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Challenges of Political Islam

S. Samuel C. Rajiv

By Talmiz Ahmad
Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 150, Rs. 695.00


The rise of political Islam has been the prominent development in the aftermath of the popular protest movements against long-entrenched regimes in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). The book under review captures the complexities of these fast-paced events admirably. It places in context the historical and ideological roots of political Islam and helps the reader understand the challenges that its rise has encumbered.   From being an oppositional force through much of its history, and subject to harsh repressive measures by the ruling regimes in places like Egypt, movements like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) underwent many changes in order to survive and have continued to be crucial players in the evolving political dynamics.   Ahmad notes that three strands of Islamism can be discerned. These are the ‘quietist’ Salafist tradition as seen in Saudi Arabia, the ‘activist’ strand as embodied by the MB and the ‘radical’ strand as championed by the Al Qaeda. All three of these of course do not operate in isolation and none of them are monolithic. Further, elements of competition, engagement and estrangement among these strands have been evident to varying degrees in different geographical spaces as well as historical contexts.   The MB-Wahhabiya engagement and the prominent role the Brotherhood played in educational institutions in the aftermath of MB cadres flocking to Saudi Arabia on account of repression by Nasserite Egypt is a case in point that the author highlights. When these elements engendered movements like the Sahwa (Awakening) that led to the questioning of the existing political order, they were looked down upon.   The author notes the worrying growth of various radical Islamic entities including the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Shabaab in Somalia, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISOI), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) the Boko Haram (which the author tellingly notes translates as ‘Western Education is a Sin’) in Nigeria and the volatile situation in Mali, which has been a cause of worry for countries like France (with extensive commercial interests) as well as for North African states of Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.   The author cites analysts like Abdel Bari Atwan who note that the French intervention in Mali would ‘provide a chance for the radicals to fight a western power on their own turf’, akin to the US intervention in Iraq. The author notes that the political turmoil in the aftermath of the Arab Spring provides a perfect ...

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