The Riddle of Political Islam

Author: Jocelyne Cesari

November 18, 2018

At least since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, there has been no shortage of predictions on the decline of political Islam. If we limit political Islam to Islamic parties and contrast them to secular ones, then indeed, political Islam does not seem capable of efficient and distinctive governance, except maybe in the case of Iran. When in power these parties tend to limit the irreligious agendas to identity politics by expressing the Islamic dimension of the political community without steadily calling for an Islamic state and they do not engage in major distinctive economic or social transformations in the name of Islam. But if apprehended as a set of multiform and contradictory political cultures, then political Islam is far from dissolving. In fact, it is a foundational element of modern political identities framed by the nation-state. The distinction between political Islam as culture and political Islam as ideology can help solve this riddle. This essay by Jocelyne Cesari was published in Building Trust: the Challenge of Peace and Stability in the Mediterranean, a MED 2018 report.

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