Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East

Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East

Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East

Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East


This book explores in a comparative perspective two fundamentalist waves that have rolled over the Middle East during the last two decades. Jewish and Muslim extremism have had a profound impact on the culture and politics of this important region. One thinks immediately of the Guh Emunism settlements on the West Bank, the Iranian revolution, and the assassination of President Sadat.

The authors highlight various facets of the phenomena, such as Haradi Jewish ultra-orthodoxy, the transformation of secular Israeli nationalism by the Gush, Iranian attempts to spread the revolutionary gospel to the Sunni world, and fundamentalism as the spearhead of the national uprising in the Gaza. The introduction outlines what the extremist movements in both religions have in common, where they diverge, and how they are shaping the future of the Middle East.


Emmanuel Sivan

Sunni radicalism began to develop long before the Iranian revolution of 1978. It arose out of conditions specific to Arab countries and the manner in which those faithful to the Sunna reacted to these conditions. in the quarter century between the appearance of the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the father of Sunni radicalism, and the end of the 1970s, not only were the Sunni radical movements devoid of Iranian-Shi ite influence, but almost no reference was made in these movements to the fact that Iranian Islam simultaneously was undergoing a process of radicalization. a mixture of ignorance and apathy predominated. the most one can find are several references to the organizational lessons of the Fidaiyan al-Islam, an Iranian phenomenon of the early 1950s; it seems that whatever inspiration the radical Sunni movements in Arab lands sought from the outside came from Sunni circles in India and Pakistan.

The reason for this was partially linguistic: although a significant number of radical Sunni works had been translated from Arabic into Persian, including three books by Sayyid Qutb, only a small amount of material had been translated from Persian into Arabic, perhaps for lack of translators. By contrast, some English translations of Indian‐ Pakistani thinkers were available to the Arab Sunnis, as were translations from Urdu into Arabic by the Indian Abu-l-Hasan Nadvi, a popularizer of Maudoudi's thought and a diligent student of Arabic.

The language barrier, however, does not provide a full explanation for the lack of Iranian influence on the Sunnis. This becomes evident from the fact that there was no intellectual influence in the reverse direction either, despite the greater number of translations; radical Sunni thought, whether Arabic or of the Pakistani Maudoudi school, did not affect parallel Iranian-Shi ite thought. One possible exception is the limited influence of Sayyid Qutb's social thinking, but this came in the late 1940s, before he underwent radicalization. By contrast, Qutb's thought of the 1950s and 1960s left a clear mark in Turkey, a . . .

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