YEMEN Salafism in Yemen: Transnationalism and Religious Identity, by Laurent Bonnefoy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 288 pages. $60.
Reviewed by Jillian Schwedler
Salafism is not a single phenomenon, although it is often treated as a unified movement with branches emerging in many countries. As scholars and policymakers have gained interest in Salafigroups, particularly since the beginning of the Arab uprisings and Salafiparticipation in elections in Egypt and Tunisia, papers and policy studies have emerged that draw heavily on a small number of published sources but seldom expand our knowledge. Most, in fact, rehearse the narrative that Salafism (in the singular) has spread its extremist ideas from Saudi Arabia, where it originated, throughout the Muslim world. In many instances, this diffusion of the movement is directly linked with efforts of the Saudi state to spread "its" brand of Islamism, particularly to combat the supposed spread of Shi'ism's strength in places like Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. Substantive scholarly work, however, has been in short supply, particularly given that the movements associated with Salafism do not have the sophisticated public relations machine of so many branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. Laurent Bonnefoy's path-breaking Salafism in Yemen is the work of four years of field research, including careful review of hundreds of publications and sermons by and about Salafis in Yemen. The work is remarkable for its depth of knowledge about various strands of the movement in Yemen, but it also draws out important patterns concerning the interaction of state and non-state actors, the diffusion of ideas, and how perceptions of the local and the foreign can play out politically in diverse locales and transnational discourses.
Dr. Bonnefoy was trained in international relations, so his point of departure concerns questions about transnational flows and the relationship of national and foreign governments to local politics. This is a refreshing start for a book on Islamist movements, as most studies engage either social movement theory or debates about the effects of political inclusion or exclusion on specific Islamist groups. …