomy, I adopt a constructionist theoretical approach that

sees ʻculturesʼ and ʻreligionsʼ as political acts within the terms of a power-relationship.

Practically, I approach the issue based on two years of fieldwork amongst the British


I have interviewed a large number of Islamists from different parties. For practical and

epistemological reasons, I divide them into two groups: the Participationists and the

Rejectionists. Participationists are those who are willing to take part in British political life,

for instance, by taking part in elections, while the Rejectionists are those who reject the

British political system as illegitimate and plan to subvert it.

The participationist parties act politically but show a strong reticence in adopting any

political label themselves.The explanation for this lies in their fetishism for politics. Taking

a collaborative and non-confrontational approach, they choose to remain in the category of the ʻfaith-groupsʼ. Ultimately, this delegitimizes their Islamist quest because it mirrors the

dominant culturalist-orientalist discourse that depoliticizes and disempowers them.

The rejectionist groups are those with a confrontational approach toward the dominant

discourse; they promote an Islamic system as the alternative. They declare that their

struggle is aimed at instituting a ʻKhilafahʼ so that the ʻPoliticalʼ is at the service of the

ʻSpiritualʼ. My findings indicate that, paradoxically, the exact reverse is true. Their efforts

promote a ʻsecularizationʼ of Islam; this is denied (repressed) by the Islamists themselves,

and exorcized by the dominant discourse under the label of religious fundamentalism.

The ʻfetishismʼ for politics from both the dominant and the dominated distorts their

interaction, and is ultimately responsible, both for the political ʻfailureʼ of Islamist parties,

and for the string of past and future terrorist attacks. The novelty of my approach has been

to analyze the hiatus between the two parties -- the political stalemate and the security

threat -- through the convex mirror of repression and exorcism; politics, as discoursed and

practiced through the emotional, the visceral, and the de-sacralization of the secular and

the religious at the same time.

The novelty also lies in providing a new ethnography of a political actor -- the British

Islamist -- whose politics has been underemphasized, and who has been much maligned

and commented upon from a dominant culturalist-orientalist framework. The new

ethnography acknowledges the agency of British Islamists as political actors and argues

that they should be represented and recognized as such by the dominant discourse and by

the Government. The Manichean representation of these political actors (British Islamists)

as either faith groups or terrorists, debilitates the very democratic process and reproduces

a recurrent security threat.

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