Beyond Ter­ror and Martyrdom

Gilles Kepel; Pas­cale Ghaz­a­leh, trans.
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Gilles Kepel, an informed French schol­ar spe­cial­iz­ing in the con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East, cre­ates a grand social and polit­i­cal nar­ra­tive in this slim book which links for­mer Pres­i­dent George Bush’s War on Ter­ror” with an extrem­ist ver­sion of Islam that extols mar­tyr­dom” as jihadists seek to take over the region. Sand­wiched between Kepel’s polemic, which strives to cre­ate a sense of depen­dence and equiv­a­len­cy between the U.S.’s response to 9/11 and Al Qaeda’s moti­vat­ing ide­ol­o­gy, is a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of jihadists, their spar­ring across the Shia and Sun­ni divide, and the fac­tion­al rival­ries which both stunt and moti­vate the movement. 

Kepel strives to cre­ate a third way in the clash between extrem­ist Islam and the rest of the world. (After the 2008 attacks in Mum­bai, it’s clear this is not only a strug­gle between Islam and the West.) His the­o­ry posits that the EU — led, undoubt­ed­ly, by the French— can act as a neu­tral mod­er­a­tor that uses eco­nom­ic alliances to mod­er­ate extrem­ist Islam.

At times the book reads like stitched togeth­er lec­tures on jiha­di his­to­ry sur­round­ed by pro-French the­o­ries that con­ve­nient­ly omit his country’s recent his­to­ry of anti-Semit­ic kid­nap­ping, mur­der, and syn­a­gogue attacks. And his pre­scrip­tions for peace seem uncon­vinc­ing to observers of the inse­cu­ri­ties and vio­lence that define the region. How­ev­er, his grasp of cur­rent events in the Mid­dle East is vast and deep — and impor­tant for those who want a deep­er under­stand­ing of Al Qae­da and their con­tem­po­raries. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Zachary Thacher is a screen­writer, mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er liv­ing in Man­hat­tan. He leads the Kol haK­far minyan in down­town New York.

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