The tangled roots of Islamist activism in Southeast Asia

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This article provides an overview of the historical relationship between religious and political authority in Southeast Asia with primary reference to Indonesia, although the analysis includes some comparison with Malaysia. Referring to the transnational roots of present-day radicalism, it seeks to point out that the conflict between Sharia and state is largely imagined in the process of asserting an idealised past. Laffan commences by describing the Islamic reformist emphasis on the primacy of the Sharia. He notes how that impulse was redirected by activists in the late colonial period by their announcing that it was more than a supposedly rigid system of laws and, instead, an open framework that accommodated all the hallmarks of 'modern civilisation', such as democracy. However, with the dislocation of Islam's political voice over the course of the 20th century, islamist calls for the establishment of an 'Islamic' state have brought with them an insistence that their exclusive vision of the Sharia as a total system of life must be affirmed as the basis of all social interaction. It is a view that also denies the alleged taint of all 'Western' concepts, democracy included. A version of this paper was presented at the forum 'Indonesia's Cultural Diversity in a Time of Global Change', Brussels, 16 December 2002. I would like to thank Elisabeth Schroeder-Butterfill for her careful reading and comments and Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen for urging me to persist with it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-414
Number of pages18
JournalCambridge Review of International Affairs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations


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