Call for Papers

In the framework of the ERC WAFAW programme, under the supervision of François Burgat and  Matthieu Rey, we are issuing a call for papers for inclusion in a Collection on The History of  Islamist mobilisation.


« From Al-Afghani to Al-Baghdadi : a History of Islamist mobilisation »

Proposals for participation should fit as strictly as possible into the layout guidelines (see below), remain within the time frame and geographical localisation of the study, respect the framework of references used and include an Abstract (Circa 2000 characters) on the core research problematic. They should be sent by 7 September 2015, and

A Multi-author volume edited by François Burgat and Matthieu Rey

Ever since the thunderous « Revelation » of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the imbrication of the Islamist phenomenon in contemporary political arenas and its resilience – over and against the implacable prophesies of imminent decline, obsolescence, or even « demise » – has become self-evident.

The primary aim of a « History of Islamist Mobilisation » is to provide definitive proof to support the argument, already well advanced for the contemporary period, that the political categories underpinning today’s Islamist drive for power – enabling theoretical production to translate into grass-roots mobilisation – are indeed quintessentially « Modern ». Far from merely representing the resurgence of a medieval past, as the least demanding of today’s analysts tend to assert, the resurfacing of such an Islamic idiom in our time is by no means in fundamental contradiction to the advent of a very universal modernity within the societies concerned.

A number of relevant comparative studies have already highlighted both the overarching points of convergence and the local, often national, territorial specificities at stake in this auspicious « family reunion » between « Islam and Politics ». The grey areas of one of the least well analysed political trends of our time, prevalent over several decades, have thus at last started to recede.

Before progressively extending their search further back than the 1970s, a decade towards the end of which the Iranian Revolution established its potential for mobilisation, academics, confronted with social demand under the shock of such an unprecedented revolutionary episode, essentially focused on the contemporary aspects of the Islamist object. Though the critical inventory of its various and successive expressions, both social and political, is already well documented, much rarer have been attempts to historicize the components and the active principles at work in the ‘alchemy of identity’ which, throughout today’s rapidly changing social, political, national and international contexts, is at the very core of the process, and has no doubt assured the remarkable permanence of this Islamic idiom’s attraction. When accounting for the past, the retrospective gaze has long been confined to the extraction of a long-term, but highly uncertain criminological genealogy (a cursive reading of Ibn Taymiyya serving to « explain » Sayyed Qutb, himself deemed in turn to have « engendered » Usama Ben Laden, and then again… Al-Baghdadi).

The question remains : how and why, in the eyes of key figures originating from highly diversified social and national subsets, in profoundly altered (national, regional and international) political environments, has the attraction of the ‘Islamic idiom’ been maintained ? How, in other words, has an  identity alchemy initiated in the 19th century been able to remain « serviceable » for more than 120 years, when the deep upheavals of political patterns, whether national, regional or international, have necessarily displaced its landmarks and altered its components ? The reading of the history of the last two centuries has  substantiated an hypothesis which may well contribute to better delineating our object ; Islamist mobilisation proceeds less from the socially territorialized emergence of one political ideology, conditioned behaviour patterns or attitudes or from the promotion of determined values, than from a reconciling of the necessary preconditions for the creation of many brands of political ideologies with the symbolic universe of Muslim culture, by all those who perceive the latter, above and beyond the traumas of colonial intrusion, as their cultural « heritage ».

Towards the end of the 19th century, Jamal Eddin al-Afghani was no doubt the first thinker to predict and openly denounce the potentially predatory dimension of European superiority. This ‘intellectual’ was also the first to theorize its treatment by a specific recourse to the ressources of the Muslim heritage. Four years after the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1928, and while Egypt was still under British colonial rule, the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna initiated, through the creation of the Muslim Brothers, the first political version of Islamist mobilisation. Rachid Ghannouchi, founder of the Movement of the Islamist Trend, forerunner of today’s Ennahada, long described himself as a « defeated member of Bourguiba’s army », i.e. OF a nationalist leader who had nonetheless contributed to the downfall of French colonial rule.  Between Al-Afghani and Ghannouchi, how has the effectiveness of one and the same call for « Islamic » mobilisation been effectively sustained throughout profoundly changing Muslim societies? How has this call managed to come to terms with the diversity of major components in successive political landscapes? Between Soumaya Ghannouchi, the daughter of the Tunisian Islamist leader covered in glory at the post-revolutionary hustings, a young Salafist activist from Ansar Al-Charia, repressed by a reputedly  « Islamist » government, and/or a true-blue IS Jihadist, how is continuity to be construed ? From Al-Afghani to Al-Baghdadi, how and why has the adoption of the Islamic idiom endured through time?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From the first Anti-Occidental suspicions to the Emergence of Islamism

In the course of the 19th century, the launch of European protagonists into the race for Colonial supremacy represented the predominant political concern for the Muslim political establishments, and indeed precipitated their reconfiguration. This first chapter seeks to clarify this in-depth transformation of the local political scenes in the wake of formations which very early on introduced the Muslim idiom into the arena of protest.

Chapter 2: The embryonic recourse to Islamic identity politics as a counterfoil to colonial aggression

As a response to the colonial onslaught, from the First World War on, the Muslim referent began to resurface as a frame of reference for combat (Morocco, Iraq, Egypt). This chapter aims to delineate in greater detail these scarcely researched expressions, whose visibility was long to be overshadowed by the priority granted to the reinterpretation of national pasts, seen through the prism of secularized ideologies, more particularly under the sign of Arabism.

Chapter 3 : The Liberal Age

From the 1930s on, the main formations hailing from political Islam at first fit seamlessly into the nascent partisan set-up. Their highly legalistic mobilisation had ostensibly no aim but to imbue the budding socio-cultural order with a respect for the precepts that their leaders drew from their reading of the religious corpus. Their early institutional involvement thus tended to bind the Islamists in with the development of the constitutions and the powers that be, rather than setting them up in opposition. During this first stage of their political trajectory, however, they were also to be among the earliest players to find themselves opposed to the growing power of the revolutionary nationalist trends, partisans of an authoritarian conjugation of power.

Chapter 4: The Matrix of internal Radicalisation?

During the 1960s, and increasingly during the 1970s and 80s, the rise of Islamism took ground against nationalist élites/elites, criticized for their somewhat “lack of cultural endogeneity”. Islamic rhetoric thus managed to impose itself as being more in touch with the expectations of the local populations, as opposed to the upper classes whose practices had been condoned by colonial powers. As a consequence, the course of action which nationalist regimes (Nasserian and Ba’athist especially) took against those whose « cultural » criticism threatened political monopolies was staunchly confrontational. When seeking to explain the turning-point on the road to violence, too often – in the case of Sayyed Qutb, but not only – analysts have been content to merely take into account ideological variables. On the contrary, a socio-political history of their radicalisation should take care to determine the inherently reactive logics attendant on this repressive blockage and the internalized stress patterns – strategic and ideological fault-lines – contained within this confrontation.

This historical sequence came to an end in Teheran in 1978 with a foundational event: the Khomeinist Revolution in Iran was to usher in the era of « State Islamism », which the conservative petro-monarchies of the Arab peninsular, vassalized by their American protectors, could in no way aspire to embody, a fact which from then on was to deeply modify the alchemy of the Islamists’ power of seduction.

Chapter 5: Al-Qaïda and the Rise of Transnational Jihadism

The year 1990 was to be one of profound upheaval: the first signs were the  Islamists’ electoral successes in the highly differential contexts of Yemen, Tunisia and, more radically still, Algeria, where what one may be tempted to apprehend as a first Arab Spring was brought to a grinding halt by an authoritarian turnabout which clamped down definitively on the fugitively glimpsed reformist process. The decade was also marked by the withdrawal of the URSS from the international arena and the ensuing militarisation of US petroleum diplomacy. On 13 March 1996, during the first « Anti-Terrorist » congress at Charm al-Cheikh, the US, Russia, Israël, UE and the authoritarian Arab regimes launched a spectacular transnationalisation of the repression of opposition forces and other forms of resistance, which the consensus of 30 heads of states chose to identify without nuance with the sole variable of their recourse to the Islamic idiom. It was within this context that the transnationalisation of the Jihadist mobilisation was also to emerge, fuelling the creation of Al-Qaeda. The reproduction of the dominant Arab political formula – legitimized in the international arena by its capacity to carry on the struggle against « Islamism » – was from then on to be closely associated with the stress management of Western fears.

Chapter 6: The Arab Spring

The shock-wave transmitted through most of the Maghreb and on to the Middle East by the overthrow of Tunisia’s President, Zin al-Abidin Ben Ali, in January 2011, ushered in a new era of profound change in partisan configurations within each of the national perimeters concerned, entailing the rise and fall of new regional players. The dominant nature of this change was first and foremost to lie the Islamic reference  in its immediate ubiquity, plus the extreme diversity of its political recourse – even more explicitly a mainspring of mobilisation than in the past – at both extremities of the field of political practice. Political Islam thus gained confirmation of its pivotal role and proved its capacity to reinsert itself into the process of democratic transition. But the weapon of confessionalism brandished by the protagonists of the counter-revolution in order to split the united front of their opponents has since become part and parcel of current « Islamist » mobilisation. In the meanwhile the heavy undertow of sectarian Jihadist reaction to the counter-revolution has become just as indissociable from the « Post-Springtime » Islamist scenario.