The emergence of contemporary political Islam, or “Islamism”,1 from the late 1970s onwards, has confronted the Left with an enormous challenge. While standing in opposition to secularism and women’s rights, Islamist movements in the Middle East have coopted standard left-wing causes, such as resistance to the state and foreign intervention. In doing so, contemporary Islamism has gained the allegiance of vast swathes of the population in Muslim-majority countries, whose socioeconomic position would, under other circumstances, dictate a left-wing orientation. This paradox has given birth to two interrelated questions: Is there something unique about “Islamic culture” that hinders Marxist ideas from gaining a mass following in the Arab and Muslim world? Conversely, is Marxism “Eurocentric”? These questions have preoccupied the Left within and outside the Arab and Muslim world, as it struggles to grapple with the phenomenon of political Islam.


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