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Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam Paperback – February 12, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0674010901 ISBN-10: 0674010906 Edition: Edition Unstated
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 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: #134,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By DennisMcG on April 16, 2003
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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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Unmoved Mover on December 11, 2006
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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By WAYNE YUNGHANS on December 15, 2005
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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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Hussain Abdul-Hussain on September 6, 2004
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa A. Lappen VINE VOICE on September 26, 2006
As Walter Laqueur observed in The Atlantic in his March 2002 review of this Gilles Kepel book, his "obituary of Islamism was written before September 11."

What seemed truly astounding when I read this book four years ago was the extent of Kepel's knowledge --- and his fundamental ignorance. I hadn't realized, as I read, that the original French edition of this book came out in 2000. Still, it is extraordinary to think a scholar as widely read as Kepel could be so wrong, as he is here, as to pronounce radical Islam and jihad on the wane.

As the intervening years have proved, nothing could have been further from the truth, and of all people, Kepel should have known it. But Kepel's lack of knowledge on the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt of the 1920s, or the writings of Hassan al-Banna and his heir, Sayyed Qutb (whom Nasser hanged in 1966) did NOT lead to the author's blindness.

What caused it was most likely Kepel's lack of understanding of the fundamentals of Islam itself. Like so many writers before and after, Kepel blamed the rise of radical Islam on the backwardness of Middle Eastern society, and the lack of political power of the rising middle class.

As Laqueur noted in The Atlantic, Kepel laid the attractiveness of Qutb's radical "message and in particular his appeal to violence" to broad swaths of Egyptian society to several mostly economic and intellectual factors. Qutb resonated for "students who could not find jobs; the religiously observant lower middle class, distrustful of modernity; and, generally speaking, all those disaffected by the state of affairs in the Muslim world who had become intellectually homeless after the failure of Arab nationalist ideology and of Marxism.
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