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Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam Hardcover – April 15, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (April 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674008774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674008779
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,256,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gilles Kepel's Jihadis an intense, detailed examination of the militant Islamist movement over the last quarter-century. Kepel divides his book into two parts--"Expansion" and "Decline"--and posits that the September 11, 2001, attacks, rather than demonstrating "strength and irrepressible might," highlighted the "isolation" and "fragmentation" of a "faltering" and probably doomed extremist ideology. Kepel follows Islamism from its theoretical underpinnings in the late 1960s and its rapid expansion into Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Central, South, and Southeast Asia, through the Taliban's ascendancy in Afghanistan and beyond. He explains Islamism's attractions, and outlines its severe shortcomings. With consummate skill, he illuminates the bewilderingly intricate effects global events (oil prices, the fall of Communism) have had on internal politics of individual countries, and vice versa. Kepel, wisely, refuses to prognosticate. Instead, his achievement is in providing--for the determined reader--a deeply authoritative context for the seemingly inexplicable events of the recent past. --H. O'Billovich

From Publishers Weekly

In this history of fundamentalist Islam, Kepel stands conventional wisdom on its head, asserting that the spate of Islamist violence during the last few years is a result not of the movement's success, but of its failure. A professor at Paris's Institute for Political Studies, Kepel clearly traces the rise of the contemporary Islamist movement from its origins in the mid-20th century through its later appearance in countries such as Malaysia, Algeria and Turkey, as well as in Western Europe. Its apogee, he argues cogently, was the 1979 revolution in Iran that brought about the defeat of the Shah and the rise of a fundamentalist Islamic regime. But while ideologies that fused Islam with political power gained adherents throughout the world in the ensuing 20 years, says Kepel, in no other country were Islamists able to seize and hold power for more than a few years, a factor that he attributes to the ideology's inability to attract both the middle class and the poor. "Muslims no longer view Islamism as the source of utopia, and this more pragmatic vision augurs well for the future," he writes. Despite some outpourings of support, he believes, Osama bin Laden and his followers squandered much of the movement's political capital with its attacks on American institutions, most notably the World Trade Center. Kepel's approach is not without weaknesses in many places around the globe, fundamentalist political Islam has transformed society and politics, even if Islamists have not been able to attain political rule. But amid the plethora of books on Islam released since September 11, this work stands out, both for its erudition and its provocative thesis.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on November 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Kepel's `Jihad' is an excellent introduction to modern Islamism. This is a great book if you want to know more about various Islamist movements such as: bin Laden's al-Qaeda, the civil war in Algeria, the Shi'ite revolution in Iran, the Taliban in Afganistan, and the various Islamist movements from Egypt to Malaysia.
Kepel comes to an interesting and controversial conclusion. At a time when the US administration is making vast increases to the budget to fight the war on terror (against Muslim terrorists), Kepel writes that Islamism has seen its peak as a political movement and has been on the decline since the mid 1990's. He wrote in his conclusion:
"In spite of what many hasty commentators contended in its (September 11th) immediate aftermath, the attack on the United States was a desperate symbol of isolation, fragmentation, and decline of the Islamist movement, not a sign of its strength and irrepressible might."
My reaction to this conclusion (I read the conclusion before reading the entire book) was similar to what Walter Laqueur wrote in his article `A Failure of Intelligence', published in The Atlantic Monthly - March 2002:
"However, the same conditions that gave birth to Islamism thirty years ago persist: economic stagnation or even negative growth, the unemployment of the young. So do resentment and free-floating rage. If Islamism is bankrupt, where is the ideology to replace it?"
These are good observations, but they miss the point of Kepel's book. Kepel does not cover what he thinks will replace Islamism. Laqueur's arguments make me wonder if he even read the entire book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By DennisMcG on April 16, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having spend several years living and traveling in the Gulf during the 1970's I felt this book was extremely informative and thorough in its review and discussion of political islam. For anyone who really, really wants to know what is going on in that part of the world - this is the book to get.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Hussain Abdul-Hussain on September 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Kipel's book is both an authentic guide and a quick survey of the rise - and his assessment of the fall - of militant Islamic Jihad. Kipel traces the origins of Muslim radical movements in all of the Islamic countries and highlights the circumstances that diverted them from theological preaching to violent activity.

From the very beginning, Kipel offers a unique analysis saying that the events of 9/11 signaled the end of Islamic terrorism and not its climax since militant Muslim groups felt compelled to win some attention among fellow Muslims by embarking on a grandiose terror activity, but to no avail.

Kipel also tells of the reaction of the different regimes to these movements. At the time some rulers quenched Muslim radical groups and systematically destroyed them later, other sovereigns contained them or even used them to consolidate their rule.

The book has a peculiarly interesting entry about the Muslim community in Europe and describes its growth and eventual politicization.

Fitting this voluminous information into a single book, however, meant that Kipel had to sacrifice other pieces of info. When describing the relations of these movements with foreign - regional and international groups - the book only provides a quick narration of the CIA support of Muslim Mujahideen in their war in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

In other Muslim countries that witnessed a rise in militant Islamic activity, relations of these groups were put only in their domestic context.

The book also offers a unique analysis of the Islamic movement as it ties its dynamics, in a Marxist manner, to the relations between the different social classes and their socioeconomic circumstances, especially the always rising unemployment.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By WAYNE YUNGHANS on December 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
An outstanding book!! Although his underlying assertion is controversial (militant Islam is on its last legs...), Kepel's work is an impressive, and worthwhile, history. The subtitle (The Trail of Political Islam) is a good description of the book's contents, as it doesn't deal with Jihad per se, but it's causes. In it's pages Professor Kepel describes the recent cultural, historical and political circumstances which occasioned the rise of Militant Islam in different geographical areas across the globe. He displays a breadth and depth of knowledge that is amazing. In the book, he details political currents, players, sentiments and events in country after country (Palestine, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, to name most). The circumstances he describes are complex, but he evidences a deep understanding of underlying culture, motives, and history. It is a tribute to his skill as a writer that he is able to do this without his book becoming a mere historical catalogue.

In reading these various stories of militancy's birth, certain recurrent themes begin to emerge. For instance, it was interesting to see the phenomenon of `vacuum' as a precursor to the rise of Fundamentalist Islam. That is, in case after case, Kepel details the emergence of political, cultural or religious vacuums - yawning societal chasms which cry out to be filled. Time after time it is Islamism which rushes in to fill that hole. (It seems that `the vacuum' is abhorred by culture as well as nature) Unfortunately, in most cases it seems that Fundamentalist Islam was the only option available at the time.
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