The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East


Presentation at Chatham House
9 April 2008, 17:30 to 18:30

As another event from Chatham House (see below), I was going to post this as an update to the last post – but seeing as the speaker is Olivier Roy, author of the excellent Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, I figured it deserved its own post:

The speaker will argue that the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the ‘War on Terror’ have artificially conflated conflicts in the Middle East such that they appear to be the expression of a widespread ‘Muslim anger’ against the West. He will discuss his new book in which he seeks to restore the individual logic and dynamics of each of these conflicts to better understand the widespread political discontent that sustains them. Instead of two opposed sides, an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, he warns that the West faces an array of ‘reverse alliances’. He concludes that the West has no alternative but to engage in a dialogue with the Islamo-nationalists of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

For more information on this members-only event, and to register, click here. His new book is available here.


Roy currently has a piece in the International Herald Tribune, entitled Iraq will not be a Qaedistan, in which he takes exception to those in the West who “persist in seeing Al Qaeda as a territorialized Middle East organization bent on expelling the Christians and Jews from the region in order to create a ‘Dar al-Islam’ (land of Islam) under the umbrella of a caliphate”.

Instead he argues:

It is pointless thinking of Al Qaeda as a political organization seeking to conquer and rule a territory. Al Qaeda recruits among disenfranchised youth, most of them without direct connections with the embattled countries of the Middle East. Second-generation Western Muslims, converts, Saudis, Egyptians and Moroccans make up the bulk of the Al Qaeda traveling jihadists – not Afghans, Palestinians or Iraqis. Al Qaeda does not have the necessary local rooting for taking power.

While acknowledging that the Al-Qaeda phenomenon has operated within a truly global area of operations, Roy stresses that the movement has failed to achieve significant penetration within any single theatre:

…in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the different Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has managed only to implant foreign volunteers into these struggles, volunteers who usually do not understand local politics and find support among the local population only as long as they fight a common enemy, such as American troops in Iraq.

But their respective agenda is totally different: Local actors, Islamist or not, want a political solution on their own terms. They do not want chaos or global jihad. As soon as there is a discrepancy between “the policy of the worst” waged by Al Qaeda and a possible local political settlement, the local actors choose the local settlement.

Read the full article here.


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