MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Islam, Politics and Pluralism: Theory and Practice in Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria

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Islam, Politics and Pluralism: Theory and Practice in Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria, by Jennifer Noyon. London, UK: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2003. ix + 134 pages. 10.89 BP.

The market these days is flooded with books on political Islam, much of it poorly informed and/or highly ideological. Jennifer Noyon has written a book that is informed, practical, and helpful in providing a comparative look at the phenomenon of movements of political Islam in four significant states: Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, and Algeria. Noyon herself is a longtime analyst at the US State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. As such, her book is well grounded in the key questions that thoughtful policy makers should be asking about these movements: where do they come from, what do they share in common, how do they differ, and what kind of direction are they headed in. The first section of the book treats the Middle Eastern historical and political "context" in which these movements appear and operate; the remaining two thirds of the book examine the four case studies that she has selected to illuminate her arguments.

Noyon breaks no new analytic or informational ground in her examination of either the background context of the development of political Islam or in providing new information in her country analyses. That said, her treatment of the issues is thoroughly reliable, informed, balanced, and insightful. She is well grounded in the realities of the subject over many years. As such, the book is particularly useful for anyone seeking a concise summary of the issues and how they manifest themselves differently in these four states. The style is clear and direct.

One excellent feature of this book is Noyon's inclusion of the Turkish case into her study, which otherwise primarily treats the Arab world. Turkey's experience is central: it is the first country in the history of Islam in which an Islamist party has come to national power through free and open elections. This model is exceptionally important in breaking through many of the usual Western fears and taboos about political Islam, and provides the first such case where the West feels quite comfortable in dealing with the phenomenon. One hopes that some additional states will follow through soon along these same lines. Noyon appropriately highlights this case and discusses why it differs from the Arab cases.

Noyon's other three cases present Arab forms of the Islamist experience. The Algerian case is almost a model of how not to handle Islamist movements, since the history of that country's tragic and savage violence is the direct result of the overthrow of democratic process by the military, cutting short a potentially promising democratic opening. …