The Terrorist in Search of Humanity

Militant Islam and Global Politics

Part of the Crises in World Politics series
November 2019 9781787382244 224pp
EU Customers


A global society has come into being, but possesses as yet no political institutions of its own. In his new book, Faisal Devji argues that new forms of militancy, like that of Al Qaeda, achieve meaning in this institutional vacuum, while representing in their various ways the search for a global politics. From environmentalism to pacifism and beyond, such a politics can only be one that takes humanity itself as its object, hence militant practices are informed by the same search that animates humanitarianism, which from human rights to humanitarian intervention has become the global aim and signature of all contemporary politics.This is the search for humanity as an agent and not simply the victim of history. To the militant, victimised Muslims represent not their religion so much as humanity itself, and terrorism the effort to turn this humanity into an historical actor – since it is after all the globe’s only possible actor. For environmentalists and pacifists as much as for our holy warriors, a global humanity has in this way replaced the international proletariat as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of history.


‘A brilliant long essay on the ethical underpinnings of modern jihad.’ — New York Review of Books

‘An oasis in the wearisome desert of al-Qaeda studies. It is, in the best possible sense, subversive.’ —The Economist

‘Thought-provoking, and elegantly written.’ —Times Literary Supplement

 ‘One of the most intelligent analyses of the world-view of the militant Islamist.’ —The New Statesman

 An erudite analysis of the rise of jihadism as almost a new ‘sect’ within Islam-one that combines mystical and traditional elements of Islam with a sophisticated globalization effort based on an ethical, rather than political, worldview.’ —

‘Faisal Devji has, as usual, written a fascinating book. Starting with an apparent paradox (terrorists as humanitarians), he explores in depth the modernity of al-Qaeda and the real nature of humanitarian concerns. He has provided us with a profound philosophical analysis of globalization.’ —Professor Olivier Roy

‘Devji’s text is an original, timely and extremely impressive contribution to the scholarship on militant Islam and contemporary global politics. Unlike much of the current literature on these topics which focus on the “secret history” of clandestine networks or essentialising accounts of political Islam, he allows us to situate Islamic militancy within the discursive proximity and exchange which globalisation enables. … His analytical focus is the moral economy of militant Islam’s struggle against the West. While, for those operating within it, this struggle contains the potential for a new global politics, he shows how Islamic militancy suffers from de-politicisation as a consequence of its global diffusion, lack of political instrumentality and institutional realisation. The result of this is an “existential dimension” to militant ideas and practices which the work’s chapters elaborate upon while also offering substantive historical and conceptual engagement with their separate themes.’ — Shane Brighton, Birkbeck College, University of London

‘This brilliantly provocative book upsets many of the conventional understandings of “Islamic terrorism” which pervade the Western academy and public life.’—Sir Christopher Bayly, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge


Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History at the University of Oxford. He is the author of, inter alia, Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea and The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptations of Violence.

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