In an atmosphere of growing concern over the threat posed by Islamist violence, political Islamism has become the most important of geopolitical issues. In the process, it has been misrepresented. Contrary to what many believe, Islamist movements are characterised by their diversity. Revisiting the main arguments and explanations that have been used over the past twenty years to understand Islamist activism, moderate as well as militant, Salwa Ismail here proposes a rethinking of Islamist politics.
The phenomenon of political Islam is determined by macro and micro-level changes in the Muslim world, such as the retreat of the welfare state across the Middle East, and the subsequent expansion in the role of informal political activists in the popular neighbourhoods of such cities as Algiers or Cairo. Ismail examines both levels to explain the socio-economic and political settings out of which Islamism has developed. Her focus is both the economic and political environments that fomented Islamism, and the structures of Islamist movements themselves (from their ideologies to their modes of action). Looking at Islamism as a form of contestation politics, Ismail offers a reassessment of its failures and successes – limited, as it is, by its use of violence, but capable of real mobilisation at a popular level. Rethinking Islamist Politics will be vital reading for anyone seeking to understand such spectacular expressions of Islamism as the September 11th attacks, but also the everyday struggles of ordinary people which Islamism embodies.