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North African Islamism in the blinding light of 9-11

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A major element of the argument of this paper is that the outlook and behaviour of Islamist movements in the region are not adequately explained by reference merely to American (or, more broadly, Western) actions and policies, and that the phenomenon of Islamist activism in both its non-violent as well as its violent variants is the product of the complex history of the region, as well as symptomatic of a profound problem in the ideological and political life of their societies, a problem which should not be reduced to that of American (or Western) behaviour. Much the most prominent variant of this argument since '9-11' has been the thesis that 'the problem' is the particular ideological tradition from which Al-Qa'eda and Osama Bin Laden are derived, namely the religion tradition which emerged and has come to dominance in Saudi Arabia. It is the principal burden of this paper that this is profoundly wrong, and that an entirely different way of understanding the nature of the problem of contemporary Islamism is mandated by the historical evidence as well as badly needed by Western policy makers.

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