Engin Isin. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Editor: Engin F Isin & Bryan S Turner. Sage Publication. 2002.
At the root of the ‘Western’ conception of citizenship are two fundamental perspectives: orientalism (a way of dividing the world into essentially two ‘civilizational’ blocs, one having rationalized and secularized and hence modernized, the other having remained ‘irrational,’ religious and traditional), and synoecism (a way of seeing the polity as embodying spatial and political unification). Orientalism mobilized images of citizenship as a unique occidental invention that oriental cultures lacked and of the citizen as a virtuous and rational being without kinship ties. Synoecism generated images of citizenship as fraternity, equality, liberty, expressing a unified and harmonious polity, and of the citizen as a secular and universal being without tribal loyalties. Both political and theoretical events in the last two decades have called these perspectives into question. These events have also mobilized new images of citizenship, opening up new possibilities but spawning new dangers. The most promising possibilities among these are images of citizenship as agonistic and contested processes of becoming political that generate rights claims and articulate responsibilities for multiple identities, polities, and practices. Groups based upon ethnic, ‘racial,’ ecological and sexual identities have articulated such claims for citizenship to include group-differentiated rights at various scales from local to cosmopolitan. Yet, among the dangers are the tendencies to essentialize or relativize identities eventuating either violent encounters or reactions such as xenophobia, exclusions, expulsions and other forms of alienation. Without returning to orientalism and synoecism, is it possible at least theoretically to avoid these dangers while encouraging the possibilities of these new images of citizenship?
This chapter does not address that question. Instead, it discusses the origins of the occidental sociology of citizenship and argues that orientalism and synoecism constitute fundamental impediments for developing group-differentiated citizenship and rights. Since Max Weber was the main proponent of an occidental conception of citizenship, juxtaposing it against a ‘cluster of absences’ in oriental societies, a critical discussion of his conception of citizenship as the foundation of the modern idea of citizenship is the subject of the first section. The following section suggests that with the experience of pluralization and fragmentation of Western societies and polities, synoecism and orientalism have become problematic perspectives from which to view citizenship. The final section argues that this has become evident especially in the new Western views on ostensibly Islamic states and their incompatibility with democracy.
Occidentalizing Citizenship: Orientalism and Synoecism
While Weber’s work has been associated with what may be called sociological orientalism, his emphasis on synoecism has never been made an issue. An important reason for this is that his sociology of citizenship as the unique aspect of occidental capitalism has been far less discussed and emphasized than his emphasis on rationalization and religion. Among his critics, Weber’s designation as the major sociological progenitor of orientalism rests on three assumptions: first, that he shared the orientalist view of the superiority of the occident over the orient; second, that his comparative causal account of the uniqueness of the occident rested on an internalist research programme which discards or downplays the role of colonialism and imperialism in blocking the development of the orient; and, third, that the religion-based civilizational aspect of Weber’s comparative sociology ascribed a unity, autonomy and primacy to religion and culture which drew him to the orientalist perspective (Nafissi, 1998: 98).
From Rodinson (1966: 99-117) and Said (1978: 259) to Dean (1994: 79-89) and Turner (1974; 1996: 257-86), the critics of Weber have focused on his theses on the origins of modern capitalism and his interpretation of why the oriental societies ‘failed’ to develop modern capitalism. The critics have invariably converged on issues of the rationalization of law, state administration and commerce, an ethic of acquisition, and an ethic of ultimate values as the essential differences between the oriental and occidental cultures, religions, societies and economies, issues which originally appeared in Weber’s celebrated The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). While this critique has been useful in highlighting how Weber’s work connects with broader themes of orientalism, Weber’s later argument that the city as a locus of citizenship was the unique character of the occident that led to the development of capitalism has remained unexplored. This theme is also remarkably absent among sympathetic discussions of Weber’s work on the city such as those by Momigliano (1970), Finley (1981), Murray (1990) and Colognesi (1995). More recently, Love (2000a, 2000b) also fails to discuss the importance for Weber of the relationship between the city and citizenship in constituting the uniqueness of the occident. Thus, the elective affinities between synoecism and orientalism that constitute the basis of Weber’s conception of the difference between the occidental and oriental cities remain curiously unexplored. That for Weber the absence of autonomous cities and citizenship was the root cause of the failure of oriental societies to develop capitalism and that this was connected with synoecism is what we need to explore in further detail.
By always defining the city in terms of five essential characteristics (fortification, market, autonomous law and administration, association, and autocephaly), Weber argued that what made the occidental city unique was that it arose from the establishment of a fraternity, brotherhood in arms for mutual aid and protection, and the usurpation of political power (Weber, [1927a] 1981: 319). In this regard, Weber always drew parallels between the medieval ‘communes’ and ancient ‘synoecism.’ For Weber:
The polis is always the product of such a confraternity or synoecism, not always an actual settlement in proximity but a definite oath of brotherhood which signified that a common ritualistic meal is established and a ritualistic union formed and that only those had a part in this ritualistic group who buried their dead on the acropolis and had their dwellings in the city. (p. 320).
As we shall see below, while Weber consistently emphasized that some of these characteristics emerged in China, Japan, the Near East, India and Egypt, he insisted that it was only in the occident that all were present and appeared regularly. From this he concluded that ‘Most importantly, the associational character of the city and the concept of a burgher (as contrasted to the man from the countryside) never developed [in the orient] at all and existed only in rudiments’ (Weber,  1978: 1227). Therefore ‘… a special status of the town dweller as a “citizen”, in the ancient medieval sense, did not exist and a corporate character of the city was unknown’ (p. 1227). He was convinced that ‘… in strong contrast to the medieval and ancient Occident, we never find the phenomenon in the Orient that the autonomy and the participation of the inhabitants in the affairs of local administration would be more strongly developed in the city… than in the countryside. In fact, as a rule the very opposite would be true’ (p. 1228). For him this difference was decisive: ‘All safely founded information about Asian and oriental settlements which had the economic characteristics of “cities” seems to indicate that normally only the clan associations, and sometimes also the occupational associations, were the vehicle of organized action, but never the collective of urban citizens as such’ (p. 1233). Above all, for Weber only ‘in the Occident is found the concept of citizen (civis Romanus, citoyens, bourgeois) because only in the Occident does the city exist in the specific sense of the word’ (Weber, [1927b] 1981: 232).
Broadly speaking, Weber provided two reasons why the city as confraternity arose only in the occident. First, since the occidental city originally emerged as a defence mechanism, the group that owned the means of warfare dominated the city. For Weber whether a group owned the means of warfare or was furnished by an overlord was as fundamental as whether the means of production were the property of the worker or the capitalist (Weber, [1927a] 1981: 320). Everywhere in the orient the development of the city as brotherhood in arms was prevented by the fact that the army of the prince or overlord dominated the city (Weber,  1994: 280). Why? Because in their origins and development, for India, China, the Near East, Egypt and Asia the question of irrigation was crucial. ‘The water question conditioned the existence of the bureaucracy, the compulsory service of the dependent classes, and the dependence of subject classes upon the functioning of the bureaucracy of the king’ (Weber, [1927a] 1981: 321). That the king expressed his power in the form of a military monopoly was the basis of the distinction between the orient and the occident. ‘The forms of religious brotherhood and self equipment for war made possible the origin and existence of the city’ (p. 321). While elements of analogous developments occur in India, China, Mesopotamia and Egypt, the necessity of water regulation, which led to the formation of kingship monopoly over the means of warfare, stifled these beginnings.
The second obstacle, which prevented the development of the city in the orient, was the persistence of magic in oriental religions. These religions did not allow the formation of ‘rational’ communities and hence the city. By contrast, the magical barriers between clans, tribes and peoples, which were still known in the ancient polis, were eventually set aside and so the establishment of the occidental city was made possible (Weber, [1927a] 1981: 322-3). What makes the occidental city unique was that it allowed the association or formation of groups based on bonds and ties other than lineage or kinship the basis of which was ‘rational contract.’
In various studies between The Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilizations (1909) and Economy and Society (1921), Weber’s argument that the city as a locus of citizenship was the characteristic that made the occident unique and his reliance on synoecism and orientalism appeared more consistently than his emphasis on rationalization and with an increasing urgency (Käsler, 1979: 42). That is why we need a more detailed analysis before we develop a critique.
For Weber, at first glance, the occidental city presented striking similarities to its Near and Far Eastern counterparts (Weber,  1978: 1236). Like the oriental city, it was a market place, a centre of trade and commerce and a fortified stronghold. Merchant and artisan guilds could also be found in both cities (Weber, [1917a] 1958: 33-5). Even the creation of autonomous legal authority could be found in both cities, though to varying degrees. Moreover, all ancient and medieval cities, like their oriental counterparts, contained some agricultural land belonging to the city. Throughout the ancient world the law applicable in cities differed from rural areas. However, particularly in the occidental medieval city, such difference was essential, while it was insignificant and irregular in the ancient oriental city. The ancient city almost always arose from a confluence and settling together of strangers and outsiders. While Weber used this as evidence of why the city always manifested a social and cultural differentiation, he often underlined its unity over diversity (Weber,  1978: 1237). While he recognized that the urban population consisted of very diverse social groups, what was revolutionary in the occidental city was the free status of this distinct population. The fact that the city was a centre of trade and commerce led rulers to free bondsmen and slaves to pursue opportunities for earning money in return for tribute (p. 1238). The occidental city arose as ‘a place where the ascent from bondage to freedom by means of monetary acquisition was possible’ (p. 1238). The principle that ‘city air makes man free,’ which emerged in central and north European cities, was an expression of the unique aspect of the occidental city. ‘The urban citizenry therefore usurped the right to dissolve the bonds of seigniorial domination; this was the great in fact, the revolutionary—innovation which differentiated the medieval occidental cities from all others’ (p. 1239). The common quality of the ancient polis and the medieval commune was therefore an association of citizens subject to a special law exclusively applicable to them. In ancient Asia, Africa or America similar formations of polis or commune constitutions or corporate citizenship rights were not known.
Despite his emphasis on the internal differentiation of the occidental city, however, when Weber made comparisons with the oriental city, he overlooked its differentiation in favour of a unity signified by its corporate status: ‘The fully developed ancient and medieval city was above all constituted, or at least interpreted, as a fraternal association, as a rule equipped with a corresponding religious symbol for the associational cult of the citizens: a city-god or city-saint to whom only the citizens had access’ (Weber,  1978: 1241). A significant difference between the occidental city and the ancient oriental city was that in the former there was no trace of magical and animistic castes. It was the belief of ancient citizens that their cities originated as free associations and confederations of groups, which were partly clans (p. 1242). But Weber never explained why the beliefs of the ancient Greeks should be taken at their face value. For them the ancient Greek polis was, for example, a settling together of clans and tribes. Its membership was neither occupational nor spatial but by birth in a clan. The polis was a confederation of noble families and was religiously exclusive. The European medieval city too, especially in the south, was a federation of noble families. The entry of the plebes into citizenship, however, lessened the significance of membership in clans or tribes; rather, membership was defined along spatial and occupational lines. The ancient polis was on the way to becoming a medieval association but it was incorporated into the Hellenistic and Roman systems of rule. ‘The medieval city, by contrast, was a commune from the very beginning, even though the legal concept of the “corporation” as such was only gradually formulated’ (p. 1243).
Thus, Weber argued that in the ancient oriental city kinship ties persisted regularly while in Greek poleis and medieval cities they progressively dissolved and were replaced by spatial and occupational relationships. In Greek poleis this becomes visible beginning with colonization, which required the settling together of strangers and outsiders to become citizens. In addition, the change in the military organization of the polis from heroic warfare to hoplitic warfare intensified the dissolution of clan ties. Although many Greek poleis maintained such ties for a long time, they became more ritualistic and less significant in the everyday life of politics. Similarly, the warrior associations of the wandering Germanic tribes in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire were organized around leadership and military prowess rather than clan ties. The development of spatial units such as the ‘hundreds’ as a method of distributing obligations impeded a clan development.
When Christianity became the religion of these peoples who had been so profoundly shaken in all their traditions, it finally destroyed whatever religious significance these clan ties retained; perhaps, indeed, it was precisely the weakness or absence of such magical and taboo barriers which made the conversion possible. The often very significant role played by the parish community in the administrative organization of medieval cities is only one of many symptoms pointing to this quality of the Christian religion which, in dissolving clan ties, importantly shaped the medieval city.’ (Weber,  1978: 1244).
By contrast, the oriental city never really dissolved the tribal and clan ties.
For Weber all cities in world history were founded by the settling together of strangers and outsiders previously alien to that space. Chinese, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Mycenaean, Minoan kings founded cities, relocated them, and settled in them immigrants and recruited people. In such cities the king who controlled the warfare apparatus retained absolute power. An association failed to develop and the urban residents maintained their tribal identities (Weber,  1978: 1244). ‘Under such circumstances no legal status of urban citizenship arose, but only an association for sharing the burdens and privileges of those who happened to inhabit the city at any given time’ (p. 1245). In the ancient polis membership in one of the tribal associations remained a distinguishing mark of the citizen with full rights, entitled to participation in the religious cult and qualified for all offices which required communication with the gods. The ancient tribe remained an association in so far as it was artificially created rather than being an expression of descent or lineage. The north European medieval cities were different. The resident joined the citizenry as an individual, and as an individual swore the oath of citizenship (p. 1246). His membership was not in a tribe or clan but a city association. All the same, both ancient and medieval cities were able to extend citizenship to outsiders. ‘In all Asian cities, including the Near Eastern ones, the phenomenon of a “commune” was either absent altogether or, at best, present only in rudiments which, moreover, always took the form of kin-group associations that extended also beyond the city’ (p. 1248).
The majority of Weber’s interpretations of India, Judea, China and the Near East rely on separate studies he undertook on these cultures, and thus each requires more detailed discussion. Since I have discussed these studies elsewhere (Isin, 2002), it will suffice to conclude that for Weber the occidental city was a sworn confraternity and this was the decisive basis for the development of citizenship. Everywhere the city became a territorial corporation and officials became officials of this institution. The occidental city was an institutionalized association in which the citizen was an active creator of law to which he was subject.
That the development of the city was impeded in the orient by the presence of kinship ties was as much Weber’s conclusion as his premise. He approached ancient China already ‘knowing’ that the sibs were the bearers of central religious concerns and were very powerful. He approached ancient India already assuming that the castes were carriers of a specific style of life, and determined the individual’s fate. While he recognized that the clan and sib ties were not as powerful in the ancient Near East as they were in ancient India and China, he still saw them as impediments to the emergence of confraternity. As Turner (1996: 268) argued, Weber’s studies on Islam, India, China and Judea were not isolated, original or innovative researches but developed from the perspective of early twentieth-century orientalism. Weber’s increasingly urgent and obstinate search for the origins of modern capitalism was situated in a general understanding of an ontological difference between the orient and the occident. Orientalism guided Weber to draw sharper and sharper distinctions between occidental and oriental cities and, in the process, provided a unified and homogeneous account of both. Citizenship became both the embodiment and the expression of the uniqueness of the occidental city. This ontological orientation meant that Weber never acknowledged that kinship and magic ties were never fully dissolved in either ancient poleis and civitates or medieval cities and that factionalism and fissiparousness were endemic conditions in both (Springborg, 1992: 247, 267). The ancient Greek poleis and Roman civitates as well as medieval cities maintained their clans and tribes. Even in later stages membership was a mixture of clan and kinship ties as well as occupational and spatial ones. Ultimately, the intensity of familial and religious ties persisted in the occidental city. The European medieval city too, especially in the south, was essentially a federation of noble families. The harmony and unity attributed to the ancient polis and medieval corporations in Weber’s work overlooked the otherness of citizenship, its strangers and outsiders. Being a quintessential citizen himself—for Weber described himself as a bourgeois citizen—perhaps he was not nearly as sceptical and questioning about the narratives passed down to him by citizens and so did not consider it a problem to bequeath the same. He savagely criticized the Junker aristocracy who wanted to ‘resurrect’ historical forms of citizenship as belonging to groups by arguing that ‘the modern state is the first to have the concept of the citizen of the state’ according to which ‘the individual, for once, is not, as he is everywhere else, considered in terms of the particular professional and family position he occupies, not in relation to differences of material and social situation, but purely and simply as a citizen’ (original emphases Weber, [1917b] 1994: 103). This is, of course, a normative ideal as Weber saw the meaning and purpose of modern citizenship as a ‘counterbalance to the social inequalities which are neither rooted in natural differences nor created by natural qualities but are produced, rather, by social conditions (which are often severely at variance with nature) and above all, inevitably, by the purse’ (original emphases p. 103). To be sure, this normative ideal of modern liberal citizenship differed from the aristocrats of German constitutional liberalism. Nonetheless, this ideal did not exactly fit either historical or modern forms of citizenship in practice despite Weber’s claim to historical accuracy (p. 91).
Throughout the twentieth century, orientalism and synoecism have mobilized various theories of modernization that anticipated or urged that the oriental (or in a more innocuous language, developing or developing societies) would eventually evolve or modernize by eliminating their irrational and fissiparous polities and values and develop democratic forms of citizenship. Theories of modernization also formed the bedrock theories of government, citizenship and democracy, constituting the universal citizen as their measure.
Postmodernizing and Globalizing Citizenship
The events in the last two decades of the twentieth century that have been captured by the notions of ‘postmodernization’ and ‘globalization’ have challenged synoecism, and by extension, orientalism, as credible perspectives on citizenship (Isin and Wood, 1999). If we define postmodernization as both a process of fragmentation through which various group identities have been formed and discourses through which ‘difference’ has become a dominant strategy, its effect on citizenship has been twofold. On the one hand, various groups that have been marginalized and excluded from modern citizenship have been able to seek recognition (Fraser, 1997; Young, 1990; Young, 1993). Groups based upon ethnic, ‘racial,’ ecological and sexual concerns have articulated claims for citizenship to include group-differentiated rights. Women have fought to expand their citizenship rights to include social rights such as access to childcare, pay equity, and rights to safe cities; ethnic and racialized groups have sought recognition and representation; aboriginal peoples have sought representation and self-government rights; gays and lesbians have struggled to claim rights that are already extended to heterosexual couples, such as spousal benefits and common-law arrangements; diasporic groups have struggled for naturalization and political rights; and various ability groups have demanded recognition of their needs to become fully functional citizens of their polities. These struggles of recognition as claims to exercise citizenship rights, challenged one of the most venerable premises of modernization—universalization—by exposing its limits. These struggles demonstrated that being a universal subject (Weber’s pure citizen) did not necessarily guarantee rights let alone articulated duties. On the other hand, these various claims have strained the boundaries of citizenship and pitted group against group in the search for identity and recognition. As a result, while ostensibly making claims to citizenship and recognition, some members of these groups have become trapped or encased within essentialized specific identities, unable to move beyond the straitjacket that they have unintentionally created. The invention or persistence of such identities called into question another venerable premise of modernization that would have us believe in the disappearance of such allegiances. Either way, postmodernization of politics has, therefore, stressed the capacity of the modern conception of universal citizenship to accommodate and recognize these diverse and conflicting demands.
But it also forced rethinking of fundamental categories of political discourse by critiquing totality, universality, unity and homogeneity that have been attributed to polities. New valorizations of multiplicity, diversity, heterogeneity, hybridity and syncretism in social and political discourse were neither consequences nor causes of ‘deeper’ changes or transformations but were themselves such changes or transvaluation of values. As such, they were also intimately connected with ‘globalization.’ If we define globalization as both a process by which the increasing interconnectedness of places becomes the defining moment and as a discourse through which ‘globalism’ becomes a dominant strategy, its effect on citizenship has also been twofold. On the one hand, with the rise of global flows of capital, images, ideas, labour, crime, music, and regimes of governance, the sources of authority of citizenship rights and obligations have expanded from the nation-state to other international organizations, corporations and agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, IBM, the Internet, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Microsoft, and Coca Cola. With growing flows, cities as cosmopolises have become accretions of unprecedented forms of multiplicity in ‘lifestyles,’ cultures, religions, languages, values, and rationalities becoming worlds unto themselves (Isin, 2000). In fact, much of what we defined as ‘postmodernization’ has undoubtedly been concentrated in cosmopolises, simultaneously emanating from and producing them. On the other hand, the dominance of such cosmopolitan agents and cities has issued challenges to the sovereignty principle of the nation-states. In a very complex relay of events, nation-states withdrew certain citizenship rights and instead imposed new obligations on their citizens, which intensified tensions within states where citizenship rights that had been taken for granted began to disappear (e.g. unemployment insurance, welfare, or right to legal counsel) and new obligations (e.g. workfare) were implemented. Similarly, increased international migration has raised the question of ‘citizenship’ rights and duties of aliens, immigrants, and refugees.
While some believe that globalization means the rise of the world as one single place, others dispute whether globalization has become as widespread as claimed and point to increased postmodernization of culture and politics where diversity, fragmentation and difference dominate. But few would disagree that postmodernization and globalization are occurring simultaneously and are engendering new patterns of global differentiation in which some states, societies and social groups are becoming increasingly enmeshed with each other while others are becoming increasingly marginalized. A new configuration of power relations is crystallizing as the old geographic divisions rapidly give way to new spaces such that the familiar triad of coreperiphery, North-South, and First World-Third World no longer represents these new spaces (Dirlik, 1997). Globalization has recast modern patterns of inclusion and exclusion between nation-states by forging new hierarchies, which cut across and penetrate all regions of the world (Held et al., 1999: 8). North and South, First World and Third World, are no longer ‘out there’ but nestled together within different nodes of capital, labour and commodities. It appears more questionable every day whether we can divide the world into discrete, contiguous and contained zones as a representation of reality. Instead, a new critical geopolitics seems to be crystallizing as overlapping networks of various flows of intensity in which certain spaces are the primary nodes. These complex overlapping networks connect the fate of one agglomeration to the fate of another in distant parts of the world. The powerful critique of orientalism that occasioned the emergence of postcolonial forms of discourse is undoubtedly both a product and a catalyst of this reconfigured world (Chakrabarty, 2000; Said, 1978, 1993; Spivak, 1999).
As such, postmodernization and globalization are implicated in and produce new regimes of accumulation and modes of regulation (Hoogvelt, 1997). This has further eroded the credibility of modernization theories that would have us believe in national trajectories that will follow the disappearance of religion, tradition and particularism. If a critique of Weber and his orientalism and synoecism does not appear radical or unreasonable it is because the world in which we write and think has been so transformed that we are no longer easily able to make his assumptions of occidental uniqueness, universality and unity. The intellectual task ahead of us in this century for developing new conceptions of citizenship after orientalism involves two moves. First, we will need to develop much more sophisticated conceptions of citizenship that will do justice to struggles of recognition and redistribution. The question facing us today, therefore, is not whether to recognize different ethnic identities or to protect ‘nature’ or to enable access to cultural capital or to eliminate discrimination against women and gays or to democratize computer mediated communications, but how to do them all at the same time. Whether we like it or not, all this ‘strange multiplicity’ (Tully, 1995) is upon us, in all its forms at once. The question is how to imagine a postnational form of citizenship in which sovereignty is intersecting, multiple and overlapping. Of course, this work has begun with impressive results but this is just a beginning (Kymlicka and Norman, 2000). Second, we will need new historical investigations that will approach other cultures and cities such as those of India, the Ottoman Empire and China, with a ‘hermeneutic difference.’ That is, without implying either superiority or inferiority but recognizing difference that strives for a deeper understanding of both ‘ourselves’ and the other (Dallmayr, 1996). Instead of trying to demonstrate a cluster of absences that set the orient apart, we will need to investigate historical cities around the world with their radical specificities and multiplicities. Of course, this work has been ongoing but so much more lies ahead (Çelik, 1986; Eldem et al. 1999). The road ahead is not straightforward and I shall conclude this paper with an illustration of how forms of ‘new orientalism’ and ‘new synoecism’ block understanding of political transformations taking place in diverse Islamic societies and the new conceptions of citizenship that are incipient in them.
Islamization and the New Orientalism
As the processes of postmodernization and globalization have unfolded in bewildering and exhilarating ways in the ‘occident,’ fragmentation and pluralization have also continued apace in the oriental societies and call into question the theories of modernization. The rise of political Islam has most dramatically been the arena of confrontation, contest and conflict of competing theorization of modernization. The rise of political Islam as a social movement, its organization through political parties, and its substantial electoral successes in diverse countries were among the most important factors for the rise of new orientalism in the last two decades of the twentieth century (Esposito and Voll, 1996; Mayer, 1999; Roy, 1994). Remarkably, new orientalism has constructed the ‘orient’ and its lack of democratic institutions in a similar fashion to earlier orientalism but, ironically, for the opposite reasons (Sadowski, 1997). While nineteenth-century orientalism considered Islam to lack civic identity and collective spirit, new fin de siécle orientalism finds too much of both, expressed in ‘fundamentalism.’
When compared with other world religions and civilizations, Islam has had the unique if dubious distinction of having always been regarded by the occident as a cultural ‘other,’ an adversary. While rivalry over exclusive claims to one indivisible transcendent God and the share of their respective Holy Land and their geographic proximity partially explain this relationship, the occidental civilization has become dependent upon this other to articulate its own identity. As Hoogvelt (1997) argued, as much as ‘orientalism’ may be a product of occidental culture, as Said (1978) argued, it is also a product of its search of itself. It is this dependency that perhaps explains the occidental fear of Islam. Be that as it may, in their intertwining histories, the nineteenth century stands apart with the emergence of a special scientific discipline, ‘orientalism,’ which inexorably links the difference of Islam as the anchor that defines the nature of the occident. While buttressing the confidence of Europe in its own cultural superiority, it cast Islam in the role of contemptible victim, in need of correction. The discipline linked itself up with broader interpretations that explained the trajectories of Islam on the basis of race, language and religion. I have shown above how orientalism penetrated into social scientific explanations of the lack of citizenship in the orient in the work of Weber and the subsequent theories of modernization. I would like now to return to Weber and discuss his approach to Islamic cities.
Although Weber did not undertake a special study on Islam comparable to those of Judaism, China and India, he made several scattered but significant comments on Islamic cities (Huff and Schluchter, 1999).Bryan Turner (1974) has undertaken the most penetrating analysis of these scattered comments. For Weber, it was the urban piety of certain status groups—artisans and merchants—in autonomous cities that was characteristic of the rise of European capitalism (Turner, 1974: 94). While Christianity played a fundamental part in the development of the associational character of the occidental city, Islam impeded the development of such a character with its emphasis on clan and kinship (Turner, 1974: 97). So, in oriental cities one finds a collection of distinct and separate clan and tribal groups which do not join common action, a tribalism which Christianity helped break in Europe. ‘The internal development of a rich and autonomous guild and associational life within the city was closely connected with the legal and political freedom of the city from the interference of the patrimonial or feudal officials. Not only were cities legal persons, they were also independent political agents’ (Turner, 1974: 97). They fought wars, concluded treaties and made alliances. Their autonomy was fundamentally connected with their military independence.
It was in the city that urban piety, legal autonomy, occupational associations and political involvement developed; hence, the autonomous city had very important connections with the rise of European capitalism. In Islam, Weber argued, it was the combination of a warrior religiosity with patrimonialism which limited the growth of autonomous cities and which in consequence precluded the growth of urban piety within the lower middle classes. (Turner, 1974: 98)
Nonetheless, Turner, while admitting that Weber mistakenly overstated the importance of the warrior nobles in shaping Islamic ethos, argued that contemporary historical research gives ample evidence for Weber’s thesis that Islamic cities were internally fissiparous and externally controlled by patrimonial rulers. ‘The result was that Islamic cities did not produce a rich life of independent burgher associations’ (Turner, 1974: 98). More recent research, however, has called this argument into question. The ostensible fissiparousness of the Islamic city was no more divisive than the factionalism of the polis or the medieval city. Turner’s agreement with Weber focused on the fact that Islamic cities were aggregates of sub communities rather than socially unified communities. This was ostensibly illustrated by the very geography of cities of the great cities of Islam, Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad. These cities were divided into quarters or districts and each district had its homogeneous community and markets. The social solidarity of these districts or ‘villages’ within cities sometimes reflected the religious identity of its inhabitants (Turner, 1974: 99-100). ‘As Weber rightly observed, the continuity of clan and tribal organization within the city context imported rural feuding arrangements into urban life’ (Turner, 1974: 100). The city was the focal point of Islamic government, trade and religion; yet this focal point of Islamic culture lacked corporate institutions, a civic culture and a set of socially binding forces. Urban life was a precarious balance of social forces, a balance of contending quarters, sedentarized tribes, sects and legal schools (Turner, 1974: 103). ‘Islamic guilds were not, therefore, organizations created by workmen to protect themselves and their craft; they were organizations created by the state to supervise the craft and workmen and above all to protect the state from autonomous institutions’ (Turner, 1974: 103). The guilds were a facet of patrimonial control. The Islamic City lacked ‘group feeling’ and also failed to provide corporate institutions that would protect individuals (Turner, 1974: 104). Yet, as Southall (1998: 228-9) emphasizes in a recent overview of new research, this sharp distinction overlooks some structural similarities between Islamic guilds and their occidental counterparts. While guilds as self-governing and self-regulating bodies, controlling standards of production, conditions of work and criteria of entry, did not exist in Islamic cities, local authorities, on behalf and by appointment of the ruler, were required to control occupations by enlisting the help of guild leaders and notables (Southall, 1998: 228). In many cities this led to craft and merchant guilds in which local notables, just like their occidental counterparts, exercised power and exerted control. Similarly, Eldem, Goffman and Masters (1999) argue against Weber’s typology of cities in the context of the Ottoman city. In their studies they have found that ‘there does not exist a typical Ottoman, Arab, or Islamic city that imposes fundamentally unique and thus ghettoizing characteristics upon all such urban centres and their inhabitants’ (Eldem et al., 1999: 15). Moreover, they also found that the civic unity that was ostensibly missing in the Ottoman city was present albeit in different forms and there were already syncretic and hybridized civic cultures: ‘The colonies of Europeans in early modern Istanbul (the labyrinthine Galata and Pera), Izmir (the exposed Street of the Franks), and Aleppo (the semi-fortified khans) each took different forms as they followed the distinctive cultural contours of their particular milieus’ (Eldem et al., 1999: 15). As a result, such outsider groups not only enriched each of these Ottoman cities but also contributed to the formation of a particular civic culture. As more studies become available, clearly the orientalist picture of Islamic cities will undergo radical transformation.
At the end of the twentieth century, Islam was also at the centre of a new orientalism that cast Islamic societies as incapable of developing democratic institutions. While many scholars have argued that the characteristics attributed to ‘Islam’ by the new orientalism do not exist in any unity, such characterizations continue as discursive strategies of othering. By contrast, Mayer has argued that the distribution of citizenship rights derives more from political contingencies and trajectories of Muslim states than any specificity of Islam (Mayer, 1999). Since the 1980s the West has chosen to confront Islam, considering cultural issues the trigger of conflict. The fact that much of the Muslim world is undergoing a process of Islamization, which, far from being strictly religious, is closely linked to the need to find its own political and cultural language, cannot be divorced from either the experience of colonialism and imperialism or the failure of modernization and secularization processes set in motion by postcolonial intellectuals and intelligentsia during the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, far from superficial interpretation, which associates the veiled woman with submission and the unveiled woman with liberation, the issue of dress conceals a diverse world full of signs and symbols that must be decoded (Göle, 1996). Citizenship, or rather its alleged incompatibility with the culture of ‘Islamic’ countries, is, therefore an issue that often conveys a distorted image of Islam in the occident. Islam has been found to be inhospitable to citizenship. If we transfer the meaning of submission as understood in religious terms in Islam, to the political sphere, some would conclude that Islam, therefore, promotes despotic rule and passive acceptance amongst the faithful. These orientations, while problematic, have increasingly become prevalent amongst not only ‘intellectuals’ but also political and policy intelligentsia in the West. As Esposito and Voll (2001) illustrate, influential Islamic intellectuals have been articulating conceptions of citizenship and democracy that go beyond fundamentalist and modernist ideas (see also Filali Ansary, 1996; Hamdi, 1996; Kubba, 1996; Lewis, 1996; Wright, 1996). New sociologies of citizenship in the occident and the orient that incorporate struggles for recognition, recognize group-differentiated identities, and develop new sensibilities toward otherness are complementary political and cultural developments that may well end a fundamental ontological difference between the occident and the orient without at the same time reducing various cultural zones to an equally fundamental sameness.