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This book, an exciting development in the study of Islamic activism, is destined
to become a landmark text. The reason for this, as Kurzman observes
in his conclusion, is as simple as it is strange: The authors treat Islamic
activists as normal human beings who make decisions about activism in
ways that are similar to decision-making methods used by non-Muslim
activists. Were it not for the persistent notion in both academic and popular
circles that Islamic activists are their own species, one that is motivated by
an irrational fanaticism, any such conclusion would be seen as humdrum.
Such is the isolation of Islamic studies from theoretical developments in
other fields that it was not until the turn of the twenty-first century that scholars began to study Islamic activists from the vantage point of state-of-the art
insights on social movements. For this, Wiktorowicz and the contributors to
his book are pioneers who deserve our appreciation.
Islamic Activism is divided into three parts: “Violence and Contention,”
“Networks and Alliances,” and “Culture and Framing.” It also features a
foreword by Charles Tilly, an introduction by the editor, and a conclusion by
Charles Kurzman. Each chapter is a strong contribution based on solid
empirical research with Islamic activists from various Muslim societies.
Many chapters also provide synopses of social movement theory before
moving on to a discussion of their particular case study. Due to the profundity
of social movement theory, this never becomes repetitive, and a nonspecialist
reader will gain an understanding of social movement theory while
learning more about Islamic social movements. For this reason, both Tilly
and Kurzman note that the study of Islamic social movements is not just a
one way street – applying theoretical insights in social movement theory
derived from the study of non-Muslims to Islamic activists. Rather, the
broadening and deepening social movement theory itself is accomplished
via the empirical study of Islamic activists ...