Gilles Kepel's Jihad
is 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.