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Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam

Product Description
The late 20th century saw the emergence of an unexpected and extraordinary phenomenon, culminating in a devastating onslaught in the West in 2001: Islamist political movements. Beginning in the early 1970s, militants revolted against the regimes in power across the Muslim world and exacerbated political conflicts internationally. Their jihad or ‘Holy Struggle’ – aimed to establish a global Islamic state based solely on a strict interpretation of the Qur’an. Religious ideology proved a cohesive force, gathering followers from the young urban poor to middle class professionals and students. After an initial triumph with the Islamic revolution in Iran, the movement waged jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan, proclaiming a doctrine of extreme violence for the first time. By the end of the 1990s, the failure to seize political power elsewhere led to a split: moderates developed new concepts of ‘Muslim democracy’ while extremists resorted to large-scale terrorist attacks around the world, beginning with the unprecedented hijackings and biological attacks on the US in 2001. Jihad is the first comprehensive attempt to follow the history and spread of this new political-religious phenomenon. Kepel has travelled throughout the Muslim world gathering documents, interviews, and archival materials inaccessible to most scholars, in order to provide a full understanding of the scope of Islamist movements, their past, their present and their future direction. As we confront the escalated threat of terrorism, Gilles Kepel helps us make sense of the ominous reality of jihad Review
Gilles Kepel’s Jihad is an intense, detailed examination of the militant Islamist movement over the last quarter-century. Kepel divides his book into two parts–“Expansion” and “Decline”–and posits that the September 11, 2001, attacks, rather than demonstrating “strength and irrepressible might,” highlighted the “isolation” and “fragmentation” of a “faltering” and probably doomed extremist ideology. Kepel follows Islamism from its theoretical underpinnings in the late 1960s and its rapid expansion into Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Central, South, and Southeast Asia, through the Taliban’s ascendancy in Afghanistan and beyond. He explains Islamism’s attractions, and outlines its severe shortcomings. With consummate skill, he illuminates the bewilderingly intricate effects global events (oil prices, the fall of Communism) have had on internal politics of individual countries, and vice versa. Kepel, wisely, refuses to prognosticate. Instead, his achievement is in providing–for the determined reader–a deeply authoritative context for the seemingly inexplicable events of the recent past. –H. O’Billovich

Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam


  1. jihad only for in defese of islam not murders

    this book insults muslims as dogs

    we live and work to eat and happiness

    we are not animals and men who seek truth

    read koran not this book lies enslave the mind

    insults to islam not freedom of press but hate
    Rating: 1 / 5

  2. I have to agree with the writer who expresses incredulity at the levelof naivete in this book; I too was struck by it, and concerned by the notion that anyone could have absorbed as much information about Islam as Giles Kepel seems to have done without actually understanding the languages (lingua franca) of the Muslim masses.

    It is truly appalling, in fact. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the conclusions Keppel drew in this tome jibe with the reality, and if the man had done any reading whatever in the history of Islamic terror, which actually dates back to the time of Mohammed, one has to wonder what he did with that knowledge.

    The fact is, for example, that something on the order of 15 to 20 million persons were massacred in cold blood during the 500-year reign of Islamic terror on the Indian subcontinent alone! That reign of terror began in the 8th century, and continues to this day, wherein Pakistan, Muslims routinely murder Christians and anyone perceived as an “apostate” with wild abandon, and no legal ramifications whatever. This is what we have to fear, and it is not only the radicals who are promoting such behavior. This is the heart of Islam, which at its core, hates anyone and everyone who is not Islamic, or Muslim.

    Tant pis (the worse for us) that Kepel is such an educated dummy.
    Rating: 1 / 5

  3. Gilles Kepel’s ultimate message in this book is clear: the Western democracies should not exaggerate the threat of Islamic terrorism because it is on the decline.

    This, however, is far from certain.

    Kepel bases his analysis , and his conclusion, on a very small amount of evidence gathered from a few Muslim countries. He has , as might be expected, no access to the internal debate of the various terror organisations that operate throughout the Muslim world.

    Another problem is that Kepel does not seem to understand the importance of such traditions as ” kitman” and ” taqyyiah” in the Islamic culture which make it incumbent on the believer to hide his real beliefs and feelings whenever and wherever he senses that the general environment might be hostile to him.

    The fact that Kepel, who seems to know a little bit of Arabic, has no knowledge of Persian, Turkish, Urdu and other major Islamic languages is a further handicap as the bulk of the ideological litrerature of terror is curently produced in those languages, and not in Arabic. MT
    Rating: 1 / 5

  4. Kepel’s book is well formed, serious and weighty. He used variety of sources in different languages; articles and books in French, German, Arabic, Turkish and English, as well as websites, newspapers, and interviews. Kepel analyzes the Islamist movement of the last five decades and focuses on the recent events in Muslim world. In the first part of his book he could have made parallelism with similar movements in Islamic world in early years especially in the Cultural Revolution Chapter. Kepel also makes hasty judgement about the decline of Islamist movement. Based on the events of the last couple of years in Europe and the Middle East, the decline of Islamism makes Kepel’s theory only optimistic.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  5. As Walter Laqueur observed in The Atlantic in his March 2002 review of this Gilles Kepel book, his “obituary of Islamism was written before September 11.”

    What seemed truly astounding when I read this book four years ago was the extent of Kepel’s knowledge — and his fundamental ignorance. I hadn’t realized, as I read, that the original French edition of this book came out in 2000. Still, it is extraordinary to think a scholar as widely read as Kepel could be so wrong, as he is here, as to pronounce radical Islam and jihad on the wane.

    As the intervening years have proved, nothing could have been further from the truth, and of all people, Kepel should have known it. But Kepel’s lack of knowledge on the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt of the 1920s, or the writings of Hassan al-Banna and his heir, Sayyed Qutb (whom Nasser hanged in 1966) did NOT lead to the author’s blindness.

    What caused it was most likely Kepel’s lack of understanding of the fundamentals of Islam itself. Like so many writers before and after, Kepel blamed the rise of radical Islam on the backwardness of Middle Eastern society, and the lack of political power of the rising middle class.

    As Laqueur noted in The Atlantic, Kepel laid the attractiveness of Qutb’s radical “message and in particular his appeal to violence” to broad swaths of Egyptian society to several mostly economic and intellectual factors. Qutb resonated for “students who could not find jobs; the religiously observant lower middle class, distrustful of modernity; and, generally speaking, all those disaffected by the state of affairs in the Muslim world who had become intellectually homeless after the failure of Arab nationalist ideology and of Marxism.”

    Actually, however, both Qutb’s philosophy and its attractiveness to Egyptians and other middle eastern Muslims were powered by the same force — the fact that Qutb based his thinking and writings on the classical jurisprudence of Islamic scholars across the centuries. And in this respect, Qutb was no different than many other radicals whom Kepel covers, including the violent Iranian religious revolutionary, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Pakistan’s Mawlana Mawdudi, among others.

    To understand the rootedness of these “radicals” in Islamic religious precepts and Islamic history, Kepel ought to read Dr. Andrew Bostom’s Legacy of Jihad.

    Certainly, Kepel is right about some factors that encouraged Islamic radicals to pursue their goals at the specific times that they did: In the 1980s and early 1990s, Khomeinist fanatics terrorized Iran unchallenged, Islamists seized power in Sudan and their cohorts had attempted coups in Algeria and Egypt as well. But more importantly, ragtag Afghan Islamist armies eventually defeated the Soviet Union there, and built a very successful propaganda campaign (though undoubtedly not entirely truthful) as a result.

    But Kepel did not understand how Islamists saw their defeat and alienation from the Algerian majority, Egypt’s mass arrests of terrorists or Sudan’s surrender of Carlos the Jackal to the French, for criminal trial. To radicals, these were merely temporary setbacks, not the heralds of permanent defeat. Nor were they at all discouraged by the rise of Iran’s so-called moderate, Mohammad Khatami (who was never moderate) or the protests of Saudi women for the right to drive cars independently.

    Worse, Kepel did not understand that many Islamic scholars — whom he and many foolhardy others presume to be “reformist” thinkers — are themselves reputedly central figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, and in any case, fundamentalists in their own right.

    Take Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of MB founder Hassan al-Banna, whose visa application the U.S. State Department twice, correctly, rejected [before finally caving in early January 2010.] Kepel accepts him as the “reformer” he pretends to be. But this is utter nonsense.

    As J.C. Brissard recently noted on the Terror Finance Blog, ample evidence suggests Ramadan has links to terror. A 1999 Spanish police General Directorate memo, for example, stated that Ahmed Brahim — who last April received a 10 year sentence for incitement to terrorism — maintained “regular contacts with important figures of radical Islam such as Tariq Ramadan.”

    Likewise, Djamel Beghal — sentenced to 10 years in March 2005 for participating in a foiled attack on the US Embassy in Paris — in September 2001 aligned his religious “engagement” to the 1994 time when “he was in charge of writing the statements of Tariq Ramadan.” Beghal later said he had also “attended the courses given by Tarek Ramadan.” And “brothers Hani and Tariq Ramadan,” according to a 2001 Swiss intelligence memo, together planned a 1991 Geneva meeting between Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. This was confirmed by the member of a Geneva mosque, who heard Hani Ramadan announce the upcoming meeting.

    While Kepel conducted extensive and sometimes useful research, his conclusions are unreal.

    –Alyssa A. Lappen
    Rating: 2 / 5


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