When Americans talk about freedom, they talk about it as if it is some universal good, something that is unquestionably seen as benevolent, but not all cultures see it that way. In Political Islam, Justice, and Governance, Dr. Mbaye Lo discusses in great detail the philosophical battle between neoliberal freedom and Islamist justice. The reason why political Islam is ineffective is because it is based on the concept of justice under Islam, which is just as abstract as the concepts of freedom and happiness under American neoliberalism. The book highlights the importance of the literal conceptions of equality and justice under militant Islamism, and individual freedom at the cost of economic and social inequality under neoliberalism. Dr. Lo uses these points to elaborate on how the system of political Islam is an ineffective form of governance.
The system of political Islam and its emphasis on justice are incompatible with the neoliberal notion of freedom, and during the Arab Spring, these ideologies came head to head within the countries themselves. In Lo’s words, political Islam “seems to accept neo-liberal strategies of governance while rejecting its values of individual autonomy, civil liberty, and untamed freedom.” The Arab Spring was a push for freedom in a land governed by justice, and the fact that Islamic justice was unable to coexist with neoliberal freedom is what made it weak in the face of the revolution.
Another flaw of political Islam and its adherence to Islamist justice is that its own rhetoric and philosophy is used against them to radicalize citizens into joining militant Islamic groups who engage in irhaab (“terrorism”). When groups like ISIL try to recruit new members, they appeal to the Islamic sense of justice. They describe westernism as a plague of injustice and inequality, how it allows the evil and corrupt to rule, and how it is in direct opposition to the Muslim way of life. Militant Islam and terrorism are major issues for governments in the Arab world, and to an extent, political Islam itself.
The amount of detail in Dr. Lo’s book is near exhaustive, and even within the first couple of pages, it becomes immediately clear that he has put a lot of time and effort into this book to make sure that all of his points were verified by multiple sources and completely free of bias. The amount of research he has done for this book is nothing short of astounding, from his analyses of texts on political Islam to his fieldwork in Sudan and Egypt. The amount of energy he has put into this book is clear and instills a sense of fascination in the reader to keep reading more.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested not only in politics in the Arab world, but in global politics or Islamic culture in general. The information it presents and the amount of it are astounding, especially for a book that’s under 400 pages. If I had not taken this class, I doubt that I would have ever read this book, but now that I have, I am glad that I did. It is a fascinating read, each page reflecting the author’s passion for the subject in a way that keeps the reader engaged.