Political Islam or ‘Islamism’—understood as a narrative, an ideology, and a political project—stands at a crossroads today. The rising fortunes of Islamists in the immediate wake of the 2010-11 Arab Uprisings have receded or collapsed altogether. And, the question of political Islam has become the focal point of a new geopolitical divide within the Middle East. Recent studies of Islamist movements suggest that the younger members have widely varying understandings of what Political Islam means today. They confront an array of voices and spaces (especially online) offering options for how to live an authentically Islamic life. The Arab world has long been viewed as the center of gravity for Islamic activism. Yet, there appear to be growing signs that the Middle East no longer holds the attraction it once did as the most relevant reference point for Islamist thought and political action.
Between February and April 2021, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue held a series of virtual meetings that brought together analysts, thought leaders, and scholar-activists who have developed unique insight into the changing dynamics within Islamist movements and circles. The dialogue participants represented a wide range of regional perspectives, including the Middle East & North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America.
This snapshot report provides a summary of the discussions, highlighting many of the key takeaways and some of the most thought-provoking interventions offered by the participants. Based on insights gleaned, the report also frames a number of key questions that bear significantly on the future of political Islam and which help to define an agenda for future discussion and research on the topic.
Over the course of three facilitated discussions and shaped by an iterative agenda the group explored a number of key questions that bear on the current status and possible futures of political Islam:
What is Islamism today and what does it mean to be an “Islamist”? Is there a shared understanding of this term?