Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dr. Jackson's preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence

The tumultuous events that have gripped Egypt since the January 2011 revolution have raised many questions. Among the most disquieting has been whether the country would be thrown back into the kinds of Islamist violence it experienced during the 1980s and 1990s. Those decades were the "heyday" of the notorious al-Gamā'ah al-Islāmiyah, and from the time they declared their decision to renounce political violence in 1997 (the subject of this book) suspicions regarding their sincerity have ebbed and flowed. But if ever there were circumstances that might reinstate violence as their primary medium of exchange, the chaos, brutality, and direct targeting of Islamists following the July 2013 ousting of president Mohammed Morsi would certainly seem to qualify. Yet, through all of this, the Gamā'ah has maintained its commitment to nonviolence, and its public statements and gestures suggest an ideological resolve to stay the course.
For weeks following the bloody removal of pro-Morsi supporters from Rābi'ah al-'Adawīyah square in August of 2013, the Gamā'ah's official website streamed the following: "Stopping bloodshed is the religious obligation of our time and the form of religious devotion of our era, being superior to any other supererogatory act of worship." Meanwhile, news reports around this period have them condemning attacks on military forces in Sinai (even as they enjoin the army to "stay out of politics"), and denouncing attacks on Christian churches. This is in addition to various commentaries by prominent members of the Gamā'ah that underscore the fallacy of wanton violence as an approach to change. All of this is consistent with the message of the work under review, which repudiates political violence as a primary language of negotiation.
Yet, the future remains far from predictable. For, beyond the radically changed fortunes of Egypt's Islamists in general, it is difficult to ignore or assess the impact of the military government's mass arrests and torture of prisoners. As the Gamā'ah points out in this and other works, this was a major contributor to the radicalization, resentment, and thirst for revenge that seized thousands of young Islamists in the 1970s and 1980s. And this played an obvious role in the cycle of violence that rocked the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. For now, however, the Gamā'ah appear to be firm in its commitment to nonviolence. Given the present circumstances in Egypt, we can only hope--and some of us will pray--that they continue along this path.
-Dr. Sherman Jackson's Preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence (Mubādarat Waqf al-'Unf): Sadat's Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), xi-x.