Tag Archives: Islamist Groups

Hamid, “Temptations of Power”

9780199314058_450Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid (Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Report: Obama Administration to Increase Aid to Syrian Rebels

 

Kessab19

Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Church in Kessab

The Wall Street Journal reports today that President Obama’s national security advisers have agreed on a proposal to increase US aid to “moderate” Syrian rebels. Although the advisers disagree on the advisability of more aggressive military intervention, they have apparently coalesced around a plan for US Special Forces to train and equip the moderates. This is in line with a report on Walter Russell Mead’s blog that Obama agreed during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia to supply the rebels with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, or “manpads.”

One can understand the Administration’s frustration. Two-and-a-half years after Obama said that Assad would have to go, and several months after the President’s about-face on chemical weapons, the Assad regime seems more secure than it has for a long time. But two factors counsel strongly against more aggressive assistance to the rebels. First, as Patrick Brennan writes, “for months and months now, it’s been obvious that the effective parts of the Syrian opposition are militant Islamists” like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Pro-Western moderate rebels, the sort the Administration likes to promote, are more or less “powerless.” If the opposition were to succeed in overthrowing Assad, it’s quite possible that the Islamists would overwhelm their secular allies–perhaps through a democratic election, as in Egypt in 2012–and transform Syria into an Islamist state. How would that advance America’s interests? 

Second, assistance to the rebels would almost certainly worsen the already dire situation of Syria’s Christians. Just in the last two weeks, the Nusra Front attacked the Armenian town of Kessab, displacing thousands of Christians. Fortunately, first reports of a massacre seem to have been unfounded. Indeed, the rebels are conducting a PR offensive to assure Kessab–and the world community–that they mean no harm. Christians are skeptical, and with good reason. ISIL recently imposed the centuries-old dhimma in a different Christian town, Raqqa, and, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed this morning, “gross human rights violations undeniably continue.” Islamists have kidnapped nuns and bishops and murdered clergy. Only today, masked gunmen, presumably Islamist rebels, murdered a Catholic priest in a rebel-controlled district in the city of Homs. For these reasons, Syria’s Christians mostly support the Assad regime, usually quietly, sometimes vocally.

At this writing, it’s not clear whether the plan to equip and train the Syrian rebels will be adopted. In the words of the Journal report, “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.”

Hamid, “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East”

Next month, Oxford will publish Temptations of Power:9780199314058_140 Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, by Shadi Hamid (Director of Research and Fellow, Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Iqtidar, “Secularizing Islamists?: Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan”

Next month, the University of Chicago Press will publish Secularizing Islamists?: Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan by Humeira Iqtidar (Kings College London). The publisher’s description follows.Secularizing Islamists?

Secularizing Islamists? provides an in-depth analysis of two Islamist parties in Pakistan, the highly influential Jama‘at-e-Islami and the more militant Jama‘at-ud-Da‘wa, widely blamed for the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Basing her findings on thirteen months of ethnographic work with the two parties in Lahore, Humeira Iqtidar proposes that these Islamists are involuntarily facilitating secularization within Muslim societies, even as they vehemently oppose secularism.

 This book offers a fine-grained account of the workings of both parties that challenges received ideas about the relationship between the ideology of secularism and the processes of secularization. Iqtidar particularly illuminates the impact of women on Pakistani Islamism, while arguing that these Islamist groups are inadvertently supporting secularization by forcing a critical engagement with the place of religion in public and private life. She highlights the role that competition among Islamists and the focus on the state as the center of their activity plays in assisting secularization. The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of emerging trends in Muslim politics.

Ullah, “Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan”

Next month, Georgetown will publish Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding9781626160156 Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan, by Haroon K. Ullah (U.S. State Department). The publisher’s description follows.

What is driving political extremism in Pakistan? In early 2011, the prominent Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security team for insulting Islam by expressing views in support of the rights of women and religious minorities. Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was killed by gunfire and explosive devices as she left a campaign event in December 2007; strong evidence links members of extremist organizations to her slaying.

These murders underscore the fact that religion, politics, and policy are inextricably linked in Pakistan. In this book, Haroon K. Ullah analyzes the origins, ideologies, bases of support, and electoral successes of the largest and most influential Islamic parties in Pakistan. Based on his extensive field work in Pakistan, he develops a new typology for understanding and comparing the discourses put forth by these parties in order to assess what drives them and what separates the moderate from the extreme. A better understanding of the range of parties is critical for knowing how the US and other Western nations can engage states where Islamic political parties hold both political and moral authority.

Pakistan’s current democratic transition will hinge on how well Islamic parties contribute to civilian rule, shun violence, and mobilize support for political reform. Ullah’s political-party typology may also shed light on the politics of other majority-Muslim democracies, such as Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist political parties have recently won elections.

Crouch, “Law and Religion in Indonesia: Conflict and the courts in West Java”

Next month, Routledge will publish Law and Religion in Indonesia: Conflict and 9780415835947the courts in West Java, by Melissa Couch (National University of Singapore), part of its Contemporary Southeast Asia Series. The publisher’s description follows.

Understanding and managing inter-religious relations, particularly between Muslims and Christians, presents a challenge for states around the world. This book investigates legal disputes between religious communities in the world’s largest majority-Muslim, democratic country, Indonesia. It considers how the interaction between state and religion has influenced relations between religious communities in the transition to democracy.

The book presents original case studies based on empirical field research of court disputes in West Java, a majority-Muslim province with a history of radical Islam. These include criminal court cases, as well as cases of judicial review, relating to disputes concerning religious education, permits for religious buildings and the crime of blasphemy. The book argues that the democratic law reform process has been influenced by radical Islamists because of the politicization of religion under democracy and the persistence of fears of Christianization. It finds that disputes have been localized through the decentralization of power and exacerbated by the central government’s ambivalent attitude towards radical Islamists who disregard the rule of law.

Examining the challenge facing governments to accommodate minorities and manage religious pluralism, the book furthers understanding of state-religion relations in the Muslim world. This accessible and engaging book is of interest to students and scholars of law and society in Southeast Asia, was well as Islam and the state, and the legal regulation of religious diversity.

The Persecution of Egypt’s Christians

The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea has an excellent post on the campaign of violence currently underway in Egypt against the country’s Christians, especially Copts. Frustrated at the overthrow of the Morsi government and enraged by the military’s campaign to eliminate them, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are taking out their anger on Christian targets. Here’s Shea:

“The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has been inciting the anti-Christian pogroms on its web and Facebook pages. One such page, posted on August 14, lists a bill of particulars against the Christian Coptic minority, blaming it, and only it, for the military’s crackdown against the Brotherhood, alleging that the Church has declared a “war against Islam and Muslims.” It concludes with the threat, “For every action there is a reaction.” This builds on statements in the article “The Military Republic of [Coptic Pope] Tawadros,” carried on the MB website in July, about the Coptic Church wanting to “humiliate” Muslims and eradicate Islam….

As of Sunday night, some 58 churches, as well as several convents, monasteries, and schools, dozens of Christian homes and businesses, even the YMCA, have been documented as looted and burned or subject to other destruction by Islamist rioters. The Coptic Pope remains in hiding and many Sunday services did not take place as Christian worshipers stayed home, fearing for their lives. A dozen or so Christians have been attacked and killed for being Christian so far.”

Not all Muslims condone the persecution, of course. There are reports of Muslim crowds surrounding churches to protect them from attack. But the Brotherhood has clearly decided to take the fight to Christians in a serious way. Knowledgeable observers say it is the worst persecution Copts have suffered in 700 years.

Outside observers may wonder why the Islamists are doing this. From a practical point of view, isn’t burning churches a waste of time and energy? Why spend resources attacking Christians when the military is hunting you down?

There are three answers. First, Islamists attack Christians because they can. Christian churches, monasteries, and schools are soft targets, especially when the security forces are occupied elsewhere. If you take on soldiers who have live ammunition, you might get hurt. If you attack nuns and march them through the street like POWs, by contrast, you’re likely to emerge unscathed.

Second, the Coptic Church has taken an uncharacteristically strong stand in support of the military. Coptic Pope Tawadros appeared in the video announcing the overthrow of the Morsi regime in July–as did the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, it should be noted–and last week, he endorsed the military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Coptic Church, he said, is on “the side of Egyptian law, the armed forces and all the Egyptian civil institutions when it comes to confronting violent armed organizations and terrorizing forces, either within the country or from abroad.” He criticized Western media for sentimentalizing Islamists–those “blood-thirsty radical organizations”–and called for more objective coverage of events in Egypt. Islamists are furious at these statements and seek to punish Copts and other Christians, to intimidate and silence them.

That Pope Tawadros would come out so strongly on one side of a political conflict suggests the stakes for Christians. Traditionally, Copts and other Christians in Egypt, who make up 10% of the population, keep a low profile. As a vulnerable minority, they try to avoid antagonizing anyone. Attacks on Christian sites increased dramatically under the Muslim Brotherhood, however, and Tawados must figure he has no choice but to side with the military. The generals, at least, offer Copts a chance at safety; with the Muslim Brotherhood, there can be none.

Third, one must recognize the perception Islamists have of Christians. Although not all Islamists advocate a return to dhimma restrictions, most have a nostalgia for classical Islamic law, which tolerates Christians as long as they accept a subservient status in society. Equality is out of the question. For Christians to assert equality with Muslims, or cooperate with Muslims’ enemies, is, in classical thought, a grave affront to the community which must be punished–a declaration of war, in the words of the Muslim Brotherhood statement to which Shea refers. In the Islamist mind, Copts and other Egyptian Christians have declared war on Islam. They have asserted their rights and criticized Muslims before the outside world. As a result, they have betrayed the pact that guarantees them protection, and they must pay the price. It is a high price, indeed.

Levitt, “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God”

Next month, Georgetown University Press will publish Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God by Matthew Levitt (The Washington#1 Hezbollah Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence).  The publisher’s description follows.

Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God is the first thorough examination of Hezbollah’s covert activities beyond Lebanon’s borders, including its financial and logistical support networks and its criminal and terrorist operations worldwide. 

Hezbollah—Lebanon’s “Party of God”—is a multifaceted organization: It is a powerful political party in Lebanon, a Shia Islam religious and social movement, Lebanon’s largest militia, a close ally of Iran, and a terrorist organization. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including recently declassified government documents, court records, and personal interviews with intelligence and law enforcement officials around the world, Matthew Levitt examines Hezbollah’s beginnings, its first violent forays in Lebanon, and then its terrorist activities and criminal enterprises abroad in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and finally in North America. Levitt also describes Hezbollah’s unit dedicated to supporting Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah’s involvement in training and supporting insurgents who fought US troops in post-Saddam Iraq. The book concludes with a look at Hezbollah’s integral, ongoing role in Iran’s shadow war with Israel and the West, including plots targeting civilians around the world. 

Levitt shows convincingly that Hezbollah’s willingness to use violence at home and abroad, its global reach, and its proxy-patron relationship with the Iranian regime should be of serious concern. Hezbollah is an important book for scholars, policymakers, students, and the general public interested in international security, terrorism, international criminal organizations, and Middle East studies.

Ryan, “Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy”

This month, Columbia University Press published Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America by Michael W. S. Ryan (Jamestown appFoundation).  The publisher’s description follows.

By consulting the work of well-known and obscure al-Qaeda theoreticians, Michael W. S. Ryan finds jihadist terrorism strategy has more in common with the principles of Maoist guerrilla warfare than mainstream Islam. Encouraging strategists and researchers to devote greater attention to jihadi ideas rather than jihadist military operations, Ryan builds an effective framework for analyzing al-Qaeda’s plans against America and constructs a compelling counternarrative to the West’s supposed “war on Islam.”

Ryan examines the Salafist roots of al-Qaeda ideology and the contributions of its most famous founders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a political-military context. He also reads the Arabic-language works of lesser known theoreticians who have played an instrumental role in framing al-Qaeda’s so-called war of the oppressed. These authors readily cite the guerrilla strategies of Mao, Che Guevara, and the mastermind of the Vietnam War, General Giap. They also incorporate the arguments of American theorists writing on “fourth-generation warfare.” 

Through these texts, readers experience events as insiders see them, and by concentrating on the activities and pronouncements of al-Qaeda’s thought leaders, especially in Yemen, they discern the direct link between al-Qaeda’s tactics and trends in anti-U.S. terrorism. Ryan shows al-Qaeda’s political-military strategy to be a revolutionary and largely secular departure from the classic Muslim conception of jihad, adding invaluable dimensions to the operational, psychological, and informational strategies already deployed by America’s military in the region.

Holt et al., “Women, Islam, and Resistance in the Arab World”

This September, Lynne Rienner Publishers will publish Women, Islam, and Resistance in the Arab World by Maria Holt (U. of Westminster) and Haifaa Jawad (U. of Birmingham). The publisher’s description follows.

How are women in the Arab world negotiating the male-dominated character of Islamist movements? Is their participation in the Islamic political project—including violent resistance against foreign invasion and occupation—the result of coercion, or of choice? Questioning assumptions about female powerlessness in Muslim societies, Maria Holt and Haifaa Jawad explore the resistance struggles taking place in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East from the perspectives of the women involved.

The authors make extensive use of vivid personal testimonies as they examine the influence of such factors as religion, patriarchy, and traditional practices in determining women’s modes of participation in conflicts. In the process, they add to our knowledge not only of how women are affected by political violence, but also of how their involvement is beginning to change the rules that govern their societies.