Thurston, “Salafism in Nigeria”

In September, Cambridge University Press released “Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching, and Politics,” by Alexander Thurston (Georgetown University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The spectre of Boko Haram and its activities in Nigeria dominates both media and 9781107157439academic analysis of Islam in the region. But, as Alexander Thurston argues here, beyond the sensational headlines this group generates, the dynamics of Muslim life in northern Nigeria remain poorly understood. Drawing on interviews with leading Salafis in Nigeria as well as on a rereading of the history of the global Salafi movement, this volume explores how a canon of classical and contemporary texts defines Salafism. Examining how these texts are interpreted and – crucially – who it is that has the authority to do so, Thurston offers a systematic analysis of curricula taught in Saudi Arabia and how they shape religious scholars’ approach to religion and education once they return to Africa. Essential for scholars of religion and politics, this unique text explores how the canon of Salafism has been used and refined, from Nigeria’s return to democracy to the jihadist movement Boko Haram.

al-Anani, “Inside the Muslim Brotherhood”

al-Anani, “Inside the Muslim Brotherhood”

In October, Oxford University Press will release Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics by Khalil al-Anani (Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Qatar). The publisher’s description follows:Inside the Muslim Brotherhood.png

Over the past three decades, through rises and falls in power, regime repression and exclusion, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has endured, proving more resilient than any other Islamist movement in the world. In this book Khalil al-Anani explores the factors that have enabled the Brotherhood to survive so long within an ever-changing political landscape.

Inside the Muslim Brotherhood unpacks the principal factors that shape the movement’s identity, organization, and activism. Investigating the processes of socialization, indoctrination, recruitment, identification, networking, and mobilization that characterize the movement, al-Anani argues that the Brotherhood is not merely a political actor seeking power but an identity-maker that aims to change societal values, norms, and morals to line up with its ideology and worldview. The Brotherhood is involved in an intensive process of meaning construction and symbolic production that shapes individuals’ identity and gives sense to their lives. The result is a distinctive code of identity that binds members together, maintains their activism, and guides their behavior in everyday life. Al-Anani attributes the Brotherhood’s longevity to its tight-knit structure coupled with a complex membership system that has helped them resist regime penetration. The book also explores the divisions and differences within the movement and how these affect its strategy and decisions.

The culmination of over a decade of research and interviews with leaders and members of the movement, this book challenges the dominant narratives about Islamists and Islamism as a whole.


Chalcraft, “Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East”

In March, Cambridge University Press released “Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East,” by John Chalcraft (London School of Economics). The publisher’s description follows:

The waves of protest ignited by the self-immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi in Tunisia in late 2010 highlighted for an international audience the importance of contentious 9781107007505politics in the Middle East and North Africa. John Chalcraft’s ground-breaking account of popular protest emphasizes the revolutionary modern history of the entire region. Challenging top-down views of Middle Eastern politics, he looks at how commoners, subjects and citizens have long mobilised in defiance of authorities. Chalcraft takes examples from a wide variety of protest movements from Morocco to Iran. He forges a new narrative of change over time, creating a truly comparative framework rooted in the dynamics of hegemonic contestation. Beginning with movements under the Ottomans, which challenged corruption and oppression under the banners of religion, justice, rights and custom, this book goes on to discuss the impact of constitutional movements, armed struggles, nationalism and independence, revolution and Islamism. A work of unprecedented range and depth, this volume will be welcomed by undergraduates and graduates studying protest in the region and beyond.

  • Surveys protest movements from Morocco to Iran, from the eighteenth century to the present
  • Based on an original conceptual framework that challenges both socioeconomic determinism and power-lite theories of contentious politics
  • Challenges top-down views of politics in the modern Middle East, giving a narrative of overall transformation that includes popular politics

Bergen, “United States of Jihad”

This month, Penguin Random House released “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists,” by Peter Bergen.  The publisher’s description follows:

Christians, the State Department, and Genocide

syrian christians

Photo from The Guardian

At USA Today, columnist Kirsten Powers writes about the State Department’s apparent reluctance to refer to ISIS’s persecution of Iraqi and Syrian Christians as a genocide. The reluctance is puzzling. According to press reports, the Department is poised to declare a genocide ISIS’s persecution of another religious minority, the Yazidis. If Yazidis are the victims of genocide, she asks, why not Christians? The situation of these two persecuted minorities is quite similar.

Powers makes a very good point. The 1948 Genocide Convention defines “genocide” as, among other things, “deliberately inflicting on” a religious group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Obviously, what ISIS is doing to the Yazidis qualifies. So does what ISIS is doing to Christians. ISIS is driving Christians from their homes, seizing their property, and, quite often, killing them in the most horrible ways. How does that not qualify as a genocide?

Apparently, the State Department is hesitating because, unlike Yazidis, Christians have a way out. As “People of the Book” under classical Islamic law — which ISIS has purported to restore in its newly declared caliphate — Christians can choose to abide by the terms of the Dhimma, the notional contract that governs the treatment of Christians, Jews, and some other minorities. As dhimmis, Christians may remain in the new caliphate as long as they follow the rules – paying the jizya tax, for example, and accepting social subordination. (I detail the dhimmi restrictions ISIS has imposed on the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria here).

As Powers point out, however, on many occasions, ISIS has disregarded the dhimmi rules. Moreover, even at their best, the rules are punishing. The jizya is often set at a level where many Christians cannot pay it. These Christians have no choice but to leave. More fundamentally, how is it acceptable to tell religious minorities that things are comparatively good for them because they can “choose” to accept oppressive and demeaning treatment and manage to survive? Quite obviously, ISIS’s goal is to eliminate these ancient Christian communities. And it is largely succeeding: those Christians who can do so are fleeing. Some experts believe that Christianity will disappear from Iraq and Syria – places where Christians have lived the religion began – within one or two generations.

Last Friday, a group of Christian leaders, human rights advocates, and scholars sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a meeting on this question, at which they hope to persuade him that Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis, should be included in any designation of a genocide. (Full disclosure: I am one of the signatories). Secretary Kerry has not yet responded.

Osman, “Islamism”

In February, the Yale University Press will release “Islamism: What it Means for the Middle East and the World,” by Tarek Osman.  The publisher’s description follows:

A political, social, and cultural battle is currently raging in the Middle East. On one side are the Islamists, those who believe Islam should be 9780300197723the region’s primary identity. In opposition are nationalists, secularists, royal families, military establishments, and others who view Islamism as a serious threat to national security, historical identity, and a cohesive society.

This provocative, vitally important work explores the development of the largest, most influential Islamic groups in the Middle East over the past century. Tarek Osman examines why political Islam managed to win successive elections and how Islamist groups in various nations have responded after ascending to power. He dissects the alliances that have formed among Islamist factions and against them, addressing the important issues of Islamism’s compatibility with modernity, with the region’s experiences in the twentieth century, and its impact on social contracts and minorities. He explains what Salafism means, its evolution, and connections to jihadist groups in the Middle East. Osman speculates on what the Islamists’ prospects for the future will mean for the region and the rest of the world.

Abdel-Samad, “Islamic Fascism”

In January, Prometheus Books will release “Islamic Fascism,” by Hamed Abdel-Samad.  The publisher’s description follows:

This polemic against Islamic extremism highlights the striking parallels between contemporary Islamism — as exemplified by ISIS, islamicfasicism_coverBoko Haram, al Qaeda, and others — and the twentieth-century fascism embodied by Hitler and Mussolini. Like those infamous European ideologies, Islamism today touts imperialist dreams of world domination, belief in its inherent superiority, contempt for the rest of humanity, and often a murderous agenda. Author Hamed Abdel-Samad, born and raised in Egypt, not only explains the historical connections between early twentieth-century fascist movements in Europe and extremist factions in Islam but also traces the fascist tendencies in mainstream Islam that have existed throughout its history.

Examining key individuals and episodes from centuries past, the book shows the influence of Islam’s earliest exploits on current politics in the Islamic world. The author’s incisive analysis exposes the fascist underpinnings of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Shia regime in Iran, ISIS, Salafi and Jihadist ideologies, and more.

Forcefully argued and well-researched, this book grew out of a lecture on Islamic fascism that the author gave in Cairo, which resulted in a call for his death by three prominent Egyptian clerics. This American edition contains two new chapters, one on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and one on the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Lauzière, “The Making of Salafism”

In December, the Columbia University Press will release “The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century,” by Henri Lauzière (Northwestern University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Some Islamic scholars hold that Salafism is an innovative and rationalist effort at Islamic reform that emerged in the late nineteenth century but disappeared in the mid twentieth. Others argue Salafism is an anti-innovative and antirationalist movement of Islamic purism that dates back to the medieval period yet persists today. Though they contradict each other, both narratives are considered authoritative, making it hard for outsiders to grasp the history of the ideology and its core beliefs.

Introducing a third, empirically based genealogy, The Making of Salafism understands the movement as a recent conception of Islam projected back onto the past, and it sees its purist evolution as a direct result of decolonization. Henri Lauzière builds his history on the transnational networks of Taqi al-Din al-Hilali (1894-1987), a Moroccan Salafi who, with his associates, oversaw Salafism’s modern development. Traveling from Rabat to Mecca, from Calcutta to Berlin, al-Hilali interacted with high-profile Salafi scholars and activists who eventually abandoned Islamic modernism in favor of a more purist approach to Islam. Today, Salafis claim a monopoly on religious truth and freely confront other Muslims on theological and legal issues. Lauzière’s pathbreaking history recognizes the social forces behind this purist turn, uncovering the popular origins of what has become a global phenomenon.

Bokhari, “Voices of Jihad: New Writings on Radical Islam”

In December, I.B.Tauris will release “Voices of Jihad: New Writings on Radical Islam” by Kamran Bokhari (Howard University). The publisher’s description follows:

The 21st century has seen an unprecedented radicalisation of Muslims across the world. In some cases, this has led to terror and violence. Yet as the West pours huge military resources into the ‘war on terror’, we still know very little about the ideology which drives the terrorists. Now, for the first time, Kamran Bokhari has made it possible to hear and to digest today’s militant Islam in its own words. He presents a range of ideologues from across the globe, including Bin Laden’s own deputy, Ayman Zawahari. Bokhari’s carefully contextualised selection introduces us to radical Islamist thinking on a range of issues such as their perception of Western concepts of democracy, their scepticism towards the Middle East peace process and how to deal with the West. For anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon of contemporary militant Islam, or who wants to know what motivates terrorist thinking, this book is essential reading.

Baker, “One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds”

This month,  Oxford University Press releases “One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds: Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance across Islamic Lands,” by Raymond William Baker (Trinity College).  The publisher’s description follows:

By all measures, the late twentieth century was a time of dramatic decline for the Islamic world, the Ummah, particularly its Arab heartland. Sober Muslim voices regularly describe their current state as the worst in the 1,400-year history of Islam. Yet, precisely at this time of unprecedented material vulnerability, Islam has emerged as a civilizational force strong enough to challenge the imposition of Western, particularly American, homogenizing power on Muslim peoples. This is the central paradox of Islam today: at a time of such unprecedented weakness in one sense, how has the Islamic Awakening, a broad and diverse movement of contemporary Islamic renewal, emerged as such a resilient and powerful transnational force and what implications does it have for the West? In One Islam, Many Muslims Worlds Raymond W. Baker addresses this question.

Two things are clear, Baker argues: Islam’s unexpected strength in recent decades does not originate from official political, economic, or religious institutions, nor can it be explained by focusing exclusively on the often-criminal assertions of violent, marginal groups. While extremists monopolize the international press and the scholarly journals, those who live and work in the Islamic world know that the vast majority of Muslims reject their reckless calls to violence and look elsewhere for guidance. Baker shows that extremists draw their energy and support not from contributions to the reinterpretation and revival of Islamic beliefs and practices, but from the hatreds engendered by misguided Western policies in Islamic lands. His persuasive analysis of the Islamic world identifies centrists as the revitalizing force of Islam, saying that they are responsible for constructing a modern, cohesive Islamic identity that is a force to be reckoned with.

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