This chapter discusses the origin, definitions, and issues associated with the term Islamism. It argues that an understanding or explanation of Islamism requires attending not only to the multiple and various ways Islamist thinkers reinterpret Islam but also to the specific conditions and cultures in which they are embedded and the partisans and audiences they seek to address. These conditions and contexts determine the extent to which an Islamist framework resonates with Muslims who live in a wide range of cultural contexts and geographic locations. Such resonances are, in turn, facilitated by a concatenation of forces that mark this particular moment in history. These include the ways in which contemporary global inequalities compound the legacy of European colonialism to reproduce a sense of Muslim powerlessness relative to the West; ongoing Euro-American political and financial support of corrupt autocrats, many of whom preside over nation-states stitched together by Western fiat; and the persistence of authoritarian regimes eager to control domestic unrest by catalyzing “Muslim rage” toward external targets.
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