In This Review

Political Islam in West Africa: State-Society Relations Transformed
Political Islam in West Africa: State-Society Relations Transformed
Edited by William F. S. Miles
Lynne Rienner, 2007, 221 pp

Anecdotal evidence of links between local political groups and al Qaeda has recently focused attention on the long-standing role of Islam in West African society -- and the possibility that West African countries will become battlegrounds in the war on terrorism. Miles has assembled a respected group of country experts to assess the political role of Islam in Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. The result is a fascinating and nuanced survey of the region's current Islamization. The relationship between the state and Islam actually differs significantly across these countries, in part because of variations in the complex interaction between Islam and ethnic politics. The authors agree, however, on several trends. First, they concede there is an unmistakable Islamic revival occurring in the region, spurred both by economic crisis and the governance deficiencies of local states, as well as by the recent democratization of the region. Moreover, this revival is undermining the postcolonial tradition of a secular state and an apolitical Islam; even the traditional brotherhoods, whose accommodation with the colonial state and its postcolonial successors constituted a significant pillar of political stability, now feel pressure to promote the Islamization of the polity. The consequences of this include an increase in anti-Western sentiment and what the authors call "antifeminist Islamism." The authors also agree that external influences -- including Saudi finanicial support for Wahhabi-style preaching, the progressive withdrawal of the Western presence in the region, and, of course, the war in Iraq -- have helped shape the revival.