Reflections on Political Islam Concepts and Contexts

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Nancy A. Khalil

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Abstract

The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) participated in the annual
meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in Atlanta, GA, held
November 21-24, 2015. In addition to the participation of staff and associates
in several meeting events and panels, IIIT maintained a book booth in the Exhibit
Hall, co-organized a panel on “Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching
Islamic Studies in Theological Seminaries,” and held its second annual AAR
Reception and Special Lecture.
Offering a tribute to Ismail al-Faruqi (d. 1986), IIIT co-founder and cofounder
of the AAR’s “Study of Islam” section, Abubaker Alshingieti (executive
director, IIIT) and Ermin Sinanović (director of research, IIIT) expressed
great pride in rekindling a stronger IIIT presence at the AAR by reviving the
historical link established by al-Faruqi. Fittingly, John Esposito (Georgetown
University), al-Faruqi’s first doctoral advisee, delivered the keynote speech:
“Reflections on Political Islam: Concepts and Contexts.”
An intellectual giant in his own right, Esposito presented a historical
analysis of the rise of political Islam movements during the latter half of the
twentieth century through his individual interactions, appointments, and presence
in spaces of influence at critical times. His keynote speech served both
as an intellectual analysis as well as a personal journey, full of spontaneously
sprinkled firsthand stories and narratives from private conversations. He emphasized
the critical need to avoid ahistoric analyses of such movements and
to resist symptomatic treatments that have become a popular approach by
western governments blind to their own roles in such undesired behaviors and
violence.
Referring to challenges like ISIS and youth radicalization, Esposito stated
that “unless you understand the context within which political Islam arose...:
who were the players, what were the issues for these movements, and also
what their interactions were with government, you can’t understand why we
continue to screw up today.” Making specific reference to recent government
initiatives on Countering Violent Extremism that are youth-centric and target
the great role religion occupies in people’s lives, he reminded the audience
that discounting a history of oppression by western-backed authoritarian
regimes is a myopic perspective to the rise of radicalism.
His speech spanned over fifty years of political history and American
involvement in Muslim-majority nations with an emphasis on the Iranian ...

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