Malise Ruthven’s books include Islam in the World and Encounters with Islam: On Religion, Politics and Modernity. (November 2016)


On Today’s Refugee Road

Syrian refugees resting at an aid center on the Serbian side of the border before attempting to cross into Hungary, August 2015
Srjdan, our Serbian innkeeper, is a perfect host. Knowing that we are bound to lose ourselves in the streets of Sombor, a Serbian town near the Hungarian border where the night before we had checked into his bed and breakfast with its opulent furnishings and paintings of lush Italianate beauties, …

How to Understand ISIS

Bahraini police dispersing protesters at an unauthorized demonstration by the February 14 Youth Coalition, Manama, January 2013. The coalition is named for the day that Bahrain’s uprising began during the Arab Spring of 2011.

The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East

by Marc Lynch

ISIS: A History

by Fawaz A. Gerges
In his best-selling History of the Arab Peoples, published two years before his death in 1993, the Anglo-Lebanese scholar Albert Hourani remarked on the surprising levels of political stability prevailing in the Arab world at that time. Despite the rapid growth of its cities, and many disparities of wealth between the governing elites and newly urbanized masses who were calling for social justice, calm seemed to rule, at least on the surface. The events of 2011 saw a cataclysmic change in this picture of apparent stability and continuity.

Inside Obedient Islamic Minds

Ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims listening to a speech by Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in the northern coastal town of Marsa Matrouh, May 2012

The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy

by Jason Burke

The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century

by Henri Lauzière
“Throw reason to the dogs—it stinks of corruption” read a slogan written on the wall of the Ministry of Justice in Kabul when the Taliban were in control before the US invasion of 2001. A crude slogan perhaps, but it seems as good a summary of the challenge of Islamist …

Inside the Islamic State

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaching in a mosque in Mosul, from a video released in July 2014

Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate

by Abdel Bari Atwan
In his new book, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, based on visits to the Turkish-Syrian border, online interviews with jihadists, and the access to leaders he enjoys as one of the Arab world’s most respected journalists, Abdel Bari Atwan draws a convincing picture of the Islamic State as a well-run organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology.


Lure of the Caliphate

Tombs of the Caliphs in Cairo, Egypt, circa 1880

The challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, and, above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture that have always appealed to people who are at the margins or who are seeking some new source of meaning.

The Map ISIS Hates

After sweeping into Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the Syria-Iraq border. This symbolic action against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which such groups are nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm and the Shias knew their place.

Hitler’s Monumental Miscalculation

A five-story German observation tower at Guernsey, Channel Islands

Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, a heroic group of American Rangers scaled the one-hundred-foot cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, a vital promontory on the Norman coast. They were setting out to break through the Atlantic Wall—the German defenses spanning from the Arctic to the Pyrenees. Today, these fortifications are monuments to failure.

Can Islam Be Criticized?

Supporters of the Islamic group Jamaat Ahle Sunnat protesting an anti-Islam YouTube video, Karachi, Pakistan, September 19, 2012

It may be ironic, but it is not entirely surprising that the YouTube clip of what appears to be a badly made film satirizing the Prophet Muhammad appeared, causing mayhem and destruction—coinciding with the death of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens—in the same week of September that the novelist Salman Rushdie published Joseph Anton. The memoir recounts Rushdie’s life as a “celebrity victim” after Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for his death for offending Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses. Not to be outgunned by the late Ayatollah, the Pakistani railroad minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has now personally offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who murders the maker of Innocence of Muslims, the crude new film.