The Rise of the Muslim Terrorists (Book reviews by Malise Ruthven in The New York Review of Books)

..What are the forces that drive young men such as these to commit mass murder? The question is addressed from different perspectives in all of the books under review…

The Islamist movement is a mixture of forces comprising many strands of tradition, culture, allegiance, and belief. Its most noxious ingredient is a style of religious imperialism fueled by Arabian petrodollars. As Feldman points out, Saudi Arabia is unique in not having inherited the Ottoman state system. Its scholars influence state policies while also having the freedom to propagate versions of Islam that diverge from the interests of the ruling family. By helping to supply the religious arguments that support jihadist trends, the Wahhabi scholars have a political impact well beyond their intellectual and theological weight, even when specific outcomes, such as attacks on Western targets, run counter to the Saudi state’s policies.

The dangers of jihadism, however, have been needlessly exacerbated by the "war on terror" and the folly of the US invasion of Iraq, which, as Sageman suggests, galvanized a whole new generation of "third-wave" jihadists. Yet the "leaderless jihad" he discusses is inherently self-limiting. As a trans-national social movement—rather than an ideology with a coherent political agenda—it generally lacks the organizational capacity to gain and hold power. The exceptions lie in the atypical situations of Iran, where the Shia clergy constitute an "estate" comparable to their equivalents in early modern Europe, and of Gaza, occasioned by the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Contrary to the alarmist views of Henry Kissinger, who insists that "radical Islam rejects claims to national sovereignty based on secular state models," Islamist attitudes toward the national state are ambivalent. There are no insuperable obstacles, historical or theological, to the de jure acceptance of the postcolonial state that most of the Islamist movements already acknowledge, de facto, as being the arena of politics. The challenge for policymakers in Islamic and Western worlds must be to harness these movements’ positive energies (including their democratic aspirations and social concerns), while criminalizing terrorism and relentlessly exposing the bigotry that drives it.

The Rise of the Muslim Terrorists (Book reviews by Malise Ruthven in The New York Review of Books)

Global War on Terror (VK-blog)


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