Dale Eickelman, an anthropologist, and James Piscatori, a political scientist, question conventional wisdom and paradigmatic ways of thinking about Islam. They argue that the protagonists of the Muslim political drama, both religious authorities and laymen, invoke the symbols of Islamic normative codes to reconfigure the boundaries of civic debate and public life. This symbolic politics, they claim, "accounts for why political actions and choices are recognizably Muslim..." (p. ix). In addition to symbols, "Muslim politics involve the competition and contest over both the interpretation of symbols and control of the institutions, formal and informal, that produce and sustain them" (p. 5).
The book's central arguments focus on the theme of inventing and reinventing traditions in Muslim politics. How do symbolic politics become real (p. 10)? Muslim politics, like all politics, involve a contest over the extent of state control, locating boundaries of legitimate state and nonstate activity or what has been unhelpfully termed "public" and "private" (p. 20). Muslim politics must be placed into multiple and shifting contexts, for it is neither unique nor fixed in form, content or. interpretations: "Increasingly, in the venture of Islam, Muslim politics constitutes the field on which an intricate pattern of cooperation and contest over form, practice and interpretation takes place" (p. 21).
Challenging the modernization theory, the authors regard the sharp contrast between "traditional" and "modem" fundamentally misleading (pp. 28-30). Traditions act, in effect, both to legitimize criticism of the status quo to facilitate revolutionary, as well as incremental, changes. The substance and form of tradition are flexible and subject to reinvention (pp. 35-37). Further, religious activists are more likely to be the products of mass higher education than of such traditional educational institutions as the madrasa or mosque school (p. 43). The continuity and change are inseparable: "Muslims assert their continuity with the past while coming to terms with a modem intellectual terrain" (p. 69).
Investigating the linkage of religion with politics, the authors refer to a variety of opinions on the relationship between them. They argue that the Islamic political process is similar to those of other societies but that the Muslim societies have distinguishable, though overlapping, political structures (pp. 56-57). Competition over sacred authority in the Muslim world increasingly pits governments, ulama, Islamists and Sufi sheikhs against each other (p. 75).
In chapter four, the authors argue that kinship, family and ethnicity- which are elements of personal and collective identity as well as social solidarity- have not been diminished by the process of social, political and economic change. Rather they persist and interact with Islam, the "firmest tie" (p. 82). Social changes that weaken "family values" are strongly resisted. Again, this phenomenon is not unique to Islam, but is common in other traditions. Wearing hijab (Islamic dress) is showing respect for the boundaries of a well-defined, moral society without inhibiting social change (p. 91). Likewise, ethnicity is an enduring social and political force, constructed and reconstructed as circumstances and contexts change over time (p. 100).
In chapter five, the authors note that Islamic activism (also known as Islamism) finds considerable support among recent urban immigrants and the lower middle classes, who find their economic and social status increasingly threatened. Islamism offers an educated, unemployed younger population a potential path out of their difficulties and a reassuring sense of their own place in society (p. 118). Islamism has, in many ways, been reinforced by modem technologies that have contributed to the objectification of an Islam that is manifestly political and ostensibly modern at the same time (p. 126). Moreover, these technologies have granted the culture of protest a new force, one that has led to a marked fragmentation of authority:
The ulama no longer have, if they ever did, a monopoly on sacred authority. Rather, Sufi shaykhs, engineers, professors of education, medical doctors, army and militia leaders, and others compete to speak for Islam. In the process, the playing field has become more level, but also more dangerous (p. 131).
Such a polarization could conceivably result in civil war or an intricate politics of compromise (p. 132). Neither alternative is inevitable, and there is no revolutionary or radical trait inherent to Muslim politics. In numerous cases (for example, in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Indonesia and Malaysia), the authors indicate, a tacit bargaining has become a more common occurrence than has normally been acknowledged (p. 134). The contact between the Algerian FIS and French authorities - the denial by the latter notwithstanding - pointed to the dynamics of interaction among the various political actors who seek to maximize their power and influence (p. 134).
In the final chapter, the authors argue that "Muslims are reshaping their identities and political agendas while becoming increasingly mindful of the manifold economic, communications, and social links among them" (p. 138). The result has been the emergence of a "horizontal transnationalism" that is at once translocal and transclass (p. 142). The instrumentality of transnational forces is apparent through their political imprint. The Muslim world's changing civic geography may well generate an Islamic-tinged authoritarianism, but it may well precipitate a civic pluralism in the long run (p. 159). Disillusionment with existing political frameworks is on the rise in the Muslim world, but this does not lead inexorably to revolt or to religious and political radicalism or to their outright rejection (p. 162).
Essentializing formulations such as Huntington's clash of civilizations "are pernicious because they deflect attention away from the cultural dynamics of political change" (p. 163). There are many Muslim voices and alternative conceptions of what constitutes just rule in the divergent Muslim political settings. Single-paradigm explanations are woefully inadequate, at best, and deeply flawed, at worst. Broader questions of authoritarianism and democratization must be placed in contextual perspectives, blending fact-finding orientations with perceptive theoretical approaches. Continuity and change underlie the political culture, history and traditions of the Muslim world. Islamic practices have relied on inventing and reinventing Islamic principles over time. This accounts for Islam's longevity as a religion.
The book presents one dimension that is frequently missed in public discussions of political Islam: the emergence of a transnational shift in both the ideological and political perspectives of Muslims. As Europe and North America rapidly become visible Muslim centers of activity, this shift, the authors deftly note, will profoundly influence trends in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and South and Southeast Asia. It is, however, unclear exactly what the implications are.
Does this shift imply that Muslims residing in North America and Europe will be able to bridge modernizing and secular pressures with Islamic principles and practices in the Muslim world? Or does it simply indicate a change in the locus of political and ideological activities? Unfortunately, the discussions regarding "symbolic politics" and how political actions are recognizably Muslim fail to address these questions. The answers might well influence the growing international consensus and solidarity among scholars such as John Esposito, John Voll, Abdullahi An-Nairn, Farid Shaheed, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Jill Crystal and Susan Walz, who have attempted to define the boundary between faith and freedom.
In a period of misguided accounts of the Muslim world, exposure to the Eickelman and Piscatori arguments is highly instructive and refreshing. The authors recommend a cultural debate rather than a civilizational-clash paradigm as a way of framing a global discourse. This study enhances consideration of Muslim politics and establishes a productive framework for analysis in a much-studied yet poorly analyzed area. It will challenge students, scholars and policy makers in the field to rethink Islamic politics, while its excellent integration of reflection and experience renders it a valuable source that deserves to be read by all interested in this topic.