tripartite aggression of Britain, France, and Israel. In 1962 Saudi Arabia, supported by theUnited States, established the Muslim World League, seeking to raise the banner of Islamin opposition to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism epitomized by `Abd al-Nasir.Much of what has been written about political Islam consists of studies of itsideas.
Of course, we do want to know what Islamists think and consider seriously thedistinctions among them, unlike those who launched a war on Iraq without consideringthe radically different worldviews of al-Qa`ida and secularist Ba`thism. However, suchapproaches may overestimate the historical continuity of Islamic ideas and practices andtend to explain contemporary Islamist activism as an expression of a religious essenceabstracted from time, place, and social context.A second current of thought emphasizes psycho-social factors in the formation of political Islam. To the extent that this approach identifies specific grievances thatmotivate Islamists and enhance their capacity to build a popular base by establishinginstitutions to ameliorate such grievances, this approach is valuable. However, someanalysis in this mode tends to regard Islamism as a form of “false consciousness” – anideology that inappropriately displaces secular political action.
Secular nationalists andprogressives, who regard the followers of political Islam among the popular classes asproperly “their” people, are particularly inclined to these views. A variation on this themeis that Saudi oil money surreptitiously propagated a radical version of Islam whileinfiltrating and restructuring national economies.
Some proponents of this viewpoint seethe cadres of violent elements of Islamist movements as marginal elements of societywho reject modernity and suffer from alienation or Durkheimian anomie.
In contrast, I argue that changes in the global and regional political economy arelinked, although sometimes in unexpected ways, to the reimagination of politicalcommunity, culture, and identity expressed in the resurgence of political Islam since theearly 1970s. Political Islam is not only a family of “antisystemic movements,” in theterminology of Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein.
It consists of a family of diverse and