The Politics of Chaos in the Middle EastPart of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
Olivier Roy argues 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. In this new book he seeks to restore the individual logic and dynamics of each of these conflicts, the better to 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’: in Pakistan the West backs General Musharraf, whose military intelligence services support the Taliban; in Iraq the United States shores up a government that has close links to its arch-enemy, Iran; the Iraqi Kurds, allies of the Americans, give sanctuary to an adversary (the PKK) of a fellow NATO member, Turkey; while the Saudis support the Iraqi Sunnis who are fighting Coalition forces. If these issues were not enough to contend with, the Shia-Sunni divide has emerged as one of the leading strategic factors in the Middle East. But the ‘war on terror’ is not merely the geopolitical blunder of a lunatic neo-conservative fringe in Washington; it is also deeply rooted in Western perceptions of the Middle East. Chief among these is the belief that Islam, rather than politics, is the overarching factor in all such conflicts, which in turn explains the West’s support for either would be secular democrats or more or less benign dictators. Roy concludes by arguing that the West has no alternative but to engage in a dialogue with the political forces that count, namely the Islamo-nationalists of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
‘Olivier Roy, perhaps France’s leading analyst of Islamic political movements, has been a confidante of leading US neo-conservative strategists since his research on the Afghan resistance in the 1980s, when these same thinkers were working in the administration of President Ronald Reagan to support the mujahidin and bring down the Soviet Union. He now delivers a lucid and decisive dismemberment of the actions of these same neo-conservatives (and their interventionist Republican allies, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney) during the regime of George W. Bush. Roy calmly explains how their comprehensive misunderstanding of the threat posed by the attacks of September 11, combined with their reality-free conception of the capacities of the US government, have needlessly created a disaster. His critique extends further, however, to include most of the shallow critiques deployed by the opposition to these policies. Roy shows how many of the liberal and leftists ideas and programmes about promotion of democracy, civil society, or self-determination are based on kindred illusions. Anyone concerned about how to extricate the US and the world from this disaster should read, re-read, think about, and discuss this book.’ — Professor Barnett R. Rubin, New York University
‘In this small but powerful book, Olivier Roy has discovered the Archimedean point from which all existing narratives of Muslim politics in the Middle East may be overthrown, namely that the region has no political integrity of its own but is defined rather by its relationship with the West. This has allowed him to write what is perhaps the first combined history of political thought in the West and the Middle East.’ — Faisal Devji, Oxford University
Olivier Roy is Professor at the European University Institute in Florence. He is the author of several highly acclaimed books on religion and politics, five of which are published by Hurst.