Islam, Democracy, and Cosmopolitanism By Ali Mirsepassi and Tadd Graham Fernée (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 225 pages.)

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Amr G. E. Sabet



Ali Mirsepassi and Tadd Graham Fernée introduce their book as a “critical
study of citizenship, state, and globalization in societies historically influenced
by Islamic traditions and institutions” (p. 1). They place their approach in the
framework of the relationships between individuals and the state, religion, and
political community as part of investigating the democratic aspirations of Islamic
societies. These relationships are then contextualized in a global setting
wherein such aspirations presumably interconnect with some “cosmopolitan
The book’s main thrust is quite clear from the outset in light of the authors’
two grounding assumptions: In order to attain agency and freedom humanity
in general, but Muslims in particular, must (1) respect the “core Enlightenment
values” of human equality and dignity regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation,
and belief or disbelief and (2) acquire a spatial vision of democracy that
incorporates “the cognitive-imaginative resources of a multidimensional Islamic
heritage” (p. 1). In short, an approach in which an overarching and universal
Eurocentric value structure that respects Islam would help deconstruct
any essentialist framework that posits the latter and Enlightenment as dichotomous
opposites. This could be done through a “global ethic of reconciliation”
– an alternative to the “death of epistemic universalism” (p. 30) along John
Stuart Mill’s depiction of barbarian races in their failed relations to liberty –
that sociologically interconnects three domains of a specific spatial-temporal
context of Islamic practices, the democratic social virtue of nonviolence, and
the cosmopolitanism of universal and shared human values (p. 4).
The authors’ analytical framework integrates three strands of twentiethcentury
critical thought concerning democratic nation-building. These pertain
to John Dewey’s “conceptual pluralism,” Edmund Husserl’s “lifeworld” and
“temporal Horizons,” and Amartya Sen’s conception of cultural variability
and freedom as “capabilities” (p. 5). This is articulated within what Mirsepassi
and Fernée designate as a “Pragmatic Revolution” that perceives an “unthought
conjuncture between the Jasmine Revolution” – the so-called Arab
Spring – and these critical strands’ gaining ground in western thought (p. 3).
This is done through the tripartite problematic of “embededness,” “embodiment,”
and the “unthought” (p. 7), all of which point to a new, even if inadequately,
“theorized cosmopolitan horizon” (p. 7). The goal is to understand
the “Jasmine Revolutions” as new popular forms of mobilization that respond
to a specific pattern of the modern experience, while asking the question of ...

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