[Paleopsych] NYTBR: Chronicle: Political Islam: Global Warning
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The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > Chronicle: Political
Islam: Global Warning
By NOAH FELDMAN
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.
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
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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