European Eye on Radicalization
Dr. Elisa Orofino, Academic Lead for Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) at Anglia Ruskin University, managed to edit a new, comprehensive, and well-timed volume on one of the most widely misunderstood and oversimplified issues in the field: the relationship between Islamism and jihadist violence.
Since 2014, the author’s research has focused on vocal and non-violent extremism and its alleged role as conveyor belt to terrorism. She has conducted first-hand research on this topic, taking the non-violent but extreme Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir as a case study.
For several years now, Islamism has been associated with jihadism and violent extremism both in academia and in contemporary political debates.
In many instances, this association tends to go too far: scholars and the general public end up overlooking the fact that Islamism is a complex ideology that stands on its own, inspiring both non-violent and violent groups worldwide.
Emerging as a protest-for-justice ideology claiming freedom against Western colonization of the Muslim world, Islamism has triggered both individuals and groups worldwide since the early 1900s.
Islamism started to be systematically addressed in conjunction with jihadism after 9/11, a trend that has gradually simplified the complex and multi-faceted nature of this (set of) ideology(ies).
Rethinking Islamism Beyond Jihadi Violence aims to refocus research on Islamism beyond jihadism by collecting relevant contributions on Islamist but non-violent organizations. The volume retraces the evolution of Islamism over time and scrutinizes the role played by the most influential non-‘jihadist’ Islamist organizations active today as powerful non-state actors.
Throughout the book, Dr. Orofino provides exhaustive interpretations of the notion of Islamism. The term “Islamist” refers today to both organizations and individuals who present a well-defined set of ideas involving the rejection of modernity, Western values, capitalism and expose the corruption of political leaders in the MENA region. Islamists advocate for a revival of Islam in all fields (political, economic, social and religious), stressing the need to go back to the roots of the religion.
Islamists usually have a very harsh opinion about the West as a homogeneous predominant system having specific religious — and often non-religious — values and practices that are strongly in contrast with Islam (such as abortion, the use of alcohol, and same-sex relationships) and, therefore, need to be rejected as haram.
Obviously, the book acknowledges the strong links between Islamism and jihadism and addresses them as deeply intertwined universes. At the same time, however, it succeeds in providing a clear conceptual understanding of Islamism and jihadism as two distinct facets. Offering a wide range of nuanced and heterogeneous perspectives, the various chapters — and the book as a whole — analyze the theological and historical features of non-violent Islamism, challenging common misconceptions that position it always in extremely close proximity to jihadist violence.
The different origins and backgrounds of the contributors make the work particularly interesting, engaging and read-worthy.
Crucial Aspects of Islamism
As Dr. Lorenzo Vidino notes in his Foreword to the book, several chapters focus on a number of crucial theoretical aspects of Islamism, ranging from how it can be perceived as a Western counterculture to how Islamist intellectuals themselves see the movement. Other chapters provide in-depth looks at how Islamists operate in disparate countries such as Tajikistan, Spain, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
The reader, including those with a background on the subject, is likely to come away with more clarity about what is Islamism but also with a “healthy confusion” over the ever-evolving features of the movement, which is why the volume will likely become a fundamental resource in the field and beyond.
From a structural perspective, the book is divided into four sections and sixteen chapters, with each section addressing a specific aim.
The first section, Exploring Islamism, is devoted to the conceptualization of Islamism across time and space and comprises two chapters:
- Chapter 1: Debating Islamism as an Expression of Political Islam, by Dr. Milad Dokhanchi; and
- Chapter 2: Islamism and the Construction of a New Global Social Cosmos, by Jan A. Ali.
The four chapters in Section Two explore the role of Islamism as a form of non-violent resistance.
- Chapter 3: The Myth of Jihadism: The Rise of Salafi Islam in Iran, by Aghil Daghagheleh;
- Chapter 4: The Role of the British Occupation of Egypt in the Revival and the Evolution of the Islamist Movement, by Dr. Fatima Zohra Hamrat Fseil;
- Chapter 5: The Politics of Representation: The Rise of Muslim Democrats in Sri Lanka as Non-violent Resistance to the Ethnic Conflict, by Dr. Amjad Mohamed-Saleem; and
- Chapter 6: German Approaches to the Muslim Brotherhood Between Domestic and Foreign Policy, by Dr. Julius Dihstelhoff.
This section convincingly shows the role of Islamism as a uniting ideology for Muslims around the world to come together and fight the oppressor. From Egypt to Sri Lanka and India, Islamism has worked as a powerful trigger for organized Muslim action to emerge in the form of Islamist groups.
Non-Violent Islamist Groups
The third section, Non-violent Islamist Groups at Work, presents studies on a variety of groups, including Progressive Islamists in Tunisia, the Islamist Movement in Spain and the Transnational Islamic Feminist Movement.
This section explores different collective Islamist actors around the world stressing at the same time the national differences and specificities. It hosts five, extremely heterogeneous chapters:
- Chapter 7: Tunisia’s “Progressive Islamists”: Preaching Enlightenment Against Jihad, by Badr Karkbi;
- Chapter 8: The Mainstreaming of Islamism in Pakistan, by Dr. Charles M. Ramsey;
- Chapter 9: Islamism in Spain: The Blurred Line Between Moderation and Radicalization, by Sergio Castaño Riaño;
- Chapter 10: Contemporary Transnational Islamic Feminist Movements: Seeking Equality Through Islam, by Daniel Rueda; and
- Chapter 11: The Tragedy of Islamism in Britain: A Fetishism for Politics. The Case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, by Dr. Danila Genovese.
Conveyor Belt to Violent Jihad
The final section—Debates on the Role of Non-Violent Islamist Groups as a Conveyor belt to Violent Jihad—delves into the complex and heated debate on the role of non-violent Islamist groups as a conveyor belt to violent jihad.
The conclusion is only apparently simple but, if fully internalized by CVE and PVE participants, will likely contribute to a paradigm shift in how to deal with religious radicalization: those who join violent jihadist movements have an Islamist mindset, but the majority of people having an Islamist mindset will never engage into violent actions.
At the same time, however, we cannot overlook the fact that things get more complicated and blurred when it comes to drawing a clear border, in real life, between non-violent and violent actions. For instance, isn’t advocating violence a (violent) action itself? The debate is still ongoing.
The chapters included in Section Four are:
- Chapter 12: Islah versus Jihad/Takfir: Convergent or Divergent Paths Within the Early Muslim Brotherhood?, by Dr. Panos Kourgiotis;
- Chapter 13: The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, by Dr. Jonathan K. Zartman;
- Chapter 14: The Distinct Boundaries of Religion and Politics in Modern Islamist Discourses, by Dr. Ahmed Meiloud;
- Chapter 15: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood from Sayyid Qutb to 2013: Continuities and Ruptures, by Dr. Sara Tonsy; and
- Chapter 16: (Re)Examining the Criticality of Religion in Contemporary Violent Extremism, Sarah Knight and Louise Barton.