Salam (Peace) Lindsey,
Thank you for contacting About Islam with you question.
You should also try to read Roy’s latest book, Globalized Islam: the Search for a New Ummah, published in 2004, which is an extension to his views in his first book.
I will answer your question by basically re-explaining Roy’s views in non-technical language and perhaps making some brief comments, rather than making a detailed analysis of the books themselves.
The interesting point in Roy’s books is that the theory of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West is not accurate and is not likely to happen.
The reason, in Roy’s view, is the fact that the West and Muslims are very diverse entities and have too many differences over issues and stands.
For example, he wrote in his Failure of Political Islam that the battle is not between Islam and the West, but “among Muslims themselves, between the secular and the fundamentalist, the modern and the conservative”.
Roy then differentiated between two streams in the current Islamic political sphere: what he labeled the Islamist stream and what he labeled the neo-fundamentalist stream.
He mentioned that Islamists seek to revive the Islamic state, inspired by the history of Islam. Hence, “Islam for Islamists is a political ideology, which should be integrated into all aspects of society”.
He gave examples for those he called Islamists, such as Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, Ayatollahs and their followers in Iran, and The Muslim Brothers (Al-Ikhwan) in Egypt.
Roy’s criticism of the “paradox of the Islamists” and his belief in “The Failure of Political Islam,” as the title of his book goes, is based on his view that Islamists are too occupied with their particular national issues and have lost focus of the scope of the whole Ummah (Muslim nation).
He mentioned how during the Gulf War of 1991, local groups of the Muslim Brothers in various countries took different stands based on local considerations.
For example, the Kuwaiti group approved US military intervention, while the Jordanian group opposed it. Therefore, Roy argues, Islamists are shaped by their local nations, not the other way around.
Moreover, Roy wrote that:
The poverty of Islamist thought on political institutions, and the Islamists impossible quest for a virtue that can never be attained. Because their political model is attainable only in man, not in institutions, therefore, the creation of an Islamist polity is almost impossible.”
He further claimed that “the Islamic revolution, the Islamic state, and the Islamic economy are but myths”.
Roy differentiated between Islamism and neo-fundamentalism, the latter only seeking to create an Islamic society merely through the implementation of Shari`ah in the legal system rather than any other political or military means.
According to Roy’s classification, neo-fundamentalists—such as the Saudi-sponsored version of Islam—do not have an economic or social agenda, except through the implementation of Shari`ah.
Roy also pointed out that neo-fundamentalists, unlike Islamists, do not pay attention to local issues and crises, but rather call for a new brand of supranational ideology that is more a product of modernization and globalization than of the Islamic past.
He tried to prove his point by mentioning how neo-fundamentalists translate their literature to various languages and publish them on the World Wide Web for audiences around the world rather than in one specific country.
In summary, Roy is saying that Islamism has failed, while the apparently weaker and milder version, which is neo-fundamentalism, is meeting more success.
He proposed that even if an Islamist group is to rule over a Muslim country, it “will neither unify the Muslim world nor change the balance of power in the Middle East,” but rather succeed only in making superficial changes in customs and laws.
Hoping this answer is helpful and informative.
Thank you and please keep in touch.
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