Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Saturday 15 November 2008
Global Jihad - book reviews - Page 3
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George Mason University's History News Network
Lee P. Ruddin - 30/01/2008
Lee P. Ruddin: Review of Patrick Sookhdeo's Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam (Isaac Publishing, 2007)
Source: Special to HNN (1-30-08)
It may seem sophisticated to seek out passages in the Koran that seem to explain "why they hate us." But that blindly misses the nature of the phenomenon. How comfortable to identify Islam as the source of "the problem"; it's certainly much easier than exploring the impact of the massive global footprint of the world's sole superpower.
So says Graham E. Fuller in the cover story ("A World Without Islam") of Foreign Policy (January/February 2008).
Global Jihad is a sophisticated tome which highlights passages in the Qur'an that underscore the phenomenon of our age: Islamic terrorism. Rev. Canon Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Barnabas Fund, a British non-governmental organization, in deep contrast to Graham Fuller, opts for the uncomfortable route of identifying jihad as the true menace; less easy than the leisurely pursuit of Bush-bashing. Regrettably, there are many in whose work paranoia and pacificism pass for reason and scholarship. Fulminating against the Bush White House (neocons or not) is no answer; it is intellectual and moral bankruptcy.
Sookhdeo traverses history and theology with strategy and politics effortlessly, a point not to be undervalued. In effect what the adjunct professor at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies pens is a hard-hitting exposé of jihad-all 1400 years of it. For instance, the author introduces the Kharijites, a radical sect from the first century of Islam based in southern Iraq and Iran, who adopted an extreme interpretation of the Qur'an. Clive Ross, likewise, in the most recent edition of History Today, illuminates "Islam's First Terrorists" (December, 2007).
For those readers of Norman Podhoretz (World War IV) and Efraim Karsh (Islamic Imperialism) be prepared, for the best is yet to come. From the "war" thesis to pax Islamica, Sookhdeo delves deeply into the teachings of Islam (pursuing his recondite enquiries in dusty tomes), past and present, which form the driving force for Islamist violence. Thus does the Qur'an light the bonfire of hatred between two civilizations-despite prominent Medievalists, Geoffrey Hindley and David Nicolle, saying otherwise? If so, is the Qur'an indictable as an agent of cultural expropriation? Sookhdeo's analysis is damning.
The section headed "History of Revivals and Jihad" (pp.111-115) proves utterly page-turning. Sookhdeo masterly contemporizes Islamic history from Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and the Wahhabi movement in the Arabian Peninsula to Imam Shamil (1796-1871) against the Russians in the Caucasus and Muhammad Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah (the Mahdi, 1844-1885) in Sudan. In a similar vein, "Some Modern Calls to Jihad" underscores the jihadi form of modern Islamic history. The comprehensive chronology of Salafi-Jihadi leaders, thinkers and their writings proves as much, if not more, enthralling (pp.299-311). Hardly a page goes by without the author throwing a contemporary light on Crusadian ideology or a nineteenth-century jihad-wager. We walk and talk with dead men.
The chapter entitled "The Practicalities of Jihad" encompassing hostage-taking and kidnapping, beheading and throat-slitting, not to mention, torture illustrates the age-old methods of Islamic war-waging. The Islamist call for a return to the source texts of Islam (via veritas perdita -‘the lost way of truth'-as described in Hebrew) has led to a renewal of the archaic and barbarous customs "sanctified by the example of Muhammad and his companions" (p.140). Sookhdeo reasons:
What in other cultures and religions... can be explained as primitive cultural excesses of a distant past are accorded by Islamists the prestige of being holy precedents set by the founders of Islam and divinely approval (p.140).
As the term "revivalist" suggests, Islamist movements define themselves and the desired future by reference to the past. Current debates about the relative merits of Western civilization and Islamism are so similar to their nineteenth-century counterparts that one can only verify that one is not reading a nineteenth-century fatwa by checking an article's publication date.
Last summer, exasperated at historians' hyper-analogizing, Niall Ferguson wrote in The Telegraph (UK):
Time and again in the last six years, leading Republicans have drawn these naive historical analogies. Al-Qaeda are Islamofascists. 9/11 was Pearl Harbor. Saddam Hussein was Hitler. The fall of Baghdad would be like the liberation of Paris. And so on.
Ferguson clearly has a point-though, if my memory serves me correctly, it was Ferguson's enthusiasm for historical parallels which acted as midwife to such thinking; Colossus is absolutely riddled with them.
That said, it is natural for policymakers to interpret the unfamiliar phenomenon of Islamic terrorism in terms of what was familiar to them already. For that reason they tended to present Islamism to themselves not as a new threat, but rather as the variant of an age-old adversary.
Sookhdeo has a couple of examples, worth mentioning-not so much novel as they are persuasively penned:
Seeing their piracy as a part of jihad against the infidels, the Barbary corsairs in many ways resemble modern Islamic terrorism and its methods, in which profitable criminal activities (such as drug-trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, fraud and robbery) are allied to religious Islamic jihadi goals (p.174).
It is interesting to note that the analogy of the Thirty Years War has been used recently by a British army officer in the context of the US counter-offensive against al-Qa'eda. ‘What is emerging from the counter-offensive is a new thirty years war in which extreme belief systems, old but massively destructive technologies, instable and intolerant societies, strategic crime and the globalisation of all commodities and communications combine to create, potentially at least, a multi-dimensional threat which transcends geography, function and capability (p.429).
Correspondingly, for Sookhdeo, the confrontation with jihad is a kind of Glaubenskrieg (religious war), the doctrinal war to be fought to the finish, despite the fact that-in the words of Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Charlie Wilson's War-"America doesn't fight religious wars."
Lack of knowledge of their enemy creates difficulties for non-Muslims under attack by Muslims. The Byzantines failed to appreciate the true nature of their Muslim enemies. Today we are guilty of the same offence vis-à-vis Islamists. Sookhdeo, akin to Podhoretz, editor at large of Commentary, believes (poor) definition of the enemy is a cataclysmic handicap (p.423). Sookhdeo, albeit a paid-up member of the "war" thesis, does not exactly toe the Podhoretzian line (p.399).
History tells only a military defeat puts a halt to Islamic imperialism: the years 732, 1492 and 1683 are testament to the fact. Though contemporary totalitarian Islam wields an asymmetric mode of warfare; one not as easily subdued by conventional warfare as that on display at the Battle of Tours, the fall of Granada or the siege of Vienna. "However," says Sookhdeo, quick to remind the reader, "a modern example illustrating that the likelihood or otherwise of a strong physical response can still be an important motivation for Islamic terrorists" (i.e. "weakness is provocative" and the whole American Embassy siege in Tehran culminating with the election of the cowboy-like President, Ronald Reagan) (p.402).
In a study combining extraordinary sweep with riveting historical detail, Sookhdeo demonstrates how jihad is a tactic employed by generations of Islamists from the Maghreb to the Mashrek and beyond. Surprisingly, despite his desire to see common threads linking the past to the present, the author does not ignore fundamental differences between various groups.
Amid an avalanche of information surrounding jihadist violence Sookhdeo provides much-needed policy recommendations. Global Jihad is the sober examination of terrorism that our age requires. For decades to come, this will serve as a standard work for the terrorologist on the understanding of jihad. A must for any serious commentator operating in the post-9/11 milieu.
Available from the Barnabas Fund via the link here and also in the UK on Amazon, Waterstones, and WH Smith.