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The best primer available for the general reader on the history and implications of the 11 September attacks and the War on Terror.
— Leila Hudson
The events of September 11, 2001, forever changed the world as we knew it. In their wake, the quest for international order has prompted a reshuffling of global aims and priorities. In a fresh approach, Gilles Kepel focuses on the Middle East as a nexus of international disorder and decodes the complex language of war, propaganda, and terrorism that holds the region in its thrall.
The breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2000 was the first turn in a downward spiral of violence and retribution. Meanwhile, a neo-conservative revolution in Washington unsettled U.S. Mideast policy, which traditionally rested on the twin pillars of Israeli security and access to Gulf oil. In Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, a transformation of the radical Islamist doctrine of Bin Laden and Zawahiri relocated the arena of terrorist action from Muslim lands to the West; Islamist radicals proclaimed jihad against their enemies worldwide.
Kepel examines the impact of global terrorism and the ensuing military operations to stem its tide. He questions the United States' ability to address the Middle East challenge with Cold War rhetoric, while revealing the fault lines in terrorist ideology and tactics. Finally, he proposes the way out of the Middle East quagmire that triangulates the interests of Islamists, the West, and the Arab and Muslim ruling elites. Kepel delineates the conditions for the acceptance of Israel, for the democratization of Islamist and Arab societies, and for winning the minds and hearts of Muslims in the West.
The best primer available for the general reader on the history and implications of the 11 September attacks and the War on Terror.
— Leila Hudson
The War for Muslim Minds is less sanguine [than Kepel's previous book]. In a wide-ranging survey of events over the past few years, Mr. Kepel makes the case that the West is losing exactly such a war. Islamism may be in decline but its replacement is hardly better: a less focused but equally bitter rejection of the West. This rejection has come about, he argues partly because of Islam's own misguided sense of modernity but partly, too, because of U.S. policies that were designed to do the opposite—to provide an alternative to antimarket, antidemocratic ideologies.
— Ian Johnson
A masterpiece of political explication. Kepel is especially good on the symmetries between the Islamic fundamentalists and their Western equivalents, the neoconservatives.
— Daniel Lazare
Reading Gilles Kepel's new book, The War for Muslim Minds, challenges one's sense of scale. Crucial, irreversible steps such as George W. Bush's early decision not to pursue the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the neoconservatives' justification for the Iraq war, take on new meaning when seen in context of the enormous geopolitical scope of Islam today...Easy to read (no footnotes but a good bibliography for each chapter), this persuasive book challenges the American perspective on the war on terror and, more important, reveals the rich complexity of contemporary Islam.
— Thomas D'Evelyn
[An] excellent book...by a brilliant academic turned popularizer...As well as his valuable discussion of al-Qaeda, Kepel has some useful things to say about the pedigree of Neoconservatism in the United States and about developments in Saudi Arabia, in particular the effects of the influx of Islamists flying from persecution in secular Middle Eastern states during the 1950s and '60s.
— M. E. Yapp
Kepel masterfully traces the different threads of the mujahideen, focusing on Ayman al-Zwahiri, who emerged as the mastermind of Al-Qa'ida...Kepel's strength lies in providing an intricate analysis of the major players, ideologies and movements in such disparate cultures as the U.S. and Middle East.
— Sheema Khan
Kepel's central thesis can be summed up simply: the United States is losing the war, and badly. Instead of encouraging resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush administration has played directly into Al Qaeda's hands by invading Iraq. It failed to recognize that the war would further inflame the Muslim world, convincing more Muslims than ever before that the United States was their enemy. Now, Kepel says, Europe will inherit the whirlwind, in the form of growing Islamic extremism and terrorist acts like the Madrid bombings.
— Noah Feldman
The War for Muslim Minds is...clearly the product of deep learning; Kepel knows Islamism well enough to see distinctions where most commentators see only uniformity. His discussions of the competing strains in Saudi Islamist thought and the influence of Internet imams on Muslims in France are worth the book's price alone...The problem, he suggests, is that...the Bush administration's war on terror—expressed in disastrous policies toward both the Palestinians and Iraq—is gaining for al-Qaeda an appeal it could never win on its own. In contrast to President Bush, who has responded to 9/11 with an audacious effort to redirect the course of Muslim history, Kepel implicitly calls for something far more modest: prudent management of a threat that—if we let it—can be beaten from within. The war for Muslim minds, Kepel suggests, will be won in Riyadh, Cairo, and the suburbs of Paris. In Washington it can't be won—only lost...He sees a vital role for the young Muslims of Europe, who, if granted economic opportunity by their host societies, could create a model of tolerant, prosperous Islam that reverberates across the globe...If realism is returning to fashion, Gilles Kepel may finally have the intellectual wind at his back.
— Peter Beinart
[The War for Muslim Minds] displays a remarkable mastery of detail as it ranges across the Middle East and illuminates debates within Islam and the American right.
— John Dugdale
Al-Qa'ida has been so thoroughly anatomised that one wonders if there's much more to say. As Kepel's book proves, there certainly is...Kepel's account of neo-conservativism is as interesting as his analysis of al-Qa'ida...His analysis of how Egyptian and Saudi strains of radical Islam fused to create a virulent new cocktail is detailed and persuasive, as is his X-ray view of the Saudi state.
— Michael Church
The book deals in concise and convincing ways with Saudi Arabia's Muslim Brotherhood and the deadly influence of Wahhabi Islam. This is one of the best short analyses of that country's past and future available. And the chapter on the war in Iraq allows Kepel to look, unsparingly and in depth, at the global political fallout of the issues he has described in the preceding pages. Indeed, as of now, The War for Muslim Minds can be regarded as a standard, perhaps even definitive, layman's guide to the current state of Islamism, and a work that deserves to be read widely.
— Turi Munthe
Dr. Zawahiri began his text with a somber diagnosis of the movement's failures in the 1990s, measured against the hopes that were raised by its triumph over the Red Army in Afghanistan in 1989. From Egypt to Bosnia, Saudi Arabia to Algeria-everywhere in the Muslim world-jihad activists had failed to mobilize the "masses" in the effort to overthrow their corrupt rulers, the "nearby enemy." To reverse the course of this decline, a radical change of strategy was necessary. The sheer audacity and magnitude of the massive blow struck against the United States was designed to galvanize undecided Muslims by convincing them that the Islamist militants were irresistibly powerful and that the United States, the arrogant protector of apostate regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, was abhorrently weak. But terrorism on Western territory would not distract the militants from their primary task: waging a war for the hearts and minds of Muslims. Al Qaeda's long-term strategy was to strengthen its grip on co-religionists and to enlist them in establishing an "Islamic state" through armed struggle.
The setbacks of the 1990s, Zawahiri wrote, were due to the absence of a great rallying cause that could unify the Muslim world behind its activist vanguard. But suddenly, at the turn of the twenty-first century, Palestine provided just such a cause. The termination of the Oslo peace process, the eruption of the second intifada in the fall of 2000, and the repressive campaign waged by Ariel Sharon's government made armed struggle in Palestine seem legitimate to viewers of Al Jazeera and other Arab satellite television networks. In the summer of 2001, suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, organized by Palestinian Islamists and described as "martyrdom operations" by preachers in the Muslim world, were seen as a practical answer to the crushing superiority of Israel's military arsenal.
The deadly downward spiral in Palestine provided the opportunity that the masterminds of September 11 had been waiting for. They conceived of the carnage in New York and Washington as an extension of the Palestinian suicide bombings, whose popularity Bin Laden sought to channel for his own purposes. In a videotape broadcast on October 7, Bin Laden sat with Zawahiri in front of an Afghan cave and swore to his television viewers that, "by Allah who raised the heavens without pillars, America [will] never know peace" as long as the Palestinian people continued to suffer.
In the 1990s, as Islamist militants turned to global terrorism to advance their agenda in the Muslim world, the Middle East was caught in a political maelstrom following the Soviet Union's collapse. The resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000 was the most striking symptom, but an underlying cause of unrest in the region went much deeper. It originated in a worldview-neoconservatism-that acquired influence in Washington long before the election of President George W. Bush. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it would become predominant.
The neoconservatives made their own diagnosis of the 1990s, and it was just as devastating as Zawahiri's-but for diametrically opposed reasons. The neocons, self-declared champions of Israel as a predominantly "Jewish state," saw the Oslo peace process as a trap. It created an illusion of security for Israel, whose existence the Arabs accepted because of their circumstantial weakness. But as soon as they had the means to do so, the Arab states would resume their campaign of eradication, according to the neocons. In addition, the Oslo peace process reinforced a deplorable status quo in the Middle East by granting authoritarian, corrupt Arab governments a seal of approval from the White House. As long as these regimes went along with Oslo and supported the United States' other primary interest-a reliable supply of oil at a reasonable price-neither the administration of George H. W. Bush nor that of Bill Clinton challenged these antidemocratic regimes in any forceful way.
In the mid-1990s, neoconservatives at think tanks, in the media, and on university campuses started to lobby for a general reshuffling of the deck in the Middle East. Their program called for military intervention aimed at breaking the back of those states considered a menace to Israel: Baathist Syria, Iran under the mullahs, but especially Saddam Hussein's Iraq. A civilian extension of this campaign would encourage political reform that would put democratically elected representatives of civil society-preferably people well integrated into the global economy under U.S. hegemony -in control.
Though the ultimate goals of jihadists and neoconservatives diverged, their proximate goals were remarkably aligned: ousting the region's regimes, whose authoritarianism and corruption they both abhorred. The coincidence has more than anecdotal value: it demonstrates that the balance of political power on which the Middle East was poised just prior to and immediately following 9/11 was considered illegitimate by actors on both sides, and they were willing, indeed eager, to use force in order to modify it-terrorism in the case of jihadists seeking to establish an Islamic state, and military action in the case of neoconservatives seeking to advance democracy.
On both sides of this conflict, a complicating source of friction was the presence of massive oil reserves, which provide a major portion of the planet's total energy supply. When barrel prices were high, the petro-monarchies accumulated enormous cash reserves which allowed them to influence the course of international events-by financing movements, such as the Afghan jihad, that advanced their interests, and on occasion by strong-arming their clients, especially the United States. But these oil revenues were unevenly distributed throughout the population, and as a consequence basic economic indicators for the region were low. As the U.N. Development Program report on the Arab world made clear, the region suffered from a disastrous combination of overpopulation, low employment and low pay, and deficient access to education and modern communications. This situation created fertile conditions for conflict, particularly over control of the dominant ideological system that maintained the region's political and social balance: Islam.
Thus, the September 2001 attacks represented a crossroads for two diametrically opposed ways of thinking. Each group responded by formulating a project for the radical transformation of the Middle East. The jihadists endeavored to capitalize on the "triumph" of September 11 to attract sympathizers to their cause. Their goal was to become the spokesmen and defenders of the faith against President Bush's war on terror. They sought to manipulate a classic political cycle: their aggression triggered repression, which inevitably produced casualties, which allowed them to express solidarity with the victims-women, children, the dead and wounded, and abused prisoners, whose Muslim identity the militants emphasized. The purpose of this exercise was to swell the ranks of recruits for martyrdom.
The neocons, on the other hand, saw September 11 as a tragic opportunity to sell their radical new deal for the Middle East to the shell-shocked Bush administration. Still reeling from an attack they did not foresee, George Bush and his advisers, with the approval of Congress, adopted most of the neoconservatives' agenda. Before 9/11, over the course of several decades and administrations, Washington had been careful to maintain equilibrium between two imperatives: Israel's security and a guaranteed oil supply. The war on terror upset this traditional balance in America's Middle Eastern policy by putting support for Israel first and downplaying relations with the world's paramount oil producer, Saudi Arabia.
Excerpted from The War for Muslim Minds by Gilles Kepel Copyright © 2004 by Gilles Kepel. Excerpted by permission.
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1. Failure of the Oslo Peace
2. The Neoconservative Revolution
3. Striking at the Faraway Enemy
4. Al Qaeda's Resilience
5. Saudi Arabia in the Eye of the Storm
6. The Calamity of Nation-Building in Iraq
7. The Battle for Europe
Relations between Islam and the West have never been straightforward; just how complicated they are is brought out in Gilles Kepel's book. It is a complex, nuanced, and illuminating analysis and description of the ideological current and historical events that have created the present-day "war for Muslim minds."