MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen

By Quilliam, Neil | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen


Quilliam, Neil, The Middle East Journal


MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen, by Julian Schwedler. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xxi + 2 1 5 pages. Refs. to p. 244. Index to p. 252. $80 cloth; $19.99 paper.

Reviewed by Neil Quilliam

Faith in Moderation is a timely book. It addresses a number of key issues that should not only grip the interest of academics and policy-makers alike, but also inform public debate about the so-called inclusion-moderation hypothesis. Schwedler poses a number of crucial questions, which have interested academics and policy-makers since at least the late 1980s and continue to do so. For example, she asks how we can know with certainty whether a political actor has become more moderate in his or her views as a direct result of inclusion, and what mechanisms explain mat change? In other words, will Islamist parties feign adherence to democratic values, disingenuously participate in pluralistic politics, and where they manage to secure an electoral majority, suspend democracy and institute an Islamic state? The subject matter, therefore, is pertinent to both domestic and international policy makers in the region.

The combination of Schwedler's theoretical approach to the inclusion-moderation debate, cogency of argument, and the findings of her ethnographical research conducted in Jordan and Yemen make this a very important book. Its key findings and conclusions could help inform the debate over how Western and Arab governments can best engage with Islamist groups, encouraging those groups to internalize democratic values, even in cases where the process of democratization has stalled. Moreover, Schwedler's conclusions could make a significant contribution towards a better understanding of the opportunities and constraints that might accrue from the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and Hizbullah in Lebanon. These conclusions could be useful also for European, Asian, and African policy-makers who are learning to accommodate Islamist parties. However, it is a great pity that Schwedler's decidedly academic prose, presentation of materials, and repetition of central themes will likely confine this important piece of research to academia.

Schwedler's central argument challenges the prevailing logic that political inclusion of Islamist parties encourages moderation, whilst the practice of exclusion encourages radicalism. Almough she does not dispute mat inclusion can lead to moderation, she questions whemer contemporary empirical research, in fact, validates that particular assumption. Schwedler argues mat conflating inclusion and exclusion as a single continuum, which has become common practice since me early 1990s, tends to obscure complex processes and offers little in terms of precise hypotiieses about the effects of either. Moreover, she notes that in the case of Jordan, where the democratic process has effectively been stalled since 1993, the main Islamist opposition group, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) has become increasingly moderate with respect to certain issues. The all-important distinction over "certain" issues affords Schwedler a certain conceptual clarity that is often missing in more mainstream research about Islamist groups and political parties. Her self-professed "unpacking" of ideas, deconstructing received wisdom, and re-visiting of concepts, in particular, of inclusion and exclusion, has allowed her to move beyond the superficial and highlight the complex relationships between state institutions and Islamist parties, intra-party elites, and Islamist leaders and their constituents. …

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