Gilles Kepel

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Gilles Kepel
Gilles Kepel - Chatham House 2012.jpeg
Gilles Kepel at Chatham House in 2012
Born (1955-06-30) 30 June 1955 (age 65)
Known forPolitical Islam and Arab World
Scientific career
FieldsPolitical science,
InstitutionsParis Institute of Political Studies,
Institut Universitaire de France,
London School of Economics,
New York University,
Columbia University,
ThesisLe Prophète et le Pharaon (1984)

Gilles Kepel, (born June 30, 1955) is a French political scientist and Arabist, specialized in the contemporary Middle East and Muslims in the West.[1][2] He is Professor at the Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) and director of the Middle East and Mediterranean Program at PSL, based at Ecole Normale Supérieure.[3] His latest book, Away from Chaos. The Middle East and the Challenge to the West (Columbia University Press, 2020) was reviewed by The New York Times as “an excellent primer for anyone wanting to get up to speed on the region”.[4]


Originally trained as a classicist, he started to study Arabic after a journey to the Levant in 1974. He first graduated in Philosophy and English,[5] then completed his Arabic language studies at the French Institute in Damascus (1977–78), and received his degree in Political Science from Sciences Po in Paris in 1980.[5] He specialized in contemporary Islamist movements, and spent three years at the Centre d'études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales (CEDEJ) where he did the fieldwork for his PhD[2] (defended in 1983) on “Islamist movements in Egypt”,[6] which would be translated and published in the UK in 1985 in English as The Prophet and Pharaoh (US: Muslim Extremism in Egypt, 1986). This was the first book in any language to analyze contemporary Islamist militants, and it remains a standard reader to this day in universities worldwide.[7]

After his return to France, where he became a researcher at CNRS (France National Research Faculty) he investigated the developments of Islam as a social and political phenomenon there, which led to his Banlieues de l’Islam[8] (not translated) book (1987), a primer on studies of Islam in the West. He then turned to the compared study of political-religious movements in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and published in 1991 The Revenge of God,[9] a best-selling book which was translated into 19 languages.[10]

As a visiting professor at New York University in 1993, he also did fieldwork among black Muslims in the U.S., which would be compared with phenomena pertaining to the Rushdie affair in the UK and the Hijab affairs in France, and lead to his Allah in the West (1996).[11]

He received his Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches (Habilitation to be a PhD supervisor) in 1993 – from a Committee presided by Pr René Rémond, President of Sciences Po, and including Professors Ernest Gellner, Rémy Leveau, Alain Touraine, and André Miquel. He was promoted to research director at CNRS in 1995, and spent academic year 1995–1996 in the US as New York Consortium Professor (a joint position at Columbia and New York Universities and the New School for Social Research). He used the library facilities at NYU and Columbia to explore the scholarly sources for his best-selling book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam based on two years of fieldwork in the Muslim World from Indonesia to Africa, which came out in English in 2001, and was translated into a dozen languages.[12] Though the book was hailed due to its scope and perspective, it was criticized after 9/11 because it documented the failure of political Islamist mobilization in the late 1990s. Kepel answered his critics with his travelogue Bad Moon Rising in 2002.[13] He then analyzed in retrospect that failure as the end of a first phase of what he would later designate as the “dialectics of Jihadism”. It epitomized the struggle against the “nearby enemy”, followed by a second phase (Al Qaeda) that learned the lessons of such failure and focused on the “faraway enemy”,[14] which in turn failed to mobilize Muslim masses under the banner of Jihadists. It was ultimately followed by a third phase consisting of network-based Jihadi cells in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, that of ISIS. That Jihad trilogy was further developed in The War for Muslim Minds (2006) and Beyond Terror and Martyrdom (2008). With his students, Kepel also co-edited Al Qaeda in its Own Words [15](2006) – a translation and analysis of chosen texts by Jihadi ideologues Abdallah Azzam, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In 2001, he was appointed as a tenured professor of political science at Sciences Po, where he created the Middle East and Mediterranean Program, and the EuroGolfe Forum.[16] He supervised more than 40 PhD dissertations, and created the “Proche Orient” series,[17] of which he was the general editor, at Presses Universitaires de France, for his PhD graduates to publish their first book after their dissertation. The series comprised 23 volumes from 2004 to 2017 – many of them finding their way into English translations.[17]

In 2008, accused of assaulting Pascal Menoret at the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, after the latter had circulated online slanderous material, Gilles Kepel was expelled from the association.[18][19]

In December 2010, the month of Mohammad Bouazizi's self immolation at Sidi Bouzid, in Tunisia, that sparked the Arab Spring, Sciences Po closed the Middle East and Mediterranean Program. Kepel was elected a senior fellow at Institut Universitaire de France for five years (2010–2015),[20] which allowed him to refocus on fieldwork. He was also offered the visiting “Philippe Roman Professorship in History and International Relations” at the London School of Economics” in 2009–2010.

In 2012, he published Banlieue de la République,[21] a survey of the 2005 French Banlieues riots in the Clichy-Montfermeil area, north of Paris, whence the events sparked. The study was based on one-year participant observation on the premises with a team of students, in cooperation with Institut Montaigne think-tank. A sequel, Quatre-vingt treize[22] (or “93” from the postal code of the Seine Saint Denis district north of Paris) designed a more general perspective on Islam in France, 25 years after Kepel's seminal Les banlieues de l’Islam.

In 2013, he documented the Arab upheavals with the travelogue Passion Arabe,[23] a best-selling book that was awarded the “Pétrarque Prize” by France Culture radio and Le Monde daily as best book of the year.

In 2014, Passion Française,[24] a survey cum travelogue that documented the first generation of candidates to the Parliamentary elections of June 2012 who were from Muslim descent, and focused on Marseille and Roubaix, was the third book in a tetralogy that would culminate with Terror in France] / The Rise of Jihad in the West (2017 – original French 2015) that dealt with the terror attacks by Jihadists in France and put them in perspective.

In 2016, La Fracture, based on radio chronicles on France Culture in 2015–16, analyzed the impact of Jihadi terror in the wake of attacks on French and European soil. It puts them in perspective with the rise of extreme-right parties in Europe and questions the very fracture of politics in the Old Continent.[25]

Kepel serves on several advisory boards such as the High Council of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and, since 2016, Kepel is a member of the advisory board of the Berlin-based Middle East think tank Candid Foundation.[26][27]

In February 2016 he was appointed chairman of the newly founded Program of Excellence on the Mediterranean and the Middle East at Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University, based at Ecole Normale Supérieure. He is in charge of the monthly seminar on “Violence and Dogma: Territories and representations of contemporary Islam”.

Since January 2018, Gilles Kepel is professor at the Paris Sciences & Lettres University.

He is also director of the Middle Eastern Mediterranean Freethinking Platform at the Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano, Switzerland where, since September 2018, he is an adjunct professor. The MEM Summer Summit is held every August, gathering young change-makers from the Middle East Mediterranean region.

In October 2018, he published Sortir du Chaos, Les crises en Méditerranée et au Moyen Orient. The book was translated into English by Henry Randolph and published in the US in 2020 by Columbia University Press as : Away from Chaos. The Middle East and the Challenge to the West. It is a sweeping political history of four decades of Middle East conflict and its worldwide ramifications. In the months following the publication, Gilles Kepel participated in webinars organized on both sides of the Atlantic and the English Channel, such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,[28] Al Monitor,[29] the Center on National Security at Fordham University,[30] Cambridge UniversityThe New York Times recommended the book in its 12 new books weekly selection.[31]

Ideas and analyses[edit]

According to Kepel, jihadi terrorism is caused by fundamentalist Islam, an ideology which clashes with the values of Western democracies.[32]

In 2017, Kepel criticized Olivier Roy's assertion that jihadi terrorism is only loosely connected to Islamic fundamentalism as Roy neither speaks Arabic nor looks into the Salafi doctrine behind the jihadism. Kepel also referred to London as "Londonistan": "[the United Kingdom] gave shelter to radical Islamist leaders from around the world as a sort of insurance policy against jihadi terrorism. But you know, when you go for dinner with the devil...".[32] Roy has said "I have been accused of disregarding the link between terrorist violence and the religious radicalisation of Islam through Salafism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of the faith. I am fully aware of all of these dimensions; I am simply saying that they are inadequate to account for the phenomena we study, because no causal link can be found on the basis of the empirical data we have available."[33]

Bibliography (Books translated into English)[edit]

  • Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh, University of California Press, 1986.
  • The revenge of God: The resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the modern world, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
  • Allah in the West: Islamic movements in America and Europe, Polity Press, 1997.
  • Bad moon rising: A chronicle of the Middle East today, London, Saqi, 2003.
  • Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Al Qaeda in its own words, G. Kepel and J-P Milelli (ed.), Harvard University Press, 2008.
  • Beyond terror and martyrdom: The future of the Middle East, Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Terror in France / The Rise of Jihad in the West, Princeton University Press, 2017.
  • Away from Chaos. The Middle East and the Challenge to the West, Columbia University Press, 2020.


  1. ^ Tresilian, David (7–13 June 2012). "A view from abroad". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on 8 June 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b London School of Economics
  3. ^ "La Chaire d'Excellence " Moyen Orient Méditerranée ", dirigée par Gilles Kepel". Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  4. ^ Totten, Michael J. (2020-05-12). "A French Expert Surveys the Entire Middle East". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  5. ^ a b "Gilles Kepel, Professeur des universités à Sciences Po". (in French). Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  6. ^ Muslim Extremism in Egypt.
  7. ^ Campbell, John C. (2009-01-28). "Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh". Foreign Affairs (Fall 1986). ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  8. ^ Michel, Wieviorka. "Kepel (Gilles) - Les banlieues de l'Islam, Naissance d'une religion en France". Revue française de science politique (in French). 39 (4).
  9. ^ "The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the Modern World By Gilles Kepel". Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  10. ^ Khattar, Abou Diab. "Gilles Kepel. La revanche de Dieu". Politique étrangère (in French). 56 (2).
  11. ^ Press, Stanford University. "Allah in the West: Islamic Movements in America and Europe | Gilles Kepel". Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  12. ^ Kepel, Gilles (2006-01-01). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781845112578.
  13. ^ Kepel, Gilles (2003-01-01). Bad Moon Rising: A Chronicle of the Middle East Today. Saqi. ISBN 9780863563034.
  14. ^ Universalis, Encyclopædia. "AL-QAIDA". Encyclopædia Universalis (in French). Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  15. ^ "Al-Qaida dans le texte -" (in French). ISSN 0291-0489. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "Actes du Forum Eurogolfe - Fondapol". Fondapol (in French). 2007-05-30. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  17. ^ a b "Proche orient : Livres et Manuels - Format Physique et Numérique | PUF". (in French). Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  18. ^ François Burgat (2016). Comprendre l'islam politique: Une trajectoire de recherche sur l'altérité islamiste, 1973-2016. La Découverte. p. 173. ISBN 978-2-7071-9374-2.
  19. ^ Coup de poing, dorures et “‘islamo-gauchistes”: enquête sur Gilles Kepel, Les Inrocks, 7 décembre 2016.
  20. ^ Institut Universitaire de France Appointment
  21. ^ "Ce qu'il faut retenir de Banlieue de la République". (in French). 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  22. ^ Bars, Stéphanie Le (2012-01-31). ""Quatre-vingt-treize", de Gilles Kepel : islam et banlieues". Le (in French). ISSN 1950-6244. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  23. ^ "Passion arabe: un journal de Gilles Kepel". Le Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  24. ^ "Passion française - Témoins - GALLIMARD - Site Gallimard". (in French). Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  25. ^ Robert F. Worth (April 15, 2017). "The Professor and the Jihadi". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "Trois questions à Gilles Kepel". ARTE Info (in French). Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  27. ^ "Our Board". The CANDID Foundation (in German). Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  28. ^ "Middle East Mega-Trends, COVID-19, and Beyond:". Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  29. ^ "Gilles Kepel discusses his new book "Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West"". Al-Monitor. 2017-10-17. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  30. ^ "Gilles Kepel's Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West". Center on National Security. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  31. ^ "12 New Books We Recommend This Week". The New York Times. 2020-06-11. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  32. ^ a b Lerner, Davide (2017-06-14). "London Gave Shelter to Radical Islam and Now It's Paying the Price, French Terrorism Expert Says". Haaretz.
  33. ^ Roy, Olivier (13 April 2017). "Who are the new jihadis? | Olivier Roy | The long read". The Guardian. The Guardian.

External links[edit]