In November, the University of Chicago Press released “Islamic State: Rewriting History” by Michael Griffin (journalist). The publisher’s description follows:
When the attacks of September 11 sent Westerners in search of reliable information about Al Qaida, Michael Griffin was there: his book Reaping the Whirlwind quickly became the go-to resource for the media, political figures, and ordinary citizens alike.
Now, as Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is moving to take over broad swathes of territory throughout the Middle East, Griffin is back once again, ready to offer nuanced insight, analysis, history, and context for readers looking to understand this new and frightening threat.
An experienced journalist, Griffin tells the story of the development of the Islamic State in his usual fast-paced, narrative driven style, helping us to understand the long roots of the Islamic State in Iraq, their quiet involvement in the Arab Spring, and their rapid rise amid the chaos generated by the Syrian war. He clearly and carefully presents the interlocking web of influence, arms, and money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Iraq that have fuelled the rise of Islamic State, and highlights the importance of the uprising against Assad in Syria and the West’s relative inability to influence or support it. Ultimately, Griffin offers a portrait of a complicated, multivalent movement, one with roots in numerous real or perceived grievances and historical mistakes and one with the potential to foment unrest and violence throughout the Middle East for some time to come.
In July, Oxford University Press releases “Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Daniel Byman (Georgetown University School of Foreign Service). The publisher’s description follows:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the entire world was introduced to Al Qaeda and its enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden. But the organization that changed the face of terrorism forever and unleashed a whirlwind of counterterrorism activity and two major wars had been on the scene long before that eventful morning. In Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know, Daniel L. Byman, an eminent scholar of Middle East terrorism and international security who served on the 9/11 Commission, provides a sharp and concise overview of Al Qaeda, from its humble origins in the mountains of Afghanistan to the present, explaining its perseverance and adaptation since 9/11 and the limits of U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts.
The organization that would come to be known as Al Qaeda traces its roots to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Founded as the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda achieved a degree of international notoriety with a series of spectacular attacks in the 1990s; however, it was the dramatic assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 that truly launched Al Qaeda onto the global stage. The attacks endowed the organization with world-historical importance and provoked an overwhelming counterattack by the United States and other western countries. Within a year of 9/11, the core of Al Qaeda had been chased out of Afghanistan and into a variety of refuges across the Muslim world. Splinter groups and franchised offshoots were active in the 2000s in countries like Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen, but by early 2011, after more than a decade of relentless counterterrorism efforts by the United States and other Western military and intelligence services, most felt that Al Qaeda’s moment had passed. With the death of Osama bin Laden in May of that year, many predicted that Al Qaeda was in its death throes. Shockingly, Al Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in the last few years. In almost every conflict in the Muslim world, from portions of the Xanjing region in northwest China to the African subcontinent, Al Qaeda franchises or like-minded groups have played a role. Al Qaeda’s extreme Salafist ideology continues to appeal to radicalized Sunni Muslims throughout the world, and it has successfully altered its organizational structure so that it can both weather America’s enduring full-spectrum assault and tailor its message to specific audiences.
Authoritative and highly readable, Byman’s account offers readers insightful and penetrating answers to the fundamental questions about Al Qaeda: who they are, where they came from, where they’re going-and, perhaps most critically-what we can do about it.
In May, Lexington Books will release “Islamic Law and Governance in Contemporary Iran: Transcending Islam for Social, Economic, and Political Order” by Tehran Tamadonfar (University of Nevada). The publisher’s description follows:
The current rise of Islamism throughout the Muslim world, Islamists’ demand for the establishment of Islamic states, and their destabilizing impact on regional and global orders have raised important questions about the origins of Islamism and the nature of an Islamic state. Beginning with the Iranian revolution of the late 1970s and the establishment of the Islamic Republic to today’s rise of ISIS to prominence, it has become increasingly apparent that Islamism is a major global force in the twenty-first century that demands acknowledgment and answers.
As a highly-integrated belief system, the Islamic worldview rejects secularism and accounts for a prominent role for religion in the politics and laws of Muslim societies. Islam is primarily a legal framework that covers all aspects of Muslims’ individual and communal lives. In this sense, the Islamic state is a logical instrument for managing Muslim societies. Even moderate Muslims who genuinely, but not necessarily vociferously, challenge the extremists’ strategies are not dismissive of the political role of Islam and the viability of an Islamic state. However, sectarian and scholastic schisms within Islam that date back to the prophet’s demise do undermine any possibility of consensus about the legal, institutional, and policy parameters of the Islamic state.
Within its Shi’a sectarian limitations, this book attempts to offer some answers to questions about the nature of the Islamic state. Nearly four decades of experience with the Islamic Republic of Iran offers us some insights into such a state’s accomplishments, potentials, and challenges. While the Islamic worldview offers a general framework for governance, this framework is in dire need of modification to be applicable to modern societies. As Iranians have learned, in the realm of practical politics, transcending the restrictive precepts of Islam is the most viable strategy for building a functional Islamic state. Indeed, Islam does provide both doctrinal and practical instruments for transcending these restrictions. This pursuit of pragmatism could potentially offer impressive strategies for governance as long as sectarian, scholastic, and autocratic proclivities of authorities do not derail the rights of the public and their demand for an orderly management of their societies.
This month, Columbia University Press will publish Demystifying the Caliphate by Madawi Al-Rasheed (King’s College, London), Carool Kersten (King’s College, London), Marat Shterin (King’s College, London). The publisher’s description follows.
In the Western imagination, the Islamic Caliphate is often linked to acts of beheading, stoning, and discrimination against women and non-Muslim minorities. Rallies in support of resurrecting the Caliphate seem deserving of derision and are believed to be the first steps toward the dismantling of the democratic state. Yet while some Muslims may be nostalgic for the Caliphate, very few are actively making its return a reality. The Caliphate serves more as a powerful symbol and slogan, evoking an imagined past and an ideal Islamic polity. It is also a vastly unstable concept contested by a number of powerful actors within Europe, the Muslim world, and beyond.
The essays in this collection demystify the Caliphate for modern readers, clarifying the historical rumors surrounding the demise of the last Ottoman Caliphate and the contemporary controversies informing the call to resurrect it. Contributors include impartial historians and social scientists who concentrate on the fundamental aspects of the Caliphate and unpack its lingering presence in the minds of diverse Muslims. From London to the Northern Caucasus, from Jakarta to Baghdad and Istanbul, contributors explore the Caliphate within the context of global and globalized publics and against the new reality of the Muslim umma as a multifaceted community.
This December, Columbia University Press will publish The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament by Wael B. Hallaq (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows.
Wael B. Hallaq boldly argues that the “Islamic state,” judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both an impossible and inherently self-contradictory concept. Comparing the legal, political, moral, and constitutional histories of pre-modern Islam and Euro-America, he finds the adoption and practice of the modern state to be highly problematic for modern Muslims. He then conducts a more expansive critique of modernity’s moral predicament, which renders impossible any project resting solely on ethical foundations.
The modern state not only suffers from serious legal, political, and constitutional issues, Hallaq argues, but it also, by its very nature, fashions a subject inconsistent with what it means to be, or to live as, a Muslim. By Islamic standards, the state’s technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and the Muslim state, as Hallaq shows, has done little to advance an acceptable form of genuine Shari‘a governance. The Islamists’ constitutional battles in Egypt and Pakistan, the Islamic legal and political failures of the Iranian Revolution, and similar disappointments underscore this fact. Nevertheless, the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama (Muslim clergymen). Providing Muslims with a path toward realizing the good life, Hallaq turns to the rich moral resources of Islamic history. Along the way, he proves political and other “crises of Islam” are not unique to the Islamic world nor to the Muslim religion. These crises are integral to the modern condition of both East and West, and recognizing such parallels enables Muslims to engage more productively with their Western counterparts.