Author: Rudolph, Rachael M
Date published: January 1, 2011
Euben, Roxanne L., and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, eds. Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. xvii + 516 pages. Paper, $26.95.
The post-9/1 1 era ushered forth much discussion and inquiry into Islam as a faith and Islamism as a mode of political thought. Inquiry, media coverage, and writings on the latter subject in particular have increased since the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the recent Israeli killing of Palestinian women, children, and the elderly in the Gaza Strip. The monolithic nature of the phenomenon of Islamism is in many of the minds of the non-specialist students entering our classrooms in colleges and universities, and the ordinary person on the street. The complex nature of what popular parlance has dubbed "Islamism" is not even considered, discussed or analyzed. Many existing academic and popular texts on the subject fail to present the complexity, diversity, and debates that are ongoing among those within the paradigm of Islamism. One of the more recent books that addresses these matters is Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, edited by Roxanne L. Euben, a political scientist, and Mohammed Q. Zaman, who specializes in Near Eastern studies.
Euben and Zaman offer the Western world a five-part volume which examines the thoughts of various well-known intellectuals considered as being influential in the Islamist paradigm. They define Islamism as "referring to contemporary movements that attempt to return to the spiritual foundations of the Muslim community, excavating and reinterpreting them for application to the present day social and political world" (p. 4). As their definition suggests, the Islamist paradigm is complex and comprised of multiple meanings that compete with and engage one another temporally and spatially. The editors attempt to demonstrate, and make understandable to the non-specialist, the diversity of Islamist thought by presenting areas of convergence and divergence on the key issues being debated within and among intellectuals and activists in the Muslim world.
Many considered as being part of the Islamist paradigm are individuals, intellectuals, and activists who are tired of the quietism that has pervaded the Muslim world for so long. Islamists seek to analyze, debate, explain, and provide solutions to existing problems in the world in which they live just as Western political intellectuals and activists attempt to do so in their own context, using discourse familiar to their audiences. This book helps to remove Islamists from the category of the "other" by providing biographical details on each intellectual and activist discussed, and presents their writings in the economic, political, and social context in which they emerged. This is particularly important because too often many non-specialists, students, and the lay audience seem to forget that all intellectuals and activists, irrespective of where they are from and what their political philosophy is, are writing within and influenced by the society in which they live. All use understandable and popular discourse salient in society to engage in debates and affect economic, political, and social change. Islamists, as intellectuals and activists, are no different than other political intellectuals and activists. Euben and Zaman do an excellent job demonstrating, in simple terms for the non-specialist, the diversity of Islamists in thought and agendas.
In addition to demonstrating the complexity of political thought among Islamists, this book attempts to clear some of the confusion over exactly what is the Islamist paradigm. Euben and Zaman use commonalities found among Islamists to identify generalizable concepts and premises, which, they argue, define the Islamist paradigm. Reading the book conceptually and in its five parts gives the non-specialist reader a better idea of the Islamist paradigm. The first part looks at the worldview; part two conceptualizes the Islamic state; part three discusses the role of and position on women; part four examines the role and use of violence, non-violence, and activism; and, part five takes a closer look at activism in a global context. Varying differences on each of these conceptual areas are also presented.
While this book provides an excellent presentation of the complex nature of the Islamist paradigm and Islamist political thought for the non-specialist, a specialist, intellectual or activist familiar with or operating in the Islamist paradigm may have some issues with the generalizations made, the lack of inclusion of certain Islamist intellectuals and activists, and the assumptions made in distinguishing Islamists from others. Nevertheless, it is one of best efforts in Western literature thus far that attempts to engage the subject and present the Islamists as something more human than the non-human "other."
Rachael M. Rudolph, PhD
Assistant Professor of International Studies and Political Science
Emory & Henry College