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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic summary of political Islam
An excellent book offering the reader a deep insight into the world of political islam. At points the book can be slightly heavy going but only due to the detailed wealth of knowledge it delivers. If you are looking for a book for studing the Middle East or just to gain a real understanding of the region and the religion then this book is definately for you. I enjoyed...
Published on 7 Oct 2002

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
In this interesting and detailed work, the renowned French expert on radical Islam, Gilles Kepel, attempts to document the brief history of "political Islam"; those within the Islamic faith who believe all states should be governed according to Shari'ah (Islamic law), with a view to the restoration of the Caliphate (Islamic pope). In other words, those who have come to be...
Published on 12 Jun 2010 by Caped Crusader


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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic summary of political Islam, 7 Oct 2002
By A Customer
An excellent book offering the reader a deep insight into the world of political islam. At points the book can be slightly heavy going but only due to the detailed wealth of knowledge it delivers. If you are looking for a book for studing the Middle East or just to gain a real understanding of the region and the religion then this book is definately for you. I enjoyed it very much and despite having read extensively on the subject I learnt something new on every page. Well researched and a very informative writer Kepel, professor of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques and a CNRS luminary, adds an optimistic veiw. Even despite the inclusion of Osama bin Laden and the recent attacks he presents this as a last ditch attempt of a dying phenomenon. He claims the movement peaked in the 1970's and 80's and that we are entering an inevitable post-islamic era. This upbeat angle will please many of its US readers. Definately recommended
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4.0 out of 5 stars but still very useful with its combination of area focus and chronological perspective ..., 12 Sep 2014
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An old e4dition, but still very useful with its combination of area focus and chronological perspective on the development of Political Islam in a formative period for the phenomenon.
Jan Opsal, Professor
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword, 12 Jun 2010
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In this interesting and detailed work, the renowned French expert on radical Islam, Gilles Kepel, attempts to document the brief history of "political Islam"; those within the Islamic faith who believe all states should be governed according to Shari'ah (Islamic law), with a view to the restoration of the Caliphate (Islamic pope). In other words, those who have come to be known as extremists, radicals or terrorists. The first half of the book deals with Islamism's rise and history, the second half deals with its demise.

The ideological movement began to grow when one of its key exponents, Sayyed Qutb, was hanged in Egypt on August 29th 1966. Although the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood's most important thinker was soon forgotten, by the end of the next decade his writings had become a potent force in Egypt and elsewhere. This rise came along with one of the key events in modern Middle Eastern history: the Saudi oil-embargo of the West following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

With the price of oil rising rapidly giving the Saudis colossal revenues, the puritanical Wahabbi state set about spreading its influence, building thousands of mosques and distributing thousands of free copies of the Koran. From the rice fields of Indonesia, to the plains of Africa to the high rise housing projects of European cities, the same Korans and the same cassettes were available from one end of the Islamic world to the other.

Along with the Saudi rise were the teachings of several other ideologues in key geographical locations: Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Mawlani Mawdudi in Pakistan and the popular figure in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim.

Kepel deftly shows how the ideologues' disciples went about changing societies, implying interesting insights about the Muslim mindset along the way. The strongest parts of this book are the descriptions of the inner-workings of the Muslim states, as the leaders devised a precarious game establishing councils of clerics (ulema), in a bid for credibility, but also to keep a close eye on them seeing as the first threat to any regime would come from the religious councils (keep your friends close and your enemies closer?). Also of central importance to the Islamists are the universities; always targeted for the purposes of controlling consensus and eventually public opinion (something we in the West would do well to pay closer attention to).

Extracting and looking at Political Islamism in isolation (of the theological aspects) allows Kepel to get on with charting the relationships between the radicals, the populous and leaderships. This is, in essence, a kind of sociological macro and micro-economic look at radical Islam; no small feat, but Kepel pulls this off coolly and convincingly. For this alone the book merits serious study.

But there are downsides and they are numerous. These downsides are Kepel's spin on many areas and his overall conclusions. Quite amazingly, they would appear to be because they are outside Kepel's immediate sphere of study. I wasn't able to think of a better reason to explain this contrast.

The central thesis of Political Islam's demise, after an initial surge, looks more and more implausible with each emerging story of al Qaeda's expansion; whether to Yemen, or through Central Africa, Pakistan to Central Asia and Western China. The recent coup in Kyrgyzstan leading to fertile ground for the likes of al Qaeda to flourish (if they hadn't actually created the unrest in the first place); then there's his descriptions of Turkey, or with the ailing health of Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak, it's time to re-read our books about the '56 Suez war to know how valuable a target that country will be.

And Iran is another chapter altogether...

There are lesser errors as well. Kepel describes Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist proxy in Lebanon, as 'almost a charity now'. The 2006 Israel/Hezbollah war put such baseless assessments to rest. Former Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharaf is labelled 'progressive', which Ahmed Rashid convincingly contests and a whole lot more.

But the single biggest howler must be awarded to Kepel's patronage and idolising of Tariq Ramadan, a young Muslim 'intellectual' who has long been exposed for saying one thing in French (or English) and quite another in Arabic. Banned from the US for having ties to terror organisations, he is also the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna. From all accounts, it seems Ramadan's ultimate aims are no different to his ideological and biological predecessor.

Kepel believes Ramadan's carefully crafted writings and hails him as the leader of this 'emerging post-Islamist movement'.

Despite the wildly varying quality of Kepel's writing, the strengths of his research merit a read and do contribute, if you can get passed the insultingly baseless analysis.

As other reviewers have noted this is not an introduction. This is a book more suited to those with a basic knowledge of Islam, and a good grounding in the history of the regions and terrorist groups.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serious and rather objective, 14 Mar 2005
By 
charlotte storm (koebenhavn s, Denmark) - See all my reviews
Gilles Kepel is excellent. In this work he manages to scrutinize the both broad and complicated problem of political Islam without ever wandering off track. His view of islam appears to be neutral. He communicates the central problems of political islam, and more importantly, the central differences between the broad political movements and the violent extremes in an absolutely sober tone. I strongly recommend this book for serious students of the subject, i.e. university students or the like. This is not to be read as an introduction to the subject - its closer to being a conclusion.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A serious historical non partisan view of Political Islams history, 21 Oct 2009
By 
Spilsbury (UK, Liverpool) - See all my reviews
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This book covers the evolution of numerous Islamist/Jihadist groups over the last century. Kepel writes from a historical sociopolitical perspective analysing many of the Islamic movements resulting from population growths, agrarian reform and urban shifts, with the development of Pious Intelligentsia that gradually formed during the Arab Nationalist phase. They gradually commandeered the political agenda away from a secular platform to a religious one.
Chapters include fairly basic historical overviews of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its clash with Nassers oppressive policies. The influence of Sayed Qutb and more critically the intellectual issues he left unresolved are very interesting reading, since much of Jihadi ideology is a continuation of his intellectual theories. The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini and the effects of the Iranian revolution is likewise highly relevant to an understanding of the political changes of the last 30 years.
Where Kepels book is of great use is in giving relatively brief but helpful insights into the different paths of Islamists from countries such as Pakistan, Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia and how and why they have evolved in the way they have.
What the book lacks is an analysis of the Wests role in assisting these Islamists come to power, their relations ( with the exception of the USA assisting the Anti Soviet Afghan Jihad ). Also important are the effects of Israel on Middle Eastern politics, which is notable for its absence, and the title Jihad does not really match up with the content of the book which makes few references to why there are Jihadist ideologies abound today. Indeed there is barely a single reference to the Quran which is also surprising, since must Western vitriol is vented at passages in the Quran, whilst much Jihadi ideology of the extreme fringe often refers to similarly lesser known scripts. The first Sura of the Quran - the Cow- also the longest Sura refers to Christians, Jews and Sabians as all people of God, who if good will receive their rewards from God. indeed that all share the same God. It refers to exterminating Polytheists in the context of being persecuted by them, and therefore needing to take extreme measures. However in the first Sura alone is repeated the refrain to not overstep the mark in such matters, and there is a clear reference to not taking ones own life.
Finally another shortcoming I feel is the lack of reference to the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union on the Political landscape of the Middle East, which after all underlied much Western thinking in backing Islam as an anti-Soviet bulwark in the first place.

Where the book is very good is in definitions of recent Islamic developments. A definition of Takfirists - those who are self-appointed excommunicators of other groups of Muslims is helpfully explained, and all throughout the sociological dimensions of political inequality and class differences of the various countries under scrutiny are highly revealing. Al Qaeda and OBL also have an interesting chapter dedicated them.
I would say this is a serious book on an issue which has been treated with appalling crassness by rabble rousing writers ( and book reviewers! in recent years, and though a little dated, will give a serious reader of recent political history, many useful insights into the tumultuous changes of the Post Soviet Middle East.
His final analysis is that Islamism is disfigured and discredited by the extreme violence that has been perpetrated in its name. The Islamic Revolution of Iran is cited as a case in point. He refers to many Islamists who are looking towards a parliamentary democracy as a more 'Islamic' mode of governance, than the centuries of endured dictatorship. With the failed nationalist models of the 60's, and in Kepels view, the discredited radical Islam beyond that, it may very well be that a Post-Islamic era will indeed usher in an era of moderating Islamic reforms.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great study, 9 Dec 2012
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This is a very clear book and I would recommend it.

The book would also have been more enjoyable if amazon paid taxes properly in the UK.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 27 Jun 2009
By 
R. Packham "Ray Packham" (Brighton Sussex UK) - See all my reviews
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I would recommend this thought provoking book for those looking for a greater understanding of political Islam
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply excellent, 22 Aug 2010
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Lars Stenbaek "Stenbæk" (Denmark) - See all my reviews
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A very thorough and informative account of the history of radical Islam. One of the best books I have ever read.
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Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel (Paperback - 4 Mar 2003)
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