Foreign Policy Blogs

Olivier Roy: Islam and the West, the Taliban, and Sharia in Pakistan

royOlivier Roy. That’s right Olivier Roy was at UCSD’s Political Science Department today and I was able to sneak in and listen to his lecture and Q & A.

Mr. Roy, a Frenchman, is one of the most distinguished Western scholars of Islam. He has studied and worked for the United Nations and French foreign ministry in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and has written several influential books about political Islam. Unfortunately, his talk at UCSD was not very substantial. He just discussed certain aspects of Islam, its relations within Europe, and the intriguing topic of converts. He spent a considerable amount of time trying to discredit the Clash of Civilizations thesis, mainly by arguing that for it to exist there would need to be one Islam and one West, and each just don’t exist. Relations are more complicated. He provocatively argued that states should no longer speak of ‘Islam’ in foreign ministries, just individual states and regions. In other words, instead of Obama trying to reach out to all of the Muslim world, Roy believes he should just concentrate on small, individual parts, like Egypt, Iraq’s shia, or Hamas.

Roy spent 1993-1995 monitoring human rights in Tajikistan and shortly discussed how much of his work concerned religious persecution. He went on to talk about the growth of Christianity in Tajikistan, but unfortunately I couldn’t follow this short exchange because of his strong accent. Regarding negotiations with the Taliban, Roy was for doing so, but that most segments of the Taliban had not formulated real tangible demands or issues, to be a fair partner. He also quickly stated that the recent Pakistani-Swat Sharia truce that I discussed two days ago, was a blatant sign of weakness by the Islamabad government. Roy stated that ‘they lost.’ He called this type of dual system of government unworkable. Not surprisingly, there was no time for him to come up with a solution for the Pakistan government and society

In any case, Roy has written and spoken some wise words when it comes to Islam and the West. I found this 2005 op-ed of his that describes the bankrupt nature of most Islamic extremists in one short page. And this Charlie Rose interview with Roy covers much ground. In it Roy even states that he supports the Iraq war as a way of spreading democracy throughout the region, BUT only if the US follows through with a long term commitment to its growth. I wanted to ask Mr. Roy if he thought President Obama was ready to carry that policy forth, all indications are otherwise, but alas I did not get the chance to ask him as my mouth was full of the delicious chocolate chip cookies USCD provided.

Here are some of Roy’s Central Asia/Afghanistan relevant work:

Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan

-On Google Book

A summary of his Islamic Movements in Central Asia: Between Nationalism and Internationalism

The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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