The State of the Worldwide Islamist Movement

For anyone interested in keeping up with changes in the Islamist movement worldwide, the Hudson Institute’s series “Current Trends in Islamist Ideology,” published by the institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World, is a must-read.

To call it that is not setting the bar too high because the slim volumes, containing a handful of articles, are only published every six months or so. The series examines relatively long-term trends, so keeping up with it is not overhwelming. In fact, reading only the introductions to the four volumes published since May 2005 may suffice for some.

In the introduction to the latest volume, published earlier this month, center scholar Hillel Fradkin says the last six to 12 months have seen two important changes in the character of the Islamist movement:

The first is the reemergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Islamist affairs — or, perhaps, renewed appreciation of its enduring force. The second is the reemergence of radical Shiism, under the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a potent, if variant, strand within radical Islam.

This change means that the global Islamist movement has now evolved “into at least a three-sided competition and rivalry.” The three sides are what he calls the jihadi faction, led by al-Qaida, the older salafi faction, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shia radicals, with the Iranian regime as this faction’s standard-bearer.

There has been much written recently about how divisions between Sunni and Shia Islamists provide an opportunity for policy-makers to exploit those divisions and thus weaken Islamism. If Islamism is indeed not just divided among Sunni and Shia, but instead is made up of three main power centers, which are actively competing with each other, the opportunity is all the greater for fighting Islamism, and doing so with instruments other than military power.

Let’s hope U.S. policy-makers are aware of these divisions.

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