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The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics

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Overview

Faisal Devji argues that new forms of militancy, such as the actions of al-Qaeda, are informed by the same desire for agency and equality that animates other humanitarian interventions, such as environmentalism and pacifism. To the militant, victimized Muslims are more than just symbols of ethnic and religious persecution—they represent humanity's centuries-long struggle for legitimacy and agency. Acts of terror, therefore, are fueled by the militant's desire to become a historical actor on the global stage. Though they have yet to build concrete political institutions, militant movements have formed a kind of global society, and as Devji makes clear, this society pursues the same humanitarian objectives that drive more benevolent groups.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Devji (Landscapes of the Jihad) examines the vitality of militant movements, arguing that in a global society, organizations like al-Qaeda have gathered meaning and strength in an "institutional vacuum." The author classifies pacifism and environmentalism as "intellectual peers" of militant Islam: they transcend traditional nation states and ideologies by identifying with "planetary ideals" like human rights and humanitarianism just as militant Islam does this by "identifying Muslims with the passive victims who embody humanity." Once Muslim suffering has been established, militants employ the "logic of equivalence" to justify acts of terrorism. Since Islamic militancy is a global phenomenon, Devji rejects the traditional scholarship that roots it in regional issues like the Palestinian cause and poverty and oppression. Most controversially, he equates militant Islam with "the plethora of non-governmental agencies dedicated to humanitarian work." He also concludes, more conventionally, that the U.S. response to militant Islam-the "global war on terror"-has transformed war "into a species of policing." Despite the breadth of his research and his iconoclastic conclusions, Devji's scholarly prose will likely limit his audience to fellow scholars and students. (Nov.)

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From the Publisher

"An understanding of groups like Al-Qaeda has virtually been absent from the discourse as it has been explained away as pure 'evil'. Devji does the opposite. He begins by locating their (ostensible) appeal in their language for rights of the oppressed of the world, typically, and from there launches into an understanding of how Quranic verses, Islamic teachings and what they claim to be inspired by have been changed into a modern political message that has succeeded in destabilising the world as the West has known it, since 9/11.. . What makes the book readable is his meticulous research. . . Plenty of what Devji concludes may be controversial, but it is bound to stir the pot in a most interesting way." --Indian Express


"Devji (Landscapes of the Jihad) examines the vitality of militant movements, arguing that in a global society, organizations like al-Qaeda have gathered meaning and strength in an 'institutional vacuum.' Devji rejects the traditional scholarship that roots it in regional issues like the Palestinian cause and poverty and oppression. Most controversially, he equates militant Islam with 'the plethora of non-governmental agencies dedicated to humanitarian work.' He also concludes, more conventionally, that the U.S. response to militant Islam--the 'global war on terror."--Publishers Weekly

"The Terrorist in Search of Humanity is in many ways a sequel to Devji s equally provocative 2005 book, Landscapes of the Jihad. Al Qaeda's importance in the long run, Devji writes, lies not in its pioneering a new form of networked militancy... but instead in its fragmentation of traditional structures of Muslim authority within new global landscapes. . . . it is a measure of Devji s seriousness, and his unfailingly original turn of mind, that one waits impatiently for his next provocation."--The National (Abu Dhabi)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231700603
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Series: Columbia/Hurst Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Faisal Devji is assistant professor of history at the New School University. He is the author of the Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity, which garnered reviews in the Economist, the New York Review of Books, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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