Two major questions are seldom addressed in the literature on Islamism and opposition social movements more generally: (1) what explains the relative success or failure of Islamist groups in mobilizing a social base and (2) what role do Islamist ideas play in attracting support. Islamist movements vary significantly in their origins, leadership, ideas, and strategies. In answering these important questions, this article offers three main propositions: that under certain conditions, Islamism can emerge as a powerful idea that generates social appeal; that to be successful, Islamist organizations must develop a local Islamist ideology that suits the local social base, rather than tie themselves to a global Islamist agenda,; and that in authoritarian contexts, especially where open mobilization is forbidden, inclusive informal social networks are an essential mechanism for spreading Islamist ideas and protecting group members. Nonetheless, there are limitations to an Islamist movement's ability to grow and bring about political change. The article contributes to an understanding of Islamism and, more broadly, to an understanding of why and how opposition movements emerge and mobilize under authoritarian regimes. The article develops these propositions in a comparative examination of three Islamist groups active in the Central Asian and south Caucasus regions of the former Soviet Union (FSU): Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (HT), the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRP), and the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA).
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* The author is grateful for funding from the Carnegie Endowment of New York, the United States Institute of Peace, the University of Notre Dame, and the International Research and Exchanges Board. The research was also supported in part by contract or grant funds provided by the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, funds that were made available by the U.S. Department of State under Title VIII (The Soviet-East European Research and Training Act of 1983, as amended). The analysis and interpretations contained herein are those of the author. The author also thanks the following individuals for commenting on various drafts of the article: Teri Caraway, Azizullah Ghazi, Elise Giuliano, Dmitry Gorenburg, Lisa Hilbink, Erin Jenne, Adeeb Khalid, and Lisa Mclntosh-Sundstrom. 1 "Islamist" and "Islamism" should be distinguished from the apolitical terms "Islam" and "Islamic," which refer to the religion. Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, eds., Political Islam: Essaysfrom Middle East Report (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997); 4. John Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 6.