UNDERSTANDING POLITICAL ISLAM: A RESEARCH TRAJECTORY ON ISLAMIST OTHERNESS, 1973–2016

by FRANÇOIS BURGAT

 

Introduction

Writing the History of a Research Career

“ They turn France inside out, they shelter behind the legitimate uproar they have caused, they seal mouths by making hearts quake and perverting minds. I know of no greater crime against society.”

Emile Zola, “Letter to the President of the Republic: I Accuse!”

L'Aurore, January 13th, 1898[1]

“One cannot self-proclaim oneself universal! […] The problem is that neither Europe nor France are the world. The problem arises when universalism becomes ethnic. The problem is when identity rhymes with racism, and culture presents itself as having immutable traits.”

Achille Mbembe, 2016[2]

 

In this book, I try to retrace the human and scientific path that has led me to a very firm conviction. Namely: that the roots of the tensions that affect the Western world’s relationship with the Muslim world are political, far more than they are ideological. The egotisms produced by these tensionsare primarily “ours”-- not only, as a comfortable laziness leads us to assume, those of the “Other” who has yet to fully “decolonize” himself from us: the Muslim.

In what follows, I have not sought to borrow from the autobiographical genre, however noble it may be, and even less so from that of the memoir. There will be no incursions into the private sphere here, nor any soul-searching as to time passing, too fast or not enough. This essay aims to limit itself to a precise scientific arena: to reproduce as meticulously as possible the most striking interactions between a personal life-history, a professional career and a research career. This career has remained centered on how the Islamist phenomenon has been expressed, first in the Arab world, then in its interactions with French society, and finally with other European and Western societies. With a few exceptions designed to contextualize my research work, I will thus here stick to a single subject:“Islamism”, to which I have devoted the core of my scientific work.

As far as Islamism is concerned, I have articulated my core hypotheses in three successive books.[3] I return to these here in a doubly novel way. First, by retracing the historicity of their conditions of production, using the conceptual apparatus of the social sciences, but also integrating the construction of a more private perception of these themes. Secondly, and more classically,  I bring up to date the hypotheses that I had formulated in the 2000s, in particular in my book Islamism In the Shadow of Al-Qaeda, by measuring them against the lessons of the powerful revolutionary dynamics, then the counter-revolutionary ones, set off by the “Arab Springs” of 2011.

A shared “Muslim speech”, diverse Muslim acts

In summing up my approach to the Islamist phenomenon, I would say that I see in it above all two processes that are too often confused with each other. To render it intelligibly, I here offer up two distinct modes of explanation. The first seeks to explain the origins of the “turn to speaking Muslim” in the Arab world. The second recounts the extreme diversity of modes of action that this lexicon has authorized—and, thereby, the inanity of approaches that reduce the motivations of the players of political Islam to a religious reference alone.

The first mode of explanation is based on the indisputable fact that, starting in the 1960s, “speaking Muslim” made a comeback in the societies of Europe’s Muslim periphery. It tries to account for the propensity of broad components of these societies to rehabilitate a long-occulted lexicon, as much in the social sphere as in that of political competition. The“lexicon” referred to here isa symbolic and normative universe that is felt to be endogenous, “homemade”, imposed neither from the outside, nor by the former colonial power, nor from above by elites. In the aftermath of colonial domination, the culture of the defeated was marginalized, “indigenized” or “folklorized”. Its mismatched symbolic attributes were de facto forbidden from taking part in the production of meaning, or in the expression of values perceived as universal. Henceforth confined to the role of makeweight, the symbolic universe of Islamic culture would henceforth, imperceptibly, serve only to underline the humiliating centrality of Western culture.

A long process of reconquest was undertaken by political activists and intellectuals throughout the colonial period, as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood appeared in 1928 in Egypt. This continued after independence, against nationalist elites perceived as being won over to the colonizer’s symbolic universe. While direct colonial presence was incontestably the most brutal carrier of this acculturation, it then found itself effective representatives in part of the spostcolonial elites, whose Islamist challengers accused them of confusing “modernization” with “Westernization”. Imperialist domination and a too-explicitly Western-oriented “modernizing” leanings thus contributed to deeping an identical chasm. While the populations of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia escaped the violence of direct colonization, they suffered no less from this process in which, to their eyes, their private lexicon was barred access to the universal. After a long eclipse, the rehabilitation of a symbolic universe perceived as pre-dating the colonial era thus logically inscribed itself within the framework of a comforting historical continuity.

I have thus argued, first of all, the case for considering the mobilizing virtues of this rediscovered Muslim lexicon as coming less from its sacred dimension than from its endogenous character. I have documented the hypothesis that the key attractiveness of the Muslim lexicon, among those who have adopted it, inheres in the fact that they perceive it as more closely tied to their inherited culture than were the other political lexicons—in particular,  Marxism or nationalism. These had, for a time at least, confiscated part of the centrality of the Muslim lexicon, only to be perceived, in the wake of the crushing colonial defeat, as imported or even imposed. I have proposedthinking through the dynamic of the reintroduction of the Islamist lexicon, not as a break with, but actually as the extension of the dynamic that sought and achieved independence. It was to become the continuation in the cultural and symbolic arenas of the distancing from the colonizer that was first operated in the political sphere through the lexicon of independence, then in the economic realm through the nationalisations of oil, agricultural lands, the Suez Canal, etc.

I have, lastly, suggested that the dynamics of Islamist movements have maintained a complex relationship with values (often restrictively) considered “Western” a far more complex relationship than the indiscriminate, reactive rejection with which it was identified ,both by the Western gaze and by a part of the rhetoric of Islamist identity-affirmation. Rather, the vast majority of these relations led to a process of “reappropriation” of these so-called Western values. Further, this process was not slowed by these relations: rather, it was eased by the “Islamization” of the lexicon in which these values was expressed.

This process, initiated by the colonial onslaught, and starting from the first sparks of reformist reactions, played out across several generations, and in several successive historical configurations. From the reformer of Iranian origin Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) to the Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (“Daesh”), and in local and international political contexts in deep flux, the identity-based alchemy pushing these players to use the Islamic lexicon has become perennial.[4] Here, I lean upon three stages in historicizing this latest Islamist phenomenon, that is now intrinsically part of its structure.[5]

At its outset, faced with what a part of these societies perceived as the danger of Westernization, Islamist movements consisted in reaffirming the political role of the resources of the endogenous culture, including its religious dimension, in the resistance to colonization. From 1928 forward, in the political field, the Muslim Brotherhood put the existential question: how can we mobilize our own ideological resources to organize the resistance to the Western hegemonic push? The question had already been put by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Mohammed Abdu (1849-1905) and Rashid Rida (1861-1935). Unlike the intellectuals who had preceded him to Europe, Afghani had discerned the danger of Western hegemony quite naturally, since the colonial adventure that had begun in Algeria had just spread to Tunisia (1881) and Egypt (1882). As the British historian of Lebanese origin Albert Hourani (1915-1993) so rightly pointed out in a foundational remark, it was at this point, and not when the Muslim Brotherhood was created, that the essential historical caesura appeared, after which “In the Middle East, political thought would never be the same again.”[6]

From the era of independence to the early 1990s, Islamism then deployed, no longer directly against colonial power, but against the autochtonous elites that succeeded colonialism. A generation after the Muslim Brotherhood was founded, the national and international environment had, despite deep upheavals, retained structural constants. While independence had been achieved by several states, it would swiftly be considered to be incomplete. Borders, nations and spirits were soon shaken as much by the creation of Israel as by the bellicose responses that the rise of Arab nationalism provoked in the West, of the tripartite expedition of 1956 (by the United Kingdom, France and Israel) in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal, through the brutal repression of the Algerian National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN) until 1962.

During this second stage, how to subscribe to the Islamist lexicon initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood would take highly diversified forms, whether individual or national. In order to “return” to the world of religious thought, Nasserists, Baathists or Communists (in Egypt, Syria, Iraq or North Africa) followed distinct paths from those who, in Sudan, left the matrix of the great Sufi Brotherhoods that at the time monopolized the structuring of the political field to “take orders in Islamism”. Despite their diversity, these “neo-Islamists” all demanded that their national elites continue, on the ideological and symbolic front, the process of self-distancing from the colonizer begun by independence and nationalizations. In North Africa, the persistence of official and public usage of French made this schism explicit: in those places where states kept speaking French, secular elites became progressively denounced as the “party of France.”

The third stage of Islamist movements began, to my mind, with the interventionist and unilateralist turn in US foreign policy that was enabled by the collapse of the USSR at the turn of the 1990s. It appeared on the sidelines of (undercovered but real) progress in the “normalization” of Islamist groups in parliaments and governments (in Jordan, Yemen and Kuwait). It came on the sidelines, too, of the transnationalization of repressive policies initiated by the Sharm al-Sheikh antiterrorist summit of March 1996. This stage was marked by a revolutionary transnationalization of radical groups who, starting from Afghanistan, span the web out of which was to emerge, out of the heart of the Iraqi then the Syrian crisis, Baghdadi's caliphate.

The omnipresent diversity of contemporary Islamism

The second explanatory mode, that provides me with my other major hypothesis, has by now been largely vindicated. It highlights the fact that, throughout these successive stages, the suppleness of the Islamic lexicon has allowed its enthusiasts to enlist it in the service of social practices and modes of political action of extreme diversity. In other words, to“speak Muslim” is a lexicon, not a grammar: it is a way to name things that ties them to a more than strictly normative symbolic universe. It thus allows many ways of conceptualizing these things--and of acting upon them. Here, we thus glimpse the reasons why, from the Taliban to Erdogan, to explain the positionings and modes of action of “Islamists,” the search for a single causality, that would rely only on their use of an identical “Muslim speech”is radically insufficient.

Attentive observation of the Islamist landscape since the “Arab Springs” has bolstered this hypothesis of an omnipresent diversity of the Islamic lexicon. Tunisia's Rached Ghannouchi was ostracized around the Mediterranean from north to south for his “Islamism”. Today[7] he leads a party, Ennahda, which is part of a government close to the regime that was overthrown in 2011 by the revolutionary wave. Decades of propaganda had convinced the world that, were it one day to win a majority at the ballot box, Ennahda would apply the sinister principle of “One Man, One Vote... One Time.” Instead, once it had decisively contributed to the adoption of what was considered the first truly democratic Constitution in the Arab world, it yielded without argument to being outvoted. In May 2016, Ennahda's 10th Congress enshrined a strict separation between its religious agenda, demoted to the level of reference value, and its political one. These “Islamists” thus made especially inclusive use of their “Muslim speech”. Conversely, from the throne of his “Caliphate”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi enlisted the same lexicon from the other extreme of the Islamist spectrum, using it to especially radical and openly sectarian ends, and preaching an open schism with the categories of the Western political inheritance.

Taking into account this extreme suppleness of the Islamist lexicon swiftly led me to practice a strict analytical disconnection. On the one hand lie the essentially identitarian causalities that explain its exponential spread; on the other, the causalities that illuminate the diversity of the uses made of the former. The explanation I offer—the resort to “speaking Muslim”--accounts for the relatively banal desire of the peoples of the West's imperial periphery to restore a (religious) culture that had long been perceived as having been preserved from its Western competitor's attempts to replace it. To resort to “speaking Muslim” thereby enabled putting an end to the era of European symbolic hegemony. The explanation for the ways in which this lexicon was appropriated, and their diversity, must however be sought in essentially lay causalities. As against the claims of the culturalist approach, these causalities in no way derive from any specificity inherent to Muslim religion or culture.

Measuring these hypotheses against the radicalizing fraction of the political players of the Muslim world has led me more than ever to defend the idea that understanding this phenomenon requires a focus, not on the “Islamic” character of the lexicon of those rising up, but on the social and, even more so, the political causalities of their actions. By radicalization, I mean here the fact of adopting a rejectionist language and strategy, implying a split and, ultimately, a confrontation with the (Shia) Muslim or non-Muslim environment, and in particular the Western one. These paths thus differ from theapproach of simple self-differentiation. Most often, the “differentiation” approach opens up, through the rhetoric of “Islamization,” into the process of “cultural reappropriation”, of which it can be said that it characterizes the bulk of the Islamist movement.

On the scale of the past half-century, studying the founding intellectual histories of this type of radicalization, from Sayyid Qutb to Osama Bin Laden, has convinced me that these were most often of a reactive nature--that is to say, that their founding motivation was an initial act of violence.[8] My approach thus insists on the need to expand the scope of observation beyond the actions of Islamist actors alone, and to include in it their non-Islamist interlocutors too, be they local, regional or international--and, more broadly still, their non-Muslim ones.

This brings me to put forward an analysis that undercuts the dominant reading of the mechanics of sectarian radicalization. The doxa of common sense, endorsed in particular by Gilles Kepel's thesis, holds that sectarian radicalization is the prerequisite or the cause of political radicalization[9]. I offer a strictly opposite interpretation. In no sense is sectarian radicalization, i.e. adopting demeaning or even criminalizing categories to define the Other's sense of belonging, the trigger of political violence. Rather, it is merely an auxiliary or incidental factor, far more a product than a cause. This is old news that few, however, wish to face up to, and that can be summed up as follows: The assumption that, to calm things, what is needed is to reform radical religious thought leads down the wrong path. It is not by reforming religious thought that the region will be pacified. It is by pacifying the region that religious discourse can be reformed.

My student backpacking days planted the seeds what I later felt was a phase of intuitive accumulation. It gave me the opportunity to encounter cultural and religious Otherness in every shape, form and historical configuration, from the Arab Mediterranean to Nepal and Japan. It made me, more or less consciously, internalize the conviction that cultural or religious differences were in no sense incompatible with my inherited universalist humanism. In other words, I internalized the proverb that says “Never judge a book by its cover”: a self-evident fact seldom easily acknowledged as such.

An extended teaching and PhD research period in Algeria (1973-1980) then allowed me to embark on a more theoretical and historicized analysis of Otherness. The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), to which I was admitted in 1983, then gave me the opportunity to spend several successive long periods of immersion in the field: at once the field of my research and the field of Otherness. It was in Egypt (1989-1993) that I launched this process of frequent lifting anchor, that fed the comparative dimension on which my approach was built. Later, in Yemen (1997-2003), Syria and finally in Lebanon (2008-2013), I continued on this path, making frequent shorter research trips (from Sudan to Iraq) from each of these successive postings to most of the surrounding countries. In between these extended postings, Islam in France—that “other home,” as I considered it at the time, along with most of my compatriots—began to form a new chapter of my research.

In parallel, presenting this research allowed me to interact with the academic worlds of each of the 22 Arab countries, as well as with dozens of others,  from Australia to Chile via South Africa. Without an extended period of expatriation there, finally, two other theaters took up a more structural place within my research interests. These were, in chronological order, the experience of“revolutionary” Libya where, when I first joined the CNRS, I led my first research project. The second arena was, for the longer term, the inescapable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that progressively came to seem to me as if it were a persistent echo of the old colonial disposition at the heart of the Arab world.

Between the hammer of the Algerian Eradicators and the anvil of French Islamophobia

In the second part of this essay, I take up the circumstances in which my research choices led me to interact—often in tense ways—with my media and political environments, and with my key academic interlocutors. From my very earliest work, I grasped, first, the intellectual, then the political price there would be to pay for my approach to Islamism, which those who did not share it considered too complacently analytical. This cost soared from the early 1990s onwards, in successive contexts that merit a brief recapitulation.

In Algeria, the repression that struck the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the wake of its parliamentary election victory of 1991 marked the start of a long civil war. This foundational page of contemporary Algerian and regional history amply confirmed the empathy of most French media with the simplistic and unilateral understanding of the Islamist phenomenon that had been dominant since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The protest wave that the Algerian FIS then captured at the ballot box, followed by merciless counter-revolutionary repression, can, in hindsight, be seen as the harbinger of the “Arab Springs” that flourished and faded 20 years later. Apart from the referendum of July 1st, 1962, that was held in a very different configuration, these were the only non-rigged elections in Algerian history, and they quite legally brought the opposition to the gates of power.

The prospect of a legalistic transfer of power was, however, entertained only very briefly. With the unfailing support of the West, at its head France and the European Union, the Algerian military establishment moved a fight that it knew it had lost in the political arena into the security arena. To do so, it managed to impose an utterly falsified representation of the crisis. In the establishment's narrative, the Islamists threatened “democracy” and the “freedoms” that it suddenly pretended to incarnate, even while these values had been quite alien to its past practice. This vision, fervently relayed by a small section of the French-speaking Algerian intelligentsia, wasinternalized wholesale on the northern shore of the Mediterranean. The party that had won the elections was purely and simply banned. There followed extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and the generalization of torture, in tandem with the systematic manipulation of the violence of “armed Islamist groups”, much of which was later certified as having consisted of army-enacted ”false flags”. The Paris attacks of 1995 and the assassination of the monks of Tibhirine in 1996 were archetypes of the violence that the regime practiced with complete impunity while blaming it on its opponents. They exemplify the practices of a long civil war that would cost over 100,000 lives, including thousands of disappeared.[10]

Come 2016, despite a plethora of investigations and firmly documented confessions, the vast majority of French public opinion still refuses to accept the overwhelming responsibility of the junta in power. Imagine, then, at the onset of the 1990s, what resistance could be encountered by a researcher who contradicted the official narrative and dared to convey that of the “victims,”whom he had met in his various homes in exile. He could only, as was indeed my case, be the target of violent protests, both within the academy and in the media and political arenas. Far from ebbing, this tension only went crescendo over the next two decades.

On the initially “Algerian” battlefield of the 1990s, the side of those who offered up an over-ideologized reading of the Islamist phenomenon received very powerful backup from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. In response to the assertiveness of the Palestinian Islamist party Hamas, the powerful mobilization of the pro-Israeli camp dramatically enhanced the imbalance of power. Exclusively ideologically-based, nuanceless condemnation of the entire Islamist generation, that was represented as made up of “fundamentalist enemies of peace,” took up residence at the very top of Israel-centered discourse. An authentic partnership was then forged between the Arab, Israeli and Western players of the anti-Islamist struggle, one which the Sharm al-Sheikh antiterrorist summit of 1996 made explicit and, to a degree, institutionalized.

In this move to criminalize the Islamist camp, Israel would then join forces with those authoritarian regimes I have termed the “Arab Pinochets”, who at the time sought out Western blessing, or even support, to contain their respective opposition movements. The anti-Islamist paradigm would henceforth become an essential cog in the self-justifying narrative of the most authoritarian Arab regimes. The effectiveness of raising the “It's me or the devil” gauntlet increased irresistibly. The later landmarks of this dynamic, accelerated by the attacks of September 11th, are well known. The very next day, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asserted: “Everyone has his own Bin Laden. Ours Bin Laden is Yasser Arafat.”It was within this analytical framework that the European Union was to denounce the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006, on the grounds that the Islamists had won them—and even while its own observers had certified that they had been free and fair.

In the meantime, France had, since 1989, fallen prey to its recurrent “Crises of the Veil”, then to the affair of the caricatures of the Prophet in 2006, presaging the reactions to the first Islamist election victories in the wake of the Arab springs of 2011. It then, of course, endured the terrible series of murderous attacks perpetrated by French terrorists “in the name of Islam”, from Mehdi Nemmouche (May 2014 in Brussels) to Abdelhamid Abbaoud (the presumed organizer of the terrible Paris attacks of November 13th 2015) and Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel (July 2016 in Nice), via the Kouachi brothers who, in January 2015; assassinated the journalists of Charlie Hebdo. This succession of attacks led whole swathes of public opinion and the political classes of France and Europe to, first, tense up-- then, to lurch into Islamophobic radicalization.

Very early on, the French left, with a few exceptions (among them the Green Party and the New Anticapitalist Party) gave off the impression that, in the race to retreat into the shell of identity politics, it intended to play the hare catching-up with the tortoise of the right that had set off earlier. It thus threw itself into the competition to reconquer the voters whom it had lost to the National Front. As Pascal Ménoret and Baptiste Lanaspèze wrote in 2006, “From Matignon [office of the Prime Minister] to the Académie Française via Sciences-Po”, a single idea became hegemonic: that “Muslims contain jihadists like chrysalids contain butterflies.”More than ever before, “to seek to defend Islam from the accusations leveled at a billion and a half Muslims” has acquired a steep price: “To be exposed […] to the accusation of “Islamo-leftism”, of having Islamist, i.e. jihadist, sympathies—in short: of treason.”[11] I remain, for my part, ready to pay that price, even if, to my mind, what is at stake is not“defending Islam”--but explaining how and why the Islamic lexicon came to be the mode of expression of present-day rebellions that are far more political than they are religious, crowning historical processes that are perfectly amenable to being deconstructed.

From Al-Qaeda to Daesh: Islamist “Revolution”--or the exacerbation of Western failures?

This book has one final ambition. The breakthrough of Islamic State (IS, ISIS) in 2013, its regional expansion in August 2014 and its later recourse to international terrorismprovide me with the opportunity to measure the analytical leads that I had sketched out out in Islamism in the Shadow of Al-Qaeda and other writing since 2011 against what may seen a “shift” in the historical trajectory of Islamism.

The spectacular breakthrough of Daesh from May 2014[12] has likely not revolutionized the Islamist landscape as much as has been said. Rather, it inscribes itself within the orbit of transnational radicalization inaugurated in the late 1980s by the founders of Al-Qaeda. The emergence of Daesh can be correlated with the same failures at representation that first produced Al-Qaeda. Even the strategy of anchoring their fight within a territory, represented as an absolute novelty on the part of Daesh, is not so new as all that. Ben Laden himself, we may recall, despite his reluctance to acknowledge the nation-state, sought to build himself a fortified redoubt in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.[13] The major novelty of Daesh is twofold: the weight, given the Iraqi context, to its anti-Shia sectarian variable; and, less the choice of the radicalist option, than its initial and growing success, no longer at the periphery of the societies in question, but deep within them too.

This process of political radicalization is first and foremost defined by rejection of the inclusive stance towards reappropriating democratic thought that had been initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood, to be replaced by a sectarian denunciation of political thought as mere impiety. Its logical corollary is the turn away from the ballot box--that is to say, away from the option embraced, at the other end of the Islamist spectrum, by the Muslim Brotherhood, and which the Arab counter-revolutions in some sense confirmed as being unrealistic, in favor of an armed struggle deemed inescapable. This is the dynamic expressed by those who remind us that their respective strategic choices have enabled the jihadists of ISIS to occupy half of Iraq, and enabled the Muslim Brothers to occupy... almost every prison cell of their country.

The novelty of ISIS lies less in its ideological or political hardening than in the abrupt increase in the mobilizing capacity of the radical Islamist fraction. For a long time, the “Islamist radicals” in some sense respected the territorial limits determined by their local conditions. Their hold was limited to the periphery of the societies that had seen them arise. The entrance of Daesh into Mosul in August 2014, applauded by at least part of its residents, threw into relief a deep-rooted sickness that consumes many regions of our globe. In Iraq, in Syria, but also in Yemen, in Mali, and likely in Nigeria too, the extremists have entered into active synergy with whole swathes of populations that are the victims of very deep dysfunctions in the institutions of their respective states. The dead-end of institutional mechanisms has let sectarian forms of management, whether “Shia”, “Arab”, or “Christian”, erode their credibility. The archetypes are well known: Had they not been durably and intensely ostracized by the authorities in Bamako, never would the Touareg of northern Mali have entrusted their hopes to thejihadi groups returning from Libya. Nor would Daesh's first successes have occurred without a reaction to the sudden downfall of the Sunni minority under the blows of American purges in the wake of the invasion of 2003 a Sunni minority that under Saddam Hussein's regime, notwithstanding its secular pretensions, had de facto grown accustomed to the comforts of hegemony.

“Islamic” violence does not, thus, emerge from “Islam.” It is produced by the recent history of Muslims, and its multiple authors, the Western neighbor very much included.

Nearly 30 years after they were written, the lines with which I closed The Islamic Movement in North Africa[14] ring as relevant as they were then: “In the great game of ideologies, the Mediterranean North, their great producer and exporter, has for years now had to contend with a rival that, from the South, has set about undermining its certainties and competing for its constituency. Address it in French, and the newcomer responds in Arabic. For “secularism” it hears “materialism” and replies “spirituality.” It hears “state” and answers “umma[15]”. To“democracy”, it prefers “shura”[16].  For a decade now, the arguments exchanged by partisans and opponents of these new references have resembled a perfect dialogue of the deaf. To the modernizing elites of the South, the sound of this, the activist language of political Islam, is a threat. For the North, the Islamists' “Long Live God!” similarly rings as a message of defiance and rejection. Against the backdrop of economic uncertainties, political frustration and cultural crisis, Islamism, new voice of the South, forges on regardless. […] Having first, one independence after another, set about disconnecting its political future from the West's then, one nationalization after another, expressed its will to recover more autonomy in managing its material resources, it is now starting to reconquer the ideological territory once lost to the North.

Islamism is not the endpoint of the process whereby the dominated South has repositioned itself vis-a-vis the North. But as the “third stage of the rocket of decolonization”, it is the acceleration of that process. Within a political environmentunreceptive to challenge, it has sometimes taken the road of a violence that only states authorize themselves. Thus was the”bogeyman” box in the Western imagination, left vacant as nationalist breakaways became routine, swiftly filled again by the indispensable “fundamentalist”so dear to it A temporary weakness in the North's ability to understand the South doubtless then enhanced the North's struggling to grasp the reach of this self-emancipation. The 1970s underlined the West's difficulty in, if not anticipating, then even in following the mutations of the Arab and Muslim environments. The efficiency of its domination had for a time given it the illusion of control over these, in each of the media, political and, to an extent, the academic spheres.

On the right of the political spectrum, the Islamist bogeyman came to shore up already well-anchored dogmas. On the left, those who had once showed understanding towards nationalist self-emancipation often remained, precisely by virtue of this, convinced that they were “on the right side of history”--and were, as such, its only legitimate actors. From the Islamist crucible, however, could emerge the conditions of the socio-cultural equilibrium that these societies have been in need of for so long: societies that skipped without a beat from the big sleep of decadence to the storms of colonization. Behind the mask of “fundamentalism,” a synthesis is forming that, in the past century, neither colonial violence nor nationalist counter-violence proved able to achieve.”

[1]Emile ZOLA, ed. Alain PAGES, trans. Eleanor LEVIEUX, J'Accuse and Other Writings, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998, p.46

[2]Libération, 1 June 2016

[3] François BURGAT, L’Islamisme au Maghreb. La voix du Sud, Payot, Paris, 3e éd., 2008 (1re édi- tion, Karthala, Paris, 1988) ; L’Islamisme en face, La Découverte, Paris, 2e éd., 2007 (1995) ; L’Islamisme à l’heure d’Al-Qaida. Réislamisation, modernisation, radicalisations, La Découverte, Paris, 2e éd., 2010 (2005).

[4] A more systematic attempt at historicizing this process is forthcoming in a collection co-edited with Mathieu Rey, titled From Al-Afghani to Baghdadi: A history of Islamist movements

[5] François BURGAT, L’Islamisme à l’heure d’Al-Qaida, op. cit. ; and « Les mobilisations politiques à référent islamique », in Élizabeth PICARD (dir.), La Politique dans le monde arabe, Armand Colin, Paris, 2006.

[6] Albert HOURANI, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1962 (French translation. : La Pensée arabe et l’Occident, Naufal, Paris, 1991) [CHECK ORIGINAL: NOT IN TRANSLATOR'S POSSESSION]

[7]At the time of writing in x 2016.

[8]See François Burgat, L'Islamisme à l'heure d'Al-Qaïda, op. cit.

[9]“For Gilles Kepel, radicalization does not precede islamization. […] [It is] the weight of Salafism [that] constitutes a radical cultural rift with the Republic. The new recruits, imbued with this ideology, [then] turn on the society that gave rise to them.” (“Interview with Gilles Kepel”, Revue des Deux Mondes, May 2016.

[10]See in particular: Salah-Eddine SIDHOUM and ALGERIA-WATCH, Algérie : la machine de mort, <ur1.ca/pcuk3>, October 2003.

[11]Pascal Ménoret and Baptiste LANASPEZE, « Attentats : Daech, le résultat d’un vice de l’islam ? Une idée reçue nourrie d’ignorance », L’Obs/Le Plus, 27 mars 2016

[12] Pierre-Jean LUIZARD, Le Piège Daech. L’État islamique ou le retour de l’histoire, La Découverte, Paris, 2015 ; Abdel Bari ATWAN, Islamic State, The Digital Caliphate, Saqi, Londres, 2015 ; Myriam BENRAAD, Irak, la revanche de l’histoire. De l’occupation étrangère à l’État islamique, Vendémiaire, Paris, 2015

[13] Mustapha HAMID et Leah FARALL, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, Hurst, Londres, 2015

[14]https://www.amazon.com/Islamic-Movement-Africa-Middle-Monographs/dp/0292707932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481050298&sr=8-1&keywords=burgat+islamic+movement+in+north+africa

[15]World Muslim community

[16]Islamic principle of consultation