Islamic activists are using new channels for the political mobilization of Islam and the penetration of new public spaces. This is the theme explored by this thought-provoking collection of essays. According to Oliver Roy and Amel Boubekeur, the ideology of political Islam has evolved. While activists still challenge the state, they have changed the early priorities of political Islam. They often legitimize state authority for pragmatic reasons and accept alliances with secular forces to manage a diverse political scene. Many of them are more explicitly focused on cultural and social goals, and they create decentralized networks around their own professional, business and social enterprises. Globally, Islamic activism has moved to new forms of cultural production, individual consumerism and lifestyle choices, from TV soaps with a Ramadan theme to Moroccan heavy-metal bands.
Oliver Roy uses a particular definition of Islamism: how local actors have recast Islam as a political ideology, aiming to transform society through the state. He accepts criticism that focusing on this definition might neglect the role of grassroots and societal re-Islamization.
Roy also distinguishes among three phases of Islamism. Originally, it was a reformist movement focused on using Islam to confront Western economic and political domination and the decline of colonized Islamic societies. In a second phase, Islamism became an alternative to other ideologies in the Middle East and competed overtly through political parties and electoral participation. A third phase has been a de-territorialization of Islam and a reinvention of ideology and historical codes to fit new settings. Some turned to neofundamentalism, focusing on the examples of the pious ancestors who succeeded Muhammad, the transnational ummah and the spirituality of individual believers. Others turned to a post-Islamism, bound by deep historical continuities with Islamism, emphasizing new autonomous spaces and means of expression beneath party politics.
Roy and Boubekeur identify important shifts in political Islam, and scholars should indeed research the impact of new approaches and metapolitics. However, it would be wise not to de-emphasize the second phase of Islamism mentioned by Roy: overt political competition. Twenty years ago, in his The Failure of Political Islam, Roy predicted that Islamism was not a geostrategic fact that would change the balance of power in the Middle East. However, the internal balance of power in the region has shifted in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Lebanon, Kuwait and other states towards Islamist forces or their close ideological relatives.
The new cultural and social projects of Islamic activists and the metapolitical impact of Islamic consumerism, cultural production and lifestyle choices that Roy emphasizes are important. Still, there has not been a uniform impact on sociopolitical subjectivities and spaces. Despite Islamic cultural production and consumerism in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Bahrain, Islamic activism and Islamism have followed different political trajectories in these countries.
It would be unwise to turn the focus of the analysis of Islamic activism away from overt political competition. Roy's surprise in 2012 at the increased political impact of presumably quietist Salafists in Tunisia and Egypt only reinforces this conclusion. Islamic activists in all domains undergo individual and organizational learning. Both metapolitics and politics involve iterations and pivotal changes in response to neopatrimonial systems and events, opponents and allies, constraints and opportunities. Close attention to the overtly "political" in political Islam remains a priority for analysis of the Middle East and North Africa.
Between Violence and Inclusion
Roel Meijer's analysis focuses on major changes among Islamist movements in the Middle East during the past 25 years. He states that these movements have been engaged in three strategies to acquire power and establish an Islamic state. One strategy has been peaceful preaching and social coercion. Authoritarian governments in Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco have invested in forms of quietist and pious Islam to counter reform that would accommodate the political demands of the middle classes. As a result, Meijer states, the tenacity of quietist Salafism should not be underestimated.
According to Meijer, since the 1980s, several approaches to violently capturing the state and imposing an Islamic order have evolved. The first is to spread the call to Islam by non-direct opposition to the ruler and intimidation of those who do not comply with Islamic injunctions, for example by attacks on entertainment clubs. The second approach is global jihadism and permanent revolution, as discussed by Yusuf al-Uyairi, the first leader of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. A third approach is to use jihad as a means of nationalist resistance.
Meijer refers to the example of the Sunni Arab Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, but there are many antecedents of this approach in history, so it does not quite fit into his array of new developments since the 1980s. Meijer's useful classification should also not blind one to the combined effect of Islamists and peasant, tribal, street-gang or youth actors with non-ideological motives. Examples abound in marginal areas from Cairo to Cape Town in the 1990s, and from Yemen to Pakistan in the 2000s.
Meijer mostly refers to group strategies, but supporters of both global jihadism and nationalist resistance have also used violence in the form of leaderless resistance. Abu Musab al-Suri, among others, has articulated this approach, which has been followed by many attackers, not least by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, France, in 2012 and Michael Adebolajo in London in 2013.
However, Meijer concludes that, in the past 25 years, many Islamist movements have recognized the limits to strategies of preaching political violence. In Egypt, for example, members of a new professional class with new interests and ambitions developed an inclusionary discourse around concepts like humanity, culture, heritage, co-existence, mutual recognition, democracy and pluralism, with reinterpretations of theological terms like reform and renewal. The interaction with other actors will shape the unfolding of this discourse under a Brotherhood-dominated government in Egypt.
Mohamed Mosaad Abdel Aziz deals with changes in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. His analysis is dated: even though the book was published in 2012, he states that the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to take power. However, he provides a useful reminder that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a monolithic organization. He discusses the entrenched hierarchy of the movement and explores the activist circles inside it that have used its resources to build up their own social, cultural and business projects.
Jean Marcou analyzes the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, not only as a political party, but as a force changing the political system. The AKP as a political party has presented itself as a force promoting the rule of law and democracy and recognizing the diversity of religion and identity in Turkey. However, as a governing party, the AKP has resorted to nationalist rhetoric on the Kurds or the Armenian genocide to defend a certain state structure. Although Marcou does not mention it, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also tried to reinforce the symbolic authority of the Turkish state and religious or cultural norms over Turkish migrant communities living in liberal democracies in Europe.
The AKP has neutralized many of its opponents. The traditional parties proved too far removed from new middle-class and newly urbanized working-class constituencies to provide an effective opposition. In power, with intermittent setbacks, the AKP has succeeded in weakening the judicial hierarchy. Through major reforms, transfers, the media and court actions, it has also reduced the political role of the military. The media remains the main potential check on the AKP's power.
Marcou abstains from judging whether a post-Islamist democracy has deepened in Turkey under the AKP, or whether an AKP-dominated system is replacing the former Kemalist system. However, the number of jailed journalists by 2012 and the protests on the streets of Turkish cities in mid-2013 indicate that at least the first assessment of the AKP's rule would be premature.
Islamic Activism in Europe
Amel Boubekeur writes an important chapter on Islamism in the West. She states that it should be understood in its context in the Muslim world and especially the relations that European Muslims have with European states. Initially, a European Islamist-inspired activism was established by different generations of activists and young European-born Muslims who reappropriated Islamic codes in a new context. Re-Islamization was not Islamism in itself, but a voluntary Islamic religiosity, often transmitted through Islamist channels.
This identity was formed by an oppositional minority politics and a strong solidarity among activists trying to escape the domination of migrant parents. However, a re-positioning by committed Muslims occurred in the early 2000s. Several factors played a role, including the high personal cost and limited results of activism, growing stigmatization and individual disenchantment. Young people started families and wanted to be part of a group of professionals presenting Islam as a competitive faith.
Negotiation and inclusion so as to broaden their network, audience and influence in non-Muslim circles have therefore become more important as a route to appropriate power. The visibility of Islam is not constructed by signs of opposition but by indicators of legitimacy from the standards of the majority non-Muslim population. This happens particularly via investment in culture and economics, but also in the form of Islamic clothing, music, books, food and financial services. The de-institutionalization of Islamism does not mean that political Islam combined with elements from other political traditions is not present. However, Islamism now constitutes only one political option among others available to Muslims.
Muslim activists in Europe are contesting what Boubekeur calls "the monopoly of a white, Christian and hegemonic European male identity." Thus, previous themes have been re-directed and new partnerships and identifications explored. The postcolonial question and new claims of common respect for minority peoples and their histories have become more prominent than just Islamic discourses.
An Alternative Symbolic Space
Martijn de Koning writes that Salafi movements have often been seen as cultural movements without a clear political program. However, current Salafi movements in Amsterdam have started engaging in politics in new ways to strengthen their position as the only legitimate representatives of Islam in the Netherlands.
De Koning distinguishes among three trends: a politics of resistance that aims to transform structures of oppression; a politics of distinction that rejects assimilation; and a politics of lifestyle that claims the symbols of everyday life and their meaning. In the Dutch context, to date, a politics of resistance has been limited to a few sermons at certain mosques and the militant Hofstad network. De Koning does not explore to what extent the Salafis or other Islamists may follow an approach mentioned by Meijer and reported by Dutch mainstream media: harassment and intimidation in some urban neighborhoods of those who do not comply with Islamic injunctions.
The lifestyle of Salafi preachers and the participants in their networks constitutes a politics aimed at appropriating a global message into their own lives and building a local and global moral community. A more direct engagement through website petitions and open letters condemning anti-Islam campaigns also occur — a politics of distinction. Regular umbrella organizations and local mosques are rejected as no longer legitimate because they have sold out Islam to the Dutch state in order to receive subsidies.
De Koning perceptively notes that these Salafi activities aim at transforming the existing power structures within the Dutch Muslim community and their relations to the Dutch state. They also aim at strengthening the Salafists' position as the most legitimate representatives of a pure Islam in the Netherlands. De Koning states that Salafists have achieved this goal, due to the alignment between the state and liberal Muslim organizations and the stigmatization of the Salafist movement as radical.
It would have been useful if De Koning had explained the relations or lack of them between the Salafi symbolic victory and the political and electoral behavior of most Muslims in the Netherlands. To date, Islamist parties have not become successful, while social-democratic, social-liberal and socialist parties have had some electoral success among Muslim voters.
Boubekeur does not mention it, but the recognition of a cultural-religious citizenship or space for Muslim communitarianism seems to be limited or shrinking in many states of Western Europe. This situation does not address many of the dilemmas of multihistorical and multicultural populations in a political order. However, as a result, Islamic actors will be challenged to find other ways to pursue more limited or provisional political aims.
How Islam became an alternative symbolic space in the very different context of West Africa is analyzed in the book by Muriel Gomez-Perez. In the 1990s, in some countries of the region, the state could co-opt certain preachers. However, actors in civil society used multiple methods to bypass the domination of the state. Around many of the preachers, talk radio and the spread of messages by audio-cassettes, new forms of authority and legitimacy developed. Social groups spoke publicly and affirmed their positions on family issues and secularism.
Islamic Consumerism, Music and Lifestyles
Islamic consumerism and cultural production have interacted in new ways to create fashionable spaces. Valentina Prate discusses how veiled artists in Egypt revive the sacredness of the body by hiding part of it according to an Islamic narrative. Due to a new cultural industry, the relation between believer and faith has moved beyond the mosque to cafes, beaches and restaurants — the new living spaces.
Satellite TV programs of Amr Khaled in Egypt, Islamic film festivals in the UAE, and conferences in Paris also constitute new pastimes that respect their religiosity. Watching TV has become an important activity during Ramadan, and the market for musalsalat (soap operas) with a religious theme has expanded. These activities are evoking feelings and thought processes related to the sacred inner world of Islamic spirituality.
Mark Levine describes how hiphop and heavy-metal music in the Middle East are creating a new public space for both music and religion. Moroccan heavy-metal artists, for example, perform at large outdoor concerts and cover conflict and oppression, topics that many Muslims are dealing with. While Levine cannot clearly demarcate the extent of the space, he notes the tensions and negotiation of identities involved.
The Islamic lifestyles that are beautiful or enjoyable are welcome reminders that there is more to the Muslim world than the issues prioritized in most Western media. The recreation of such Islamic worlds contrasts with the bleak Islamist society Roy wrote about in the 1990s, yet it retains some of Islamism's religious and cultural priorities and emphases. However, the study's stress on music and individual consumerism may also reflect the more accessible areas of fieldwork or understanding. It would be necessary to read the individual trends described in conjunction with studies on the dynamic of family life, family businesses and communal associations of people in the Middle East.
Islamic Entrepreneurship and Governance
Patricia Sloane-White follows the career of business magnate Tan Sri Hassan to analyze Islam and the corporate world in Malaysia. Hassan benefited from Malay economic empowerment but afterwards turned to a vision of a modern-day Medina, where Malay, Chinese and Indian Muslims and non-Muslims lived well under the embrace of an Islamic order.
In Hassan's companies, a new kind of piety went public as a form of Islamist corporate governance. Shura became part of intra-corporate consultation and management. Family values were translated into flexible human-resource policies, and dawah became a part of educating employees. Hassan extended the personal obligations of zakat into corporate funds for charity, with 75 percent reserved for Muslims and the remainder for anyone in need. However, opposing the thinking of purist Islamists, he also supported the preservation of Malay music.
Sloan-White's account does not relate Hassan's choices to his company's internal structural dynamics and position in the economy. However, it provides an interesting base from which to research other cases where a rich individual's entrepreneurship has been translated into Islamic business governance and operations in a multicultural context.
The Politics of Unpredictability
Frédéric Volpi's contribution is aptly named "Islamism Is Dead, Long Live Islamism." Volpi says that historical developments have resulted in constraining expectations regarding Islamism, which has emerged as religious authorities, revolutionary movements, political parties and militant transnational networks. The evolution of under-investigated aspects of Islamism surprise analysts every time.
Volpi suggests a combination of two approaches to resolve this issue. Analysts should investigate what Islamism means for its potential supporters, individually and collectively, and investigate relevant changes in the socioeconomic, cultural and political environment. As suggested above, the "political" in political Islam does indeed need sufficient attention in studies of Islamic activism. However, contra Volpi, even such attention is unlikely to prevent analysts from being surprised by Islamic activism, and surprised again.
The study indicates that globally the field of political Islam is becoming more complex, and outside its context the Middle East and North Africa is not becoming less volatile. In such a context, as Nicholas Nasim Taleb argues in Antifragility, it is easy to underestimate the combined impact of variability and non-linear responses, randomness and unintended consequences. The struggles for metapolitical and political authority in the MENA region will shape Islamic activists and will be shaped by them. However, these struggles are very likely to produce not only incremental shifts, but unexpected responses and unforeseen outcomes in the next decade.