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Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam Edition Unstated Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674010901
ISBN-10: 0674010906
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Editorial Reviews


This is a landmark book, a work of breadth and scope and scholarship, and genuine imaginative powers. It should be the standard source on political Islam. (Fouad Ajami, author of Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey)

[T]here are few comprehensive and analytically sound books in the Euro-American world that explain the recent ascendance of militant Islam to the Western audience. This book by Kepel, a professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris and a leading European specialist on contemporary Islamic movements, is a welcome addition to the growing literature on this topic. Meticulously researched and written in a jargon-free narrative style, the book covers the trials and tribulations of political Islam throughout the world… A standout in the field of current books, this is a sophisticated and timely work that places the events of September 11 in historical and sociopolitical context and sheds greater light on the influence of Osama bin Laden and his movement. Highly recommended. (Nader Entessar Library Journal 2002-03-15)

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… Amid the plethora of books on Islam released since September 11, this work stands out, both for its erudition and its provocative thesis. (Publishers Weekly 2002-03-04)

We hear more about Muslim extremists than ever before, but Kepel argues that the terrorism seen today throughout the world results from the failure of Islamic fundamentalism and not its success… Fascinating despite its copious detail, Kepel's history has a wider focus than Ahmed Rashid's Jihad and more analytical depth than Robin Wright's Sacred Rage. The first in-depth history of political Islam appropriate for newcomers to Islamic history. (John Green Booklist 2002-04-01)

In Jihad Gilles Kepel offers a masterly display of scholarship that describes how a radical idea spread through large segments of the Islamic world in the 1970s and 1980s… Mr. Kepel leads us on a breathtaking excursion. He trails the Islamist movements that have traversed Europe in recent years, founding radical communities in France, Britain, Germany and Belgium. (Adrian Karatnycky Wall Street Journal 2002-03-29)

An early and most perceptive student of [Islamism] was Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist who has traveled widely through the Muslim world and has written about fundamentalism in both the East and the West. He is also the best-known commentator on Islamic affairs on French television, and he has advised international leaders at the Davos conferences. In short, Kepel is not only a leading scholar but also a man of the world… [Jihad] is probably the best introduction to Islamism currently available. (Walter Laqueur The Atlantic 2002-03-01)

[Kepel] is one of the world's leading experts on the Islamic resurgence: [He] began doing fieldwork among fundamentalists in the Middle East in the 1970s, and he has remained attuned to their world ever since. Only a handful of scholars can command as much authority, and none of these is as bold as Kepel… Kepel's willingness to investigate the entire Muslim world in a single volume helps us greatly in our attempt to understand al Qaeda, whose tentacles extend into almost every Islamic country. The combination of scope and expertise puts this book in a league of its own. Kepel grounds his argument in a sophisticated analysis of inter-Muslim relations. Given all the stale talk of a clash of civilizations, there is a freshness to Kepel's focus on the international Muslim debate. We have never been sufficiently aware that the primary architects of the Islamic revolt against the West have regarded their struggle as a tool for gaining power over fellow Muslims. (Michael Scott Doran Washington Post 2002-04-28)

Jihad…will be a welcome respite for anyone who fears the fury associated with militant Islam. Despite the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, Gilles Kepel argues that the trend is, in fact, now on its last legs. The violence is merely a reflection of the movement's failure, not its success… [Kepel] comes to this conclusion in a thoughtful and expansive chronicle of the contemporary Islamist movement from Cairo to Kabul, from Kuala Lumpur all the way to 'Londonistan'… [This book] is a compelling read that makes an appealing case. (Robin Wright New York Times Book Review 2002-05-26)

Gilles Kepel's Jihad…makes an ideal companion to morning newspapers filled with frustratingly context-free briefs from the war on terrorism… This is a decidedly grounded book; it's political in the most elemental sense of the word. Although Kepel clearly believes in the Western ideal of civil society, he puts himself in the place of ordinary Muslims in the nations he writes about, rather than viewing their problems from a Western perspective. (Laura Miller Salon.com 2002-05-13)

Islam's radical politicalization had peaked long before September 11th…[Kepel] argues provocatively in a landmark book. So devastating and unexpected was the September 11th attack on America that many people concluded that Islamic extremism had become a threat of monstrous and mushrooming proportions. That idea is deftly countered in this brilliant and provocative book by a leading French specialist on modern Islam. Gilles Kepel argues that the attack can only be understood in the light of the rise and fall of political Islam, or Islamism as he calls it, over the past quarter-century. (The Economist 2002-06-01)

The author of several influential books on Islam, [Gilles Kepel has] spent the last five years writing Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. September 11 gave him a new framework, but he sees that event in a way that will surprise (and please) many who have lately been trying to comprehend the meaning of Islamic politics… An usual commentator on recent events, Professor Kepel is a messenger carrying good news. (Robert Fulford Toronto National and Financial Post 2002-04-06)

The French scholar Gilles Kepel, who documents the failure of political Islam in [this] excellent book…makes a comparison to communism. It was in the 1960s, after communism had lost any possible appeal to ordinary people―after the revelations about Stalin's brutality, after the invasion of Hungary, as its economic model was decaying―that communist radicals turned to terror. They became members of the Red Brigades, the Stern Gang, the Naxalites, the Shining Path. Having given up on winning the hearts of people, they hoped that violence would intimidate people into fearing them. That is where radical political Islam is today. (Fareed Zakaria Newsweek 2002-09-09)

Kepel's timely volume is the first in-depth attempt to follow the history and geography of this political–religious phenomenon… Kepel concludes that the movement will have great difficulty reversing its decline in the 21st century. Written lucidly, this excellent study fills a gap in the literature. (S. Ayubi Choice 2002-11-01)

A veritable deluge of books has appeared in bookstores since Sept. 11, 2001, purporting to lay bare the background of militant Islam. Perhaps the most definitive is Gilles Kepel's Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Kepel is well-placed to tell its story given his extensive travels in the very places where militant Islam was born and nurtured. He has used that experience to craft a compelling account of the movements that make it up… Kepel's survey of that world is a remarkably useful tool in placing in context the various groups that appear in our newspapers but remain little more than shadowy cells with vague agendas. (Steven Martinovich Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel 2002-08-18)

About the Author

Gilles Kepel is Professor and Chair of Middle East Studies at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Edition Unstated edition (March 31, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674010906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674010901
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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Kepel knows his subject. You can't ask for a more comprehensive sweep of Islamist history. That said, the author's fundamental thesis (that Salafism is on the wane, and will die out under its own weight) seems to read as slightly optimistic. Particularly violent brands of Islam, such as Wahhabi Islam, will come and go, but the intrinsic moral and emotional flaws (they are not solely socio-economic) that give ground to such movements will always exist. We will see sea changes, waxing and waning trends, as well as the rise and fall of more positive groups, but groups that advocate a political jihad will always find a voice and an audience. (Just as those who advocate Judeo-Christian, Maoist, and/or Secular crusades will always find a voice and an audience.)

That said, anyone wishing to better understand the figures and ideas behind Salafist political movements will enjoy this work immensely. The translation is dry, but the information is robust.
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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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Kepel's book is considered an excellent source on political Islam by a variety of sources. The reviews are true. In this book, Kepel gives a thematic and historical explanation of Islamism. His writing also gives recent events in the Middle East a context and continuity that they deserve and is often ignored by our soundbyte media.
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