work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

consumerism as antidote?

02.15.2010 · Posted in Uncategorized

In my article “After Heroism: Religion Versus Consumerism” I argued that one effect of the adaptation religions undergo in order to survive under the hegemony of consumer culture is a move from radical commitment to “occasionalism” in which religiosity appears as an individual choice – a choice which is, crucially, reversible. This, in turn, would make it very unlikely that religious belief and practice are followed through to the last consequence. I ventured to extend this diagnosis even to those displaying a distinctly radical attitude:

Most of the religiously radicalized youths in the West today, like most of the marxisant students in the 1970s, use their respective icons and practices for the construction of an idealized and ironically heroic self, accompanying and accomplishing the more serious but also duller regular identity which is used as an address in the management of occupational and family role expectations. And just as most of the radical students did not join either the guerrilla fighters in South America or the various terrorist cells at home, the vast majority of today’s consumers of fundamentalism are most unlikely to set fire to abortion clinics or join the ‘jihadist’ terrorists. (Varul 2008: 252)

At the time I felt a bit unsure about this: I certainly did not want to play down the very real danger of political extremism seeking legitimacy in religious discourses. I feel a bit less unsure after my attention was drawn to this post by Edmund Standing whose work for the CSC puts him beyond any suspicion he might be in the business of playing down the threat posed by extremists. Examining some Taliban supporters’ videos on Youtube he concludes

that a key Taliban supporting demographic is made up of knuckle dragging wannabe rude boys.

… so that, reassuringly,

Islamism is no joke, nor is the terrorism it inspires, but if these are the people who are supposedly the vanguard for the Islamist takeover of the West, we don’t need to lose too much sleep over it.

Given where it comes from (and fully sharing the proviso), I take this as a vindication…

update 16th august 2010

Standing’s post has disappeared from his blog – so the link given is no longer working. However, it was cross-posted to Harry’s Place, so it’s still there

update 20th august 2010

I just came across this – which further confirms the above assessment – but also is a reminder that one fertiliser in the growth of extremism in Britain is continued racism. The experience of racism fuels the search for positive identifications that both refute the negative categorisation by the racists and lend themselves to mobilisation to “fight back”. The militancy of radical Islamism provides such an identification – and in some cases leads over violent action and even terrorism. Overall, however, it’s an issue to be solved by political action at home (around social justice, anti-racism, and adolescent violence) rather than by engaging with global Islamism and foreign policiy issues…

‘Unlike their elder generation, Pakistani young men not only believe but also feel that they are British, and are not prepared to take abuse or be subject to violence in the meek manner of their elders, who are prepared to accept it because they feel they were interlopers who do not belong here. When compounded by frustration resulting from social and racial exclusion, we have, as one observer commented, “angry, arrogant young men” with no idea why they are angry. In this context there is an overlapping of being “hard” and “izzat”, as both are related to notions of masculinity. the propensity to violence becomes inherent in this situation, and in areas of high concentration such as Manningham, violence against white residents is rising and gives cause for concern. As we outlined earlier, Muslim identification has become prominent due to the linguistic shift taking place, and so it becomes understandable why young men have a propensity to use Islamic symbols and metaphors to justify their rebellious nature. Many are associated with various groups such as Ahle-e-Hadith, Tablighi Jamaat or Hizb-ut-Tahrir without showing | signs of religiosity. In some cases young men are far from being paragons of virtue, have so little knowledge of Islam that they do not know who or what Shias are, have criminal antecedents and yet identify with a religious organization. Rebellious young men either associate with a group because of the shock value or out of territorial loyalty. Working class men claim to be associated with Hizb-ut-Tahrir or daub wall with slogans such as “Hamas Rules OK” because they know only that it is the most militant of the various organizations and has greater shock value (Samad 1996, 1997) Clearly the use of religious symbols and metaphors has entered the repertoire of young men who are using it to express their anger in the name of community that now is also being combined with notions of territoriality.’ (Samad 2007: 166)

Samad, Yunas (2007): ‘Ethnicization of Religion’, in: Yunas Samad and Kasturi Sen (eds): Islam in the European Union: Transnationalism, Youth and the War on Terror, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.160-9

Comments are closed

Skip to toolbar