Chaos, globalization, and the public sphere: political struggle in Iraq and Palestine.

LeVine, Mark. "Chaos, globalization, and the public sphere: political struggle in Iraq and Palestine. " The Middle East Journal.  60.3 (Summer 2006): 467(26). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. UC Irvine. 24 Apr. 2008 

Full Text:COPYRIGHT 2006 The Middle East Institute

Much of the literature on the contemporary Middle East explores the relationship of strong, authoritarian states with Islamist groups; the professional literature also has examined the role of strong societies with weak states. There has been less study of the role of the various players in weak states with weak societies. This article examines the cases of Palestine and Iraq, two societies undergoing occupation and with weak state structures, and the role of Islamist and other movements within them.


As I begin the original draft of this article, the latest headline on al-Jazeera flashes "Palestinians agree to end lawlessness." Soon after is the headline "Violence soars across Iraq." Days later as I edit it, the headlines quote a senior Hamas official promising "We will not allow any chaos or disunity to occur" in the wake of the withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from Gaza, while the latest American invasion of an Iraqi city has left "scores of civilians killed." (1) With increasing calls for withdrawing American troops, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden explained in a speech that "Our presence remains necessary because, right now, our troops are the only guarantor against chaos. Pulling out prematurely would doom any chance of leaving Iraq with our core interests intact." (2) It would seem that as calls for political, economic, and cultural reforms intensify across the Muslim majority world, events in Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories careen from crisis to crisis: violence and chaos increase even as political leaders work feverishly to build a stable social order in the face of foreign occupation and massive regime corruption.

Most studies on states in the Middle East and North Africa explore the interrelationship of relatively strong, authoritarian states and Islamist political forces, in which the latter have relied on top-down reform efforts--spurred, no doubt, by pressures from below--to create the political space for them to operate. Indeed, the power of most Middle Eastern states vis-a-vis their societies has made it difficult for Islamist forces (or any other social forces, including, as we are witnessing in Egypt at this writing, members of the judicial elite) fundamentally to challenge the power of ruling elites. At the same time, most states are too weak in terms of their hegemony over their societies to achieve their stated political and development goals; this dynamic most often has created a social stalemate in which the middle ground between authoritarianism and truly democratic political activity is a primary arena of contestation.

It is this middle ground--more precisely, the lack of it--that I will explore in Iraq and Palestine in this article. Both countries are in the midst of violent foreign occupations that have generated religiously as well as nationalistically-inspired insurgent movements. Additionally, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programs (which have generated significant grass-roots opposition even as they have been supported by local elites) have intersected with the occupying powers' determination to steer the local economies toward their strategic interests. The synergy of the two trends has restricted significantly the possibilities for economic development in the near term.

In this process, chaos and anarchy have spread throughout the two societies to a degree that has severely constrained the ability of social actors to engage in formal, non-violent political struggle. At the same time, the ability of Iraqi and Palestinian political structures and institutions to coopt or coerce citizens to follow the policies or ideologies of their respective regimes has been weakened severely, while the two societies, for different reasons--in Iraq, a lack of a cohesive national identity; in Palestine, a lack of any semblance of political or economic autonomy (never mind independence)--find it increasingly difficult to maintain internal stability and cohesiveness. This double weakness, of both state and society, has received comparatively little attention by scholars or policymakers; yet I would argue it is crucial to understanding the failed, or at least stalled, transition processes in Iraq and Palestine, and across what has been termed the "arc of instability" stretching from sub-Saharan Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia. In this geostrategically crucial region, the weakening and in some cases breakdown of the political infrastructures often leads to a narrowing of identity and social solidarity away from national and towards sectarian, ethnic, and kin-based (however fictive) relations.

In such a situation the dynamics of identity construction shift away from what Manuel Castells has termed "project" and towards "resistance" identities--that is, from (at least the potential for) relatively positive, open, pluralistic yet inclusive identities to much more circumscribed, intolerant, closed, and exclusivist forms. (3) In such a scenario the kinds of managed political openings advocated by many policymakers and local political elites become much harder to sustain, while Islamist forces become one among several actors (albeit the most powerful single force) in a highly contested social and political environment.

This article explores the implications of such an environment for the interaction between religiously inspired social forces, political actors, and institutions in the context of attempts to establish both full sovereign independence and some measure of democracy. I will attempt to account for how in environments of social, political, and economic chaos such as exist in Iraq and Palestine at the time of writing (spring 2006), Islamist ideas and movements interact with other social actors and forces, especially through the public sphere. What is most important to understand from this discussion is how the occupation, violence, and weakened state and societal cohesion impact the manner in which Islamist forces carve out space for political and social activism.


The transition processes in Palestine and Iraq differ from most others in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area at large; neither represents a development of the kind of "hybrid regime" paradigm in which non-democratic regimes initiate limited political reforms that are supposed to signal a slow transition to democracy, but which in fact mask an expansion of state power. Nor do they represent a "complex and multidimensional restructuring of the field of political contestation" that opens previously unavailable space for religiously inspired or oriented political activism. (4)

The absence of such a development in Iraq or Palestine is due in large part to the chaos, violence, and weakness (and in the case of Palestine, increasingly, absence) of the states nominally in power in the two societies. Citizens and elites in the two countries have by no means reacted similarly to the vacuum in central political power. In Palestine three and a half decades of Israeli occupation, including a decade of the Oslo process, have created significant political space for non-governmental organizations (NGOs)--religious and secular--private schools (mostly Islamist or UNRWA, with some Christian schools too) and other institutions of civil society and the public sphere to operate amid the deteriorating political situation. Yet even as they attempt to build the foundation for a stabilized future, the chances of a viable sovereign Palestinian state emerging in the near term is increasingly unlikely.

Iraq faces the mirror image of this situation: although the specter of partition into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi'i states has haunted officials since the invasion, there has been little serious debate over the country's territory, borders, or de jure independence. Yet the rapid and wholesale dismantling of the Ba'thist state, the absence of a functioning civil society or a public sphere before the invasion, the influx of foreign jihadis to the country (which has created a dynamic of resistance which the Iraqis do not fully control and therefore are not capable of ending should they so choose), and finally the repeated targeting of members of the intellectual and professional class for assassination, have all made it more difficult than in Palestine to create the conditions for grassroots political activism.

Our two case studies present different contexts for the shared experience of globalized chaos, which in the context of an increasingly militarized form of globalization since September 11, 2001 has in many ways reinforced the structural marginalization of the MENA from most of the processes normally said to define economic globalization. (5) What is important for our purposes is how this process has become a primary source of support for the sometimes violent identities and networks struggling against the US dominated global economic-cum-political system. The chaos has also widened the separation between the "resistance" (closed, often violent) versus "project" (positive, open) identities described above as part of the transformation from a "lite" to a "heavy" form of globalization as a result of September 11, the expanded war on terrorism, and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The dynamic of what can be termed "sponsored" or "managed" chaos is not unique to Iraq and Palestine; high levels of social, political, and economic chaos are also evident in Russia and the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union (where it is often described by the term bardok), parts of South America, in border zones such as the Indian Ocean/South China Sea, the "Northern Frontier" between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in sub-Saharan Africa (where the term "instrumentalized disorder" has been adopted to address this phenomenon). What makes this chaos important for our discussion--as predicted by chaos theory as it is applied in the natural sciences--are the seemingly paradoxical levels of order and systemic logic to it.(6) What most scholars believe is new is that in the last two decades the liberalization of the economies of these countries, coupled with (and in many ways, encouraging) the weakening of their political systems, have produced a state of confusion, uncertainty, and chaos that has led people at all levels of these societies to seek whatever means possible to survive in, and where possible profit from, the growing disorder. (7)

In this situation, the "business of violence" has been one of the best growth industries on the continent in response to a political and economic environment dominated by IMF-style reforms, coupled with foreign aid that is increasingly tied to issues related to the war on terrorism or oil wealth. (8) Together these dynamics have nurtured an environment of "disorder," where criminality, corruption, and violence of all sorts thrive by operating in the gaps between the official and gray or black sectors. (9)

Similar to the situation in Iraq or Palestine, political leaders in many African countries have "instrumentalized" the various levels of societal disorder, using the policies associated with "Washington Consensus" reforms to enrich themselves and re-entrench the very autocracy and patriarchal cultures liberalization was supposed to challenge. (10) In Russia and the former Soviet states of Central Asia a system of "post-Soviet chaos" has come to dominate large sectors of the economies and politics of these societies, and in fact constitutes a central experience of the post-Cold War order as "the sudden and brutal emergence of market forces" dispossesses people economically, politically, and culturally. (11)

This situation has become so intense that it created a new experience of political power--the "chaotic mode of domination"--out of the almost total breakdown of existing social compacts between governing elites and the rest of their societies. (12) The accumulation and concentration of wealth, the increasing scarcity of public funds for core social services, and the privatization of theft, bribery, and manipulation of credit or aid have come to define the political economy of many "Southern" countries, particularly Palestine and Iraq. (13)

The instrumentalization of chaos, and the heightened violence of occupation that fosters such a dynamic, have very specific effects on the practice of Islamist (or indeed any religious) activism. That is, they sustain a focus on hostility towards Other cultures, more or less extreme and sometimes violent, that in the absence of any form of substantive political change or development makes it exceedingly difficult to sustain dialogs or even cooperation between religious movements, governments, and societies at large.


The specific combination of chaos, weak states and societies, and the emergence of alternative forms of public interaction and communication, particularly in the era of post-September 11 globalization, are increasingly important dynamics in contemporary MENA politics. Palestine and Iraq constitute two important examples of these dynamics in action.


Beginning with Palestine, the country's modern historical trajectory is based on several factors: first, the century-long conflict with Zionism, which pitted a still amorphous nationalist movement against an ideologically sophisticated and well-financed settler colonial movement governed by an exclusivist ethno-religious ideology; second, the factionalism that has characterized Palestinian social relations since the late Ottoman period, and which has created various challenges to the establishment of a unified polity; and third, the role of Islam in the struggle with Zionism and its role in contemporary Palestinian life.

Religion has naturally played a central role in Palestinian identity, for obvious reasons--both for the majority Sunni Muslims and for Christians as well. In the late Ottoman period the various annual religious festivals in honor of leading prophets and saints (Nabi Reuben, Nabi Musa) brought together thousands of people from all over the country several times a year (Christians as well as Muslims), and in so doing helped solidify a sense of a unique Palestinian identity. As a modern Palestinian national identity came to the fore in the contest with Zionism, the important symbolic position of Palestine for Muslims and Christians, along with the growing power of groups like the Muslim-Christian Associations and various Muslim social groups, later coupled with the power of the country's religious-nationalist press (papers such as Al-Difa' and Al-Jam'iyya al-Islamiyya), all of which were crucial to forging a strong Palestinian identity in the face of a more sophisticated, better financed, and ultimately better armed Zionist movement.

The importance of Islam was demonstrated particularly with the al-Qassam revolt of 1935, in which the killing by the British Army of the Syrian-born preacher 'Izz ad-Din al-Qassam helped spark the 1936-39 "Great Revolt." Augmenting this process was the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood organization from neighboring Egypt to Palestine beginning in the late 1930s and the central political role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, all helping make Islam and religion more broadly defining themes in Palestinian nationalism.

Indeed, such religious sentiment was one of the major countervailing forces to an endemic "factionalism" in Palestinian political life, which in displacing inherent class conflicts that emerged as the country more fully transitioned to a capitalist economy with conflicts between vertically aligned "clan"-based solidarities (in Palestinian Arabic, known as the "hamula" system based on networks of extended families and their village, neighborhood, and religious solidarities), significantly weakened the working and professional classes, whose strong nationalist commitments were often undercut by the economic priorities of the country's landed and urban notable elite. (14)

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the birth of the concept of "summud" (steadfastness, or staying on the land despite immense Israeli pressure to leave) was also tied to a religious sensibility, while the West Bank and Gaza under Egyptian and Jordanian control saw an increase in the presence and power of Muslim religious movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. With the Israeli conquest of these Territories in 1967 and the government's desire to build a counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the various strands of the Islamic movement grew even stronger in the Occupied Territories.

Their power bases were centered in the universities (especially in Gaza) and in the professional associations, that evolved into the most important political organs in Palestinian Society during the long years when any form of independent political activism was prohibited by Israel. This dynamic ultimately laid the groundwork for the establishment of groups like Islamic Jihad, and more importantly, Hamas, out of the Muslim Brotherhood framework in the 1980s, which placed them in a position to rise to social and political prominence with the outbreak of the first intifada in late 1987. (15)

The first intifada marks one of the highpoints in the history of Palestinian nationalism in terms of the power of grassroots political activism, civil society, and the public sphere functioning to support and maintain a strong society in the literal absence of indigenous state institutions to protect or otherwise represent its interests. Even as Israel succeeded in wearing down the Palestinian population by the early 1990s, the social solidarities and networks forged by the largely non-, or at most, symbolically violent uprising laid the groundwork for the flowering of civil society and other forms of Palestinian associational life with the start of the Oslo process in 1993.

Indeed, it was precisely the relative strength of Palestinian civil society and its institutions and public sphere that led the Palestinian Authority, supported by Israel and the United States, to attempt to gain control, coopt, or at least weaken the sophisticated civil society system through an attempted takeover of the NGO umbrella system of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) in the mid-1990s. As Ghassan Khatib explained it in the midst of this struggle,

   The tension, however, between the PA and NGOs is not new ... Put
   simply, the existence of financially independent organizations,
   whether in development or human rights, contradicts with the style
   of government that the Palestinian Authority would like to
   maintain. If the PA had its way, all active parties or groups and
   even persons would be dependent, mainly financially, on the PA.
   This dependency would then be manipulated in order to consolidate
   the PA's political power ... The source of this recent problem
   is that NGOs are financed directly and independently by the
   international community in a way that bypasses the PA and makes
   them independent. This makes the PA very nervous. (16)

While the PA has never succeeded in taking over or weakening PNGO and its member organizations, the very professionalization and international funding that gave these organizations their independence and autonomy vis-a-vis the Palestinian "state" also made them increasingly autonomous, and removed from the concerns and needs of the Palestinian population they were supposed to represent. As has happened across the third world, the increasingly Western-educated, extremely well-paid (by local standards) staffs of many NGOs quickly became prisoners of an NGO system that rewarded complex and sophisticated planning and models of action regardless of their relevance or applicability to the realities on the ground. If many European governments ultimately lamented that the billions given to the PA were lost to corruption, much of the money spent in the international NGO system in Palestine was similarly wasted because it reflected the world view (often neo-liberal) and institutional concerns of the European NGOs rather than the needs and dynamics of Palestinian society, and did little to promote participatory policymaking or even politics in the PA.

Perhaps the one sector that avoided either government control or the problem of "professional success but political failure" associated with the internationally supported NGO community in Palestine was that of the socio-religious movements in Palestinian society, particularly those associated with the Islamic Resistance Movement, whose acronym is Hamas. (17) Here it needs to be stressed, as Israeli sociologists Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela have demonstrated, that if, since it first emerged as a challenger to the PLO during the first intifada, Hamas has been associated primarily with terrorism, the reality is that "contrary to its image, Hamas is essentially a social and political movement, providing extensive community services and responding constantly to political realities through bargaining and power brokering." (18)

Hamas's success in the Palestinian public sphere and civil society should not surprise us, since before the Oslo process there were in fact few if any NGOs in the Western sense of the term, while the organizations that served the community during the occupation were largely local (ahli) community or "mass" based organizations, charitable societies and religious associations with roots in the Ottoman and Mandate periods. Indeed, the Palestinian NGOs that formed during the Oslo process were closely tied to the process and therefore tended to lose effectiveness as that process waned, while those older and more local/community-based groups formed during or even prior to the first intifada retained a strong ideological and activist commitment. Most of these had some grounding in socio-religious movements. (19)

Here it is important to note that even before the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 there was, "without question, a dramatic change taking place within the Palestinian Islamic movement. This change [wa]s characterized by a shift in emphasis from political and military action to social/cultural reform and community development work. (20) In this context, and in a manner that has strong resonance to the ideology and focus of post-conflict Hizbullah in Lebanon, by the late Oslo period Hamas had stopped advancing a uniformly strident anti-Zionist political-military program and began "shifting its attention to social work and community development as well as the propagation of Islamic values and religious practice.... A prominent Hamas leader explained, 'Increasingly, Hamas represents religion and an Islamic way of life, not political violence.'" (21)

Most important, the Islamic NGO sector in Palestine included staff that were often Western trained and highly professional yet grounded in Muslim religious sensibilities, provided high quality, socially important services, addressed needs that were left unmet by the PA or Israeli occupation authorities, mixed together donations from Arab/Muslim and Western (including US government and EU) sources, and generally out-performed and remained more independent vis-a-vis the PA or foreign donor organizations than their secular counterparts. The Islamic NGO sector, joined with its secular counterparts, the intelligentsia and the professional classes, constituted the core participants in a vibrant public sphere.

It is within this context that we must discuss the weakness--practical absence at this point--of a functioning Palestinian state as a determinant in the position of the Islamist sector within the larger society. (This trend has continued even after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and formed a government, which quickly faced a cut-off of most international aid.) I have mentioned already the relative inability of the Palestinian governing institutions (the PA) to deliver essential social services, never mind provide physical security for, its citizens. The reasons for this weakness are several-fold, with each factor increasing the importance of the other. Put briefly, the very terms of the Oslo Agreements and the incredible imbalance of power between the state of Israel and the PA meant that the sovereignty and power of the "state" in the making were severely constrained from the start. Geographically, the separation of the Occupied Territories into three distinct administrative areas--Areas A, B, and C--left Palestinians in "full control" (not really full in any meaningful sense, it turned out) of only the 2% of the Territories that comprised Area A (according to the Oslo II Agreements of 1998 Area B, in which the PA only had "civil control," comprised 26% of the West Bank, while Israel retained military and civil control over the 72% of the West Bank constituting Area C). While these numbers changed to a proportion of 17.2, 23.8, and 59% for Areas A, B, and C respectively by the time of the signing of the third Sharm al-Shaykh agreement in March 2000, the realities on the ground did not change, and the entire system was rendered moot with the outbreak of the second intifada six months later.

If it is almost a cliche to say that geography is politics in Israel/Palestine, it should not surprise us that the "matrix of control" retained by Israel over Palestinian geography greatly limited the political power of the PA state. (22) On top of this, the autocratic rule of then-President Yasir 'Arafat, the massive levels of corruption within the regime, and concerted effort by 'Arafat and his deputies, aided by the CIA and Israeli intelligence services, to defang and disempower a Legislative Assembly that immediately after the 1996 Palestinian elections began to investigate corruption and political mismanagement by the PA's executive branch, when considered with the constant shortage of funds to operate machinery of Palestinian government, meant that the Palestinian "state" was doomed to be extremely weak. And this dynamic characterizes only the period before the 2000 intifada, which brought regular invasions by the Israeli military that literally destroyed the infrastructure of the political system (epitomized by the destruction or removal of computer systems, appropriation of millions of dollars of cash, refusal to turn over customs revenues, destruction of buildings, and the like).

The result of the political and geographic weakness of the Palestinian state meant that the PA had little power to plan, administer, develop, or protect the vast majority of the territory of the heartland of the country, one of the primary reasons that Israel so easily continued to seize Palestinian land, build new settlements, and by-pass roads in the heart of its territory. But on top of these problems, the very terms of the economic relations between the Palestinian "Authority" and Israel, as laid out in the 1994 Paris Accords, saw the PA accept a position of permanent subservience to Israeli economic interests.

Not only did Israel retain control over borders (and thus over the movement of goods into and out of Palestinian territory and customs revenue), but the PA accepted a clause in which it agreed not to develop any new industries that might challenge existing Israeli industries. (23) And on top of these dynamics, Israel's semi-permanent closure of the Occupied Territories, coupled with the replacement of Palestinian workers with migrant workers from Europe and East Asia, permanently crippled the Palestinian economy. (24) As important, unlike other de-colonization environments in which discourses and programs of development are means through which the state undertakes processes of expanding its hegemony, "the limited territorial base offered it by Oslo and the complex field of power relations within which its survival became enmeshed, made the mobilization of development as the prime means to expand its hegemony an impossibility." (25) Even if the PA "did adopt some institutions and technologies of development that could serve the goal of statehood" (including "statist symbols" such as ministries) they ultimately had little impact on the ground in the face of Israeli tanks and Hamas "martyrdom operations." (26)

Yet despite these negative political, economic, and territorial dynamics which made for a very weak "state," Palestinian society remained resilient throughout the Oslo process as it had through three decades of occupation. The determination to use the ideology of summud to remain rooted on the land, the high levels of education of the Palestinian populace, remittances sent home from workers dispersed across the Arab world (especially the Gulf), the relatively free press and functioning public sphere, and the sophisticated web of non-governmental organizations looking after the needs of the mass of the population, all allowed Palestinians at least to maintain a functioning, albeit weak, political and economic system. The role of Islamic institutions and movements was important, but so was the vibrant and highly secularized civil society.

This dynamic changed, however, after the outbreak of the second intifada and its continuance over four years. It is during this period that the inherent weaknesses in the Palestinian political and economic system began to eat away at the fabric of the society. Unemployment rates soared to more than 60%, malnutrition for the first time became a serious concern within Palestinian society, upwards of 3,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, thousands of acres of territory were seized, agricultural lands (especially olive groves) destroyed, new settlements, by-pass roads, and now a security wall cutting out large swaths of territory permanently from the West Bank, and an even more debilitating system of closures, have all placed Palestinian society under a level of stress not seen since 1948. (27) Traveling throughout the Occupied Territories at various times during this period it became increasingly apparent, especially by late 2003, that Palestinian society was slowly sliding towards chaos and anarchy.

As crucial, with the more intensive Israeli occupation, for the first time the PA's civilian rather than political (security installations, airport) infrastructure was targeted, including the ransacking of Legislative Council offices, the Ministries of Education, Finance, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and municipal buildings and Chambers of Commerce. Such destruction was clearly aimed at eliminating the base of knowledge and information without which no modern state can function. (28) In response, the Palestinian public sphere was split between "reform or resistance," while Israel continued its intensified pacification campaign that ensured that neither option could succeed. (29)

One can assess the degree of chaos in Palestinian society by the amount of energy various leaders or organizations spend trying to prevent it from spreading. After the death of Yasir 'Arafat, among the primary debates, in which Hamas was a main participant, was over the possibility of a "collective leadership" rather than a passing of authority to one or two members of the old guard. As Hamas leaders explained, "A logical justification for the proposed leadership is the prevention of chaos and lawlessness and possibly a destructive power struggle ... We will not allow any chaos or disunity to occur and the best way to realise this goal is by formulating a united national leadership that would lead the Palestinian people to the safety shore and prepare for elections in which all Palestinians would participate." (30)

Interestingly, one of the main reasons Hamas joined the political process was to challenge the wealth and corruption of Fatah leaders; in order to have this privilege the movement, according to one Palestinian political scientist, "is now steadily becoming a mainstream movement. Nobody, even the Americans and the Israelis, can exclude Hamas from any future political equation," even if in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas victory that is precisely what happened. Making such a move more palatable is the promise by Hamas leaders that they will "read very carefully the international map, we will not allow Hamas' own considerations, however legitimate and attractive, to override our people's interests," even if this means the movement remains in a position of "influence" rather than assuming the leadership of the movement itself. (31)

Politically, then, it is clear that the second intifada has severely weakened the political bureaucracy, dashing the hopes for building "good governance"--which is hard to achieve when there is no functioning government to begin with--within Palestinian politics (despite continuous calls for political reform). This situation has led some Palestinians to argue the violence and chaos have become necessary mechanisms of political survival, even as many senior members of resistance groups like Hamas have clearly signaled their willingness to get a "divorce from," rather than continue trying to defeat, Israel. (32) The chaos associated with having no functioning political system, internationally isolated leaders, high levels of corruption, and the continual jailing or assassination of any figures who violently challenge the occupation, has been reflected gradually in the increasing (if still minority) advocacy for a relinquishment of the dreams of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Instead, increasing numbers of intellectuals and activists (joined by a small but growing number of Israeli progressives) call for a return to a one-state solution that would allow time and demography to force Israel to move from being a Jewish state to a secular civil state where all the residents of historic Palestine would, in theory, have equal rights. In the context where the identity and shape of the "state" with whom society is supposed to interact is in flux, it becomes very difficult for either civil society groups or political institutions and officials to chart a stable working relationship.

Socially, the chaos is evident in the loosening of control over young people and the practice of violence in the Occupied Territories. This is evidenced by a breakdown of discipline whereby youngsters who several years ago would never have been allowed to walk around the streets with automatic weapons without any adult supervision now do just that, ordering shops and restaurants closed, threatening people at gun-point, all upon no one's orders but their own. Nablus, where I witnessed this dynamic first hand, became the symbol of this problem when the Mayor resigned in 2004 because of the desperate security situation in the city.

This is not to say that the society has completely broken down as has occurred in many African situations, for example. As veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass argues, the chaos of Palestine today still has not penetrated deep below the political surface to lead to complete anarchy and civil dissolution. In fact, the "anarchy is typical of Fatah: an anarchy that matches the traditional methods of control used by Yasir 'Arafat for decades--and hundreds of its senior members and thousands of its junior members, whether knowingly or without a choice or for personal reasons, have submitted to it." (33)

Such anarchy is clearly inherent in all colonial situations, and in many postcolonial ones as well, as evidenced by the discussion of Africa above. Yet if the anarchy "only skims the surface of the natural social fabric" of Palestinian society while Palestinian social structure remains surprisingly stable, it is becoming debatable how much that stability, based on deeply rooted clan/hamula structures (however adapted to the contemporary climate), are still configured directly to the aims of a secular-modernist Palestinian nationalism epitomized historically by the PLO.

What is most important for our purposes about socio-religious movements like Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian public sphere is their detailed "street-level" knowledge of their society. As shown by Hammami, instead of mapping the needy through the standard statistical measures and assessment of poverty lines, Islamists chart their social environment through active social knowledge, produced through the creation and mobilization of dense social networks and communal frameworks that largely depend on voluntary action. A similar process can be observed with Hizbullah-related voluntary associations. (34)

The kind of "public" work represented by volunteering with movements such as Hizbullah represents a very different guiding ideology for Islamist NGOs compared with the often coopted secular NGOs, which abstractly and "scientifically" produce the society as something fundamentally different from themselves (and objectify it in a vertical relationship to the state). For their part, Islamist movements "inhabit a counter-world" to the secular NGO system at the same time they have increasingly been linked into trans-global networks of Islamist charities in the Gulf states, Europe, and North America. This combination of local knowledge and penetration and global reach and connections has positioned the Islamist movement in Palestine, and particularly Hamas, quite favorably in comparison with the institutions of the PA or secular civil society, allowing the movement to relate to society as an extension of its own discourses of justice in a web of relationships that are partly horizontal, partly vertical, and based on ties of authority that are more durable and respected than those of the PA/"state."


If we turn to Iraq, it should be no surprise that politicized religion is no stranger to the country, since Shi'ism was born out of the murders of 'Ali, the fourth Caliph (and first Imam of Shi'ism), and his son, Husayn, in Kufa and Karbala in 661 and 680 AD respectively. Moreover, the 'Abassid Empire (751-1258 AD) was based in Baghdad, while the most important shrines and academies in the Shi'i world naturally were centered there.

As important as religion has been to the history of Iraq, so has organized violence deployed by the state. Indeed, the massive level of violence deployed by the British to "pacify" Iraq after its conquest in World War One included the first use of carpet bombing of major civilian centers by an air force, and the use of chemical weapons as well (both of which were deployed to crush the revolt that erupted in 1920 against the still incipient British rule of the country). The level of violence was so great it "administered a shock to the country's social system from which it has never recovered. It was the British conquest of Iraq which set the stage for what is happening today." (35)

The period of British dominance of Iraq, which lasted until the 1958 Revolution overthrew the country's monarchy in favor of socialist, and then Ba'thist, regimes, along with the increasing American power in the MENA, constitutes the context in which we must understand the religious dynamics of this period. During this time the Ayatollah Khomeini spent 14 years of exile in Najaf (1964-78), and his notion of the rule of jurisconsults, or wilayat al-faqih, had a profound impact on Iraqi Shi'i thought, particularly on Muqtada al-Sadr. On the other hand, however, many scholars, including his one time student Ayatollah Sistani, do not seem to believe religious authorities should hold direct political power. (36)

For their part, Sunni Arabs, with their tribal ties to the west and south, have long been open to both religious and Arab nationalist currents coming from Jordan and the Arabian peninsula. Not just Baghdad but also--and particularly--Falluja, have been home to the biggest concentration point for Salafi radicals since the 19th century. (37) Perhaps because of the impact of political and religious currents coming from neighboring countries, however, Iraqi national identity remains in flux. The Kurdish-Arab conflict is well-known and likely exaggerated; more dynamic is the Sunni-Shi'i relationship, where there has been a cycle of cooperation and violent confrontation in which the violence of the occupation has been one of the main unifying forces in what otherwise (given the extremity of the rhetoric) might have been a slow slide into civil war. As it stands, religious leaders have had to exert significant energy to prevent the outbreak of sustained intercommunal violence. (38)

Increasing the probability of violence has been the high level of militarization of Iraqi society, and specifically the development of paramilitary arms by Shi'i movements as part of the long and bloody struggle against Husayn. For their part, Sunni religious groups often have close ties with former Ba'thist military leaders and foreign fighters. Together, this dynamic of violence, a militarized culture, and a collective Islamist movement have produced a situation which would quite naturally frustrate the solidification of social and political solidarities while enabling religious movements and forces to become the most powerful social forces in the country. (39)

Given the fluidity and violence of the Iraqi situation since the invasion of March 2003, very little scholarly research has been done on the country during this period. From my own field work in Iraq in the late winter and spring of 2004, along with the work of independent journalists and NGO workers that have spent much of the period in the country, a clear picture emerges in which chaos is the dominant social and political dynamic, while the emerging Iraqi "state" remains too weak to enforce its rule anywhere without significant US military help.

I have elsewhere described in detail the dynamics of chaos in Iraq; (40) here I will outline the aspects which are most relevant to our discussion: a central government that is only nominally in control of the country and has little ability to deliver either security or essential services, and great difficulty in carrying out the business of daily life for a significant number of citizens; the spread of disease and high morbidity rates across the country (including the deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqis (41) from the violence of the war); the lack of security or ability to travel associated with high crime and other violence across the country; a lack of infrastructure--sewers, electricity, fresh water--across a significant area of the country; extremely high unemployment (verging on 70% nation-wide); a rising gray and black market; the presence of numerous foreign fighters (Muslim and "coalition") whose ideologies and strategic goals are different than those of most Iraqis.

Put these all together and most Iraqis with whom I interacted or remain in touch, whether in Baghdad, Falluja, or Najaf, define chaos as one of the most pervasive experiences in their lives in post-Husayn Iraq. Making matters more difficult is the weakness of the emerging state, already described as a contributor to the chaos, but also a factor in its own right. This is because as long as the state remains weak it is impossible to achieve either political or social hegemony and thereby bring the majority of Iraqi citizens to support its ideological and political project. At the same time, its weakness creates political, economic, and ideological vacuums that are filled by tribal, black market, and religious initiatives respectively. These forces in turn increase the chaos, which weakens both the state and society even more.

As Migdal predicted in his discussion of warlordism in weak states, (42) the violence and anarchy has turned many religious leaders into "virtual warlords, creating paramilitary groups to prevent looting, keep public order and secure their local power." When people "have no confidence in anyone else," or when the occupying power imposes a government from above with little attention to democratic norms, religious leaders naturally gain tremendous power to shape the larger culture. (43) This description of Iraq around Thanksgiving 2004 reveals how chaos and a weak state structure can ultimately lead people to shift their identities away from the national level and toward levels--religious, local, family--about which they have a measure of control.

In the context of chaos, violence, and political weakness at the state level, the public sphere in Iraq should be playing a prominent role in retaining or even building various levels of social solidarity. But several factors limited its impact: first, there was no functioning public sphere in Iraq under the Husayn regime. The only space where any form of autonomy (and even more rarely, dissent) could be expressed was the mosques, and even then the price for not subscribing to the official line was often jail, torture, or death of Sunni as well as Shi'i religious figures.

In the immediate aftermath of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq there was a lot of talk about civil society building; indeed, millions of dollars of no-bid contracts were awarded to firms and "NGOs" such as the National Democratic Institute, which armed with ideas such as "using technology to flatten hierarchies," "womanizing civil society," "coalition building," and "not holding elections too soon" set out to teach Iraqis the basics of American-style liberal democracy and civil society. (44) Most of the lessons, however, came to naught because of the ongoing violence, lack of security, rampant corruption, and intercommunal/sectarian suspicion and hostility.

Indeed, the chaos and violence all but closed the public sphere to everyone but religiously conservative, heavily armed and angry young men--who never really fit within the matrix of groups that the civil society projects were working to reach. And when younger religious figures, such as an imam from Baghdad known as the "elastic shaykh" (45) (because of his secular college education, willingness to offer innovative readings of Islamic law, and work with Western NGOs) attempt to change the dynamic, they have been shut out or worse by the violence and attendant narrowing of visions and identities.

Women also have been shut out, and the secular intellectuals that have been willing to risk pursuing a high public profile have been threatened, kidnapped, or assassinated. Not that all political discourses have been violent; religious groups such as the Sunni Association of Muslim 'Ulama' have continually used their public role, whether in sermons, from the minarets of mosques, or in newspaper and television interviews with the media, to issue calls for civil disobedience against what they consider to be a series of transitional governments that they do not believe represent their interests. And many of the religiously oriented political parties, whether the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party (Hizb al-Islami al-'Iraqi) or the various Shi'i parties, have shown their ability to mobilize supporters for various political or religious ends.

Yet however publicly vocal some religious figures have been, political discourse alone does not constitute a public sphere. As I described above, across the Muslim world emergent Muslim public spheres are characterized by the importance of social (health and other human services), educational, and charitable services as a foundation for engaging both in da'wa and political organizing, and by a sophisticated ideological program that neither sets itself in opposition, nor adheres, to the dominant state-ideology, but instead offers a discursive and material context that does not rely on the state as a reference point and helps shape identities that are not based on its ideological foundations.

There is some evidence that various religious organizations are emulating the focus on social work of movements like Hamas and Hizbullah, starting off by providing emergency services immediately after the war and gradually expanding to more permanent operations. In Basra the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution set up offices and acted as a para-government in the absence of any effective centralized authority, finding jobs, turning on phone lines, bringing food during black-outs, helping with religious obligations, and similar essential services required by the local population (although in the chaos of the occupation these groups were sometimes confused with vigilante and racketeering groups by local people). (46)

In Basra, the local office of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi's Army made grand promises about turning part of their (occupied) office into a mini hospital, but as of the time of writing this remained just rhetoric, although other religious groups in Basra are having more success providing social services, mostly focused on basic health and clean water. What is perhaps most interesting in the context of the chaos of the occupation and weak state is that some groups have tried to take over state offices and provide services through them, although the success of these activities is hard to determine, especially in light of the escalating violence of the insurgency soon after they began their activities. (47) Ultimately, however, while events are changing rapidly in Iraq, the kinds of socio-religious networks with their ideologically-cum-politically motivated distance from the political authority of the state that are characterized by Hamas or Hizbullah have yet to become a powerful force in Iraq.

On the one hand, the relative immaturity of the Iraqi socio-religious public sphere in comparison to Palestine (or Lebanon, as we will see below) is quite under standable, as it took decades of occupation and violence for movements like Hamas and Hizbullah--and the societies in which they operate--to achieve their current level of sophistication, this in societies which are less than one fourth the size of and possess far smaller territories than Iraq. But whatever the cause, I would argue that the absence of a well-developed Iraqi public sphere, especially in the context of a chaotic environment and weak state, has made it much more difficult for the Iraqi public to maintain a level of social solidarity in the face of a violent occupation, massive corruption, and deep ethnic and sectarian divisions that have led to much greater intra-communal violence in the context of resisting the occupation, and have seen much less use of the public sphere and other non-violent means of resistance, than occurred in Palestine (although the similarities to the dynamic of civil-war era Lebanon are impossible to ignore and demand the scrutiny of scholars).

In the weak state and society, dynamic socio-religious movements have had the most public success in resisting the aims of the occupying powers--although to what end it is still not clear. To some extent both nationalist identities are in flux as it remains unsure whether the traditional modernist nation-state identity of the PLO or Ba'thist state can survive the two occupations. Indeed, the high levels of violence out of which the two societies are being forcibly reforged has severely affected their development.

Finally, in both countries, the collective weight of the anti-insurgency strategies of the occupying powers have succeeded in turning potentially mass-based civilian uprisings (or at least protests) into militarized underground movements of armed youth whose activities often veer towards internal or fratricidal attacks as much as attacking the occupying power directly. (48) Moreover, if Israel has exerted considerable effort to destroy mass level organizations through imprisoning or otherwise eliminating the leaderships and pivotal middle level cadre of socio-religious movements, we can see a similar tactic with the mass arrests and detention of Iraqis, and the "disciplining" of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sunni counterparts through large-scale invasions of the territories under their control. At the same time, from the perspective of most Iraqis and Palestinians, they have been "betrayed by their nationalist elite," which functions largely through favoritism, nepotism, coercion, and corruption, to the point of being a "mirror image" of the occupation forces. (49)

Ultimately, both the Oslo process and the post-invasion program of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq sought to create stability by excluding citizens, especially the working class, from the construction of the new system, largely through cementing a "politics of dependence, coercion and resignation" that would result from breaking down a neopatriarchal/patrimonial system with its vertical lines of authority without constructing a new system of social solidarities to replace it. (50) In such a system, socio-religious movements will more often then not seek to shape new political economies of meaning based on social polarization and conflict rather than the mediation and reconciliation that are the necessary requirements for a project identity to develop and positively transform the political landscape. (51)


If the chaos brought on by occupation and violence is the shared proximate cause of the distorted politics in Iraq or Palestine, the historical and sociological roots of their weak political systems are by no means identical: while the Palestinian "state" never had more than a token ability to achieve the aims of its leaders, the Ba'thist state in Iraq was exceedingly strong, if brittle. This allowed Husayn to both administer the state for his own gain in the manner of many African rulers, while using the country's vast oil wealth to achieve a level of social development that was among the highest in the developing world prior to the US invasion of 1990. (52) Nevertheless, their current situations are similar in important ways and can be explained by calling on Joel Migdal's seminal analysis in his Strong Societies and Weak States. (53) Migdal argues that the weaknesses of many states in the developing world have made it historically difficult for them to achieve planned social change, particularly with the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant economic paradigm. (54)

As a state is reduced to being merely one of several social actors competing to order social life, groups rising from society can resist or adapt to its encroachment to a degree that frustrates attempts to transform them according to its ideology. Such a situation produces a weak-state strong-society environment, in which the state is strong enough to maintain power but little else, while society has a strong array of social organizations that cannot be penetrated or dismantled by the state. (55)

The response of political authorities in such a scenario might be to exert excessive force to establish their hegemony, but this course of action usually "pulverizes" alternative concentrations of rule-making ability in a manner that ultimately weakens both the state and society, potentially leading to anarchy or chaos. As I will explain below, at least in the case of Palestine and (potentially) Iraq, it is the Islamist movements more than the state that possess the "tentacles" deep into the social body that are the most important determinant of social power. (56)

The intricate dynamics of colonialism and capitalism are crucial to establishing such a destructive dynamic, and the weakened state control that reinforces them. (57)

And here Migdal's discussion becomes even more important for our analysis, as in Palestine and Iraq colonialism is still a defining structural dynamic of their political systems; it is directly responsible for what is the fourth in his matrix of possible relations of power, that of a weak state and weak society, by contributing to a weakening of the social bonds, structures, and/or identities that are crucial to a more successful resistance to (either an indigenous or occupying) state power. (58)

The dynamic of a weakened state and society leads one to question how the public sphere in such a setting can offer a space for political negotiation and even imagination outside the strictures of the state-society dynamic. In using the term public sphere I am not referring simply to Habermas' famous definition of it as "above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public." (59) Such a notion is too rigidly premised on a firm separation between a civil society of private citizens and a formal state apparatus to be of use here. (60) Rather, it is better to conceive of the public sphere as a space or arena in which various social actors challenge and negotiate with various sectors of a country's political elite. And in this arena socio-religious movements are increasingly active participants; yet at the same time their broad religious identities and ideologies (the "umma" or community of believers worldwide, an Islamic law that is not grounded in the laws of the modern secular state) challenges the hegemony of the "nation-state" in which they operate. In their attempts to build properly Muslim publics, they strain the modernist national imageries and civic arenas that have created the space for them to operate in the first place. (61)

What is crucial to understand here is that the aim of most of these movements beyond merely building a clientele for public benefits (which they often organize and deliver autonomously or semi-autonomously at lower administrative costs than their governments) is reshaping the identity of their co-citizens, even as they work within (better, through) existing state/governmental structures. That is, by articulating collective identities and public interactive spaces without assuming a grounding centrality of nation-state institutions, movements like Hamas or Hizbullah (or even Shas in Israel, to make a comparison with a Jewish socio-religious movement) offer alternative models of the relationship between state institutions and the interests of grass roots communities. (62) This, of course, is precisely what makes them a threat to authoritarian political orders, and allows them essentially to play both sides of the political game: to achieve power in the formal political arena (as with the electoral victories of Hamas and various Iraqi Shi'i parties) even as they do not view such a "secular" political process as among their primary goals. (63)

Yet even when rhetorically supportive of larger nationalist projects these identities and the movements that foster them can undermine the legitimacy of those projects through alternative educational and social policies, political rhetoric, and violent activities. This has been the main thread of the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority, and is reflected in the tenuous and often confrontational relationship between Sunni and Shi'i religious authorities and organizations and the Iraqi Government.

What remains to be seen is how society functions when the state is weak rather than strong and where it must take on the added task of not just acting as an arena for political contestation, but for uniting a weak or stressed society as well. From this perspective we can explore socio-religious movements and the public spheres they create as rational responses to insufficient provision of crucial services (health, education, welfare, security) by either "public" or other "private" institutions.

Ultimately, the focus on the public sphere and what could be termed a "public Islam" I am outlining here helps us understand how socio-religious movements such as Hamas or various Iraqi movements achieve a level of hegemony that escapes the official "state" institutions, one in which these groups have the power and ability to use coercive power and violence even when they do not technically control state apparatuses of coercive power such as the police or related "services." When combined with more traditional practices of achieving hegemony (through schools, mosques, and public political ideologies, in practice and discourse), they form a powerful force for cohesion and/or change in environments of chaos and weakened political and social structures.


The dynamics of chaos and occupation demonstrate the need for new and broader conceptual tools when studying state-society relations in the contemporary MENA. If we consider the inherent problems in separating "states" and "societies" into clearly differentiated and discreet "organs" that then interact, (64) the difficulty of mapping a coherent state-society dynamic in the Iraqi and Palestinian cases becomes more apparent.

But despite their uniqueness, the Iraqi and Palestinian cases can be compared felicitously with several contemporary political dynamics in nearby countries. For example, if we consider Schwedler's cases studies of the Yemen and Jordan, the importance of the "gray zone" between authoritarianism and democracy as the space in which politics can be contested is common to all four countries. The uniqueness in our two case studies is that this gray zone has been created by the weakness of our two states, not by a process they initiated or in any way control. Moreover, the political gray zone is intimately related to increasingly powerful gray and black markets that both are an important cause and take advantage of the political and social chaos plaguing the country.

Similarly, Wickham's discussion of the dynamics of auto-reform within Islamist opposition groups in the Arab world also presents a counter-example from which to build our investigation. (65) This is because while her analysis rightly focuses on the increasingly important phenomenon of non-violent, revivalist mainstream Islamist movements, such "auto-reform" is occurring largely in the context of strong states and relatively stable societies (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait). In contrast, in the period under review both our case studies lacked a well-functioning "formal political system" in which to call for continuous participation, while calls for greater transparency and internal democracy within the respective religious movements and especially an ijtihad-based re-interpretation of shar'ia, are not high on the agenda compared with resisting occupation and building a religiously guided polity.

A similar comparison could be made to the Indonesian situation, as the country is in the midst of a relatively successful democratic (and to some degree, economic) transition where non-violent action is considered a viable and therefore legitimate avenue of political activism. Yet despite the great difference in political context, the Indonesian case does raise interesting similarities: the focus on corruption of the existing regime, and particularly on social justice claims by Islamist movements, are as much a centerpiece of Islamist discourses in Iraq and Palestine as they are in Indonesia or other Muslim majority countries.

Perhaps the case most closely resembling Iraq or Palestine is Pakistan. As Vali Nasr explains, since Pakistan's creation in 1947 the country's politics have been defined by the interaction of Islamism's growing importance to state and society and the long term contest between democracy and military rule. In this context the shared "management" of state-Islamist relations by Islamists, politicians, and senior military officials is a defining motif in Pakistani politics in the post-Zia ul-Haq era. (66)

This situation can be said to resemble Iraq and Palestine in that the three major political groupings in both countries are those representing religion, organized violence, and political authority (however weak it may be). On the other hand, at the time of writing neither the Iraqi nor Palestinian political and military organs have anything close to the power of their Pakistani counterparts. If we look at Pakistan's many troubles with both "nation-building" and "state-building" since its establishment we are reminded of the continuing power of religious, as well as tribal and other more local-communal identities, vis-a-vis the state and the imagined community of the Pakistani nation. (67)

Indeed, by the mid-1990s it was clear that "the social fabric of the country [wa]s weakening ... in the event that the current government will not deal successfully with the most pressing problems of the country (or is sabotaged by the bureaucratic military and feudal elites), Pakistan may not have a future. It may still exist in name; it may still have a government. But the danger lies in the 'national' structures becoming more and more irrelevant." (68) This description begins to capture the dilemmas facing Palestine in the long-term and Iraq at least in the short-term.

However, of the various political conglomerations in the MENA, perhaps the case of Hizbullah is the most salient one for exploring how the relationships between Islamist forces and both the political authorities and larger societies with whom they interact will evolve. As is well known, Hizbullah, or the Party of God, emerged in Lebanon as a Shi'i political-cum-military organization in the context of the Israeli occupation of 1982. Formed with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard the group became one of the most potent military organizations in the country, responsible for pushing out not just the American military after the infamous destruction of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1982, but ultimately the Israeli military in 2000. During this period the group had to negotiate successfully a host of often competing forces: the strategic goals of Syria and Iran, the Lebanese state and the various groups within the society, its Shi'ite political heritage, support for Palestinian and other Arab causes, the perceptions of the international community and of course the aims and tactics of its main enemy, Israel.

Such a complex political and strategic matrix belies any simple calculus of "state-Islamist" relations. Indeed, there is growing evidence that Hizbullah plays an active role financing and training Hamas and other Palestinian militants. Yet as important as its strategic and military activities are, its social programs, without with it would retain only a minimal level of support on the ground, are more important. In a post-conflict Lebanon where the state remains fractured along ethno-religious lines and has little power to enforce its will on the majority of the populace, Hizbullah has become one of the dominant political forces in the country, entering local politics as an officially sanctioned party even as it refuses to participate in national elections. It has become media-friendly and computer-savvy, and indeed it has its own television station, al-Manar, that has 10 million regular viewers. In short, Hizbullah has become "woven into the fabric of Lebanese society," as one journalist describes the group. (69)

Making all this possible, however, has been the hard, trudging but ultimately successful work of building a grass-roots social movement that filled in enormous social, political, security, and infrastructural gaps during Lebanon's long civil war and Israeli occupation. However violent its military activities has been, theologically and politically Hizbullah has attempted to portray itself as a moderate and even "progressive" organization struggling for "cultural openness and progress." (70) After winning eight seats in Parliament in 1992 as well as local elections in Beirut and elsewhere, the organization expanded its social activities, providing essential educational, charitable, health, and cultural services to the country's Shi'ite (and to a certain extent Palestinian) population in a context where the state has little resources to do so.

Hizbullah is thus a model for Iraqi and Palestinian religious movements for several reasons: its roots in violent resistance; its setting in a multi-ethnic and confessional environment; its supra-national ideology (because of its adherence to the concept of wilayat al-faqih, or rule of the jurisconsult, that ultimately sees it subordinate itself to the Shi'i religious hierarchy in Iran); its specific ties to both Palestinian militant organizations and Iraq's majority Shi'ite community (Hasan Nasrallah, the group's Secretary General, studied in Najaf and has close ties to the Iraqi religious establishment, while Muqtada al-Sadr has defined himself as "the striking arm for Hizbollah and Hamas in Iraq") (71) its lack of corruption; the increasingly prominent role of women in the party; and an almost social democratic political platform.

A combination, then, of public works, piety, and military success has imbedded Hizbullah deep within Lebanese society. Depending on how the occupations of Palestine and Iraq conclude, Hamas and the myriad religious organizations in Iraq could wind up in a similar position. Indeed, the changing political strategies of Hamas immediately prior to the outbreak of the second intifada, the movement's open admiration of the "Hizbullah model," their clear political popularity, the likelihood that any future Palestinian state would be similarly as weak as the Lebanese state, and their similar function as provider of crucial social services to their community, strongly suggests that Hamas would follow in the footsteps of Hizbullah should a permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever be achieved.

Most important, the work of Lara Deeb has demonstrated that Hizbullah and other religious organizations and trends in Lebanon fit well into the paradigm of socio-religious movements who work through the public sphere in a manner which often bypasses state institutions and discourses even as they participate in the official structures and institutions of government. (72) As Middle Eastern governments increasingly adopt neoliberal reforms that include reduced state expenditures on crucial infrastructural and social services, they will continue to weaken, providing fertile ground for socio-religious movements to fill the social, political, economic, and ideological vacuum and become key players in the renegotiation of social bonds and identities and the building of stable, even "strong" societies. But only if groups like Hamas, or the Mahdi's Army can achieve a level of independence and social order close to that achieved by Hizbullah, while moving beyond their violent histories to encourage and support the kinds of "project identities," can they help heal and unite, rather than inflame and divide, their severely traumatized societies.

(1.) Al-Jazeera, November 7 and 9, 2004.

(2.) Speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, November 21, 2005. Available at http://

(3.) Cf. Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity, (London: Blackwell, 1996).

(4.) Jillian Schwedler, "Pluralist Practices in Hybrid Regimes: State Actors, Islamists, and Leftists in Jordan and Yemen," in a paper presented at a conference on "Islamism and Democratic Change in the Muslim World After Iraq" organized by the Naval Postgraduate School, in cooperation with the Institute for International, Comparative, and Area Studies (IICAS) of the University of Califonia, San Diego, September 9-10, 2004.

(5.) See Mark LeVine, Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil, (London: Oneworld Publications, 2005), chapters 3-5. In this situation it has been a combination of an increasing prevalence of low wage manufacturing (largely textile) jobs, the growth of informal (gray and black) economies, and the full weight of cultural globalization, that has defined globalization for a large percentage of the world's Muslims.

(6.) The dynamics of globalized chaos are thus best understood as a kind of "sponsored chaos," as there are almost always outside powers with strategic interests in generating chaos locally, and various local actors who can take advantage of the chaos to advance their own ends. See Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 47.

(7.) Scholars call these processes the "instrumentalization of disorder" See Chabal and Daloz, Africa Works, pp. xviii, xix-xx; also see Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Rethinking Africa's Globalization, Vol. 1, (Trenton, N J: Africa World Press, 2003).

(8.) Subsaharan Africa supplies the United States with 16% of its oil supplies. Through International Military Education and Training, government-to-government weapons deliveries, and commercial arms sales, the US plays an increasingly important role in the violence on the continent, which is exacerbated by the negative impact of US and European farm subsidies on African farmers.

(9.) Chabal and Deloz, Africa Works, p. 81. And just as in Africa, in the MENA the position of civil societies has been challenged not just by chaos or war and greater political repression but also by the very NGO process that was supposed to support them.

(10.) Chabal and Deloz, Africa Works, pp. 94, 123.

(11). Joma Nazpary, Post-Soviet Chaos: Violence and Dispossession in Kazakhstan, (London: Pluto Press, 2002), especially p. 4. People use the term "bardok" even though the word "Kaos" exists in Russian because the former term is much stronger and implies total social disorder coupled by rampant immorality that together are quite paralyzing to the social body, especially to groups attempting to reform their societies.

(12.) Similarly, Vadim Volkov's Violent Entrepreneurs explore how the chaos of the post-Soviet era enabled a "counter-revolution" in Russia and other former Soviet republics, as competing networks of groups, from criminal gangs and political parties to families and friends, all compete for resources in the decidedly one-sided contest for power and wealth that is the globalized market economy. See Vadim Volkov, Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).

(13.) This was clearly an important development compared with the much more (ostensibly) communist system of the Soviet era. In Iraq, everyone knew that Saddam Husayn and the Ba'thist regime was horrifically corrupt, but the post-invasion era has produced a small comprador elite whose power is dependent specifically on an outside power rather than the national government. A similar situation exists in Palestine.

(14.) That is, these elites, who were the leaders of the nationalist movement, in fact continuously sold land to Jews even as they called for the end of Zionism or Jewish immigration, and in other ways acted against the nationalist interests of their compatriots but for their narrower class interests.

(15.) See, for example, the work of Beverley Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics in Palestine (London: IB Tauris, 1996); Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence and Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Khalid Hurub [Khaled Hroub], Hamas, al-Fikr wa'l-Mumarasa al-Siyasiyya [Hamas: its" Thought and Political Practice] (Beirut: Mu' assasat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, 1996); and Youssef M. Choueiri, lslamic Fundamentalism (Boston: Twayne, 1990).

(16.) Ghassan Khatib, "NGO Offense--PA's Best Defense," Palestine Report, June 18, 1999.

(17.) For a detailed discussion of the history of the PNGO movement, see Michael Zwirn, "Professional Success and Political Failure: Environmental NGOs and the Palestinian Authority," Unpublished Masters thesis, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, April 2001. The discussion in this paragraph is drawn from his research and my own experiences in the field during the period under review.

(18.) Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas; the quote appears on the book's back cover.

(19.) See for example, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, "Tightened Spaces for Human Rights: Palestiniena NGO Work," Report, March 2004, available online at english/emhm-documents/country-reports/Palestine NGOs_March%202004.htm; and Joseph Massad, "The (Anti-)Palestinian Authority," al-Ahram Weekly, June 15, 2006.

(20.) Sara Roy, "The Transformation of Islamic NGOs in Palestine," Middle East Report, No. 214, (Spring 2000), citing senior Hamas activists.

(21.) Roy, "Transformation." The shift in tactics did not mean they stopped all military activities, particularly suicide bombings, against Israel. But their larger ideological and political discourse clearly moderated, as I learned in discussions with senior Hamas leaders from 2000 onwards, when even in the height of the intifada they spoke of "getting a divorce from Israel" rather than the more ideologically correct "destroying the Zionist entity" (interview with senior Hamas intellectual, Gaza, 2003).

(22.) For the use of the term "matrix of control," see Ben Gurion University geography professor Jeff Halper, "The 94 Percent Solution: The Matrix of Control," Middle East Report, No. 216, (Fall 2000).

(23.) This meant that the Palestinian economy was doomed to be dependent entirely on Israel for most of its essential products, while being allowed to develop only a few industries, such as boutique flowers or other agricultural exports, where Israel did not have an existing industry, but which could easily be destroyed simply by closing the borders and letting the produce or fruits spoil from days sitting at check points.

(24.) See the work of Aziz Haidar, On the Margins: the Arab Population in the Israeli Economy, (New York: St. Martins, 1995.)

(25.) Rema Hammami, "Palestinian NGOs, the Oslo Transition, and the Space of Development," paper presented at "Socioreligious Movements and the Public Sphere" workshop, UC Irvine, October 2002.

(26.) Hammami, "Palestinian NGOs."

(27.) There are extensive reports from the Wrold Bank, UNDE UNRWA, Be Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others which have regularly documented the situation in the Territories since the outbreak of the second intifada.

(28.) Rema Hammami, "Interregnum: Palestine After Operation Defensive Shield," Middle East Report, No. 223, (Summer 2002).

(29.) Hamammi, "Interregnum."

(30.) Khalid Amayreh, "Hamas prepares for post-Arafat era," al-Jazeera, November 2, 2004.

(31.) Amayreh, "Hamas Enters," al-Jazeera.

(32.) Charmaine Seitz, "The Search for Good Governance in Palestine," MER, No. 223, (2002). Author interview with senior Hamas intellectual in Gaza, September, 2003.

(33.) Amira Hass, "There is Order in the Anarchy," Ha'aretz, August 4, 2004.

(34.) See Lara Deeb, in Armando Salvatore and Mark LeVine, eds., Religion, Social Practices and Contested Hegemonies: Reconstructing the Public Sphere in Muslim Majority Societies, (New York: Palgrave Press, 2005).

(35.) Said K. Aburish, Saddam Hussein: the Politics of Revenge, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999).

(36.) While many clerics in the Najaf tradition wanted a state governed by Islamic principles, they rejected Ruhollah Khomeini's idea that clerics themselves should rule. Moreover, Iraq's own theorist of Islamic government, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, envisaged an elected assembly that need not be made up of clerics. Thus, the initial Iraqi Shi'ite idea of an Islamic state was at odds with the Khomeinist theory that came to dominate Iran in 1979.

(37.) Syed Saleem Shahzad, "A Cry from the Mosques," Asia Times, November 11, 2004.

(38.) For an analysis of this issue, see Mark LeVine and Nir Rosen, "America: Shared Enemy,", June 2004.

(39.) Juan Cole, "The Iraqi Shiites: On the History of America's Would-Be Allies," Boston Review, October/November 2003; also see his "Iraq: All Together Against the Occupation," Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2004.

(40.) LeVine, Why They Don't Hate Us, chapter 9.

(41.) Although this number has been challenged, the mathematics and science behind the controversial article in The Lancet is quite strong, and is consistent with numbers I heard from doctors and morgue personnel in Iraq. In fact, the number may well be undercounted given the continuing fighting. See L. Roberts, R. Lafta, R. Garfield, J. Khudhairi, and G. Burnham, "Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample survey," The Lancet, October 30, 2004.

(42.) Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 5.

(43.) Robert Collior, "In Lawless Iraq, Shiites Stake Their Claim," Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2003.

(44.) For some discussions and analyses of these issues, see David Plotz, "Building Civil Society Is Even More Important Than Building Democracy," Slate, May 2, 2003. Also see US Institute of Peace analysis, "Building Civil Society: An Overlooked Aspect of Iraq's Reconstruction," July 31,2003; also see "NDI worldwide: Middle East and North Africa: Iraq," program overview, at worldwide/mena/iraq/iraq.asp.

(45.) Shaykh Anwar al-Ethari.

(46.) Anthony Shadid, "Iraqi Party Goes From Exiled to Electable; Shiite Group Emerges as an Effective, Innovative Political Force in Basra," Washington Post, February 14, 2004.

(47.) This information comes from my own fieldwork and particularly the research of Stanford graduate student David Patel, who spent the spring of 2003 through spring of 2004 in southern Iraq working specifically on the transformation of religious parties and organizations into public service providers.

(48.) Rema Hammami, "Palestinian NGOs."

(49.) Christopher Parker, Resignation of Revolt: Socio-Political Development and the Challenges of Peace in Palestine, (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999), p. 5.

(50.) Parker, Resignation of Revolt, p. 5.

(51.) Christopher Parker, Resignation of Revolt, p. 5.

(52.) The corruption of the international system allowed Husayn to maintain centralized power and wealth extraction after the 1991 Gulf War.

(53.) Here we can define weak states as states that lack the capacity to impose uniform rules, maintain state agencies, and manage resources.

(54.) Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States, p. 5.

(55.) Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States, p. 207.

(56.) Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States, p. 25.

(57.) Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States, p. 228.

(58.) Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States p. 35.

(59.) Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989[1962]), p. 27.

(60.) It neither considers the disciplinary power and practices of modern states nor accounts for its role as a site for solidarities against the discursive power of the state.

(61.) Salvatore and LeVine, eds., Religion, Social Practices and Contested Hegemonies.

(62.) Moreover, backed up by discourses of social justice, these projects have a wide impact on views of citizenship and legitimate authority among their constituencies.

(63.) In this context, however, it is important to understand that however explicit their focus on religion, for many MENA socio-religious movements the constitution of an "Islamic state" is no longer based on taking state power; rather it means establishing a "just social order" in the wider sense as much as, if not more than a "religious," i.e., shari'a-based state. Conceived this way, what we can see emerging through this process are parallel civil societies and public spheres that at the same time are religious and also mark the potential secularization of Islamist politics in the long term. See Tariq Ramadan, quoted in the transcripts to Mark LeVine, ed. "Conversations Within Islam: Culture, Politics and Religion in the Global Public Sphere," Budapest, May 25, 2003, available online at

(64.) Tim Mitchell, "The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and their Critics," Vol. 85, No. 1 (1991) American Political Science Review, pp. 77-96.

(65.) See Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, Mobilizing Islam, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

(66.) Vali Nasr, "Islamism, Democracy and the Military in Pakistan," presented at the Naval Postgraduate School conference cited in footnote 4. The article subsequently appeared under the title, "Military Rule, Islamism and Democracy in Pakistan," in The Middle East Journal, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Spring 2004).

(67.) As Jochen Hippler explains, "nation-building and national integration have excluded the population, making it very difficult to transform it into a citizenry." Jochen Hippler, "Problems of Democracy and Nation-Building in Pakistan," in May Jayyusi, ed., Liberation, Democratization and Transitions to Statehood in the Third World, (Ramallah: Muwatin Publishing, 1998), pp. 127-142, p. 136.

(68.) Hippler, "Problems of Democracy and Nation-Building," pp. 139-40.

(69.) Frontline reporter David Lewis, interviewed on "Frontline World," May 2003. Also see http://

(70.) Daniel Sobelman, "Four Years After the Withdrawal from Lebanon: Refining the Rules of the Game," Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies Strategic Assessment 7,2 (August 2004).

(71.) Alisdair Soussi, "The Enigma that is Lebanese Hizbollah,", June 14, 2004.

(72.) Deeb, in Salvatore and LeVine, eds., Religion, Social Practices and Contested Hegemonies.

Mark LeVine is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, Culture, and Islamic Studies at UC Irvine. He is the author and editor of half a dozen books, including: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil (London: Oneworld Publications, 2005), Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine. 1880-1948 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: UC Press, 2005), Religion, Social Practices and Contested Hegemonies: Reconstructing the Public Sphere in Muslim Majority Societies (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Press, 2005), and the forthcoming An Impossible Peace: Oslo and the Burdens of History (Zed Books), Heavy Metal Islam (Random House/Verso), and Reapproaching the Border: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel/Palestine (Rowman Littlefield).

Gale Document Number:A149458812