Islamism and Its Inclinations

By Smalls, Michael | Journal of International Affairs, Spring-Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Islamism and Its Inclinations


Smalls, Michael, Journal of International Affairs


A review of Islamism: What it Means for the Middle East and the World, by Tarek Osman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 304 pages.

Islamism: What it Means for the Middle East and the World is author Tarek Osman's attempt to distill the diverse, often misunderstood social and political systems of the Muslim world. Osman explains to the reader what Islamism is, and how, since its inception in the Arabian Peninsula, it has sought to govern and influence jurisprudence, culture, economics, and other aspects of the sociopolitical domain. By doing so, he clarifies what Islamism is not: monolithic or insentient. Summarizing Islamism's ideological variations, Osman also describes the forms in which Islamist entities exist and have existed, from persecuted cabals to militant organizations to governing bodies and regional hegemons.

Continuing his summary of Islamism's history, Osman writes on Islamist relationships--at times cooperative, contentious, and conflictual--with other movements and governments. Events such as the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the rise and fall of Arab nationalism, wars with Israel, and the Arab Spring have forced Islamists into contact with one another, in addition to Salafists (oftentimes and erroneously conflated with Islamists, as Osman evidences), monarchs, secularists, nationalists, religious minorities, and Western powers. Osman details the histories of these relationships with seemingly disjointed events, but in aggregate they provide the reader with necessary narratives and baseline understandings of complex and dynamic situations. Though he does not dedicate a full chapter to it, Osman also details for the reader the relationship between Islamist entities and democracy.

These overviews mainly focus on the Islamist groups Annahda of Tunisia, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and Morocco's Justice and Development Party (PJD). Osman details how each of the factions are inextricably linked with the political and social environments of their home states and abroad. Osman informs the reader of each group's founders and guides, origins, times of triumph and defeat, and how the groups fared during and after the Arab Spring. Critical to the understanding of Islamism is its adaptive and evolutionary nature, an aspect that Osman successfully conveys to the reader.

Osman dedicates two chapters to speculating whether or not Turkish or Iranian Islamism can be suitable models for the Arab world. Here Osman provides histories of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the rise of the Justice and Development Party of Turkey (AKP) that are as thorough as those that he provides for Annahda, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and the PJD. He provides analysis of both factions and their systems and predictions of how they would fare in Arab states. The predictions are substantiated by evidence, but Osman's own views can mislead some readers, especially in his failures to mention some undesirable aspects of the AKP. …

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