more than the content of this review, i was intrigued by the author's name: devji. is this a kutchi memon, like premji? when these guys converted to mohammedanism, they kept their hindu surnames? is that the deal? i also remember seeing some actor's name in india: aftab shivdasani. that must be another mohammedan (sindhi) keeping his original hindu family name? does anybody understand this?
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A fresh look
Nov 10th 2005
From The Economist print edition
"AL-QAEDA'S importance in the long run lies not in its pioneering a new form of networked militancy, but instead in its fragmentation of traditional structures of Muslim authority within new global landscapes." With these words, Faisal Devji, a historian at the New School for Social Research in New York, proposes a radically new way of thinking about Osama bin Laden's global jihad.
A fresh interpretation of jihad is certainly welcome. But do not approach this challenging essay, which was published in Britain in September and which comes out later this month in America, expecting a familiar narrative of al-Qaeda and its founder, or of the eponymous "war on terror". ...
To elaborate his thesis, Mr Devji describes how jihad has subordinated the local to the global. He plays down its Middle Eastern origins and he stresses its diverse sources (Shia and Sufi as well as Sunni) as well as its heterodox innovations. Mr bin Laden's transformation of jihad, for example, from a collective to an individual duty, is a radical departure from the classical Islamic tradition. But how else could a global movement operate in a post-modern world where Muslims are moved to applause or to action by some spectacular act of violence, which they see on a television or computer screen? Conventional forms of top-down recruitment and mobilisation are, it seems, as passé as conventional politics.
.... He does not excuse or downplay the violence of jihad, but it is not his main concern. Instead, he believes that the new jihadists have "stolen the radical edge from fundamentalism" (meaning the old, established state-centred groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah), and in the process are playing a far more significant role than the Islamic liberals (whom he sees as worthy but powerless) in bringing about a transformation of Islam.
This is one of several ideas that Mr Devji might profitably have developed further. He is at his weakest when he seeks merely to provoke rather than to convince. It is one thing, for example, to challenge an Arabo-centric approach to radical Islam; quite another to dismiss, wholesale, the centrality of the Arab Middle East in the broad narrative of jihad. And the book's central term—jihad—is also in the end a rather-too-convenient shorthand, one that cannot altogether bear the weight of generalisation placed upon it.
Despite its obvious weaknesses, "Landscapes of the Jihad" is, in its unconventional thinking, an oasis in the wearisome desert of al-Qaeda studies. It is, in the best possible sense, subversive.