Early in his new book, Your Sons Are At Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, The Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin quotes a pair of sociologists who note that ‘where theories are plentiful … ideas are vacuous’. The book is in many ways the antithesis of this approach. It is not without theoretical content; where social movement theory arises as a means of understanding jihadism, say, the author gives an overview of the literature to contextualise it for the reader. But the general approach is historical, empirical, and detail-rich, so that by the time Zelin summarises his findings in the various sections there can be no doubt about the evidentiary basis.
The book traces the development of Islamism and jihadism in Tunisia. The fact that there is a jihadi trend in Tunisia was something of a surprise even to some Tunisians in the aftermath of the revolution in 2011, the first domino of the ‘Arab Spring’. It was even more surprising for Westerners whose common image of Tunisia is as a secularised country. This is reinforced by the encounter most have with the country — usually as tourists in the major urban and coastal centres. As Zelin explains, the reality is far more complicated.
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