Print version

How can Europe engage with Islamist movements?


This chapter tackles two principal questions: First, why engage with Islamist movements? And second, how engage with them? In what follows we are concerned exclusively with mass Islamist parties, which are primarily national in character, support base and objectives, and which are fundamentally detached and distinct from global jihadist movements. To answer these questions, this chapter first sets out the objectives that Western engagement with Islamist actors could realistically pursue, explaining how the formulation of these objectives hinges upon a ‘political’ rather than ‘religious’ reading of Islamist movements. Second and precisely because we do not consider political Islam a unique phenomenon, we turn to Europe to seek lessons and best practices of engagement with national opposition movements in other authoritarian contexts. In particular, we analyse American and European methods and experiences of engagement with opposition actors in Franco’s Spain, Kuchma’s Ukraine and Shevardnadze’s Georgia, before applying, mutatis mutandis, these lessons to the case of Western engagement with political Islam.