[Paleopsych] NYTBR: Chronicle: Political Islam: Global Warning

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The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > Chronicle: Political
Islam: Global Warning


GLOBALIZED ISLAM: The Search for a New Ummah.
By Olivier Roy.
Columbia University, $29.50.

THE WAR FOR MUSLIM MINDS: Islam and the West.
By Gilles Kepel.
Harvard University, $23.95.

UNHOLY ALLIANCE: Radical Islam and the American Left.
By David Horowitz.
Regnery, $27.95.

AT THE HEART OF TERROR: Islam, Jihadists, and America's War on Terrorism.
By Monte Palmer and Princess Palmer.
Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95.

PAKISTAN'S DRIFT INTO EXTREMISM: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror.
By Hassan Abbas.
M. E. Sharpe, cloth, $69.95; paper, $25.95.

    The globalization of Islam is nothing new. The Prophet Muhammad
    himself confronted Jews, Christians and pagans in his Arabian milieu
    -- and within a couple of generations, Islam, spread by conquest and
    conversion alike, came into fruitful contact with the legacies of
    Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations.

    Nevertheless, since 9/11, the pace of the engagement between global
    Islam and other, mostly Western, forces and ideas has quickened, and
    the stakes have grown. The latest round of books on Islam and the West
    attempts to make sense of this most recent and intense episode of
    global interaction and conflict. Mostly, these books reveal a powerful
    undercurrent of concern -- ripening into panic -- about the unintended
    consequences of civilizational encounters played out in an environment
    of violence. They offer diagnoses, but few prescriptions.

    In an influential pre-9/11 book, ''The Failure of Political Islam,''
    Olivier Roy, a French student of contemporary Islam, argued that
    utopian Islamic revolutions in Muslim countries failed during the
    1980's and 90's. Now, in ''Globalized Islam: The Search for a New
    Ummah,'' he pushes the point farther, suggesting that the important
    events in the world of Islam are taking place not in the regions we
    ordinarily think of as Islamic but in Europe. As Exhibit A, Roy points
    to today's global terrorists, who, he says, are overwhelmingly likely
    to have studied and lived in Europe (or occasionally the United
    States) and to have embraced radical Islamic ideas there, not in the
    Muslim countries where they were born.

    Indeed, he traces contemporary Islamic terrorism itself to the
    European terror of the Baader-Meinhof gang and other leftist movements
    of the 1960's and 70's. Global Islamic terror, for Roy, is not only
    born of the interaction between Islam and the West, but also reflects
    the aspiration of displaced Muslims living in Europe to create a
    transnational Islamic identity, forged in revolution.

    Roy is right to focus on the ways that both the techniques and
    ideologies of terror have crossed borders and grafted themselves onto
    an Islam that, in the past, was largely unfamiliar with them. (He
    points out, for instance, that suicide bombing was popularized not by
    Muslims, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and adopted by Al Qaeda
    only after it had been borrowed, to devastating effect, by Palestinian
    radicals as part of their intifada.) It is also true that the small
    number of Muslim terrorists who have committed acts of terror in
    Europe or the United States includes several who were radicalized in
    Europe. (As Roy notes, however, this was not true of the 15 Saudis who
    were the muscle, not the pilots, on 9/11.)

    Roy's Eurocentric focus and his impulse to link Islamic terror to
    Marxist-inspired radicalism obscure the extent to which satellite
    television and the Internet have spread Western ideas into the Islamic
    world. Utopian violence may arguably be on the decline in most
    majority Muslim countries (although Saudi Arabia is a notable
    exception, and the Iraqi insurgency includes its share of jihadis);
    but ideas from free speech to text messaging to brand-name consumerism
    are affecting the daily lives of larger and larger numbers of
    non-Western people, who remain fully comfortable with their own
    national as well as religious identities. Surely the future of global
    Islam is to be found where most Muslims live, and where today's
    ideologies of both radical and moderate Islamism are developed, even
    if they are adopted by émigrés abroad.

    If the United States seems missing from Roy's story at times, Gilles
    Kepel puts America's reaction to 9/11 front and center in ''The War
    for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West.'' 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.

    Kepel and Roy are frequently mentioned in the same breath -- because
    of their French nationality and their tendency to publish books at the
    same time -- but their approaches are starkly different. Kepel, one
    senses, is addressing an American audience, in order to show us the
    error of our ways through an outsider's critical evaluation. One
    chapter is devoted to an analysis of the neoconservatives, and another
    of comparable length to what he considers ''the calamity of
    nation-building in Iraq.''

    But Kepel is best when on familiar ground, as when he analyzes the
    growing skill of European Muslim leaders like the controversial Tariq
    Ramadan, who defend religious freedom while demanding special
    recognition for their religious community as a distinct group within
    Europe. Kepel barely suppresses his frustration with this two-sided
    political strategy, or with the French government's willingness to
    play along by recognizing quasi-official clerical spokesmen for
    Muslims in France.

    Forbidding Muslim girls to wear headscarves in French schools while
    simultaneously trying to control French Muslims through officially
    recognized Islamic organizations gets matters exactly backward, as
    most Americans will easily see. Our constitutional combination of
    freedom to practice one's religion, coupled with the strong separation
    of church and state, has worked far better in accommodating religious
    diversity than anything Europe has yet dreamed up. The United States
    may be alienating Muslims worldwide with its foreign policy; but at
    home a new generation of Muslim-Americans is demonstrating the ability
    to criticize American policy while maintaining steadfast loyalty to
    the democratic values they share with other American citizens from
    different backgrounds.

    It would be nice if the extremes of the American right and left showed
    some of the same measured ability to argue against mistaken American
    policies without impugning the integrity of the other side; but
    perhaps this is asking too much of ideologues caught up in the past.
    David Horowitz is one such relic of traditional left-right struggles
    (and like many of the toughest grapplers, he has been on both sides).
    In ''Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left,'' this
    leftist-turned-conservative provocateur aims to discredit his old
    allies by arguing that the left is in bed with Osama bin Laden because
    of their shared anti-Americanism. He writes that ''self-described
    progressives'' have formed ''inexplicable alliances . . . with Arab
    fascists and Islamic fanatics in their war against America and the

    Horowitz's book would be little more than a tiresome exercise in
    quote-gathering and guilt by association were it not for the fact,
    noted by Roy, that the Islamic extremists have indeed drunk from the
    well of old-fashioned Marxist anti-Americanism. Militant Islamists do
    in fact share some common themes and language with homegrown radicals,
    especially in their condemnations of American imperialism. What is
    interesting about this is not that it demonstrates some alliance
    between the old (once the new) left and Islamic terror, but that it
    shows how ideas lose their provenance as they travel across time. The
    worldwide critics of American empire today are no more likely to think
    of themselves as Marxists than the antiwar critics of the 1960's
    thought of themselves as belonging to the American anti-imperialist
    movements of 1900 or 1790.

    A more sensible and productive set of proposals for understanding
    Muslim extremism comes to us from two Americans who have considerable
    experience in the Middle East. An academic and a World Bank consultant
    respectively, Monte Palmer and Princess Palmer are particularly good
    at describing the Lebanese and Palestinian jihad movements. In ''At
    the Heart of Terror: Islam, Jihadists, and America's War on
    Terrorism,'' they analyze jihadi strategies with a nuanced common
    sense all too hard to come by in the sometimes sensationalist
    literature on the topic. They provide, for example, a detailed chapter
    on Israeli counterterrorism efforts that identifies both its successes
    (large numbers of suicide bombings thwarted) and its shortcomings (no
    significant reduction in Palestinians prepared to undertake terrorist

    These authors pose an increasingly tough question for United States
    policy: Will we, can we ''accept rule by Islamic parties dedicated to
    the establishment of an Islamic state''? In Lebanon, for example,
    Hezbollah has made itself into a political party without abandoning
    its violent stance toward Israel or its willingness to use terror; in
    Palestine, Hamas may well follow a similar course. The Palmers call
    such groups ''radical-moderates.'' Unlike the Shiite Islamic democrats
    poised to take power in Iraq, or Turkey's thoroughly
    Islamic-democratic Justice and Development Party, Hezbollah has been
    prepared to pursue simultaneous strategies of violence and political

    The Palmers opt for engagement with Hezbollah -- not because they
    trust them, but on the realist grounds that ''efforts to eliminate
    them will only increase terrorism and push the United States into a
    war with Islam.'' In fact, it may be possible to negotiate with the
    radical-moderates on the condition that they abandon any active
    involvement in terror. This approach would require us to distinguish
    true Islamic democrats, who reject violence as a mechanism of
    political change, from fellow travelers like Moktada al-Sadr, who
    haunt the edges of participatory politics. But, as the Palmers note,
    Muslim support for jihad against enemies perceived as oppressing
    Muslims is ubiquitous, even among moderate-moderates.

    Even more specific is an engaging, quirky book on terrorism's largest
    growth market: Pakistan. Hassan Abbas, the author of ''Pakistan's
    Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror,''
    served in the Pakistani police in the still-wild North-West Frontier
    Province, and did stints in the governments of both Benazir Bhutto and
    Pervez Musharraf. He therefore has an insider's angle on the story of
    the gradual infiltration of Islamic ideology into the government over
    the last several decades.

    What's most significant about this book, however, is its insight into
    the Pakistan military's perspective on the country's politics and
    history. Each time we are introduced to a new character from the
    military, we hear the opinion of the officer class. And every officer
    has a precisely calibrated reputation: this one a drunkard, this one
    an honorable man, this one a brave soldier with a weakness for women.
    Increasingly, after the ruling general, Zia ul-Haq, died in an
    airplane crash in 1988, the newly promoted senior officers had
    reputations as Islamist sympathizers or activists. These reputations
    matter crucially for questions ranging from promotion to coup d'etat.
    For Abbas, the Pakistani Army is political Pakistan itself.

    The picture that emerges from the details of Pakistan's military
    politics is one of the transformation of a traditional,
    British-trained and British-inflected professional army into a more
    complex institution that both permeates politics and, in turn, falls
    under the influence of political movements like Islamism. This, too,
    is an instance of globalization -- the kind that comes after the
    empire has folded itself up and gone home.

    Noah Feldman, a professor at the New York University School of Law and
    fellow of the New America Foundation, is the author of ''What We Owe
    Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building.''

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