Bader Alnutawa reviews The Theological Foundations of Islamism and Violent Extremism, by Fethi Mansouri and Zuleyha Keskin, which discusses critically discursive claims about the theological foundations connecting Islam to certain manifestations of violent extremism. 

The Theological Foundations of Islamism and Violent Extremism by Fethi Mansouri and Zuleyha Keskin is an intriguing and unique opening about the differences between Islam and Islamism in addition to the way and time at which both are different than violent extremism. The authors tackle a very controversial and complicated topic and try to address it credibly and maturely, which is different from the publications within the literature on Islamism and violent extremism.

The first part is probably the most aspirational, trying to tackle Islam’s theology and how it is commonly claimed that Islam has been exploited by Islamist elites in the pursuit for self-interested reasons. It is close to being a standard point of debate scholars make within the literature, frequently referring to verses about the idea of greater and lesser jihad, claiming that brutality toward non-Muslims has been cherry-picked by Islamists and the meaning of Islam being changed. It is important because it is a repeated argument that cannot be proven and has not been solved across centuries upon centuries of debating about theology. Thus, it is unlikely to be resolved in one section of a book. The book tries to frame the Islamic religion as an ideology that has been changed by radicals, making a shallow trial as the discussion it is based on is the ideas of the elites in addition to the analysis of Islamic scripture, failing to recognise the distinctions of mobilisation of Islamist extremists as a whole.

The way this has impacted the book weakens the points it presents about Islamism and violent extremism by not developing definitions of them through the utilisation of limitations to increase the persuasive value of the argument. The book promotes the idea of a new way to comprehend Islam, but not in a novel way. There is actually a whole chapter trying to change people’s perspective about jihad being the motivator behind the pursuit of ISIS, suggesting that jihad is in actuality an acceptable way of peaceful worship. The authors provided insufficient justification instead of providing substantive evidence that is crucial to settle this long-lasting controversy.

The second part of the book tries to mobilise orientalism and its simplified understandings of the East put together by the West to dominate it and make the East no longer exist on its own terms without a relationship with the West, which is thought provoking because religion is connected to colonialism and the Eastern Arab the other. That is mainly a set of norms (based on ethnicity) of what Arab culture is like. Orientalism does not work as a theoretical framework to comprehend Islamism and violent extremism since such ideologies are not built on markers of identity but, rather, a sense of locating and applying sharia law. Islamism is perceived as a creation of the West through orientalist discourse, but it was two-way yet there have not been identical substate or transnational groups that are not Muslim that operate in Arab countries other than groups that are Islamist. Thus, it is not a solid argument since it does not elaborate on the particular happenings of radicalism having been mobilised at the transnational and substate levels in ways that try to disrupt secularity in the West.

After delving into the book’s trials at dissecting the theological sources of extremism, proving that Islam has been exploited by the elite to unjustly spark extremist viewpoints under the guise of Islam, it is rather evident that the book does not meet its goal. Instead, there is a repeated argument that does not contribute a lot to the debate regarding Islamism versus violent extremism.

Mansouri, F. & Keskin, Z. The Theological Foundations of Islamism and Violent Extremism. Cham: Switzerland, 2019.

Bader Alnutawa is a postgraduate Politics student at the London School of Economics.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.