TRENDS Study on Western Academic Approaches to violent Islamic Extremism


TRENDS Research and Advisory has released a new study, entitled "Western Academic Approaches to the Phenomenon of Violent Islamist Extremism: A Critical Analysis". The study identifies the approaches to the theoretical concepts in the Western academic analyses of violent extremism committed in the name of Islam. The study explores the theoretical and cognitive approaches and how they translate into systematic practices that produce the relevant knowledge to this phenomenon. The study also reveals some of the conceptual and ethical challenges facing studies of violent Islamist extremism, chief among them is the attempt to “whitewash” this pattern of violence. The study calls for an in-depth thinking about the foundations of a more comprehensive approach to the nature of Islamist extremism and its root causes that lead to violence.

The study used critical analysis and insightful documentary research. It used theoretical approaches to explore samples of the most influential Western theorists who studied the phenomenon of Islamist extremism that leads to violence. It covered main currents of western studies on the phenomenon, written in French and English and analyzed their content to identify and evaluate the prevailing theoretical trends. The study also examined the impact of these approaches and the challenges they pose for the results of Western studies in the field of Islamist extremism that leads to violence.

Dr. Wael Saleh, an expert in political Islam at TRENDS Research and Advisory conducted this crucial study. The author explained that since the end of the nineteen seventies, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001, interest in Islamist extremism leading to violence has increased significantly in all research, societal and security fields. This interest was quite present at the regional, national and international levels. However, Western studies rarely focus on the producers of knowledge, i.e. the authors of the foundational discourse of Islamism, or on the researchers and theorists who constitute the subject matter of their analyses for the phenomenon of the purported violent extremism committed in the name of Islam.

The study stressed the need to formulate a more conscious approach to comprehend the true nature of violent extremism allegedly committed in the name of Islam.

The study indicated that a critical and multidisciplinary approach of violent extremism should link the phenomenon to the deep economic, social and political marginalization with the texts that establish and justify violence. All the relevant factors should be explored according to their weight and impact. This is quite necessary for a better understanding of the phenomenon of extremism that leads to violence in the name of Islam, without falling into the justifications of whitewashing violence.

The study proposes an approach that considers Islamism according to the founding texts that shape its conceptual view of the world, where It is essentially viewed as an extremist and violent movement. This approach assumes that Islamism is the main factor behind radicalization that leads to violence in the name of Islam. It proposes the need to examine each case of violent extremism separately, in order to identify other factors (socio-political and economic) that can play a vital role in the process of violent extremism.

The study stated that these factors should be taken into consideration in terms of each case. We should refrain from unfounded generalizations. The study stressed that the proposed approach does not consider extremism that leads to violence in the name of Islam as extremism attributed to Islam proper. Nor does it consider it as an Islamization of extremism as read in the claims of the relevant literature.  This is because Islamism - which does not represent Islam - is the main source of extremism that leads to violence committed in the name of Islam. The study indicated that the proposed approach in western studies should not essentially impose itself on the study of the phenomenon of violent extremism. Rather, it is the phenomenon itself that requires an approach that distinguishes between Islam (as a religion) and Islamism (which is an inherently extremist ideology).

The study also suggested deep analysis of all the actors who play a pivotal role in the process of extremism that commits violence in the name of Islam, including those involved in the theological justification and whitewash of such violence. Furthermore, it is important to transcend the orientalist, cultural, or essentialist interpretations that claim that Islam is the main source of extremism that leads to violence. Meanwhile, this approach also seeks to avoid interpretations that completely deny the role of religious and ideological bigotry (e.g., Muslim Brotherhood ideology) and focus solely on economic, social, and political factors.

In conclusion, the study holds that it is important to develop an academic dialogue between the West and the East in order to achieve a better understanding of Islamist extremism that leading to violence. In fact, we should find effective solutions to eradicate it.


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