Olivier Roy Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Political Imagination of Islam: Conversation with Olivier Roy, Senior 
  Researcher, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris: 4/16/02 by 
  Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 6 of 6

Lessons Learned

For students watching this video interview, what sort of recommendations would you have about how they should prepare for the future, how they should think about the Islamic world, and so on?

I would say, don't think about the Islamic world, think about Muslims, about real, concrete people who live in the society, who experience a certain sense of history, and who could be very different from one place to another, even if they share the same religion. That is true also for Catholics. Don't think in terms of cultural communities. We should not confuse culture and religion. Religions are cross-cultural phenomena. If we reduce Islam to a culture, then we kill Islam as a religion. This is a message too, to the Muslims themselves: don't ask to be recognized as a cultural group, because you will lose the universal dimension of Islam as a religion.

My conclusion is, be careful with multiculturalism to the extent that multiculturalism presupposes that you have corporate identities. Identities are always experienced, traditional, and identities should not go against freedom. So, for me, what is more important is individual freedom and the right to go for different experiences and to shape your own vision of your own identity.

Your odyssey is a fascinating one. You were in Paris during the sixties, anything seemed possible, you were a Maoist for two years, but then you went to Afghanistan and the problem became essentially, "What is the validity of this political project, these Islamicists who seek to make a revolution?" What lessons might we draw from your journey about the skills that it takes to comprehend these complex social and cultural realities that turn out to be very different from what they appear to be on the surface?

As you said, a journey. The journey as travel to different countries, or the journey as a personal trajectory with many experiences. Of course, you cannot borrow, just like that, experiences from somebody else. Usually, when you borrow something, it's the worst part. It's the dogmatic part of an experience. So, the answer is, you have to experience personal diversity by living somewhere or by traveling, or by reading or by meeting people. That is up to each personal trajectory.

On that note, I want to thank you very much for being here today and sharing your intellectual odyssey with us.

Thank you very much.

And thank you very much for joining us for the Conversation with History.

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