Political Islam a failure? Roy, a very knowledgeable French analyst of Islam, knows developments in the Muslim world well, so "failure" in his vocabulary obviously refers to something other than conventional political power. In fact, he means by failure that the drive for political power (dubbed Islamism) is giving way to a less ambitious focusing on the family and the mosque (neofundamentalism). Tehran furthers Islamism, Riyadh sponsors neofundamentalism. Outside of Iran itself, he argues, Islamism has failed and the weaker cause of neofundamentalism has flourished. Roy grandly declares "the Islamic revolution is behind us," even in Iran: "[T]he Tehran of the mullahs," he asserts in an astonishing passage, "has a very American look." Fundamentalist Islam, accordingly, poses no great challenge to the West. "Today, any Islamist political victory in a Muslim country would produce only superficial changes in customs and law."
Roy's well-translated book is replete with fine insights and memorable epigrams. (My favorite: "There are happy Muslims; there are no happy Islamists.") But he is stunningly mistaken about fundamentalist Islam. Just because fundamentalists have not yet swept the Muslim world does not preclude them from doing so in the future. Indeed, Roy has already been proven wrong. The original French-language version of The Failure of Political Islam having appeared three years ago, the time lag exposes his complete misunderstanding of the situation in Algeria, where he expected a "watered down" Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) not to amount to much. FIS is yesterday's organization, surpassed by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The GIA's activities alone -- murdering the children of police officers, women without veils, unsympathetic journalists, and non-Muslim foreigners -- repudiate Roy's prediction of fundamentalism's becoming tame.