“Inescapable”, “media hegemony”… On the academic side, qualifiers rain down on the importance that Gilles Kepel has taken in expertise on Islam for public opinion. The 68-year-old political scientist released a new book on Wednesday, September 6, with Éditions de l’Observatoire, Prophet in his country. He looks back on forty years of research on Islamism, positioning himself as ” a prophet “ who would have identified, before others, the rise of Islamism in Muslim countries and as a precursor of studies on Islam in France.
Author of around twenty books accessible to the general public, and of shocking formulas like “the jihad of atmosphere”Gilles Kepel is also a personality who has gradually detached himself from the academic spheres – where his positioning is criticized – to deploy his analytical framework for Islamism in the media and in the political sphere.
Although these analyzes are today criticized by some of his colleagues, Gilles Kepel nevertheless benefits from indisputable academic recognition in the field of studies on Islam, notably thanks to his early work. “We were all led to read the works of Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy and François Burgat as part of our studies,” testifies a sociologist specializing in Islam, citing two other structuring figures in the field. THESuburbs of Islam, for example, published in 1987, is considered a work “pioneer” : “This is the first time that we have had a global study on the emergence of Islam in France, the structuring of the fabric Islamic association, and the projection of what it could become”, traces this researcher.
Divergences within the university
But Gilles Kepel is first and foremost a specialist in Islamist movements in the Middle East and particularly in Egypt, which he describes in his thesis work “The Prophet and the Pharaoh”, published in 1987, also considered a reference. Having become a research director at the CNRS, then a professor at Sciences Po, he was finally appointed director of the Middle East Mediterranean chair of excellence at PSL University, based at the École normale supérieure.
His working method is evident throughout his numerous works, based on a very good knowledge of the doctrines of Islamist movements, which this perfect Arabist reads in the text. However, this same process is also the source of disagreements within the university: “He tends to favor the texts to the detriment of the context and the strategy of the actors”believes this same researcher, critical of his analyses.
Which has implications for his reading of the jihadist phenomenon: “It shows that texts justify the systematic use of violence in the establishment of a supposed caliphate”, he explains. “Now these texts exist, but that does not mean that those who committed attacks necessarily refer to them,” he continues, emphasizing the difference in context between the Middle East and Europe, and the long-term evolution of Islamist movements, notably that of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the 2015 attacks, Gilles Kepel notably engaged in a virulent controversy with Olivier Roy, explaining jihadism to him through the radicalization of Islam, when his opponent spoke of an Islamization of radicalism.
Bridges between political Islam and radicalization
The fact remains that Gilles Kepel, who confides several times in his latest work to having felt neglected by his academic colleagues, has largely invested in the media field, and his analytical grid has benefited from a certain influence in the political field. Florent Boudié, general rapporteur of the text of the law on separatism, explains that his productions were ” personally “,“a source of analysis, of observation”. “When we are interested in the question of political Islam in France, one of the reflexes is to seek perspective from Gilles Kepel,” he notes. “Kepel shows that there are bridges between political Islam, violent radicalization, and even terrorist riskcontinues Florent Boudié. And the presidential majority has rather fit into this analysis grid. »
Sometimes crossing the barrier of political positioning, the academic, who defends an offensive vision of secularism, is close to the Republican Spring, whose launch he attended in the Parisian hall of Bellevilloise, in 2016. Regularly attacking the “wokism”and the “Islamo-leftist nebula”, he is also part of the scientific committee of the Laboratoire de la République, a think tank created in 2021 by Jean-Michel Blanquer, former minister of national education. A visibility in the public debate which has only accentuated its distance with some of the university’s researchers.