Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison
By Ahmet T. Kuru
Cambridge University Press, 2019, 316 pp.
Kuru, a political scientist, undertakes an ambitious and, on balance, successful analysis of the ills of the authoritarianism, economic backwardness, and religious violence that plague 49 Muslim-majority states. He rejects the essentialist notion that the fault for the struggles of these states lies in Islamic doctrine, but he also dismisses apologias that point to the lingering effects of European colonial domination. Kuru traces a longer arc of decline. He describes a period of Islamic scientific and cultural efflorescence from roughly the eighth to the eleventh century, in which a dynamic mercantile bourgeoisie allied with a vibrant intelligentsia. That golden age came to an end thanks to the rise of a conservative and anti-intellectual alliance of religious scholars and state officials. Despite covering a vast amount of secondary literature, he does not adequately explain why the clergy failed to see the bourgeoisie as potential partners. He more convincingly makes the case that Muslim societies inherited the model of the powerful military-theocratic state—composed of warrior-rulers, religious authorities, and their subjects—from Persian tradition, not the Koran.