Ph.D. Dissertation - Nationalism, Language and Islam: a cross-regional comparative study of Muslim minority conflict

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Aug 22 20:36:37 UTC 2007

From: Tristan James Mabry <mabry at>


University of Pennsylvania


Nationalism, Language And Islam: A Cross-Regional Comparative Study of
Muslim Minority Separatist Conflict


Tristan James Mabry


Brendan O'Leary, Lauder Professor of Political Science


August 3, 2007


This dissertation identifies and tests a theoretical anomaly in the
scholarship of nationalism and Islam.  The modernist paradigm of
ethnonationalism posits a shared culture and language are the locus of
nationalist identities in their corresponding nation-states.  In a model
attributed principally to Ernest Gellner, industrialization promotes the
creation of modular citizens in an ideally homogeneous nation-state.
Modernized urbanites then share a high culture of seamless communication,
cultivated and recreated by a system of state education.  Individual social
mobility requires literacy and general economic prosperity depends on a
shared and standardized language.  A contrasting theory posits Muslim
societies are the exception to this rule: a shared religion, Islam, and a
shared sacred language, Arabic, are the locus of political identities in
Muslim states.  In a model attributed not only to Ernest Gellner, but also
Adrian Hastings, Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, Islamic culture
precludes the emergence and mobilization of ethnonational identities.  High
culture and Islam are fused; public education promotes religious
instruction.  Ethnicity and native languages are politically irrelevant
since the polity is defined by membership in a community of faith, or
ummah.  In this view, claims for autonomy among Muslim minorities in
multiethnic states are interpreted as religious conflicts rather than ethnic
or national conflicts.  To test the hypothetical propositions of Muslim
national exceptionalism, the leadership of separatist parties and
organizations were interviewed regarding specific reasons for separatism,
and whether the group and its followers mobilize in support of Islam or
ethnolinguistic nationalism, their faith or their flag, a nation of Islam or
a Muslim nation.  Field work was conducted in a cross-regional comparative
study of six separatist conflicts, including Kurds in Iraq, Uyghurs in
China, Sindhis in Pakistan, Kashmiri-speakers in India, Acehnese in
Indonesia and Moros in the Philippines.  In sum, these movements frequently
invoke the doctrine of national self-determination to protect a minority
culture and language, while political Islam functions infrequently in this
role.  Muslim minority populations that share a unique print culture are
likely to mobilize in support of language rights, especially in regard to
public education; Muslim minorities without written vernaculars are not.


*Tristan James Mabry, Ph.D.*
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Government
Georgetown University

Suite 681 ICC
37th & 0 Streets
Washington, D.C. 20057

e-mail tjm76 at georgetown
Fax (202) 687-5858


Harold F. Schiffman
Email:  haroldfs at

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