Mariam Abou Zahab and Oliver Roy have produced an original and useful volume addressing the Pakistani origins and connections to the Islamist movements of Afghanistan and Central Asia. A very brief study, Islamist Networks presupposes fluency with a multitude of issues and definitions of numerous concepts drawn from at least a half-dozen languages. As a result, this work will best serve specialists on political Islam and South Asian studies, and perhaps be of less interest to generalists.
Zahab and Roy’s work would have benefited from a greater attention to the theological and ideological underpinnings that have driven the political movements they seek to explain. Because today’s violent political Islamist movement is so deeply rooted in an often times confusing historical and theological foundation, the authors would have accomplished much by attempting to illuminate this worldview. This is especially the case for an audience that has not been steeped in the same perceptions as those of the study’s subjects. While this may be beyond the purview of their work, Islamist Networks risks falling into the trap they set out to detail: the lure of Islamist movements in South Asia, and their impact on regional governments. Islamist Networks draws heavily on the previous works of Oliver Roy, and therefore, it may best serve as a useful companion piece to his prior writings.
This book excels at detailing the mechanics of the Islamists movements, and rightly focuses on Pakistan as a state of concern. Rich in data and facts, it is commendable in drawing together the various underreported strings and details of an increasingly violent Islamist movement.
Yet in detailing the ‘who, what, and when’ of Pakistan’s flirtation with the modern jihadi movement, Islamist Networks neglects the extremely important ‘why’ questions. That is, why have such movements found such fertile ground in Pakistan, and what can this tell us about the future of the region and the Islamist movement. As such, Islamist Networks, potentially a very important and timely study of a topic much in need of thorough analysis, unfortunately falls short.
Editor, RUSI/Jane’s Homeland Security & Resilience Monitor
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