In the days immediately following September 11, 2001, the Social Science Research Council invited a wide range of leading social scientists from around the world to write short essays for an online forum, After September 11. A decade later, contributors to the original forum were asked to reflect on what they wrote and to explore what had changed and what remained the same since those harrowing times. The result was an extraordinary digital collection of new essays, 10 Years after September 11. In one of the essays, cross-posted at The Immanent Frame, Oliver Roy discussed the failure to understand the evolution that has been taking place in Muslim societies:
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West, fueled by the fate of the Palestinians and by Western encroachments in the Middle East; and if this wrath, which has pervaded the contemporary history of the Middle East, has been cast in Islamic terms, it is because Islam is allegedly the main, if not the only, reference that has shaped Muslim minds and societies since the Prophet. This vertical genealogy obscured all the transversal connections (the fact, for instance, that Al-Qaeda systematized a concept of terrorism that was first developed by the Western European ultra-left of the seventies or the fact that most Al-Qaeda terrorists do not come from traditional Muslim societies but are recruited from among global, uprooted youth, with a huge proportion of converts).
Barbara Metcalf wrote about this simple understanding of Islam as it applies to a particular Islamic movement:
My goal in the essay I wrote for the SSRC in 2001 was to argue that just as commentators all too often wrongly assumed they could describe Muslim behavior by reference to what were taken as abstract principles of “Islam,” similarly, Deobandis could not be reduced to a single pattern of behavior or political orientation simply by invoking “Deoband.” Deobandi populations varied politically. I particularly wanted to insist that the Deobandis in India, whose leading ulema were widely taken to be spokesmen for Muslim Indians, did not merit these pejorative and dangerous labels. Already subject to widespread discrimination and suspicion in India, Muslim Indians could be harmed by such careless labeling. Instead, I argued, Deobandis in India, as in each of the countries of South Asia, could best be understood as part of the larger political culture in each of their respective national contexts.
Browse the full forum and read additional essays here.