The Politics of Islamic Terrorism
In response to this new-found public interest, books on these subjects have been jumping out of basement shelves and leaping into lighted display cases in the windows of bookstores all across America. As Gilles Kepel’s Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam is a newly published addition to this lot, it too will most likely receive this coveted position.
Kepel’s book is quite deserving of this spotlight. Jihad is an academic work, thoroughly researched and precisely excecuted, describing the origins and the growth of the idea of jihad, or Islamic holy war. Kepel traces the historic roots of the “Islamist movement,” lucidly explaining how it has fared within the political history of the Muslim world. According to Kepel, this movement began in the 1930s when political parties began espousing a vision of a modernity which entailed a “complete and total blend of society, state, culture, and religion, a blend with which everything began and ended.” Kepel’s thesis is that it was this idealogy of cultural, religious and moral isolation that became a breeding ground for jihad.
The Islamic movement succeeded in gaining political momentum when its ideology became flexible enough to accommodate the divergent interests of the aliented bourguousie and the young urban poor. Through sporadic political successes, the legitimacy of jihad was able to spread and grow throughout the Muslim world. For Muslims who answered the call of jihad and declared the United States and all its citizens their sworn enemies, terrorism became the best method with which to inflict the greatest injury.
Kepel charactarizes the attacks on America on Sept. 11 as an outgrowth of a movement in decline. He convincingly traces the political history of Islam to prove this point, showing that widespread support of the Islamist movement has dwindled due to the conflicting interests of different demographic portions of the population. He theorizes that the use of terrorism was meant to galvanize Muslims to take up the cause of jihad against the United States. If these were indeed the goals of the attacks, they failed miserably as Muslims everywhere failed to take up arms. The call for an embracing of Islamist principles may be loud and angry, but few answer.
Thus the conclusions drawn in Kepel’s book are both comforting and believable because they bear the mark of historical truth. His views are optimistic, but not airy, which makes it a compelling, must-have read for anyone interested in what created the world that sustained the horror of Sept. 11.
Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam
By Gilles Kepel
Translated by Anthony Roberts
Harvard University Press
416 pp., $29.95