Islam in Gramsci’s Journalism and Prison Notebooks: The Shifting Patterns of Hegemony*

In: Historical Materialism
Derek Boothman Scuola Superiore di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori, Università di Bologna

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Gramsci recognised the inestimable historical contribution of Muslim and Arab civilisations, writing on these in his newspaper articles, his pre-prison letters and the Prison Notebooks. The Islamic world contemporary with him was largely rural, with the masses heavily influenced by religion, analogous in some ways to Italy whose economy was still largely oriented towards a peasantry among whom the Vatican played a leading (and highly reactionary) role. In addition to factors such as the politics-religion nexus, what Gramsci was also analysing, without saying as much explicitly, was the upheaval caused by the disintegration and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, and the inter-imperialist rivalries over the spoils and the construction of new states from its ruins. Here he draws attention to the first hesitant and contradictory anticolonial stances being adopted among the traditional leaders, as well recognising the basis for more popularly-based movements. In both Catholic countries and, as Gramsci knew especially from the experience of his Comintern work, in parts of the Muslim world, these movements could at times assume a left and politically radical orientation. What emerges is a picture of conflicting hegemonies involving principally religion, class, the political ambivalence of many religious leaders, and a burgeoning nationalism contraposed to the supra-nationalist claims of religion. But the factor underlying everything is the potential of the masses who, if awakened from torpor and detached from European colonialism, were judged capable of rupturing previous imperially-determined equilibria.

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