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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Political Islam
Edited by John L Esposito

(London: Lynne Rienner, 1997). Distributed by Eurospan.
281pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: 15.95; ISBN 1-55587-168-2.



In a world where globalizing forces impact on economic, political and cultural local conditions and where local conditions feedback into global forces, a book that attempts to examine the impact of contemporary political Islam on domestic and international politics is a welcome contribution.

This especially a necessary task in light of the important role played by Islam in the lives of approximately a quarter of the worlds population yet there is abundant ignorance displayed in the coverage of that world by the Western media and partisan commentators. Moreover in light of the expanding debate about civilizational conflicts on the one hand and ethnic conflicts on the other, it is crucially important to policy makers to have grounding in competent research.

Though the editor, Georgetown University professor John Esposito, argues that Islamic politics must be viewed within specific country contexts the collection exhibits a more lenient approach. It is organised into three 'perspectives': the struggle between governments and illegal Islamic opposition, Islam within the political process and the international relations of political Islam. It is introduced by professor Esposito and includes a bibliography and Index.

The collection of 11 essays, clearly does not mean to be a comprehensive account, and the different contributions vary both in approach and interests. Most just narrate a cursory political history but some go a step further. Professor Baker's contribution on the Egyptian centrist Islamic movements challenges the security oriented Realist paradigm of international relations with its focus on 'terrorism'. He argues that the New Islamists, the centre in Egypt, are similar to the new social movements present in the West, powerfully criticising modernity which in Egypt threatens a corrupt repressive regime.

Similarly professor Voll argues that the attention devoted to terrorist connections is highly misleading in attempting to understand the more important informal scholarly-activist, interregional (eg. the Brotherhood and Jamaat-i Islami) International (eg. OIC, ECO, PAIC) networks in the Islamic world.

In an excellent contribution on Afghanistan, which is as concise as it is detailed Barnett's William places the Arab Islamists in the context of international and regional geopolitical and ideological conflicts and interests clearly showing the importance of both field work and analysis of government and non government organisations relations, usually ignored by many analysts.

There are other useful and provocative essays, like Dirk Vandewalle analysis of the implications of viewing Algeria as a rentier state to understanding why the Algerian regime lost its legitimacy and Mohsen Milani argument in favor of viewing the Islamic republic of Iran in terms of 'restrictive pluralism'. Most however provide just a cursory and reasonable outline of political history introducing students to the variety of forms displayed by contemporary political Islam.

Roni Linser,
University of Melbourne


Roni Linser, University of Melbourne



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