Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat within Islamism
by Azzam S. Tamimi
New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 268 pp. $49.95.
Reviewed by Martin Kramer
Middle East Quarterly
Rashid al-Ghannushi, the 61-year-old exiled leader of the Tunisian Islamist movement An-Nahda, has resided since 1989 in London; and, barring some unforeseen and highly unlikely developments in Tunisia, he is unlikely to play a major role in his home country's politics again. Instead, he writes books and delivers lectures that show him in most respects pretty much indistinguishable from other leading Islamists. Most notably, he is an enthusiastic backer of Hamas, and Hamas, which is short on theoreticians, has in turn embraced Ghannushi as one of its own. Unlike An-Nahda, Hamas is a political force, and Ghannushi's affiliation with it has saved him from total obscurity. Where he notably differs from other Islamists is in his arguing that Islam accepts multi-party democracy.
As for Azzam Tamimi, he is a pro-Hamas Palestinian publicist living in London who directs the Institute of Islamic Political Thought and, according to one Palestinian in the know, is a member of Hamas. Well-known as a speaker at rallies around Britain, he has a tendency toward the hyperbolic. (He told an audience this past March, for example, that the U.S. government was closing mosques—to which a U.S. embassy spokesperson replied that his claim does not seem "to be based on valid evidence or any evidence at all.") Tamimi is enamored of Ghannushi, and in this book he has let Ghannushi speak through him about the Tunisian's life and ideas. The result is a panegyric.
Ten years ago, this book would not have appeared under the imprint of Oxford University Press (OUP), even of its less demanding New York branch. A text that exalts an Islamist thinker, that settles petty scores with his Muslim detractors, and that spells the name of the world's leading scholar of Islam (and a fellow OUP author) as "Bernard Luis," would have been handled by some marginal Islamist publisher in London. So what gives, why the change?
A glance at the front matter explains all: Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat within Islamism appeared in a series edited by Georgetown University's John L. Esposito, America's leading academic defender of Islamism. For almost twenty years, Esposito has provided OUP with his own books on Islam. The appearance of this series on "Religion and Global Politics" represents an upgrade in their relationship, with OUP apparently also publishing the work of Esposito's acolytes. (Tamimi is clearly an acolyte: not only have the two co-edited a book but he calls Esposito "my ustadh"—Arabic, "teacher"). If this book is any evidence, OUP has become an Islamist vanity press.
 Muhammad Muslih, "The Foreign Policy of Hamas," New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1999, p. 14, at http://www.cfr.org/public/pubs/Muslih2.pdf
 "US Shutting Down Mosques, Says Islamic Academic," Cityzine, Mar. 12, 2002, at http://www.jour.city.ac.ul/cityzine/News_Islam.html
Related Topics: Democracy and Islam, Radical Islam | Martin Kramer | Fall 2002 MEQ
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