Cover: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, from Harvard University PressCover: Jihad in PAPERBACK


The Trail of Political Islam

Product Details


$30.00 • £26.95 • €27.95

ISBN 9780674010901

Publication Date: 03/31/2003


464 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

7 maps

Belknap Press

North America only

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Gilles Kepel’s landmark book…provides an in-depth history and compelling overview of the emergence of Islamist political movements in the late 20th century.—Anna Russell, The Wall Street Journal

An early and most perceptive student of [Islamism] was Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist who has traveled widely through the Muslim world and has written about fundamentalism in both the East and the West. He is also the best-known commentator on Islamic affairs on French television, and he has advised international leaders at the Davos conferences. In short, Kepel is not only a leading scholar but also a man of the world… [Jihad] is probably the best introduction to Islamism currently available.—Walter Laqueur, The Atlantic

Islam’s radical politicalization had peaked long before September 11th…[Kepel] argues provocatively in a landmark book. So devastating and unexpected was the September 11th attack on America that many people concluded that Islamic extremism had become a threat of monstrous and mushrooming proportions. That idea is deftly countered in this brilliant and provocative book by a leading French specialist on modern Islam. Gilles Kepel argues that the attack can only be understood in the light of the rise and fall of political Islam, or Islamism as he calls it, over the past quarter-century.The Economist

The French scholar Gilles Kepel, who documents the failure of political Islam in [this] excellent book…makes a comparison to communism. It was in the 1960s, after communism had lost any possible appeal to ordinary people—after the revelations about Stalin’s brutality, after the invasion of Hungary, as its economic model was decaying—that communist radicals turned to terror. They became members of the Red Brigades, the Stern Gang, the Naxalites, the Shining Path. Having given up on winning the hearts of people, they hoped that violence would intimidate people into fearing them. That is where radical political Islam is today.—Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

In Jihad Gilles Kepel offers a masterly display of scholarship that describes how a radical idea spread through large segments of the Islamic world in the 1970s and 1980s… Mr. Kepel leads us on a breathtaking excursion. He trails the Islamist movements that have traversed Europe in recent years, founding radical communities in France, Britain, Germany and Belgium.—Adrian Karatnycky, The Wall Street Journal

[Kepel] is one of the world’s leading experts on the Islamic resurgence: [He] began doing fieldwork among fundamentalists in the Middle East in the 1970s, and he has remained attuned to their world ever since. Only a handful of scholars can command as much authority, and none of these is as bold as Kepel… Kepel’s willingness to investigate the entire Muslim world in a single volume helps us greatly in our attempt to understand al Qaeda, whose tentacles extend into almost every Islamic country. The combination of scope and expertise puts this book in a league of its own. Kepel grounds his argument in a sophisticated analysis of inter-Muslim relations. Given all the stale talk of a clash of civilizations, there is a freshness to Kepel’s focus on the international Muslim debate. We have never been sufficiently aware that the primary architects of the Islamic revolt against the West have regarded their struggle as a tool for gaining power over fellow Muslims.—Michael Scott Doran, The Washington Post

Jihad…will be a welcome respite for anyone who fears the fury associated with militant Islam. Despite the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, Gilles Kepel argues that the trend is, in fact, now on its last legs. The violence is merely a reflection of the movement’s failure, not its success… [Kepel] comes to this conclusion in a thoughtful and expansive chronicle of the contemporary Islamist movement from Cairo to Kabul, from Kuala Lumpur all the way to ‘Londonistan’… [This book] is a compelling read that makes an appealing case.—Robin Wright, The New York Times Book Review

Gilles Kepel’s Jihad…makes an ideal companion to morning newspapers filled with frustratingly context-free briefs from the war on terrorism… This is a decidedly grounded book; it’s political in the most elemental sense of the word. Although Kepel clearly believes in the Western ideal of civil society, he puts himself in the place of ordinary Muslims in the nations he writes about, rather than viewing their problems from a Western perspective.—Laura Miller, Salon

A veritable deluge of books has appeared in bookstores since Sept. 11, 2001, purporting to lay bare the background of militant Islam. Perhaps the most definitive is Gilles Kepel’s Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Kepel is well-placed to tell its story given his extensive travels in the very places where militant Islam was born and nurtured. He has used that experience to craft a compelling account of the movements that make it up… Kepel’s survey of that world is a remarkably useful tool in placing in context the various groups that appear in our newspapers but remain little more than shadowy cells with vague agendas.—Steven Martinovich, The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

The author of several influential books on Islam, [Gilles Kepel has] spent the last five years writing Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. September 11 gave him a new framework, but he sees that event in a way that will surprise (and please) many who have lately been trying to comprehend the meaning of Islamic politics… An usual commentator on recent events, Professor Kepel is a messenger carrying good news.—Robert Fulford, The Toronto National and Financial Post

We hear more about Muslim extremists than ever before, but Kepel argues that the terrorism seen today throughout the world results from the failure of Islamic fundamentalism and not its success… Fascinating despite its copious detail, Kepel’s history has a wider focus than Ahmed Rashid’s Jihad and more analytical depth than Robin Wright’s Sacred Rage. The first in-depth history of political Islam appropriate for newcomers to Islamic history.—John Green, Booklist

Kepel’s timely volume is the first in-depth attempt to follow the history and geography of this political–religious phenomenon… Kepel concludes that the movement will have great difficulty reversing its decline in the 21st century. Written lucidly, this excellent study fills a gap in the literature.—S. Ayubi, Choice

[T]here are few comprehensive and analytically sound books in the Euro-American world that explain the recent ascendance of militant Islam to the Western audience. This book by Kepel, a professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris and a leading European specialist on contemporary Islamic movements, is a welcome addition to the growing literature on this topic. Meticulously researched and written in a jargon-free narrative style, the book covers the trials and tribulations of political Islam throughout the world… A standout in the field of current books, this is a sophisticated and timely work that places the events of September 11 in historical and sociopolitical context and sheds greater light on the influence of Osama bin Laden and his movement. Highly recommended.—Nader Entessar, Library Journal

Kepel clearly traces the rise of the contemporary Islamist movement from its origins in the mid-20th century through its later appearance in countries such as Malaysia, Algeria and Turkey, as well as in Western Europe… Amid the plethora of books on Islam released since September 11, this work stands out, both for its erudition and its provocative thesis.Publishers Weekly

This is a landmark book, a work of breadth and scope and scholarship, and genuine imaginative powers. It should be the standard source on political Islam.—Fouad Ajami, author of Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey

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