Findings and Footnotes – June 2019

The fact that the latest (2019) edition of the World Almanac of Islamism (American Foreign Policy Council, $119) has expanded to two huge volumes (totaling about 1,500 pages) suggests that there has been a significant increase in groups and individuals involved in Muslim-based political activism. But it should be noted that the term “Islamist” is defined in the almanac as seeking to influence or impose Islamic values and beliefs through politics, which can mean anything from the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to the mainstream Muslim StudentAssociation (MSA), which hosts events on Palestinian issues.  Nevertheless, the volumes do provide a continuing record of actors and actions involving the political dimensions of Islam. In the introduction, the editors note that in some ways Islamism has receded, the most dramatic case being the rollback and even disintegration of the Islamic State, at least in its territorial grasp.

At the same time, however, Africa is emerging as a fertile ground for militant Islamist groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. In Europe, the rise of far-right parges has led to an “explosion of protectionist, anti-immigrant policies and attitudes,” with terrorist packs only hardening attitudes toward refugees. Eurasia is seeing new Islamist mobilization, which can range from Uzbekistan’s successful promotion of tolerant forms of Islam to Afghanistan’s continued struggle with the Taliban and a growing presence of the Islamic State. In Asia, there are new signs of religious intolerance and hardline Islamism in Indonesia, while China has stepped up its pressure and repression of its Uighur Muslim population. Along with its country-by-country tracking and analysis of Islamism, the almanac also has a section on a range of Islamic political groups and movements. The editors find that as the world becomes more globalized, “Islamic movements are in increasing completion with one another for both resources and recruits. But they are also in greater communication than ever before, a dynamic evident in the growing sophistication of extremist media and messaging.”