Political Islam and the Arab Uprising: Islamist Politics in Changing Times
Publication Year: 2017
Subject: Middle Eastern Politics
Traces the changing trajectory of Arab politics through the Arab uprising Delving into the history of political Islam in the colonial period, this book shows how the idea of modernity, intense interaction, contestation and engagement between Islamist forces and the emerging democratic voices in the region have contributed to the recent Arab uprising. While investigating the role of religion in shaping the unfolding political situation in the Arab world it also discusses the future of political Islam.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Political Islam: A Theoretical Framework
- Chapter 2: Quranic–Theological Context of Political Islam
- Chapter 3: Islamic Response to the Arab Politics During Colonial and Post-colonial Phases
- Chapter 4: Arab Spring and the Future of Political Islam
- Chapter 5: Arab Spring: Changing Landscape and Implications for India
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Copyright © Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, 2017
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 2017 by
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Name: Siddiqui, Fazzur Rahman, author.
Title: Political Islam and the Arab uprising: Islamist politics in changing times / Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui.
Description: New Delhi, India; Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2016. | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016034231| ISBN 9789386042194 (hardback: alk. paper) | ISBN 9789386042187 (epub) | ISBN 9789386042200 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Islam and politics–Arab countries. | Islam and state–Arab countries. | Islamic fundamentalism–Arab countries. | Arab countries–Politics and government–1945- | Arab Spring, 2010- | IS (Organization)
Classification: LCC BP63.A4 A764 2016 | DDC 320.55/7–dc23 LC record
available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016034231
ISBN: 978-93-860-4219-4 (HB)
SAGE Team: Supriya Das, Guneet Kaur Gulati and Syeda Aina Rahat Ali
Published by Vivek Mehra for SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, typeset in 10.5/12.5 pt Palatino LT by Zaza Eunice, Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India and printed at Sai Print-o-Pack, New Delhi.
To all those countless revolutionaries who stood up to change the political trajectory of the Arab world.
Sometimes I wonder how the religion of Islam as a ritual and a faith, confined in the past to the pulpits of mosques and sermons in the seminaries, has become a part of cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, international politics, security studies and policy matters over the decades. What further mystifies the matter for me is the appearance of a large section of academics, strategic thinkers and security experts delivering sermons on Islam through radio and TV shows while the ones trained in Islamic jurisprudence, logic and philosophy are still exploring and interrogating the authenticity of ablutions with honey and whether patting a dog requires a pious bath or not.
No doubt, like every historical entity, the religion of Islam has also passed through several phases, and each phase has been dominated by a theme. The period after the death of the Prophet saw more and more focus on the compilation of the Quran and the later collection of Hadith (statements and acts of the Prophet Mohammad). The era of collection and compilation was followed by an era of Islamic historiography and juridical layout, which culminated in the emergence of four schools of jurisprudence followed by different geographical spreads of Muslim territories.
It was, perhaps, the Abbasid period (750–1258), which saw an intense intellectual churning on different themes of Islam, that consolidation of the Shiite theology and the codification of different juridical codes took place. The Abbasid period saw raging debates on the objectives and purpose of Quranic application in this world, and shariah became the dominant theme for jurists, such as Ibn Taymiyyah, when Quranic phrases were recast in the image of power and a political system.
In modern times, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 introduced a new dimension to the Quranic exegesis, Islamic historiography [Page x]and jurisprudential commentaries. The Islamic Revolution ushered in a plethora of literature exploring the history of the association of religion and politics and what lies in the future for the proposition, which was called ‘political Islam’ then. The emergence of political Islam as a new discipline got gradually dragged into the disciplines of social science, international affairs and cultural studies, which made the religion of Islam completely devoid of rituality and spirituality; and today it is treated as a part of an interdisciplinary theme.
The central intent of this book is to highlight the ideologies of the union between politics and Islam. This book presents an ideological narrative about political Islam from the medieval era to the modern day when the Arab world is in an unprecedented turmoil. This book ventures to interrogate the past politics of the Arab world through identification of different streams of Islamic politics. It attempts to trace the historicity of a political ideology informed by Islamic teaching in the modern time, where it takes into account a series of ideologues who shaped and guided the Islamic political trajectory in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Arab and Islamic world has always been defined as a status quoist by Orientalist perspectives, and the people there have been treated as if they are not a part of the global political process that has influenced the trajectory of an international order. This long-held perception about the region changed when millions of people thronged streets to challenge the status quo and topple a series of dictators with the promise that Arab would never be the same. The Arab uprising of 2011, known as the Arab Spring, which, with the passage of time, changed every aspect of the Arab world, still continues to this day. A major portion of this book is devoted to the study of the Arab uprising, which is likely to redefine the political contours of the entire region in the coming years. An attempt has been made to study the following topics: the linkage of the oppressive political culture supported by dictatorial regimes and the outburst of the masses; how this outburst has been exploited by Islamist politics of the region; and how the engagement of the Islamist with the new evolving politics has impacted the ideological tones of political Islam.
[Page xi]The present uprising has brought the region at the crossroads of political and social transformations. Great uncertainties have enveloped the region and processes of transitions, which are not taking identical routes everywhere, are still unfolding.
This insurrection has pushed the region towards the redefinition of its political landscape, where political Islam has emerged as an inevitable force to negotiate its space in the new emerging sociopolitical order. This has brought a change in the traditional vocabulary and the conduct of political Islam too. In sum, this is a study about tracing the trajectory of Arab's past politics through the Arab uprising.
Political Islam and the Arab Uprising is not only a textbook but also an academic intervention in the political process of the Arab world. This book is an attempt at understanding the present in the light of the past. It merely deals with one of the most fascinating themes of world politics: what the international academia has indiscriminately called political Islam. The current turmoil in the region has raised serious questions about the longevity and the real objectives of the Islamic political system which have not been exercised extensively. The emergence of groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other extremist entities has added a new ingredient to the present discourse on the theme and has raised many questions.
Apart from making a theoretical enquiry into the theme of political Islam, Chapter 1 of the book explicates the ideological underpinning of political Islam in the modern context. This chapter is devoted to the study of the origin and evolution of the phenomenon. It also investigates how the concepts of social science were employed in studying the religious aspect and how a movement that begun with a call for restoring the religious values transformed into a rejectionist philosophy and became a conflicting ideology against the Western sociopolitical and cultural norms.
Chapter 2 is centred on the theme of the Quranic and theological context of political Islam. It deals primarily with the content and accounts of the some of the prominent Quranic commentaries and theological writings highlighting the subject. Chapter 3 highlights the Islamic response to the Arab politics during [Page xii]the colonial and post-colonial phases. This chapter emphasizes the colonial context of the rise of political Islam in addition to focusing extensively on the different contours of responses it provided to the social and economic penetrations by Western culture and politics.
While the issue of the Arab Spring forms the major theme of the narratives in this book, Chapter 4 studies the conjectural points of the event and its subsequent impact on the future of political Islam and regional polity. Chapter 5 presents an account of India's response to the Arab Spring and its short- and long-term implications for India. It also investigates how a political upsurge in the region modifies the balance of power for India globally and regionally. This chapter underlines the impact of the Arab Spring on the Indian foreign policy, and briefly deals with the extent of changes India might require to implement in the aftermath of the unfolding political situations in the region.
This book would have been materially impossible without the support of Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). It is ICWA which provided an academic environment to write the present volume and it also funded my field trips to Egypt and Tunisia during my research for the book. Therefore, I owe my first and most important thanks to Director General, ICWA, Ambassador Nalin Surie, Deputy Director General, Joint Secretary, all my colleagues here at ICWA, and library staff members.
There is long list of people who wanted me to write a book on the theme which has engaged the global academia from across the disciplines and I must thank them for their untiring academic and moral supports. I am also grateful to my family members who never discouraged me from pursuing a career in academics and even that in international relation and area studies which is not only an alien subject but also very unappealing for a family hailing from a mofussil. I owe a special thanks to my biggest intellectual friend Ghazali, a scholar of high repute and a great human being, who showed all interest in my research works and always encouraged me to continue writing. Likewise, I would like to thank Dr Sohrab who is almost like my teacher and someone who taught me what West Asia is.
I owe a lot to Mr Amin Usmani whose office ‘Academy for Jurisprudence’ in New Delhi has almost been a library for me and I have benefited a lot from the Arabic resources available in his office. I am also thankful to my publishers and editors at SAGE who posed faith in me and made the book possible. I cannot forget to mention love and care of many like Akif, Tariq, Khalid Lateef, Mirza Beig, Asif, Tasneem, Rumi, Anusha, Sharib, Shamsi Bhai, Tausif, Khalid Khan, Saif and Faizi, and countless others who were always forthcoming whenever I needed them.
[Page xiv]Many have encouraged me to write the book but someone who has been all cooperative, accommodative and provided a cordial environment in which I could have worked on it is my wife, Shagufta. Despite having been least interested in my theme of study, she went through a rigorous exercise of proofreading my manuscript at the final stage and she is someone who always shared my happiness and was always the first one to pass on even my smallest story (from appearance on TV to expressing my views on radio to publication of my pieces) to my family members which, no doubt, I never liked. I am really thankful to you for your constant and silent cooperation.
This book is not about the Islamic political system, institutions, norms, governance or an explanation about Islamic polity in any historical perspective. Rather, it is about the contents and discourse claiming the religiosity of union between the religion of Islam and politics. The book is about the ideological underpinning of political Islam, one of the most predominant discourses in the last few decades across disciplines. The content touched upon in this volume is about the origin, historicity and evolution, along with different theoretical perspectives of political Islam in the modern era.
There has been substantial contestation among the clergies, social scientists, scholars of international relations and strategic experts over the actual positioning and the centrality of political Islam amongst the existing disciplines of knowledge. Despite the centrality of political Islam as a major discourse in the academia, several crucial dimensions or the core ingredients of the debate remain untouched or misunderstood. Scholars from different disciplines have articulated the subject within the milieu of their respective epistemology, and their accounts sometime complicate the subject.
A great deal or different facets of political Islam have been studied by scholars of different persuasions. Political Islam in the modern context has been well articulated in the writings of Nazih Ayyubi, Mohammad Ayyub, Abu Rabi, Bernard Lewis and Qasim Zaman, and a series of other scholars who have not only drawn attention towards the theme but also examined the contours of political Islam. These studies have been sincere attempts to speculate on the evolution of political Islam in the colonial context. Most of the scholars have problematized political Islam in juxtaposition to the force of modernity.
[Page xvi]It has been seldom recognized adequately that the modern notion of political Islam is largely rooted in the historicity of Islam, and classical Islamic teaching has remained the driving force behind the emergence of a proposition called ‘political Islam’. Political Islam, as understood in the modern times, has always remained a part of a larger vision of the Muslim world with different phrases and idioms. If one browses through the classical writings of jurists or experts on Islamic jurisprudence, one would come across an abundance of arguments and expositions claiming divinity in the association of Islam and politics.
There are certain Quranic principles which the ideologues of modern-day political Islam have adopted as a catalyst to legitimize the religious context of Islamic revivalism. There are plentiful references related to power, authority and the organization of the state in the Quran. However, these references do not provide a well-defined explanation for the linkage of Islam with politics. Several politically charged terms have been defined in different ways by different jurists in different periods. These terms represent possibility of the political orders and do not prescribe any political principle. Even Sunnah, the second most important and authentic source of Islam, has very little to say on the issue of governance or the state.
The Quranic orientation of politics stems from the claim that the Quran is the primary source of knowledge. The core of the Quranic concept of humanity emanates from a single verse of the Quran that says, ‘He created you from single person; created of like nature, his mate, and from both scattered countless men and women’. Unlike Western philosophers like John Locke and others who claim that sovereignty emanates from the ownership, Quran adversely claims that it is not the source from which the political values and sovereignty are derived. Rather, supreme sovereignty and authority of defining the norms are the prerogatives of divine laws.
The real issue of state and its relation with Islamic teachings arose only after the death of the Prophet. It was then that the Muslims needed to innovate and improvise the nature and form of the government. Indeed, the origin of the first disagreement in Islamic community can be traced back to the issue of politics alone. This was the beginning of a shift in the social process [Page xvii]from polytheism to monotheism, from rules by customs to rule by law, from natural relationship based on blood and race to moral and spiritual association and from natural monarchy to power delegated by God.
In order to explain and interpret the prophetic tradition, there arose a discursive tradition in Islam and Ulema became its custodians; they were also seen as true heirs of the prophetic charisma, while the discursive tradition was raised to the stature of a sub-tradition. So, the Ulema and their tradition acquired a new power within Islam that later received quasi-sacrosanct status. The guardians of the political theology are the religious scholars and the Ulema. Muslim political theology developed over a period and under different empires. This phase of interpretation and elucidation of Quran and Hadith was coupled with an emergence of a novel philosophical school in Islam.
The philosophical teaching of Islam is further integrated with the exposition of Islamic ethics and political jurisprudence in post-caliphate era, and the political ethics (or the morals of politics) refers to a series of writings from Muslim scholars, who have attempted to advise and guide rulers to a successful and just method of governance. These prescriptions were usually accompanied by stories of previous kings and rulers. These were collections of Islamic teachings, Greek philosophy and some elements from Persian literature. Examples of these include Siyasatnama (Book of Government) of Nizam al-Mulk (1020–1092) and Nasihat al-Muluk (Advice to King) of Ghazali (1058–1111).
The Islam-infested political discourse in the medieval period was of a unilateral nature when theologians were essentially occupied with laying down the rules and norms for the Islamic governance. The classical and medieval eras of Islam exploded and expanded without any external intellectual resistance. The political, territorial and intellectual domains of Islam enjoyed complete internal autonomy and shaped the course of events and developments independently. The growth of unilateral literature on political Islam was reflective of the ascendance of Muslim powers in different parts of the world.
However, the European encroachment, which began in the 18th century and gradually consolidated in the early 19th [Page xviii]century in the Arab world, turned upside down and confronted the centuries-old ideas of divine-political governance. The introduction of philosophy of sovereignty of man-made laws ushered in the third stratum of political Islamic discourse which witnessed a departure from the previous contents of the ummah, shariah and jihad and replaced it with the concepts of nation-state, secularism and democracy from the West. The trilogy of caliphate, shariah and jihad vanished completely from the centre of the Islamic discourse with the arrival of Western colonization and the replacement of shariah by the Western legal code.
My purpose here is not merely to document a particular set of writing about political Islam; rather, my main objective is to relate the historical link of the present meaning of political Islam to the past and to ascertain that political Islam of today is rooted in the past and has very flexibly modified its vocabulary and idioms with the changing contours of history and time.
Over the past few decades, the term ‘political Islam’ with an apocalyptic implication has carved out its own space in both the scholar's lexicon and popular imagination. This concept has become a metaphor of choice in the pursuit of assigning meaning to a range of ideas, actions and behaviours, and it has recently navigated from its narrow religious reference to other domains as well.
Political Islam has become a key feature of the modern-day Arab-Islamic world and has found expression in a number of Islamic revivalist movements that later transformed into a political movement. It itself constitutes the central issue in many Arab-Islamic countries—be its appropriation, its rejection or its transformation.
With the foundation of theocracy after revolution in Iran, Islam became a major site of political and intellectual conflicts throughout the world. The Iranian Revolution threw out five decades of modern, Western and secularist monarchy. Some fifteen years later, absolutists came to power in Afghanistan, stimulating further the discourse on political Islam.
Political Islam is a form of political and religious utopia that acts as an ideological alternative to the invasion of modern doctrines of secularism, communism, socialism and liberalism. It is a form of instrumentalization of Islam by an individual, a group [Page xix]or an organization that pursues political objectives. It provides a political response to today's societal challenges by imagining a future, the foundation for which rests on a re-appropriated, invented concept borrowed from the Islamic tradition.
This is an ideology couched in the language of dissent, opposition and resistance to modern global order, and it seeks to oppose the existing ideology of socialism, Arabism, communism and also the borrowed concept of democracy which have been the dominant force in the Arab world in post-colonial era and acts as a quest for freedom, dignity and sovereignty, and stands against the authoritarian secular modernity of the West. This is a battle between the ideologization of religion and idealization of secularism. Political Islam as a philosophy attempts to synthesize the traditional thoughts to the modern concept of accountability and pluralism and rule of law.
It is more a political ideology than a religion or theology. Its adherents believe that Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered. Islamists are distinguished from other Muslim fundamentalists by their insistence on engagement with political structure and state apparatus as a means to establishing Islamic society. It is about the rule and primacy of religious authority over directorial authority which believes in different epistemological orders where the West represents different sets of knowledge while the Islamists believe that Muslims are the inheritors of a different set of knowledge and traditions.
Unlike Marxist's overemphasis on the socio-economic aspects of social order, the adherent of political Islam is an ardent believer in moral and cultural transformation. The integration of Islam as a primary agent of identity formation is a major component of the discourse. The colonial entrenchment may have acted as a force behind the ideologization of Islam and confrontationist ideology, but it was also the failure of the Arab regime to deliver wealth, dignity and power to the expectant population which popularized it further. The departure of colonial masters and the advantage of changes never trickled down to the common people in the Arab world. The oppressive nature of the regimes has played a greater role in according the status and legitimacy to this phenomenon.[Page xx]
This is not a universal and translational occurrence, but it has social and political contexts. The quest for political Islam is not driven by religious concern, but it has been more a cry in the crisis. It always arose as an attempt to provide a definitive answer to the existing political and religious predicaments. It has been more of a reaction than an action and stands for an ideological contestation with the far enemy and the near enemy; far enemy being the colonial master and near enemy representing the remnant groups of political and military elites of the Arab world.
All the prominent advocates of political Islam have invoked religiosity of politics in reaction to external domination and internal cultural decadence. Entire discourse of these Islamic advocates speaks of an alternative model to the Western philosophy and modernity.
The revivalist movement in the Arab-Islamic world has arisen as a reaction to the Western cultural onslaught, and this cultural hegemony has provided a context for the text of political Islam. For instance, Muslim Brotherhood (MBH) in Egypt has come into existence in its own imperial context, while the rise of Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia can be understood in the colonial context. Similarly, the rise of Ennahda in Tunisia and Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia has its own contextual specificity. Likewise, Shiite Amal in Lebanon and Sunni Algerian FIS (also called the Islamic Salvation Front) have different histories, backgrounds and philosophies, but both are known as bones of global political Islam.
One can see the external context of political Islam in the form of colonialism and internal context in the form of post-colonial polity based on autocracy and dictatorship. The Islamist forces have found post-colonial regime no better than the old colonial masters who merely acted as an antithesis for the promotion of Islamic values.
The origin of the Arab Spring can be due to the above-mentioned colonial and post-colonial contexts, as it is an outcome of prolonged simmering in the region. This is a rebellion on the part of deprived masses to achieve dignity, freedom, social justice and national sovereignty. This uprising is a response to utter despondence and a call for the rejection of dictatorship and [Page xxi]corruption, and reflects a desire for independence. It represents the triumph of Arab streets over the Arab elites and is motivated by the shared vision of responsibility and accountability. Ziauddin Sardar, a renowned scholar of Islam, has aptly called it a post-normal world and a tiger-wounded reaction.
The present uprising has brought the region at the crossroads of political and social transformation. Great uncertainties have enveloped the region, and processes of transitions are still unfolding which are not taking identical routes everywhere. This insurrection has pushed the region towards redefining its political landscape where political Islam has emerged as an inevitable force that wants to negotiate its space in the new emerging sociopolitical order. This uncertainty has brought a change in the traditional vocabulary and conduct of political Islam too, which is already visible. The absence of religious rhetoric in the demonstrations and protests in Egypt and Tunisia is a case in point. The change in the region has triggered a new debate on the future role of Islam, inviting various interpretations of the mode of its operation and politics of accommodation and adaptation in the newly created political vacuum.
The victory of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt and the subsequent disaster in Egypt itself embody a message that political Islam will be a decisive factor in redefining the politics of the Arab world. Several shades of Islamic voices ranging from moderate to liberal to fundamentalist to conservative to fanatic have emerged which are creating a rift among the Islamic forces. Some of the Islamist parties such as MBH and Ennahda have already started sounding moderate, while others such as Salafists in Egypt are posing as very conservative in their political outlook. Islamists themselves have provided several choices for the Arab masses that might bring about a sharp division among the so-called integrated ideologies of political Islam. It seems that it is not Islamism that will shape politics, but it will be politics that will shape Islamism.
The central theme of my study is to look into the changes taking place in the political ideology of the Islamists and the long-term trajectory of political Islam in the aftermath of the phenomenon called Arab Spring. This research will examine the relationship between Arab Spring and political Islam and explore how political Islam will respond to the unfolding [Page xxii]situation in the region. It will also investigate the role of religion in shaping the new Arab world.
Arab Spring is a recent phenomenon and still very much in the process. There has been no comprehensive exposition of the subject. A few expositions in the form of newspaper articles, commentaries and reports of the think tank cover some aspects of the subject. Most of the Arab media have covered the subject in a very ambiguous manner, with a narrow prism, and have not gone into the intricacies of the subject, while Western political commentators have adopted the same conventional tool of looking through the prism of confrontation.
The research intends to study the after effects of Arab Spring on the trajectory of political Islam. Political Islam in the post-Arab Spring contexts has not been examined comprehensively so far because of its transient nature. This study of mine may be one amongst the pioneers of the studies on political Islam in a new phase and form. It will make an important addition to the existing pool of literature on political Islam, treading on a new trajectory altogether. The chief component of my research is political Islam, and the Arab Spring will merely provide a window to look through. This will be in a way an original and innovative study, stimulating further research on the theme.
Apart from making theoretical enquiry on the theme of political Islam, I will introspect the ideological underpinning of political Islam in modern context in the first chapter of the book. This chapter will be devoted to the study of origin and evolution of the phenomenon. It will also investigate how the concept of social science is employed in studying the religious arena and how a movement beginning with a call for restoration of religious values transformed into a rejectionist philosophy and emerged to be a conflicting ideology against the Western sociopolitical and cultural norms.
The next chapter (Chapter 2) will be centred on the theme of the Quranic and theological contexts of political Islam. It will primarily deal with the contents and accounts of some of the prominent Quranic commentaries and theological writings highlighting the subject. This will cover the entire Muslim period, from the four caliphates to the declining phase of the Ottoman era.[Page xxiii]
Islamic response to the Arab politics during colonial and post-colonial phases will be the theme of the third chapter. This chapter will emphasize the colonial context of the rise of political Islam, in addition to giving an extensive focus to the different contours of responses to the Western cultural and political onslaught and social and economic penetration. The responses to Western imperialism consist of many shades leading to numerous discourses. Various streams of intellectualism emerged where some were of the view that Arab world's future lied in breaking from the past and imitating the West. While some adhered to the cultural past of the Arab world and called for the revival of Arab cultural heritage, there were others who believed in the amalgamation of Western modernism and the Arab past. It was this phase of confrontation in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries where one could trace the seeds of the present-day Arab Spring.
A major part of the book will deal with the Arab Spring and its subsequent impact on the future of political Islam. Chapter 4 constitutes the central theme of the book, and it will discuss at length the origin and implication of the Arab Spring for the Arab in general and Islamist forces in particular. It will study the responses of Islamic forces to the political uprising in the region and deal with the intricacies of the newly adopted moderation in the tonalities of political Islam. It will make a critical analysis of different shades of Islamic voices in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and why Islamic parties, such as Ennahda in Tunisia, did not shy away from entering into alliance with liberal forces, and on the other hand MBH preferred not only to go alone but showed no sign of accommodative politics.
The fifth and last chapter of the book will be an account of India's response to the Arab Spring and its implications for India. It will also investigate how the political upsurge in that region will modify the balance of power for India. This section will underline the impact of the Arab Spring on Indian foreign policy and briefly deal with the extent of changes India might require to adopt in the aftermath of the unfolding political situations in the region.[Page xxiv]
Political Islamic discourse has always been an indissoluble constituent of the Islamic thoughts throughout the history. There seems to be no rupture among the different phases of Islamic writings when it comes to underline the significance of politics in Islam.
Sometimes the narrative on political Islam is defined invariably as a part of Islamic shariah and sometimes as a part of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In the classical and medieval eras, the political Islamic discourse drew heavily on the Holy Book and the Sunnah of the Prophet, followed by the writings of classical Islamic jurists and commentaries of eminent Islamic thinkers.
During the colonial and post-colonial periods, the discourse was more dominated by an alternative Islamic model against the Western political subjugation and the cultural dominance of the major part of the Arab world—an Islamic order that is cleansed of all innovations, deviations and influences that have crept into it over the years.1 This was an era when Islam was posited as a comprehensive phenomenon in itself and it was taken as a political blueprint for the ummah. The ideological writings always invoked the cultural, political, religious and judicial past of the Muslims, and it invariably represented itself as a cultural model before the onslaught of Western modernity. The colonial period witnessed the rise of political Islam as a cry in the crisis and stood as a dialectical model to the Western one.
The primary objective of the political discourse in Islam has been the creation of an Islamic state and it saw in it the real transformation of the meaning, progress and objective of ummah. The immediate objective of the Islamic ideological discourse between [Page 278]both the Shiites and Sunnis was the creation of an Islam-driven system and a political translation of the Islamic spirit.
The Islamic discourse of MBH did not mature until it attained the objective of the creation of an Islamic state. On the other hand, for the Shiites, the objective was the establishment of the wilayat-i-faqih (the rule of the jurist) as witnessed in Iran after the Islamic revolution. For the Salafists, political Islam is a combination of efforts to create a prophetic model of society and the state. One can also see an overlap between the idea of a ummah and the Islamic state, and very often the debates have failed to determine the exact primacy between the two.
Islamic political debate has always harboured a utopia of creating a state for itself but largely remained devoid of evolving a mechanism to achieve a civic state in modern sense, promote the citizenry, establish a state institution, and separate and distribute the power which is the mainstay of Western liberal democratic state. Instead, its ideologues have deliberated more upon the issues like Islamic identity, protection of the Islamic heritage, execution of the shariah, creation of the ummah and the Islamic vanguard and preaching the belief in divine sovereignty. Modern ideologues have failed to engage with the existing state because it was an illegal, temporary and usurped state as per the Shiite doctrine.
There has been no single universal model of political Islam that could be applied across the globe irrespective of its different cultural, political and civilizational persuasions. There are different models emanating from different geographical, cultural and political confines, like Taliban and Jihadist, who give jihad and violence precedence over the political engagement to bring the rule of the Almighty. There are Turkish models that seem to be more pragmatic in their engagement with the issue of state, freedom, citizenship, economic development and international relation. There are reformed versions of MBH that have developed over the years and emerged as advocates of citizenship, democracy, politics of consultation, multi-party system and the political participation, which are the signs of the dominant political culture at present. There is an Iranian model that craves for the rule of jurist enjoying all powers in order to extend their [Page 279]rule beyond the region in an endeavour to foster the support for its spiritual leaders.
The dominant political Islamic discourse in the Arab world had not matured to comprehend a new vision of a civilian state in its lexicon. It perhaps failed to understand or absorb the core and generic of state in the true modern Western sense. Its ideological rhetoric, which is marred by the traditional thoughts rather than rationality, could not absolve itself of age-old debate of the primacy and subordination between the tradition and the rationality. This may be owed to the involvement or engagement of the generation of the Islamic ideologues with the classical Islamic epistemological reservoir with an emphasis on Quranic injunctions as a regulatory body of the state without resorting to its rational interpretations or explanations.
It fails to bring the Islamic injunctions out of its contextual incarceration, leading to the irrational rationality behind the plea of application of the Islamic teachings in all times to come. Not only this, it remains ambivalent to the changes taking place in the modern world and is oblivious of the political complexities and nuances involved in today's global order. When the modern-day political discourse is more concerned with the human rights and citizenry, the Islamic ideological rhetoric is completely devoid of pressing issues like national community, political community and the civil society whose protection is the primary objective of any state. It is more concerned to protect the religion, life, honour, wealth and mind, which have been the part of classical Political Islamic discourse since ages.
The Islamic discourse has also displayed the sign of selectivity in its unilateral choice of the Islamic heritage despite the insistence of some like Banna and others who resorted to other ideas and thoughts as well while formulating a political blueprint. Modern-day Islamists ignore the accommodative, reconciliatory and conformationist teachings of thinkers like Tahtawi, Afghani and Abduh, who tried to create a harmony between Islam and modernity. This was witnessed in the 18th century when a series of Arab delegations travelled to Europe and learnt the modern art of politics. It was under this impact that the Ottoman had established the first parliament on the Western model and that [Page 280]happened in almost every Arab country. Even Banna, despite his difference with the formation of political parties, had labelled the constitutional representative government as the best one.
Today's Islamists failed to grasp modern realities and adhered to the old classical underpinning of Islam. This adherence to the classical underpinning led to the shrinking of the space of shariah in its application to resolve the day-to-day crisis and went to the extent of even losing its relevance. They made the shariah such a conditional and regulatory mechanism that it failed to offer any solution for the day-to-day crisis. These ideological deviations among different generational thinkers reflect the exiting rupture between the streams of their ideas and these differences fail to create an exemplary model of an Islamic state.
The existence of the secularists, liberals and socialists on the one hand and the Islamists on the other in the political domain of the Arab world created a fissure what we have been witnessing in Egypt and other nations in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The secularists have always been receptive to the political and liberal ideas of the West and were against the imitation of Islamic tradition with the blind eyes, conservative minds and without interrogating its context and circumstances. The creation of the MBH was the reflection of these liberal ideas, but over the years, when the second generation took over its leadership in the form of Qutb and other like-minded people, it turned into a radical political group discarding all that were emanating from other than Islamic traditions. This was the departure from the civilian nature of the Islamic discourse to the fundamentalist discourse advocating a narrow meaning of Jihad.
This new dominant stream within the MBH gave rise to the novel idea that the shariah and not the ummah is the component of the Islamic project and the real Islamic state meant for the Islamization of the society. State is for the application of the Islamic laws and, moreover, state would not be a state unless it implements the religion of Islam in its comprehensive manner regardless of whether citizens are Muslims or non-Muslims. Shariah became a source of authority and it is the duty of the state to preach religion and the shariah, and the state is an organ to implement the true Islamic laws.[Page 281]
These radical thoughts were being rooted in the Arab world when the politics of Arab nationalism was trying to sabotage the Islamic project. Arab nationalists resorted to the revolutionary ideologies to counter the Islamists and that delayed the process and progress of real political debate based on the political ethics. The confrontation between these two forces deprived the common masses of human freedom and political rights, and no place was left for dignity and equality.
The project of pan-Arabism failed to create a national political identity where the state failed to create a civic state. The political disaster of the Arab project was exploited by the Islamists who captured the political space within the Arab world. The failure of the Arabism paved the way for the rise of the rhetoric ideology of Islam, and the political domain of Arab nationalists was crushed and trampled by the Islamists. The efforts of the autocrat to scuttle the opposition voices and prevent it from emerging as a political opposition led to fill the vacuum by the Islamists alone instead of the liberals, secularists and socialists as well. The rise of these conservationist forces may also be owed to the autocratic policies carried by the so-called liberals, secularists and socialists. This conservative phenomenon of Islam created another Islamic project to mobilize people in the name of the failure of the other Arab projects.
Here came the Arab Spring which offered a new breath of life to the suppressed and thwarted voice of political Islam for decades in different parts of the region. The Arab Spring provided an opportunity to the Islamists to translate its age-old ideological rhetoric into reality, which had been never experimented or tested in the past with one or two exceptions. Thus far, they had talked of Islamic political idealism in terms of authority and power but were deprived of an opportunity to transform it into a practical and existing reality.
The Arab Spring came along with an open space to translate the rhetoric of decades which remained confined to the ideal writing of the ideologues, jurists and legal experts. For instance, Ennahdha in Tunisia, after the uprising, turned its discourse more towards pragmatism and realism going far away from its traditional slogan. There was no more chanting of ‘Islam is [Page 282]a solution’ or ‘Islamic state’. Islamic project was no more the part of their political manifesto, and they were more concerned with other serious issues like economic advancement, political rights, freedom and establishment of a civic state. This uprising offered an opportunity to accommodate the Western political thoughts too in its exclusive political lexicon in order to expand the scope of classically engraved model of the state that has been ignored by their theorist.
However, there are others, like Salafists, who still adhere to the old classical sloganeering: the questions of the state identity and the application of the shariah. The Salafist agenda was swamped with the same issues before the revolution too and they are still harbouring the old classical view of Islam. This cultural stagnation has created a split with other Islamic groups who are calling for a new Fiqh of necessity as opposed to the Fiqh of objectives.
After the Arab Spring, there have been growing trends of politicization among different Islamic groups, and a culture of political engagements has emerged which is endeavouring to negotiate with the new realities. This has been coupled with the proliferation of political parties, and even the Islamic groups are not lagging behind. Several new Islamic groups have emerged with different names, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, which named its political arm ‘Construction and Development Party’ that is an unprecedented and novel experience. The series of revolutions witnessed in the Arab world has created a virtual image of pan-Islamism and shadow representation of ummah, which the Islamist groups have been craving for decades. It has brought a unity among people of all ideological persuasions. It has also turned the table against extremist groups, such as Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Tunisian Islamic leader, Rached Ghannouchi, very rightly pointed out that in the autumn of 2011, Al-Qaeda was finished, thanks to the revolution.2
Sharef Saleh, in his book Arab Spring in the Light of Philosophy of History, very rightly claims that the Arab Spring from its [Page 283]philosophical point of view represents a progressive movement in general course of movement of the history. Introducing the Hegelian philosophy, he challenges the doom and gloom theory of the Arab Spring and argues that negativism manifested by sacrifices of the people of Egypt and Tunisia is a precondition to achieve the positive and that is the birth of a genuine democracy. It is the Hegelian dialectic, an idea challenged by a counter idea subsequently to produce a new idea.3 He also cautions that the battle needs to be won first intellectually and later on politically and precedent of intellectual victory will enlighten the Arab masses at large. The democracy being talked about in the Arab world in the post-Arab Spring phase is stripped of true and real sprit of democracy and it is a hollow sloganeering.
We have seen how the reign of authoritarianism has been broken by the event of the Arab Spring that has given a new trajectory to the national political discourse where Islamists have emerged as the dominant voice. The rise of MBH and Ennahdha to the centre of power—a first instance in modern history when Islamist parties came to power through the democratic process—has been phenomenal. Both had difficult time in the government because they are devoid of past experience of governance. It is also true that one year was a very short period to judge one's performance, particularly when one had no experience of governance in the past and especially when they were subjected to a deep scrutiny and were faced with a plethora of economic and political demands of the people.
The downfall of Morsi was too early to predict as it has exhausted all the post-MBH predictions on the ground, and one needs to re-introspect what went wrong and what lies ahead for a country and for the region as a whole. History punished the Egyptian revolution for naivety—for being insufficiently prepared to carry the vision of the freedom. The Egyptian revolution, particularly in all its three stages—Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), MBH and military—carried its own baggage of illusions, weakness, distortion and a set of unique [Page 284]challenges. First, Tahrir saw the inauguration of Osama Sharif, inauguration of Morsi and the same place saw the coming together of the people, police and the army where people were holding the portrait of El-Sisi. The first revolution was against Mubarak, second, was against SCAF when on 12 August 2012 SCAF was thrown out by Morsi and the last one was seen to be against the Islamists themselves. Morsi's ouster will have far-reaching implications for political Islam in the region passing through a highly volatile phase. Now, it is an open-ended question before the Islamists who can ask themselves whether the democracy had any place in the Arab world. The revolution that had introduced an element of democracy in the Arab politics would be thwarted once again in this counter-revolution and would reinforce the argument of the radicals who always invariably profess that change cannot come through democracy and violence is the only true path.
The ouster of Morsi was a well-manifested fact of the shortsightedness of the Islamic rule which showed no interest in reconciliation or in broadening its support base or exhibiting any seriousness to promote democracy. Morsi could not reinvent himself; he could not be the Mandela his people wanted.4 He could not divest himself of the most stringent aspects of his own heritage, the vision, belief system and agenda of MBH, whose heritage did not include breadth of vision and liberal mindsets.
In comparison of MBH, Ennahdha has fared marginally well; the country is more homogenous than Egypt and in better shape economically. Moreover, Ennahdha avoided the doctrinal approach in crucial areas when it came to the real and pure politics which Morsi could not overlook. When the government and the political approach of MBH were more driven by the traditional belief system and detest for the current political outlook, the mode and approach of Ennahdha was more guided and shaped by practicality and pragmatism. What one Tunisian clergy, Al-Baji, has pointed out is that while MBH opted for victory, Ennahdha endeavoured for the success of the revolution.5 The success of Ennahdha can also be attributed to [Page 285]politics of accommodation across the spectrum rather than of exclusion, which was the hallmark of MBH after they arrived into the cradle of power. MBH failed to reach a formula to run the country, and the downfall of Morsi shows the internal weakness of MBH. While Tunisia opted for a politics that carried the views of every one, particularly when the democracy was in a very immature stage. The Islamist ideologues in Tunisia knew well that any confrontation at this stage with the other stream of national politics would be disastrous for the future of the democracy. There must be a political solution to accommodate these voices and they should not be allowed to remain outside of the political structure.6
The leadership of Ennahdha was astute enough to comprehend their future plan in the national politics of Tunisia and maintained all ideological and political distance with the radical groups like the Salafist. On the other hand, Morsi's plan of governance was completely devoid of such far-sightedness and was oblivious of the fact that they were to confront new people, new aspirations and new challenges emanating from a different set of circumstances. Unlike MBH, Ennahdha leadership prioritized its plan and worked accordingly. They acted first to fulfil the objectives of its own people and help cherish the revolutionary dream of the masses where MBH left behind the objective of the revolution—dignity, freedom, bread, unity—and devoted more energy in the implementation of the out-dated agendas which were dear to them alone. The Arab political life is too diverse to allow one single political grouping or the party to dominate the entire system, even with the MBH and Ennahdha being considered the best-organized political groups in Egypt and Tunisia, respectively.7
The installation of democracy will not happen as quickly as many Arabs are imagining or thinking. In the absence of autonomy to other branches of the government, the existence of a divided society would make the transition difficult. In case of [Page 286]Egypt, where Army is still all powerful with multi-billion stakes in the establishment and corporate enterprises, the entrenchment and diffusion of democratic seeds would be a real, challenging and difficult task. However, one reality has emerged that democracy would only be a political plank for all political persuasions what Oliver Roy had rightly pointed out after the Arab Spring, that is, Islamism and democracy have become interdependent and neither can survive in absence of the other.8 Some have written the obituary of the Islamists after the exit of Morsi, but this is not a true anticipation because the religion of Islam constitutes the core of the identity and political Islamic discourse is likely to dominate the future political campaign.
However, Islamists need to respond to a series of questions in the revolutionary era: the role of shariah, its relation with the extremist groups, place of woman in politics, relation with the people of other community, questions of human rights and minority rights and Islamic activism should or should not be part of social organization. What model of Islam will be integrated in the revolution-invested country—Saudi Arabia, where democratic election is still as contrary to Islamic tradition, or Turkey, which has taken up the Islamic project of democracy and where shariah is taken as strive to lessen the corruption and promote freedom or the Iranian model which was not hesitant to claim the Arab Spring was an extension the Islamic Revolution—is not obvious. The time has come when the Arabs might think that they should not restrict themselves only to religion-centric political culture, and the scope of the religions needs to be widened and broadened further.
It is the time for the Islamic leadership to allay the apprehensions of the masses vis-à-vis political Islam, as one Arab woman noted that MBH would work with the feeling of revenge while another woman added that Egypt would be on the path of progress if it remains united and powerful enough to fight the fascism of MBH.9 Some of the Islamist blocks like Salafists have not committed themselves unequivocally to the democratic principle, and it is not clear what they would do if or [Page 287]when they take power. The next few years seem to be difficult for those nations that have gone through the revolution. One needs to counter the looming force of reactionary and religious politics. The Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt gave way to a heated summer in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Religion will have an important role in determining the democratic transition in these countries.
The future of Egypt democracy is in danger when the elected government is removed by the military and the takeover has proved that the Arab spring failed to fulfil the aspirations of the masses. It might lead to a military dictatorship for a longer period of time, military dominion of the politics, civil war or a mix of all. There would be an escalation in the region with the passage of time, having disastrous impact on the region and the globe. The removal of Morsi was a step back in civil–military relations and more worrying is its regional outcome, and one needs to watch how it will impact the rest of the Arab world. It will also send a message that only army guarantees the political rights and not the constitution or the democratic institution.
MBH must be a part of any political process in the future and stability would not come only through providing security to the people but when there is inclusive politics and each political block would have its space. There must be participation from all walks of life in the evolving democracy in the region. Political reconciliation and inclusion are very important. A proper and long-lasting deal must be clinched with the Islamic forces of the country. Political memory is very short and every government should be aware that the same resurgent group who came out to oust Islamism can come out again to oust them. Popularity and trust do not last long.
The Islamic cadres are well mobilized to be cohesive in their opposition to the regime, while the army would try to prove their commitment to their road map. The culture of resistance on the part of the Islamic cadres would not pave the way for democracy. The ongoing trial of Morsi has deepened the polarization within Egyptian society. This polarization serves Islamists because it helps them to tell common masses that they are being targeted and the army seeks it as an excuse to tell the nation that they are defending the people. In this binary struggle, [Page 288]the biggest victim is the objective of the January revolution: democracy, social justice and freedom. The struggle is no longer over economic and political rights but over power and the state. Both sides are avoiding to answer the questions about the political and economic rights since democracy has dawned. MBH is claiming to represent Islamic ideology and exhibiting all love and concern to religious identity. The very query on the part of the Islamists about the choice between MBH and non-MBH deprives one of their democratic choices about political and economic rights.
After the overthrow of Morsi in July 2013, the army is asking the same question that whether the people support the army or the MBH. The central theme at present should be how to protect and translate the slogans of the 25 January Revolution into politics that could bring better future for Egypt and Egyptians. Morsi will be remembered in history less as a first democratically elected government in the post-Revolution Egypt than as a failed leader who fell short of translating the objective of the revolution in the programmes and failed to achieve anything from the revolution. His policy demonstrated that his party had a long way to go before it was ready for the government despite being the world's largest and best organized Islamic party.
Now the army sees the present as an opportunity to shape the Egypt of its own choice, and it would love to remain free of the control of any civilian government in the near future. The army can see the risk of the radicalization of Islamism across the region and they might argue that an Islamist attempt to work within a democracy would be doomed to failure. The sense of disenfranchisement is reinforced once again, and one can see the repression in the past in Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, where they had been targeted. The military intervention is a watershed that is fraught with danger and likely to reverberate throughout the region. The transition will be quite complicated from autocracy to democracy.
The regime of Morsi inherited a set of problems but failed to understand its complexities like the military dynamic in the state structure, bureaucratic red-tapism and its entanglement in day-to-day state policies, role of the police forces, administrative barrier and the embedded root of secularist and the liberal [Page 289]agency what the media has called the deep state. Moreover, the new Islamic government failed to foster the support from other state agencies and was constantly subjected to non-cooperation from other state institutions.10
The new ruling party failed to comprehend that the security and economy were closely related to each other and could not prosper unless one assured the other. The division and deep polarization of the society among the Islamists, moderates and secularists are obvious in the case of Egypt.
Since the election was held just after ten months of the revolution and people's votes were the votes of protest and votes to do away not just with the regime alone but also with the system itself. It was also a failure on the part of the Islamists to consider that anti-Mubarak votes belonged to the Islamists and they were the natural inheritor of the power in Egypt. The Islamists takeover cannot be attributed to its ideological appeal alone but it was also because of the absence of other voices in the last sixty years. The response of Islamists to social upheaval was one of the key reasons for their success.11
The FJP was overenthusiastic about election verdict it received, but it forgot that Egypt had witnessed it earlier too. There have been instances in the past in Egypt where a high mandate could not help the party to implement its agenda. The Wafd Party's government, which after the revolution of 1919 had captured more than 90 percent seats in the national assembly election of 1923, lasted merely ten months.12 In three decades of its existence until 1952, the Wafd Party was destined to capture the power six times out of ten elections held, but the total duration of its rule did not exceed seven years. It shows that centres of power are not merely represented in the majority votes or in the strength of political parties but true political power is represented in state apparatus.[Page 290]
There is a need for pragmatism rather than ideology to deal with the new emerging realities and perhaps this was the reason which forced youths to come out of the ideological burden and form their own pragmatic group. The commitment to pluralism is a prerequisite for political and economic renewal of the Arab world and it must be demanded of every one, Islamists and secularists alike. Instead of marginalizing the Islamists and fearing them, all countries need to ensure that no group can monopolize the truth, rule indefinitely and deny the right of others. Pluralism cannot survive unless all parties concede that only state can carry the arms, in line with the Weber's monopoly of the legitimate use of physical forces theory.13
Both the secularists and Islamists need to work harder for the democracy and to advance accountability. It is a time when the politics should replicate the ideology and the Islamists should come out of their ideological cover, guide their political behaviours in the light of modern realities, go for assimilation instead of politics of isolation and exclusion, and should be subservient to the politics of absorption. Now new groups of youths have emerged to bring the ideology out of politics, opting to think independent of the religion and calling for a discourse with a primacy to the civilian issues. There are numerous instances in the history where ideology gets defeated by politics and the same might be seen in the Arab world in the near future. There are also evidences of ideological rhetoric of opposition turns into political pragmatism in the power. Ideological rhetoric is replaced by practicalities in the practice and power makes one forget the politics of ideology and principles.
Now the Islamists will have to break the fort of the religion that they have erected around themselves. Most of the Islamists see democracy still as a means of the governance but forget to concede it as a part of political culture. Democracy is a foundation to learn the means of the governance, its philosophical engagement is must and one cannot pick the one element of democracy and abandon the others.
[Page 291]Democracy cannot root and sustain itself unless it is derived from the civilizational and cultural core of given geographical landscape. It is not a task of politics to make people religious or fix their religious orientation; instead, it should aim to cater to the interest of the community. Politics is about the programme and social and economic projects to seek the legitimacy from the masses. It is for the religion alone to transform the religious consciousness of the masses. Politics will not remain politics if it moves out to achieve some other objectives.
State is a pragmatic institution and through it people want their needs to be fulfilled. The state is an institution based on the accord and not a thought or set of beliefs. It cannot be a preaching institute because it would not help resolve the poverty and other issues of present time. Democracy cannot be achieved without putting faith in the value of man. Political Islam has wasted a lot of time in the politicization of the religion and that is how they reached to the zenith of the power but they failed to present a model state for the Muslim community itself, let alone the whole political community. Political Islam ignores the preliminary side of the political engagement with the people who are the real motive behind the formation of the state.
Islamists too along with other political players must develop serious economic programme and should stop wasting energy in declaring each other backward and irrelevant, and if one thinks that Islamists are gone, they are wrong. They cannot be stopped away from participating in the democracy, and historically pushing the Islamists out of political process has historically resulted in a cycle of violence and retaliation—a process that ultimately radicalized the Islamists. The Islamic groups may once again take shelter in the politics of violence and if not the core group, there may emerge other factionalism within which they might challenge the central leadership and take the arms. MBH of Egypt may abet other radical groups like Salafist Jihadist when they are on retreat but at the same time they make some cohesion with the liberals to counter the ideologies of the Salafists who are hobnobbing with the army after the exit of MBH. MBH enjoys all influences over the Salafist jihadist and it is evident from the fact that the number of attacks in Sinai had lessened after the arrival of Morsi to the power. [Page 292]Morsi too had claimed that if he had come to power, the attacks in the peninsula would be stopped.
Arab world is the mosaic of ethnic and religious communities and while the Arab prides itself on its diversity, its politics and culture do not meet the rhetoric. What they need to respect are the rights of all minorities and no ethnic community or sect should be treated like a second-class citizens. Inclusion is, therefore, a core component not only of political pluralism but also of social, geographical and political cohesion. There is a general perception that democracy is the cure for every solution but that is not true. What is important is real political transformation involving freedom and justice; there should be a combination of social justice and free economy and there should also be links between security and freedom and between nation and the globe. It is the time for Arab to learn to respect the justice and rights of others, and they should evolve a culture of debates and discussions which is the true ethos of democracy.14
Masses chose to bring the Islamists to the power in the name of democracy and to establish a civil state, and accordingly the Islamists should respond to it and come up with a project of modernity to bring them out of their material backwardness. People should be brought out of intellectual and scientific ghettoism to earn the political legitimacy and popular acceptance and to prepare a blueprint away from idealism of Islam in a world so complicated itself. No thought in this world should be statist or frozen but it should move and transform with the changing time. What is required is to shrink the gap between the historic religious discourse and the reality of the modern politics. It is not the change that needed to be paced, rather the pace that needed to be changed.15 The situation is crystallized at different levels after the Arab Spring, and one needs to see how the nature of politics changes in the region.
Similarly, the culture of freedom is completely absent from the land of the Arab world. In the post-revolutionary era, Arab [Page 293]masses should strive to advance the project for freedom and the question of freedom must be prioritized over the application of Islam in civil and political life.16 Men should enjoy all sort of freedom to accept or reject the Islamic project of different Islamic groups active in the region. Islam has different meanings and different interpretations for different sets of people, and it is the primacy of freedom which would provide all space to accept or reject one particular interpretation and this absence of freedom leads to ascendancy of extremist ideas.
Likewise, there should be a campaign for the rule of law in practice and culture and it should be preceded by a legal reform. Sovereignty or rule of law is an indissoluble part of Islamic legal system and the principle of Islamic shariah itself commands that law should be equal for all whether he is strong or weak, ruler or ruled, young or old.17
There can be splits among different Islamic groups who had been the part of alliance in past given the isolation of the MBH and its exclusion from the national political process or reconciliation. The ideological gap and the difference might diminish because of the growing frustration among these groups and all may choose or resort to the politics of violence. The Salafists might emerge as the most powerful political force and it may be owed to two reasons: Army in Egypt would like to go along with Salafists with intent to convey the feelings that army was not anti-Islamic per se but were opposed to the exclusive ideology of MBH. Other, the Salafists would like to dominate and fill the vacuum left by the MBH and would not allow the other liberals or secularists to take over that space. One may also observe a noticeable transformation in the political stance of the Salafists having learnt a bitter lesson from the confrontation between the military and the MBH.
Ideological division and Islamic–secular polarization will divert the energy towards something else. This ideological contestation and political battle will exhaust the entire national project. This would hamper the peaceful transition to the democracy and create narrow interest groups in the country. [Page 294]The ideological battle may be transformed into a class struggle as liberals and secularist are taken to be from an elite and rich class and it will be a prolonged struggle. The constant demand on the part of the liberals for the exclusion of the Islamists from the political sphere would create a situation full of conflict. The liberals being more open and receptive to political changes should show all sorts of tolerance.
Elections in Tunisia and Egypt have made it clear that changes have not sunk deep enough and they do no seem to be spread wide enough yet. The old force remains intact but this would not last long. Much of the fear of Arab democrats and Islamists calling for democracy was grounded in its negative association with the liberal democracy of the West-like agenda of promotion of democracy. At present, Arab public seems to have little in common beyond the immediate objective of overthrowing despotic rulers. Social forces are either nascent or remnants of regime's brutality. Pluralism is still a vague concept and diverse political agendas invite more discord than cooperation.18
The issue of democratization within the Islamic project will be the biggest challenge in the ensuing days. The political Islamic movement should not be oblivious of the fact that a true political movement should be ready to fill the vacuum left by the predecessors. The Islamists should make all efforts to allay all apprehension the liberals and secularists are harbouring after their arrival to the helm of the affairs.
The basic hurdle to the transition of the Arab societies lies with emancipating the Arab culture and political thoughts as prerequisite for fostering individualism. Political liberation without social and economic liberation is a recipe for anarchy and prolonged instability. Arabs everywhere are developing a test for freedom and personal expression. The freedom of expression is primarily a building block of democracy, but it is counterproductive without the recognition of others and existence of an inclusive political community. This is the time for creativity about the future where investment and sustainability, [Page 295]not consumerism and militarism, are the bedrock of the Arab development.
Arab society needs to make a political community based on the rule of laws and consensus on fundamental rule of exchange. A prerequisite for ushering in this daunting process involves advancing an independent critical thinking in order to equip entrants into politics with negotiation skills that accommodates the others and recognises the merits of others. Arab needs to learn to disagree respectfully.
As far as India is concerned, it needs a multi-pronged and long-term strategy to deal with the new Arab world. I have noted in the previous section how India was also completely baffled and astounded over the sudden upsurge of the mass movement in the Arab world against the incumbent regimes. India dealt with the complex situations in accordance with its huge economic interest involved in the region. Moreover India never wants to be seen as an interventionist power and at the same time not letting its multiple interest be hampered. There were a few prominent factors, which guided and reflected the Indian response to the Arab Spring, namely the protection of national interests, safety and welfare of overseas citizens, maintaining equilibrium at home, re-enforcing principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention, and inclination towards preserving the status quo. India also adopted a multi-pronged policy on the international forum and there were lack of consistency too which was reflected in cases of Libya and Syria.
One of the biggest challenges for India is to prevent itself from falling into the orbit of Iran and Saudi Arabia—two hegemonic rivals in the region, and both an insoluble source of energy for India. Moreover, India's growing energy requirement is met by the oil-rich countries of the Arab world. Currently, the Gulf region, including Iran, alone supplies about 60 percent of India's total import of oil and natural gas. India's economic concern in dealing with the new Arab world was followed by its worry for its trapped workers and employees in the Arab Spring-infested countries. The security and safety of its people were the major source of concern for the government and similar was the case during the Gulf Wars I and II and Lebanese war of 2006. The [Page 296]total number of Indian workers varies from four to six million and there is no exact report in this regard. The safety of Indians overseas prompted the Indian government to take an immediate measure to evacuate them from the conflict zone. Moreover, India is highly conscious of the large-scale presence of the Shiite sect in the country before making any policy statement given the sectarian character of the violence in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and involvement of two Sunni–Shiite rivals in the region: Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Apart from this traditional stance of passivity and indifferent attitude and act-merely-on-temporary basis, there was no clear or ideal response from India's side which was subjected to large-scale condemnation and some described the Indian policy, ‘the silence is the gold’. This ‘fence sitting attitude’ on the part of India was criticized more when India saw itself as a great power, and international community also wants India to share the responsibility if it desires to be accepted as a global power. In the 21st century, India cannot afford to be adhered to its cold war era policy of equidistance. This is an era of evolving multilateral world system where world has been divided into multiple blocks and what is required now is an assertive policy but without sacrificing national and regional interest. Here, one is not exhorting to abandon the core ideals of foreign policy, but adherence does not necessarily mean stagnation and status quo when world is changing every moment and what happens in the confines of the nation becomes global in a fraction of a second.
It is time for India to not only activate its foreign policy but also determine the priority in the world politics, and it should divest itself of over-involvement in other regions to pay adequate attention. The dwindling political engagement must be corrected and must take cognisance of the growing significance of the region, not only for the sake of oil but also for growing proximity of the region and enhancing danger of global extremism and terrorism, and the region happens to be the hub of them. Growing cooperation to combat terrorism between India and few Gulf nations is a good sign but more needs to be done in this regard. India needs to stride a conscious [Page 297]path while dealing with the Arab–Persian war. Moreover, India needs to monitor the emerging fault lines in the region after the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring is a major source of instability in the whole region, which might affect the sectarian coherence here as well. India should try hard to prevent this cleavage in its own country because the presence of large number of Shiite might lead to this fragmentation.
Epilogue: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria[Page 298]
Amidst the array of narrative and counter-narrative about the origin, evolution and prospective multi-layered implications of the Arab uprising, a new phenomenon emerged in the Arab world, which not only changed the contours of discourse about Arab politics but also changed the entire trajectory of political developments in the region. This phenomenon is known across the world as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The new jihadism has not ushered in a new era of extremist and radical Islamic polity only but has impacted the political and geostrategic dynamics of the region and opened a new chapter in the strategic polity of the Arab world. It has introduced a new set of politics, created an additional faultiness and engendered new alliances in the region, which has, again, made West Asia a hostage to the politics of regional and global power when one had begun to assume that the Arab uprising would not only get rid of prolonged and lingering autocracy but also be a free and autonomous entity in the global politics.
Much has been written and is still being explicated to narrate the story of its origin and evolution. Some have attributed its evolution and emergence on the political horizon to the exclusive and exploitative sectarian politics in Iraq in the wake of the demise of Saddam's regime, subsequent assertion and intervention of Iran in the region, and execution of divisive policy in so-called liberated Iraq at the behest of the United States. What has been more startling and alarming about the ISIS is the pace at which it acquired a global phenomenon, and very soon it was the possessor of huge territories in both Iraq and Syria. One of the special operation commanders of the United [Page 299]States stated: ‘We have not defeated the idea and even we do not understand the idea’.1
The world came to know about the ferocity and the real objectives of ISIS when they declared, at the beginning of January 2014, in Fallujah in Iraq, an Islamic state, and its statement said: ‘We declare Fallujah an Islamic state and we are here to defend you from the army of Maliki (erstwhile Prime Minister of Iraq) and Iranian Safavid’.2 They did not stop there only, and very soon on 29 June 2014, on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, ISIS declared itself as a caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph Ibrahim, calling all Muslims around the world to immediately express loyalty to the caliphate.3
The document, ‘The Promise of Allah’, which carries the declaration of the establishment of caliphate, says:
There only remained one matter, a Wajib-e-Kifayah (collective obligation) that the Umma sins by abandoning. It is a forgotten obligation. The Umma has not tasted honor since they lost in 1924 when Kamal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate. It is a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer. It is a hope that flutters in the heart of a monotheist. It is the caliphate. It is the Caliphate—the abandoned obligation of the era.4
It was the time when they controlled the territories worth the size of 423 miles in Iraq and Syria.5 This bold move on the part of [Page 300]so-far-unknown entity had come when they had captured within twenty-four hours large swaths of territories in the northern town of Mosul in Iraq after ousting the US-trained Iraqi army on 9–10 June 2014. They not only captured the town but also issued a charter for the city, outlining new laws for the land. The regulations imposed on the cities were the same that were already imposed in the town of Raqqa in Syria. The ISIS was able to fill that vacuum through a set of administrative laws, including humanitarian, economic and educational services to the people in the absence of state welfare policies there.6
Very soon, the ISIS became a territorial entity and when its chief made his first public appearance on 4 July 2014, it had full control, from the al-Bab of Aleppo in Syria to Suleiman Bek of Saladin province of Iraq to Raqqa in Syria as its proclaimed capital.7 What is more surprising is that only before the capture of Mosul, the total net value of ISIS's wealth was around US$875 million and it was assessed to be earning around US$2 million of revenue by selling or smuggling the oil of Iraq.8Year of Its Evolution
Like Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist movements, the ISIS has its origins in the troubled West Asia and its neighbourhood but under different time and space. Their growth and expansion also followed the similar (not-so-similar) trajectories. ISIS has objectives more or less similar to those of its predecessors to pursue the policy and strategies to guide their foot soldiers to establish their credentials, legitimize their causes, expand their reach and strengthen their bases by mobilizing recruitments and [Page 301]creating ideologues and sympathizers. In Dabiq,9 the IS instigates the sentiments of Muslims in the Arab world.
The time has come for those generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by the vilest of all people, after their long slumber in the darkness of neglect—the time has come for them to rise.10
One of its other statements claims,
The time has come for the Umma of Muhammad (PBUH)) to wake up from its sleep, remove the garments of dishonor, and shake off the dust of humiliation and disgrace, for the era of lamenting and moaning has gone, and the dawn of honor has emerged anew.11
For the last fifteen years, Al-Qaeda affiliates had been gaining ground in the region and more effectively in those nations that have become vulnerable, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other bordering states, particularly after the Arab uprising, which left many states disunited with collapsed state institutions. The ISIS has been frequently heard proclaiming they are ‘Lasting and Expanding’. If the deep consolidation of ISIS can be attributed to power vacuum in the region in the wake of the Arab uprising and particularly the rise of sectarian political divide and its execution, then the real origin may be dated back to the persisting politics of last days of the second millennium when its father figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was released from the jail of Jordan after serving the term for possession of weapons and being the member of Bay'at al-Imam (House of Leader).
Zarqawi, after his release, moved to Afghanistan and wanted to revive his contact with the jihadists, and by the time the US forces launched its campaign in Iraq in 2003, the Zarqawi group [Page 302]had consolidated itself in the vicinity of Mosul and that was the beginning of the real consolidation of Zarqawi's jihadist agenda in the Arab world. The year 2003–04 witnessed an intense phase of suicidal attacks and suicidal car bombings in and around the prominent official and global official buildings like UN offices in Iraq's cities, including the attacks against the Shiite shrine, and a revered Shiite clergy, Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was also killed in a bomb attack.12
Zarqawi's entire theological underpinning was based on anti-Shiite rhetoric whom he considered a heretic and inside enemy of Islam, and he very often invoked medieval jurists to target the Shiite; he referred to Shiite: ‘They are the enemy. Fight them. Beware of them, By God, they lie’.13 This was the time when the influence of Al-Qaeda was waning in Iraq and its cadres were deserting in mass and paying allegiance to the leadership of Zarqawi. After an intense phase of negotiation for eight months, Zarqawi paid allegiance to Osama and Al-Qaeda.14 From then onwards, the JTWT was known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). But the difference between the two persisted because of the sectarian focus in the ideological and operational milieu of Zarqawi, who always maintained that Shiites are equally responsible for the predicament and vulnerability of the Muslim world, unlike his master in Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan who, of course, had some animosity towards the Shiite but nothing to the magnitude and enormity of Zarqawi. Zarqawi wanted an immediate result for his strategy and imminent fruit in the form of fulfilment of Islamic objectives, but Al-Qaeda leadership was more for an evolutionary change and patient strategy to defeat the Western powers. However, nothing stopped Zarqawi from accomplishing his self-woven thread of dream of establishing an Islamic state and he would compromise for nothing less than an Islamic state.
[Page 303]There was no decline in the pre-eminence of AQI on either the ideological or the pragmatic levels, and its expansion was intertwined with forging a major alliance with other dominant resurgent Islamic groups. These new alliances made AQI more powerful and visible in the ongoing resurgence against the US forces and other Shiite militias which were conceived to be a heretic in the eyes of AQI's ideological teaching. The AQI was so entrenched in the resurgence of Iraq that even the death of Zarqawi in June 2006 could not bring any sign of its waning influence. The new leader of AQI within four months paid allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The rapid rise of ISI and its consolidation in the political dynamics of Iraqi transitional phase brought altogether a sea change in the Iraq–US strategy to counter the sectarian and military influence of ISI. A new Sunni tribal council (Sahwa) was formed in the areas of ISI dominance in Anbar Province to combat the Sunni-centric ideology and military strength of ISI force. This Sahwa (awakening) had the full support of the US forces and local police. Sahwa militia with the knowledge of local geographical terrains proved a catalyst in weakening the ISI. The involvement of Sahwa against the ISI turned the entire insurgency into a full-fledged sectarian battle in Iraq, which was demonstrated in a major car bomb attack by the suicide bombers of the ISI against a Yazidi village in northern Iraq, killing more than 800 people in August 2007.15
However, the gradual withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq and the subsequent political upheaval in the Arab world, causing a major power vacuum in different countries, brought another upsurge among the members of ISI as Sahwa was on the retreat. ISI kept on expanding its bases in the country and, moreover, the exclusive policy of the erstwhile regime in Iraq led by Nouri al-Maliki also helped in widening its appeal among the Sunni majority. Meanwhile, ISI's frequent attacks in Iraq had rendered the erstwhile regime completely vulnerable. For [Page 304]instance, on 15 August 2011 alone, it conducted twenty-two coordinated bombings in the city of Baghdad and twelve other locations.16
Now ISI had attained a level of the full-fledged state where it had established a full intelligence, bureaucratic and judicial system, distributing much higher salaries to its cadres than what the Iraqi government employees were receiving. It was their intelligence service that helped to locate and identify the place of imprisonment of the Sunni populace who were later made free.
What turned the fate of ISI was the outbreak of the Arab uprising, paving the way for its further expansion into Syria. Syrian fighters had close ties with Iraq, and according to reports around 80–90 percent fighters were flocking from Syria alone during the height of the insurgency in Iraq.
The current civil war in Syria was fully exploited by the ISI, and it helped to make inroads into the battlefield very soon and established itself as a major force in the politics of the country. Baghdadi sent his men under the stewardship of Jowlani to open a new affiliate of ISI in Syria, which later emerged on the global scene in January 2012 as Jubhat al-Nusra (Victory Front). Very soon, because of some political and ideological differences, the Victory Front and ISI became arch-enemies of each other, and the leadership of the front denied having any sort of association with the ISI.
Having seen the ease and comfort at which the Victory Front captured the territories in parts of Syria, Baghdadi also turned towards Syria and announced that Victory Front was a part of ISI, but it was denied by the independent leadership of Jowlani. This contestation and confrontation between the two became a ground for the further estrangement between the two, later enhancing the sphere of ISI into Syria, which later became the ISIS. Now, Syria became the hub of ISIS activities, where it was confronted by the regime of Assad, moderate forces of opposition and militias of Victory Front. [Page 305]Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda also announced to abandon the ISIS. It was on 29 June 2014 when the ISIS announced the caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the head of the caliphate, and the town of Raqqa in Syria became its capital. The ISIS issued a series of video cassettes explicating the aims and objectives of the ISIS, calling to end the Sykes–Picot agreement and breaking the false Arab borders. One of the videos was about the creation of caliphate.
This body claimed the territories between Aleppo town of Syria and a large swath of territories in the eastern part of Iraq. It became very difficult for an already crumbling regime to check the march of ISIS, which kept on grabbing more and more territories. There are reports of thousands of people joining the ISIS in its fight against the regime in Syria, and even thousands of blue-eyed youths from Western countries joined it. According to one report, ISIS and other terrorist organizations have been joined by around 25,000 youth from more than 100 nations in the recent past.17 ISIS has emerged as a terrifying entity in recent past, which is not only involved in killing and cleansing but is also bent on destroying the antiques of the past. The destruction of the Arch of Triumph in the city of Palmyra is a living example which was condemned worldwide.
The Director-General of UNESCO stated that the destruction shows how terrified the extremists are to history and culture because understanding the past undermines and delegitimize the pretext they use to justify their crimes.18
Even the coalition forces led by the United Sates have failed to check the expansion of ISIS, as President Obama himself has been reported saying that ISIS is a long-term phenomenon.19 [Page 306]Today, around 60 percent of territories in Syria are under the control of ISIS and one does not know what is in the offing in the country because it does not acknowledge any opposition groups in Syria and they stand for eliminating anyone they deem to be heretic. The latest involvement of Russia in air strikes has further complicated the already entangled crisis.Ideology and Strategy of ISIS
When it comes to defining the ideology and strategy of the ISIS, it is completely different from other contemporary or previous Islamist organizations. The US State Department Deputy Secretary for Iran and Iraq stated that it is worse than Al-Qaeda and it is no longer a terrorist organization. It is a full-blown army.20 Its primary ideology is drawn from the basic assumption that religion should be the instrumental part of governing the state and the society, and there must be no difference between the region and the state. What it argues further is that no decree of religion can be executed without the assistance of the state. What differentiates the ISIS is the method, approach, strategy and the necessary condition to establish its own version of an Islamic state. The ISIS glorifies jihad and calls upon Muslims to become martyrs and victorious. It writes in one issue of Dabiq: ‘The sun of jihad has risen. The glad tidings of good are shining. Triumph looms on the horizon. The signs of victory have appeared’.21
ISIS has shown a strong commitment to restore the golden age of the prophetic era of the Muslims by ‘re-establishing’ or ‘reviving’ the caliphate.22 In Dabiq, the ISIS writes, ‘[T]he goal of establishing the Caliphate has always been one that occupied [Page 307]the hearts and minds of the mujahidin since the revival of jihad this century’. Similarly, in an English magazine, Resurgence,23 Zawahiri also proclaims the establishment of a caliphate and Islamic state. He says:
The Islamic State will be established—by the help and will of Allah—at the hands of the free, sincere and honorable Mujahedeen. It will be established with their sacrifices, generosity, consent and collective choice.24
One of the core objectives of the missionary zeal of both has been to implement the shariah of their own literal interpretation, rebutting the Western political system and removing its influence from all spheres of Muslims' life, including culture, education, lifestyle and cleaning society by whipping up anti-US/West sentiments, The ISIS condemned and attacked the local allies of the West as apostate, calling the Muslims to wage a war against them. The ISIS resorts to violence as a means to achieve its goals and has proved more brutal and inhumane than the other contemporary groups.
One can determine its approach to the establishment of the Islamic state and the caliphate by their immediacy of establishing the state in complete variance with all the previous Islamist teachings that called for the gradual Islamization of the society first entwined with a pragmatic approach to the final execution of the Islamic design.
Their stern belief in the medieval theology is well reflected in the appointment of the caliphate in the form of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was appointed to the post because of his Quresh lineage (lineage of the Prophet) in concurrence with some of the puritanical medieval theology that envisages that head of the caliphate should be preferably from the lineage of the Quresh, like the Prophet. The ISIS focused more on the prophetic lineage [Page 308]of Baghdadi than on any other norm while naming him the caliphate. They drew allegiance from the prophetic leadership and, moreover, they had an equal belief in controlling the territories very much in concurrence with the establishment of an Islamic state in the city of Medina by the Prophet.
Their rejection of any innovation or addition to the pure teaching of Islam is very much similar to the Salafist ideology, and zero tolerance for any other creed within Islam is well documented in the mass killing of those Muslims who in their eyes are nothing less than apostate and their doctrine allows to declare them heretics and eliminate them.25 The philosophy of monotheism is very sacred in the teaching of ISIS, and they very often invoke this concept to propagate the ideas. Not an iota of disrespect to monotheism is acceptable within the camp of the ISIS. The strict form of the implementation of hudud (fixed Islamic punishment for serious crimes) is central to the edicts of ISIS's governance model. They have imposed in their sphere of political influence five-time prayer, banned alcohol, gambling and music, and imposed the Hijab.
One of the medieval theological edicts, Dhimmi, is also reported to have been in practice in the towns like Mosul and Raqqa controlled by the force of the ISIS. This practice has placed non-Muslims under the protection of the Muslim rulers as long as they pay Jizyah (tax imposed only on non-Muslims), an example drawn from the prophetic times in the city of Medina. Non-Muslims in these towns are prohibited from exhibiting any sign of their faith or carrying arms and making additional places of worship. People belonging to the Shiite and Christian groups are reported to have fled the place of living after their properties were confiscated under the laws of Jizyah and second-class citizenship status.26 It was their faith in monotheism and hatred [Page 309]for heretic practices that made them justify the killing of Yazidis in large numbers in parts of Iraq. They not only justified the killing but also legalized the Yazidi women as their concubines.
Most of the religious edicts of the ISIS are the invocation of a medieval jurist who has exhorted for the supremacy of the Muslims through the imposition of the power across the territories. Their ideological proposition seems to centre on the theological obligation rather than on political compulsion, and within their ideological rubric there is no place for pretence and Islam in totality needs to practice where theology has overshadowed the core principles of the Quran. In a nutshell, their objective is to create a puritanical Sunni Islamic state where no other creed or sect confession would be allowed to exist.
Despite being touted as a next generation of jihadism in the Arab world, there are some stark differences between the ISIS and other present and previous Islamist movements. Unlike Al-Qaeda, which first tried to habituate and correct the common Muslims to lead a life based on the fundamentals of Islam and gradual purification of human souls and Islamization of the society through all possible means, including violence and extremism, ISIS wasted no time and very soon established the caliphate and declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the caliph, the ‘leader for entire Muslims of the world’. It boasted the revival of the caliphate after a gap of ninety years, which was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.
The ISIS is the first entity among all the Islamist movements to occupy a large swath of land in Iraq and Syria, equal to the size of England or Jordan with around seven–eight million inhabitants. Looking at the expanding role of the ISIS, it appears that the organization has tried to emerge as a parallel ‘quasi-radical’ state by establishing provinces and its capitals, judicial courts, police stations, vigilance, media and foreign affairs departments in both Iraq and Syria. With its ideology and modern means of communication, the ISIS aims to reach the global Muslims and win their hearts and minds.
The ISIS also differs in their policies towards expansion, recruitment and the tools they adopt to propagate their ideologies and messages. The AQI had not been as ferocious as [Page 310]the ISIS even during its heyday. The former tried to expand its network by establishing pockets of influence in the WANA region and tried first to regroup the Mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan against Soviet Russia. Although the ISIS and other radical movements in Islam have similar views on some of the principles of Islam, the ISIS has proved more fanatical and hardliner than the later. For instance, both the groups are opposed to shirk (including other with the ‘Oneness’ of Allah) and declare that visiting any shrines and tombs is tantamount to committing shirk, which is a ‘major sin’ never to be forgiven by God. However, in practice, the AQI has hardly taken any firm action of destroying any shrines or tombs, whereas, since the beginning, the ISIS has continuously been destroying shrines, tombs and Hussainiyahs (congregation hall for Shiite commemoration), wherever it could.
What has surprised many about the ISIS is its strategy of mobilizing youth from across the continent. It possesses a huge compile of ammunitions, sophisticated weapons, tankers, armoured vehicles, rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, field artilleries and numerous air defence systems, high-tech information equipment and other high-standard weapons, which one could perhaps have never imagined in the recent past that such small group would hold a small army of themselves. They have professional, organized and ideologically motivated groups who can sustain for a longer period of time. The recruits are from across the countries, and they are required to receive a vigorous training before joining the war on the battlefield. New members are trained to handle new weapons and to mobilize the youth on social media, and currently most of the recruitments are done through the social media.
Newcomers are trained in a way that they become both the religious preacher and warrior on the ground, to combat both the Muslim heretic groups and opponents on the field like the forces of the regime and other coalition forces. Their most immediate strategy is to spark the sectarian tensions to consolidate it because the regions where they are most active (Iraq and Syria) are ruled by Shiite regimes, while the Sunnis are in the majority. This tactical sectarian and majority–minority card would benefit [Page 311]them in mobilizing the majority Sunni against the minority Shiite rule. They have not employed their strategy against ideological opponent alone, but they are equally hostile to the Sunni groups who do not adhere to their puritanical ideology or fight their independent battle in Syria or Iraq.
Their strategy of generating huge revenue to sustain the prolonged war is also a naval idea, and this has put the ISIS on a different trajectory from all the pit predecessors who never employed a strategy to have a constant source of revenue. To fulfil their economic needs, they have captured a series of oil fields in the towns of Syria and most prominently in Iraq. They are reported to have been smuggling a huge amount of oil from the Iraqi oil fields. According to some media reports, Turkey is also buying oil from the ISIS-controlled refinery on a much cheaper price than the global oil market. An opposition member in Turkish parliament, writing in Insurgentelligence, accuses Turkey along with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) of harbouring ISIS27 and estimates the quantity of ISIS oil sales in Turkey at about US$800 million — that was over a year ago. At present, ISIS is able to acquire the deleverage necessary to have local dominance and its units control local affairs in the controlled territories. According to one of the British ISIS fighters, ‘Our average day here is now normally much of the same manning checkpoints, going on patrolling in the areas, settling disputes between locals and the tribes and lot of meeting with village elders and local leaders’.28
The ISIS has various short-term and long-term goals to advance in the region. After having controlled a large swath of territories in Iraq and Syria and establishing its own reign, they are moving both westward and eastward and their presence is spreading to the region of South Asia and the European territories. One of its leaders claimed, ‘we are getting strong every day in Sham and Iraq but it will not end there—of course, one day we will defeat all the Taghut (Oppressor) regime and bring back [Page 312]Islam to the whole region including the Jerusalem’.29 Moreover, the growing sectarian strife in the region has eased their task of inflaming the battle in a different nation of the region. The absence of a state institution and a power vacuum in the wake of the Arab uprising is likely to strengthen it more in the near future. The more the discontent would be in the region, the more amicable environment the ISIS would get to prosper. The circumstances seem to be rife for its expansion, given the volatile situation in the region and, moreover, the sectarian identity they are inflaming in the region to reap the benefit of the deepening division in the Arab world.
In the last two years, the spread and consolidation of ISIS has changed the entire strategy of the global powers to reign in the ISIS. A catalyst moment came when the United States started air strikes in Syria with an apparent objective of eliminating the ISIS, a proposition that many never took at face value. It had become a long wait for Russia to confront the United States only diplomatically, and in October 2015, Russia also launched its own air strikes to eliminate the same global enemy: the ISIS.
The current war seems to be an unending one because it is not against territorial and national entity but non-state actors without any blueprint. The shooting down of the Russian plane in the Sinai region of Egypt and the subsequent attack in Paris in 2015 apparently by the ISIS have not only changed the entire image of the ISIS but also altered the nature of preceding discourse and strategy about the ISIS.
International terrorism in the form of the ISIS has pushed Russia and the West to work together but so far nothing substantial has been achieved against the ISIS despite constant bombardment against the known and unknown ISIS bases and their hideouts in Syria and Iraq. The rise of the ISIS has created several new alliances in the region, brought old political and ideological foes together, added a new chapter to the ongoing discourse on political Islam and has created new power vacuum in West Asia; moreover, one does not know how long this issue of the ISIS will linger on, how many new strategic avenues it [Page 313]would open in the region and how many new disclosures on political Islam it would usher into.Islamism is No More a Ruling Ideology for Tunisia
We have seen how the vertical and horizontal spread of the ISIS across the globe has changed the trajectory of entire discourse on Islamism and divested it of the conventional understanding of the subject. On the other hand, what is happening today with regard to ‘political Islam’ in Tunisia is a complete departure from the past, and it is heading towards something that may be termed as ‘civic Islamism’ which is likely to deprive it of either Islam or politics. It is something that is undoing of MBH in Egypt and emulating of Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. Some are now also claiming that Ennahdha never had any ties with the MBH, and today its relationship with other Islamist politics and its own changing political identity seem to be natural outcomes of the existing situation in the country and in the region.
No doubt, the Ennahdha in Tunisia has maintained its distinctive ideological and political traits both amidst and following the uprising showing pragmatic elements in its day-to-day political behaviours. It entered into political alliance with the secular and far left forces of the country leading a troika government and, unlike MBH of Egypt, it was not swayed by the urge for the political power. In 2014, it stepped aside and allowed neutral interim government to take over the final drafting of the constitution and since January 2016, it holds a majority but does not stake claim for power. The last five years of its political journey and its engagement with other political forces offered some allusion about its political pragmatism inching towards a politics defined by civility and sensibility. One has seen how it played defensive in various transitional and coalition governments in the last five years and it took five years to gauge the national political pulses. One of the most fascinating debates in [Page 314]the history of Ennahdha took place in May 2016 when representatives of the first and second generations assembled to provide a new orientation to the party.
However, what surprised many in Tunisia and contemporaries of Ennahdha in other parts of the Arab world was its announcement of disengaging religion from the politics in the 10th congress of Ennahdha held in May 2016 in the capital town of Tunis. It was an explicit sign of Ennahdha evolving from defending identity to ensuring the democratic transition, and today it moves on to focus on the political issue of economic development, unemployment and corruption. This move represents a rebranding by Ennahdha and formalization of a long-brewing trend within the party.
The congress did not only redefine political ideology of Ennahdha but it also abandoned most of its ideological vision that was upheld from more than three decades. It has shown high level of professionalism and pragmatism and is trying to maintain its relations with the elements of deep state which must have come to them after the debacle in Egypt.
For the first time, it talked about distinguishing between the missionary work (religion) and full-fledged politics in day-to-day life of Ennahdha. By defending a new identity that separates the religion from politics, Ennahdha has turned an important corner on the way to a full-fledged civil political party. The party has passed this amendment to its ideological core with a majority of 800 plus votes to prove that several months of internal debates have come to full fruition for the reformist within the party. An effort has also been made to broaden the base of the decision-making body, and the executive body of the party has been further empowered. This was unthinkable before the Arab Spring of 2011 and, no doubt, it has produced a factionalism that is a part of evolving democratic culture and leads towards a check-and-balance exercise.
The congress talked of broadening its membership to include more and more youth and women, removing the earlier clause of ‘morality’, a prerequisite for becoming its member. It will not allow its members in parliament to hold leadership position in civil society (like social and charitable organizations) unlike in [Page 315]the past. Preachers will have to abandon their elective position in the national politics. Now the party has evolved from an opposition ideological movement to become a full-fledged national political party that requires swapping its baggage-ridden Islamist label. The first phase of Ennahdha was characterized by fear-driven competition between secularists and the Islamists, and the party feared that the counter-revolutionary forces in the style of Egypt's coup could reverse democratic gains and send the Islamists back to the prison or in exile.
The new narrative with Ennahdha has recast Islamism as a kind of situation-contingent liberation theology. According to one of its members, Islamism is not an ideology for ruling but it is a language of opposition. Many in Ennahdha now believe that Islamism is ill adapted to a context in which liberation has been achieved and in which religious parties must govern pragmatically.
Perhaps the party had adopted this novel approach to distinguish itself from other streams of political Islam in Egypt and Syria, which are in direct confrontation with the regimes. Moreover, the ISIS and Boko Haram have given a bad name to the existing Islamic political discourse and all are being clubbed together. This also seems to be an effort to redefine itself in opposition to other radical forces in addition to the ISIS. It is also a message to the detractors of the ISIS who have been advocating that all Islamists once come to power will impose dictatorship. The 10th congress of Ennahdha formally announced itself to be Muslim Democrats, like the Christian Democrats of Germany, seemingly inching closer to AKP of Turkey, which has of late shown a sign of entering into full-fledged national politics. This major shift in its political programme and ideological outline must have not come from top-bottom imposition but it must have been an outcome of internal democratic evolution coupled with intense debates and deliberations.
The congress has tripled the number of clauses in the existing constitution, which is reflective of it diversifying its focus on other national issues. Its policy priorities have shifted from defending the Arab-Islamic identity to addressing the material concerns of average Tunisians. Now the party does not seem [Page 316]to be hesitant in allying with others to broaden electoral base in order to show the sign of commonality. It was evident when the president of the country, Beji Caid Essebsi, was invited to be the keynote speaker at the inauguration of the 10th congress. It is the Nidaa Tounes party of the same president, which was established in 2012, that opposed Ennahdha alone. He had lambasted the party in the past as backward and supportive of terrorists and criminals, but in the 10th congress he endorsed the Ennahdha as a party moving in the right direction. He also stated that Ennahdha has become a civil party and Islam does not contradict democracy. These are the signs of movement towards adoption of a consensual and reconciliation approach in the future national politics. Ennahdha has chosen the safe path. Political movements themselves are living creatures, and sometimes fear and sensitive are not bad things, but these should drive a political movement with such a long history and sacrifice to make panicked and hasty decisions.
Glossary of Arabic Terms[Page 317]
Aayah (pl. ‘aayaat):
‘Alim (pl. ‘Ulema):
Scholar, especially in religious matters.
People at Medina who had extended all help to the Prophet and his companions.
Ceremony of investiture where fealty is pledged to the new leader.
(pl. fuqahaa’): Muslim jurist.
An opinion articulated by an ‘alim on Islamic law.
A saying from, or anecdotes about, the Prophet Muhammad.
Sovereignty; a recent neologism, used extensively first by Sayyid Qutb.
Flight of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina on 24 September 622.
In the Quran, it usually has the meaning of ‘judge’; it has acquired the meaning of ‘rule’ in the eyes of modern Islamists.
Act of worship that relate humans directly to God, in contrast to mu'aamalaat (explain further).
[Page 318] Ijma’:
‘Consensus’ of the ‘Ulema; ‘ijmaam’ is generally recognized as one of the bases of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).
Learning, knowledge, science.
Leader in salaat prayers; in Shii'ah Islam, the divinely ordained leader of the whole Muslim ummah.
Chain of authority through which the authenticity of a Hadith is validated.
Use of discretionary opinion in cases where strict use of analogy (qiyaas) leads to undesirable results.
That which is related or pertains to Jahiliyyah.
Period before the advent of Islam; used by Mawdudi and then Qutb and other Islamists to denote a state of non-Islamic rule.
Striving to overcome challenges and obstacles; the term has come to be equated with warfare against unbelievers.
Vicegerent, custodian, deputy; the term is also used to describe successor to Muhammad's leadership of the ummah.
Technically ‘succession’, but Qutb uses it with the meaning of vicegerency.
Sermon given by the imam in the Friday prayer (salaat).
Kaafir (pl. Kuffaar):
Unbeliever. [Page 319]
Social relations, actions that engage human beings only; see in contrast ‘ibaadaat, which refers to relations between man and God.
Religious scholar who has the authority to issue fatwa.
Corpus of Hadith compiled by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855).
Laws divinely ordained.
Explicit Quranic text.
Analogy; analogical thinking.
Well supported in the chain of isnaad.
Testimony, especially that ‘There is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad is his messenger’.
Shar’ or shariah:
The divinely ordained law that God has devised for human life.
The second major sect in Islam; the other being the majoritarian Sunni sect.
Association to the single sovereignty of God, that is, considering or treating entity other than God as a divinity.
Consultation between the ruler and his community.
The Prophet's model of conduct.
The example of the Prophet.
The major sect in Islam; the other major sect being the Shii'ah.[Page 320]
The oppressor, the usurper of God's sovereignty.
The interpretation and explication of Quranic text.
Declaring someone as unbeliever.
The invocation of opinions from various schools in Islamic orthodoxy, rather than the traditional exclusive acceptance of opinions from one school.
Conception; Qutb often uses the term to mean ‘paradigm’ or ‘world view’.
The assertion of God's unity.
The esoteric interpretation of the Quranic text.
Meccan who did not join the ranks of the Prophet until after the surrender of Mecca.
Submission in servitude to God.
‘Ulema (sing. ‘Alim):
Official scholars in fiqh and tafsiir.
The quality of being divine.
The entire Muslim community.
The compulsory proportion of wealth a Muslim must pay the poor.
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