The War for Muslim Minds, by Gilles Kepel, Harvard University Press, £10.95, ISBN: 067401992X
In February 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt, returning from the Yalta conference where he, Churchill and Stalin had signed off on their agreement on the shape of post-war Europe, stopped off in the Middle East for another meeting which was to have equally far-reaching, and arguably longer-lasting, consequences for the American destiny.
As Roosevelt’s cruiser, the USS Quincy, moored in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal, its escort vessel, the destroyer USS Murphy, sailed on to Jeddah to take on board the Saudi king, Abdul Aziz (Abd Aziz Ibn Saud), and bring him back to meet the president. The Murphy had had a good war, participating in the invasion of North Africa, sharing in Atlantic convoy duty and screening D-Day invasion forces at Omaha Beach. But as Thomas Hilliard, then a young boatswain’s mate, was to recall sixty years later, the reception on board of Abdul Aziz posed new and unfamiliar problems. Since the king would not sleep in “an iron cabin”, the crew worked through the night to sew a massive canvas tent for him. As he would not step on the deck, a collection of Persian rugs had to be shunted around under his feet as he walked about. Nor was he about to risk American food: the 49-strong royal party brought with them several 100-lb bags of rice, baskets of watermelons and tomatoes and eight live sheep, which were butchered on a plank set against the flagstaff and cooked in charcoal-filled pots on deck.
By 1945 American oil exploration companies had had a presence in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province for well over a decade. The desert kingdom had traditionally been under British “protection”, but that was about to change. US war aims extended some way beyond the defeat of fascism in Europe and Japanese military imperialism in Asia. Opening markets to American business dynamism in regions jealously guarded until then by the declining European colonial powers seemed to political leaders in Washington and their corporate clients a self-evident good. And there would, of course, be something left over for the French and British allies, though perhaps no longer the sweetest prizes. As Roosevelt had explained with the aid of a rough sketch to an anxious Lord Halifax, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, a year before: “Persian oil is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it is ours.”
When the discussions on board the Quincy began, on February 14th, Roosevelt wanted three things from Abdel Aziz: a cheap and steady supply of oil for the United States, an agreement to allow American bases on Saudi territory and the king’s acquiescence in the settlement of Jewish refugees in Palestine. With the first two Abdul Aziz had few problems, since he heartily wished for a steady supply of money for his kingdom (or his family) in exchange for oil and was anxious that the US should protect him from his many potential enemies, both within and without the state. On the third matter, however, he felt he had to pass. The Jews, he told Roosevelt, should keep out of Palestine but be given as a recompense for their suffering the best lands of their German oppressors. Given such a coincidence of interest on the main points the two parties had little difficulty in coming to an agreement. The pledges they made to each other on this 1945 St Valentine’s Day were to be kept, for better and for worse, for sixty years.
Wahhabism, the form of Islamic belief and practice most associated with Saudi Arabia today, derives its name from the eighteenth century scholar Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), whose teachings were themselves an interpretation of the ideas of the medieval jurist Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). Wahhabism is a fundamentalism, insofar as it purports to privilege the plain and unvarnished word of God (Allah) as found in the Qu’ran and the hadith (the words and deeds of the Prophet according to tradition) over any interpretations of them or later theological or juridical accretions. It is fiercely hostile to independent reasoning and critical thinking, which are seen as both dangerous and redundant: dangerous since they must inevitably lead to heresy, redundant since the Qu’ran and hadith contain all that the good Muslim needs to know for all time: it is the believer’s duty, in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventh, simply to obey their injunctions, and to the letter.
Abdul Wahhab’s ideas first came to be translated into practice through an alliance he concluded in the 1740s with a tribal chieftain from the central desert province of Arabia, Muhammad bin Saud. The desert (nejd) was at the time a place inhabited by a number of Bedouin tribes constantly at war with each other over control of the scarce resources that could ward off starvation. As many of them had scandalously fallen away from the true path of Islam, venerating sacred trees and the graves of their ancestors, it seemed to Wahhab legitimate that they should be brought back to correct belief by the sword; and, we must assume, it seemed to bin Saud no bad thing if his raids on neighbouring oases for plunder were henceforth to be sanctified as jihad (holy war) by his spiritual adviser.
Since the rules of jihad stipulated that a prescribed part of war booty should be put aside for Allah and those who served Him, both elements of the Wahhabite-Saudi alliance benefited hugely from the successful war of conquest that saw the desert Bedouins take control of the entire Arabian peninsula, including the wealthy and cosmopolitan coastal cities and, most crucially, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, where the constant stream of pilgrims could be profitably taxed. Wahhabite control of Mecca, and the harassment of his subjects, caused considerable offence however to the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, who in 1811 ordered his viceroy in Cairo to bring the desert upstarts to heel. A punitive Egyptian force was dispatched, which killed the local Wahhabite clerics and dragged the king, Abdullah bin Saud, off to Istanbul, where he was beheaded.
The eventual restoration of the power of the house of Saud, begun in 1902 by the young Abdel Aziz, until then an exile in Kuwait, was again based on an alliance between the dynasty and a belligerent religious fundamentalism, this time in the form of the Ikhwan (brothers), a militia of fanatical and ruthlessly effective recently settled Bedouin warriors. Wahhabite preachers spurred the Ikhwan to fight in Allah’s name against rival tribes, uniformly portrayed as heretics whom it was not just permissible but a holy duty to kill and despoil: the Shia farmers of the eastern coast, the mountain tribes, the cosmopolitan inhabitants of Mecca and Medina, all fell before the conquering brothers. In the background the British, in the person of the young Captain William Henry Irvine Shakespear of the India Office, discreetly encouraged the Saud family’s territorial ambitions.
Though they had amply proved their usefulness in time of war, the Ikhwan were to find they were considered less than essential with the newly reunited Saudi kingdom at peace. Their loud objections to the presence of the infidel British, and the modernity they represented (telephones, automobiles – neither mentioned in the Qu’ran and thus, according to the fundamentalist view, an abomination), irritated the more pragmatic Abdel Aziz and in 1929 he brutally repressed their rebellion with the aid of the RAF and its bombers. The preachers, many of them members of the al-Sheikh clan and thus descendants of Abdul Wahhab, lost influence with the royal family and were directed to the secondary roles of education and enforcing public morality. In such positions they might continue to enthral their youthful audience with heroic tales of jihad, whether that of the Prophet and his companions, of the eighteenth century Wahhabites or even of the Ikhwan; the political power, however, made it clear that since Saudi Arabia was now a perfect Islamic state observing sharia law, jihad was for elsewhere.
Where exactly that elsewhere might be did not clearly emerge for another half-century, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan coincided with a period of renewed internal pressure on a regime increasingly seen by poorer Saudis and radical refugees from the nationalist regimes of Egypt and Syria as corrupt, in league with the infidel West and merely maintaining a pious veneer rather than practising true Islam. Other factors at work in what was to prove a decisive turning point in international politics were the consolidation of the Islamic revolution (1979) in Iran, with its heady mix of Islamist and anti-imperialist themes, the export of Wahhabite preachers, funded by Saudi petro-dollars, to every part of the Muslim world, the readiness of the US to endorse and fund anti-communists of any ideological stripe and, eventually, the fizzling out of Russian communism, clearing the way in the last decade of the twentieth century for an entirely new configuration of the eternal struggle between freedom and slavery, good and evil.
Gilles Kepel is a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences-Po) in Paris specialising in the Arab and Muslim worlds and the author of numerous books on political Islam. The work under review does, as its title suggests, survey the various factions involved in the ideological battle currently being fought for the allegiance of Muslims worldwide, featuring a range of forces from the most “moderate” and quietist versions of Islam to the most combative and unyielding. It also offers an historical genealogy of “Islamism” through an account of the development of its influential Saudi (Wahhabite/salafist) and Egyptian (Qutbist/Muslim Brotherhood) strands and their interaction, both in the Middle East and Maghreb and among the Muslim diaspora in Europe. Finally, it analyses the clash between the Islamic and Western worlds in the context of jihadi struggles in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Algeria, Chechnya and Iraq, the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the rise of al-Qaeda-linked terrorism and the American “neoconservative” response.
Kepel traces the origins of contemporary Islamist terrorism to a hybridisation of Egyptian and Saudi strands of radical religious/political thought that occurred in the context of the gradual fading of the great hopes for jihad occasioned by the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan. The mujahideen fighters who took on the Soviets were financed by the US and Saudi Arabia and trained by Pakistan. Though there is no doubt of their bravery and talent for self-sacrifice the decisive weapon in the war, Kepel argues, was not ideological but technological: the US-manufactured Stinger missile, which was cheap, easy to use and absolutely lethal to Soviet air power.
The year 1989 was a happy one for America, marked by the defeat of Russian ambitions in Afghanistan, the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and the beginnings of what was to prove a total collapse of communism in central and southeastern Europe. Old ideas of containment, negotiation and détente no longer seemed to have any place in American foreign policy as, with the apparently total collapse of the main enemy, suddenly everything seemed possible. Those lesser enemies and irritants who remained, it was felt, could easily be dealt with as the US moved closer to what its military was eventually to define (in 2000) as “full spectrum dominance”.
In 1992 a paper authored by Paul Wolfowitz, George Bush snr’s deputy secretary of defence, argued for a strategy of military confrontation with regional regimes anywhere who looked likely to challenge America’s now absolute global hegemony. US power, he argued, should be forcefully projected wherever its vital interests were at stake, guaranteed oil supplies and the security of the state of Israel being top of the list. It is unlikely that Bush snr would have wholeheartedly endorsed such a radical strategy, given his background in the more pragmatic CIA tradition and his family’s business links with Saudi Arabia. But he was not to have the chance, losing the presidency to Bill Clinton in the November 1992 election. For the next eight years, Wolfowitz and his ideological allies, the so-called neoconservatives, were to be out in the cold.
Following an influential article by William (Bill) Kristol and Robert Kagan in Foreign Affairs in 1996, which called on the US to achieve an unchallengeable military superiority by devoting a quarter of the federal budget to defence, a new think tank/pressure group was set up in Washington in 1997. This was the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which called for a vigorous unilateralism in the conduct of American foreign policy and whose sponsors included many figures later to feature in the administrations of George Bush jnr after 2000, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad (currently US ambassador to Iraq).
The neoconservative agenda proposed a complete break from previous US (and indeed European) policy towards the Middle East, which had striven for “realism” and balance (a realism which prescribed toleration of those authoritarian and corrupt regimes which were pro-Western and containment of the others, and a balance which sought to move both the Israelis and the PLO towards compromise through the Oslo peace process). Now Kristol and Kagan spoke of “putting pressure on right-wing and left-wing [Arab] dictatorships alike”. Indeed, as Kepel observes, their “writing about power structures in the petro-monarchies took on an almost left-wing tone, which won their analysis approval beyond the circle of the American right, including some Arab intellectuals”. This is not so surprising given the political provenance of some of the movement’s leading ideologists, prominent in their youth in the (largely anti-Stalinist) New York Jewish left. As Irving Kristol, father of William, had put it: “A neoconservative is a Liberal [that is, in American terms, a left-winger] who has been mugged by reality.”
In 1996, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith were among the contributors to a briefing document presented to Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud’s candidate for prime minister of Israel. The document, entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, recommended the replacement of Labor’s traditional strategy of “land for peace” with a new logic of “peace for peace”, which would break with the Oslo process, seal new alliances between Israel, Turkey and Jordan, lessen dependence on the United States and allow for massive retaliation (the “right of hot pursuit”) by the Israeli state against Palestinian attacks. The paper also recommended the “rolling back” of Syria, the removal from power of Saddam Hussein and the restoration in Baghdad of the Hashemite monarchy. The toppling of Saddam, its authors argued, would usher in a virtuous cycle, which would produce stability, prosperity, the growth of a civil society in Iraq and the rapid spread of the democratic bug to neighbouring states, where the populations would overthrow their oppressive and incompetent rulers, allowing the Middle East to become a “normalised” region, “basking [in Kepel’s words] in the glow of the United States’ benevolent hegemony, like Europe, Pacific Asia, or Latin America”.
Though regime change in Iraq had been a gleam in the eye of those who were soon to become important Bush administration officials since (at least) 1996, it might never, Kepel argues, have been put into effect had it not been for the creation, by the Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Saudi construction heir Osama bin Laden, of the group which became known as al-Qaeda and the September 11th, 2001 mass killings in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, for which it was belatedly to claim responsibility.
Zawahiri, an Islamist radical who had served a prison sentence when the Egyptian regime rounded up dissidents following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, emigrated to Saudi Arabia in 1985. There, in the following year, he met Osama bin Laden, seventeenth of the fifty-two children of a construction multi-millionaire who had grown rich on the oil and building boom of the previous decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, members of the Muslim Brothers movement had fled repression under the nationalist/secularist regimes of Egypt, Syria and Iraq and found a warm welcome in Saudi Arabia, where the dynasty saw them as capable of providing a much needed ideological shot in the arm for native Islamism (Wahhabism), which was insular and intellectually weak. In return, the Brothers refrained from criticising their hosts, projecting their hostility outwards towards the infidel and “socialist” regimes from which they had fled. In Ayman al-Zawahiri’s view, however, they had sacrificed the ideals of jihad for a comfortable life and were even guilty of flirting with the impious notion of democracy, holding that the people could be a source of sovereignty, when all sovereignty was Allah’s alone.
In Afghanistan, bin Laden had at first come under the influence of the Palestinian Muslim Brother Abdullah Azzam, a gifted organiser and inspirational figure for the mujahideen resistance, who persuaded him to use his fortune to finance networks for the infiltration of fighters into the country’s battlefields through Peshawar in Pakistan. Azzam’s political ideology was primarily anti-Soviet (and deeply hostile to Soviet client states in the Middle East), but as the CIA turned off the tap after the defeat of the Russians the jihadis began to squabble among themselves about the future direction and targets of their struggle. After the assassination of Azzam in November 1989 (suspects include bin Laden, the CIA, the Pakistani intelligence services and Israel’s Mossad), the young Saudi heir drifted increasingly into the orbit of Ayman al-Zawahiri. On a visit back home from 1989 to 1991 he had observed the massive build-up of US forces invited into the kingdom to expel Saddam Hussein from neighbouring Kuwait. The identity of the principal enemy of Islam was now becoming clear to him: arrogant, godless America, defiling the holy places and with an apparently unlimited military power and will to dominate the Arab lands.
In 1992, bin Laden and Zawahiri found refuge in Sudan, where they stayed for four years. During this period the essential elements of what was to become known as al-Qaeda (“the base”) were put together, a network of fighters operating in theatres as diverse as Egypt, Algeria, Somalia and Bosnia, a media and propaganda centre run from London and sophisticated financial operations in the banks of the Gulf states. In 1996, as his welcome soured in Sudan, bin Laden was apparently put on the market by his hosts (as they had previously done with the terrorist playboy Ilich Ramírez Sánchez [“Carlos, the Jackal”], whom they allowed French secret service agents to kidnap in 1994 while he was in a clinic undergoing a liposuction procedure); but in the case of bin Laden neither the Saudis nor the US were interested at this time and he was put on board a private jet and flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan, the nerve centre of the insurgent Taliban movement. Zawahiri, meanwhile, was in Chechnya, where he was captured by the Russians but subsequently freed. In February 1998, a declaration signed by bin Laden, Zawahiri and others announced the formation of the “World Islamic Front against Jews and Crusaders”, which called for “the killing of Americans and Jews wherever they may be”. By August that year it would seem this strategy was beginning to be put into effect, though of the more than 240 people who died in the twin bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi the overwhelming majority were African civilians. More precisely targeted was the attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden in October 2000, which killed seventeen US sailors. Then came the most spectacular coup, the September 11th attacks, which devastatingly brought jihad right to the heart of the all-powerful enemy.
The strategy and tactics of the new jihad were most fully outlined by Ayman al-Zawahiri in his book Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, published in serialised form in the London-based Saudi press in late 2001. The previous year had seen the final collapse of the Oslo peace process and the beginning of the second intifada in Israeli-occupied Palestine. It was also becoming clear that the Islamist struggles in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Algeria were not prospering so well as had been hoped. The plight of the Palestinians, Zawahiri argued, offered the best opportunity to mobilise the people for jihad, regardless of their degree of personal religious commitment. “It is a rallying point for all the Arabs,” he wrote, “whether or not they are believers!” In a perhaps unconscious echo of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory, he specified the need for a “scientific, confrontational, rational” leadership which would “move towards the masses” and “guide them along the path leading to victory”. The masses could indeed play a small role themselves: it was quite possible, Zawahiri wrote, “to kill Americans and Jews with a single bullet, a knife, an ordinary explosive device, an iron bar” or set fire to their property with a Molotov cocktail. But the main burden of jihad would fall on the vanguard, a carefully selected and well-trained warrior elite which would be prepared for spectacular “martyrdom operations” that would show that the enemy was in fact far from invulnerable and inspire Muslims in all lands to overthrow their corrupt rulers and re-establish in the Middle East a core Islamic caliphate, which would in time expand to embrace the planet.
If the “martyrdom operations” which al-Qaeda and its affiliates and clients now began to plan, in Tunisia, Bali, Morocco, Turkey, Spain and Britain, did indeed, as Zawahiri had argued, constitute “the most efficient means of inflicting losses on adversaries and the least costly, in human terms, for the mujahedeen”, they were certainly not to prove without cost for the Muslim “masses”, either in the short or longer term. In the May 2003 suicide attack on targets with Jewish and European associations in Casablanca, all forty-five victims were Muslims. In November there were two attacks in Istanbul on a synagogue, a Jewish social centre, a British bank and the British consulate. But as a local Islamist newspaper complained in its headline: “Sixty-nine dead, but only six Jews”.
Muslim attitudes to political violence are undoubtedly various, ranging from the millions of ordinary people who are opposed to the deliberate taking of life (or at least “innocent” life) to the ideologists of global jihad for whom violence is the first and virtually sole resort in the pursuit of the imperative of an Islamised (and Islamist) world. In between, there is undoubtedly a large swathe of opinion which sees armed resistance to Israeli humiliation of the Palestinian people as justified. (Catholic “just war” theory might take a different view on this, in particular given its stipulation that any armed struggle against oppression “must have serious prospects of success”.) Asked in 2001 if he agreed with the concept of a clash of civilisations (a notion popularised in the West by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington), Osama bin Laden replied: “Absolutely. The Book states it clearly. Jews and Americans invented the myth of peace on earth. That’s a fairy tale … The Prophet said: ‘The Hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.’”
For Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential “moderate” Islamist who hosts a religious talk show on Al-Jazeera television (and whose European Council for Fatwa and Research operates from the Dublin suburb of Clonskeagh), matters are more complex. Qaradawi, who opposed both al-Qaeda’s September 11th massacres and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, justifies the killing of Israelis as part of the jihad to reconquer Palestine but draws the line at killing Jews in general. He also refuses to distinguish between civilians and military personnel, on the (not entirely accurate) grounds that all Israeli citizens are liable for army service.
Nor need apparent (or relative) moderation in one sphere translate into moderation in all others. The French imam Abdelkader Bouziane, in an interview with Lyon-Mag in 2004, made it clear that he would condemn Osama bin Laden in the strongest possible terms if it could in fact be proved that he had been involved in the “counterproductive” attacks on New York and Madrid. Unfortunately he then went on to justify polygamy, the beating of wives for disciplinary reasons and the stoning of women for adultery. (It is not permissible in Islam to beat husbands for disciplinary reasons.) Even such a sophisticated operator as Tariq Ramadan, a darling of the French anti-globalist and Trotskyist left, refused, in a 2004 debate with interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, to explicitly condemn the stoning of women.
Kepel’s study concludes with a chapter on Islam in Europe (particularly France), which he apparently sees as now the most crucial battleground in “the war for Muslim minds”. At one level, this war is being fought between quietists and radical jihadists, the latter almost certainly a tiny minority but with a significant website presence and the potential to feed off a generalised Muslim feeling of victimhood. There is also a growing clash between the traditional Wahhabite preachers (salafist, after salaf, the pious ancestors, is this group’s own preferred term), who advocate a mental withdrawal from the host society, and the communalist Muslim Brothers tradition, which is increasingly political and seeks recognition from the state as the legitimate representative of immigrant communities.
Kepel is a strong defender of traditional French secularism and of the ban on Muslim girls wearing veils in schools. “Veiling,” he argues, “marks the perpetuation of community control [over individual choice] … and mental separation from the values of an environment suspected of corrupting Islam. For salafists, all Europe is a land of unbelief, and they are obsessed by the threat of ‘Christianization’ and other deviations that might affect their offspring, such as singing, dancing, coed schooling, sports, or even biology textbooks that contradict divine revelation.”
This is of course a view that is strongly contested, particularly in Britain, by the multiculturalist tradition, which sees wearing the veil and other visible signs of difference as perfectly legitimate markers of identity. It is at least interesting, even if we cannot be sure of what conclusions can be drawn from it, that recent surveys of opinion among Muslim communities across Europe suggest a greater sympathy for extreme views in the more “tolerant” British society than in the sternly republican French one. (British involvement in, and French opposition to, the war in Iraq are likely to be a factor.)
Kepel’s benign scenario is that the young Muslims of Europe will find it possible to escape from the most stifling aspects of their religious inheritance. He is as opposed to communalist as to jihadist positions, arguing that second and third generation immigrants in European societies should be free to find their own identity rather than being regarded as “a mere flock for bearded communalist shepherds”. It is possible to sympathise with this wish while finding very significant obstacles to its fulfillment. Kepel’s book was written before the wave of rioting and destruction perpetrated by youths of north and west African origin in the French banlieues last autumn, an outbreak greeted with ill-concealed glee by some of the lower beasts of the American neocon commentariat, keen to portray the explosion as payback time for an arrogant French ruling class which had refused to take seriously the Islamist threat to civilisation.
But as very quickly became obvious, the riots had absolutely nothing to do with Islam or Islamism; rather they were an inchoate protest against poverty, unemployment, exclusion and police harassment of black and Arab youths. Kepel remarks that, in spite of a certain degree of upward mobility among some second generation immigrants, “at the national level, no deputies or senators [come] from these communities”. And there he stops, apparently not considering it worthy of further comment or analysis that an ethnic group established in France for at least fifty years (and the largest Muslim community in a European state) still has no significant direct representation through the democratic system.
Understandably, some commentators loyal to the French ideology expressed relief that there was little evidence that underprivileged Muslim youth had been radicalised in an Islamist direction. Outsiders, however, are as likely to be concerned that this somewhat fossilised French republicanism, which prides itself on being blind to skin colour and personal religious belief, can also be blind to – or at least complacent about the persistent exclusion of French people of African origin from the full benefits of citizenship.
Progress in integrating Muslim communities in Europe, through political participation, prohibition of racial or religious discrimination in employment, greater investment in education and, where necessary, affirmative action are all measures likely to lessen the attraction of separatist or even violent forms of opposition to host societies. They will not however significantly lessen the perception that “the West” has dealt with and still deals with their countries of origin and their co-religionists there in a manner that is at the very least self-interested and at the worst brutal and arrogant. Perhaps the empowerment of people of Muslim faith and tradition in various European societies will further accentuate the differences which already exist between Europe and the United States in their approach to the Middle East, but as the American neocons might ask (echoing Stalin’s remarks about the Pope): “How many divisions has Javier Solana?”
Gilles Kepel has written an impressive historical study of the connections between US power and ambition, the development – or rather lack of development – of the societies of the oil-producing states where much of that power is projected, America’s apparently unbreakable alliance with Israel and the new forms of “resistance” which have arisen in the face of its overwhelming military superiority. He is very probably correct in his conclusion that jihadism has not succeeded and will not succeed: the killings carried out by al-Qaeda are a mere pinprick compared to the deliberate and and the “collateral” damage inflicted on Muslim societies by the “Jewish and Crusader” enemies.
Kepel’s apparent acceptance of the “sincerity” of the democratising mission of the US neoconservatives remains puzzling however, while his stated belief that the occupation of Iraq might have been successful if handled somewhat differently seems increasingly bizarre with the passage of time. George Bush jnr’s two terms in the White House have made the world a significantly more dangerous and nasty place and led directly to the impoverishment and death of a huge number of anonymous victims – a number we are not yet in a position to count. In 2007, the American people will begin the process of electing his successor. One wonders if they – and he (or she) – will be any wiser next time around.