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Series looks at rise, impact of political Islam

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WASHINGTON – In the dozen years since 9/11, the global war on terrorism and its intensive focus on radical Islamic groups has resulted in the demise of Osama bin Laden and a greatly weakened al-Qaida terror network.

But what’s next? It’s a question the Albuquerque International Association will explore this fall in a four-part lecture series analyzing the emergence of political Islam and the implications for the U.S. and its allies. The first lecture – “Beyond al-Qaida: Different Faces of Political Islam and Why It Matters to Us” – will be presented by Dr. Emile Nakhleh, an Albuquerque resident and the former director of the CIA Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program. Nakhleh’s lecture is Sunday at the UNM Continuing Education Auditorium from 3-5 p.m.

Subsequent lectures in the series – sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories and the New Mexico Humanities Council – will analyze Islamic politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Muslim minorities and civic citizenship in Europe and the effect of the Arab Spring on the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide.

In a Journal interview, Nakhleh said he’ll launch the series from a global perspective, paying particular attention to the emergence of regional radical groups that could pose a threat to the U.S.

“While al-Qaeda central has become much weaker since the demise of bin Laden, terrorism at the regional level has increased,” Nakhleh said, citing Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa, and Syria as particular trouble spots.

The term “political Islam” describes political organizations that pursue a political and social agenda in accordance with their interpretation of the faith. The U.S. foreign policy establishment is concerned that Islamic parties will hijack the precarious democratic process in Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries and marginalize secular segments of the population that have a moderating influence.

Nakhleh said some radical Islamic groups – al-Qaida in particular – have traditionally rejected politics as an impure way to achieve their means, urging more confrontational methods instead.

“But almost every Islamic political party has rejected that call,” Nakhleh explained. “We saw the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt run for office, we saw Hamas in Palestine run for office. All of these Islamic political parties told al-Qaida ‘no thank you and we are going to run for office and get involved.'”

Nakhleh said for many Islamic parties the goal isn’t assimilation, it’s the attainment of power as a legitimate means to an end.

“They’re seeking more legitimacy and trying to change society through political means,” he said. “If you change society from below then they could have Islamic government later on.”

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