The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran helped drive a new wave of Islamist activism across the Middle East. Yet in the Arab World, Tarek Osman writes in “Failings of Political Islam,” his essay in the Fall 2015 issue of the Cairo Review, Islamist groups have proved unable to lead governments through democratic means. Jihadist groups, meanwhile, are achieving notable gains. As part of Special Report: Islam and Politics, we publish “Rule of Terror,” a disturbing account of life under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Abdel Bari Atwan, a journalist well known for his inside reporting on Al-Qaeda, contributes a look at mysterious ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in “A Portrait of Caliph Ibrahim.” Further afield, Marcin Buzanski reports from Somalia on how the Al-Shabab group is complicating efforts to achieve a peace settlement there.
Is Islam inherently violent, as many people in the West believe? Ömer Taşpınar provides a thoughtful rebuttal to such views in the essay “The Problem with Radicalism,” which puts forth a theory on one of the primary roots of terrorism. No understanding of the current chaos in the Middle East would be complete without a discussion of the legacy of the Sykes-Picot agreement: we are very grateful to Eugene Rogan and his publisher, Penguin Books, for permission to publish an excerpt on the topic from his latest book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920.
To discuss Islam and politics with an Islamic scholar, I traveled to an unlikely place to meet an unusual man: Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American convert to Islam, who is co-founder of Berkeley’s Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States. Acknowledging the deep crisis in the Middle East, he reminds us that many other parts of the Islamic World are functioning quite well. Says Sheikh Hamza, “I find it ironic that the moral capital of our [Western] civilization is so low at a time when we’re condemning Muslim civilization.”