Summary: As our long war with Islamic nations spreads, its worth a moment to see beyond the fear and lies which clog the news media. Today we look at one of the many books which accurately describes our relations with the Islamic peoples.
The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West by Gilles Kepel (2004). Reviewed by James E McGinley (Major, USMC, Retired). Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette of April 2005. Republished here with their generous permission.
What do neoconservatives and radical Islamists have in common? More than you might think, according to Gilles Kepel. His new book, The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, is a concise survey of terrorism, its roots, and its battlegrounds. Throughout it Kepel performs a delicate balancing act, providing broad new perspectives attractive to the strategist and intimate details useful to the researcher. While few doubt that the watershed event of the new millennium was the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, it can be difficult to grasp the complicated nature and interlocking history of their underlying forces. Kepel examines these forces with insight and clarity.
According to Kepel, the failure of the Oslo peace process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict encouraged fundamental reappraisals by both U.S. neoconservatives and Islamist militants. Certainly, the strategic goals of each are distinctly different
- for neoconservatives, a military intervention in the Middle East leading to democratization under a U.S. controlled global hegemony,
- for militants, the revitalizalion of radical Islamism by recasting it in an international context.
However, each had similar proximate goals: the ousting of the region’s regimes, whose authoritarianism and corruption they both abhorred.
For radical Islamists 1996 was a hinge year. Facing the failure of local jihad movements in Bosnia, Algeria, and Egypt, its strategy required refocusing. In August of that year Osama bin Laden issued his “declaration of jihad against the Americans occupying the land of the two holy sites,” a reference to the continued U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia. This would mark the beginning of a slowly escalating strategy that would eventually lead to the events of 11 September. It was a strategy aimed at swaying the mass of Muslim opinion through symbolic victories.
It is the Muslim masses that represent the final, and determining, battleground for radical Islamism. Kepel explores the undercurrents shaping Muslim attitudes in Saudi Arabia and in Europe. Saudi Arabia is characterized as being “in the eye of the storm.” Containing the Great Mosque of Mecca, Islam’s most holy site, Saudi Arabia finds itself the, perhaps sometimes reluctant, protector of the faith. Willing to encourage Wahhabism as a religious and moral counterweight to Iran’s portrayal of the Saud family as U.S. lackeys and willing to trade religious expression in exchange for political support for the monarchy, it now finds itself in possession of a movement with increasing appeal to its own growing, and increasingly restless, population. Economic accommodation with the United States in juxtaposition with moral accommodation to Wahhabism has placed Saudi Arabia in a political dilemma.
Kepel’s freshest insights are perhaps expressed in his exploration of Muslim attitudes and activities in Europe. France, possessing the largest Muslim community in Europe and a longstanding victim of Muslim terrorism, has taken an uncompromising attitude toward combating terrorism. However, Europe finds itself also in a dilemma. Faced with multicultural populations, how can it best pursue policies of integration while preventing the proselytizing influence of radical Islamists? The benefits of political asylum and freedom of expression can challenge Europe’s liberal tradition if they are co-opted by radical Muslims to establish and maintain cultural separatism. According to Kepel, the battle for the Muslim mind in Europe is a battle over the right for self-determination, and the war for Muslim minds around the world may hinge on its outcome.
Gilles Kepel’s book is contemporary, compelling, and a recommended complement to any military planner’s, political strategist’s, or historian’s library.
About the author of this book
Gilles Kepel is Professor and Chairman of Middle East Studies at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.
About the author of this review
James E. McGinley (Major, USMC, retired) lives in Fredericksburg, VA.
For more information about Islam
Posts about Islam:
- Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?, 4 August 2010
- Hard (and disturbing) information about schools in Pakistan – the madāris, 1 May 2011
About our long war with Islam:
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
- Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
- Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?, 10 December 2009
- Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
- RAND explains How Terrorist Groups End, and gives Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, 15 January 2010
- Stratfor’s strategic analysis – “Jihadism in 2010: The Threat Continues”, 17 March 2010
- Stratfor: “Jihadism: The Grassroots Paradox”, 21 March 2010
- Stratfor: Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism, 1 May 2010
- Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work?, 3 August 2010
- Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011