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Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror
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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As much as this book is about knowing the enemy, it is as much about knowing who isn't the enemy. If you came away from any of your previous readings with feelings of intolerance for Muslims in general, then Mary Habeck's arguments will appeal to you. As an Associate Professor at John's Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Habeck's ultimate focus is public policy and statecraft. For her the term "war on terror" fails to sufficiently describe our objectives. She prefers "war on jihadism" or "war on the khawarij." The Khawarij were a group which tried, unsuccessfully following the death of Muhammad, to hijack Islam and declare war on mainstream Muslims. The similarity between the khawarij and modern jihadis has already been commented on by Muslim scholars, to the irritation of the jihadis. This approach will also illuminate for mainstream Muslims that the U. S. and the other Western democracies are natural allies in saving their religion from its fanatics. But renaming the battle won't win it. Spreading democracy throughout the Islamic world, and defusing the Palestinian crisis are the principal prescriptions for defusing jihadism. The U. S. cannot go it alone, however, so we have to improve our diplomacy and better engage other democracies to support us in defeating jihadism.

The world of the jihadist is a very strange one, and Habeck instructs us without condescension or wonkism, and with a minimum of Arabic vocabulary. We learn, for instance, that it is intuitive to jihadists that the victory of the Afgan mujahidun "working entirely on their own" against Russian occupation caused the downfall of the Soviet Union. They believed that the United States would similarly collapse following 9/11. Moreover, they are stunned that we did not collapse, since it is a core tenet of thier belief.

This book is exceptionally well researched, and includes fifty pages of endnotes. It is readable and accessible to the open-minded and literate reader. It is a multidisciplinary study of a complex subject which has unfortunately lent itself to oversimplification. Whether this is your starting point in learning about "the enemy," or if you already have been exposed to other authors' treatments, this book is an absolute must read. If you intend to read only one book on Islam, this is your best choice. And don't just put it back on the shelf when you're done. Recommend it, and pass it along.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 24, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Perhaps it wasn't inevitable that we would have to confront the radical idealogical jihadism that led to our being struck on 9/11, but funded by petrodollars and ignored by us for decades, this virulent form of fundamentalism has taken root and thrived and what might have been a lunatic sect out in the desert wastelands of Arabia is now a worldwide movement and our meeting it head on is no longer a question. It is necessary, therefore, to understand what these people believe, and Mary Habeck's thoroughly researched and annotated book will be helpful to you.

She begins her book with a simple proposition. Instead of theorizing why the jihadists are at war with us, with explanations that include social and economic deprivation, US foreign policy, the Arab/Israeli conflict and so on, she posits instead that we ought to learn what the jihadis themselves have to say on the subject. What do THEY think justifies their jihad?What support for their views do they find in the Qur'an and traditional Islam?

The answers she discovers are going to be an eye opener to many in the West employing the conventional wisdom espoused above.

First, this radical jihadism goes back 8 centuries to earlier fundamentalist thinkers who believed even back then that the followers of Islam had strayed from the righteous path and purification was in order. This thinking espoused initally by Ibn Taymiyya and then later Wahhab was picked up by the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920's and in the following decades by others to the present with Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi. Violent jihadism pre-dates the founding of Israel and the US ever setting foot in the Middle East.

Second, believing they are the righteous and "true believers" intent on purifying Islam, establishing the Caliphate, and creating a worldwide Islamic paradise, justifies their killing anyone they consider "non-believers" which includes Muslims not adhering to Islam as the jihadis believe it. So, the murder of innocents, destruction of mosques, virtually any act of violence can be explained in their idealogy.

Third, there will be no compromise, meeting of minds, reasoning, or accomodation made with these folks. These are hard core idealogues, and their beliefs so severely narrow that any deviation from those beliefs would undermine their whole reason for being. Their way is the only way, and "infidels" are anyone not complying with that way, including Muslims.

Fourth, these are people who will never accept modernization in any form. They are anti-democratic, anti-pluralism, anti-anything but their form of "pure" Islam. They believe solely in a world ruled by Allah, through a Caliph, and under shari'a law. Anything less is rule by man and that is apostacy. Their dream is a totalitarian Islamic state. The best form of what they have in mind for the peoples of the world was Afghanistan under the Taliban. No other thought, idealogy, form of government, religious belief, or societal organization is permitted in their world view.

There is much much more and this book will provide you a very accessible grounding in the history and development of radical jihadi thought. We are in for some tough sledding in the next years, this is an unbending idealogy and it will have to be fought with every method and means at our disposal. But it is an idealogy that must fail in the end, for its severity leaves a great deal of humanity, including most of Islam as its sworn enemy. But oh, the damage and heartache that will be rendered before this chapter plays itself out.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
As a former military intelligence officer who spent years reading a mountain of books by and about Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Debray, et al, in order to understand how the enemy thought, I truly appreciate the work of Mary Habeck distilling the jihadist ideology into 243 pages. Having lived and worked daily with Muslims in Pakistan for more than a year and having read many books on Islam, I never found a single, satisfactory source on the subject of jihad that provided a concise historical prospective until I read "Knowing the Enemy." There's currently almost an unlimited number of books on the subjects of Islam and jihad, but Mary Habeck has condensed the essentials into one small volume that is brutally factual about the dark side of Islam without being inflammatory. This book should be a required high school and college history/political science text in the U.S. and Europe. I heartily recommend it to anyone who cares about the future of Western Civilization.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mary Habeck's Knowing the Enemy is an extensive survey of contemporary jihadi literature as well as an account of its historical roots in the theology of Ibn Taymiyya and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. This book is illuminating on several levels; at the same time, it is difficult to read dispassionately. Many of the ideas presented here in the jihadis' own words are simply so delusional and outrageous that it is hard for a reader who does not share their presuppositions to take them seriously. But they are deadly serious, and we should be listening, which is Habeck's premise. Habeck serves her material well, telling it straight and letting the bizarre logic of jihadi thought indict itself.

Not just the political ambitions but the fundamentally political nature of radical Islam is made clear, even if its sense of political reality comes across as visibly demented. The jihadis are obsessed with acquiring the means of violence and the authority to institute Shari'a (Islamic law) through state power, but beyond that they are not particularily interested in statecraft or governance. "Jihadis in general," Habeck writes, "are not commited to any particular country, territory or part of the earth for their hijra or state." One quasi-comic moment occurs when Habeck quotes Siddiqi, an Islamist who shares Sayyid Qutb's dream of setting up a perfect Islamic state. (One of the puzzles resolved here, by the way, is how jihadi groups like the Taliban envisioned the pseudo-state they created in Afganistan as an Islamic paradise that would inspire emulation and envy throughout the world.) Siddiqi believed that "parts of America could even become Islamic territory.... He advocated using the electoral process to take over one of the fifty states peacefully, implementing shari'a there and making it the envy of its neighboring states. Americans would be attracted to the social justice created in this small Islamic land and would vote to establish shari'a in their own states." It is hard to imagine a more laughable idea articulated in full seriousness, yet that is the schizophrenic, delusional nature of the worldview in which Habeck immerses us. And it is quite frightening to meet such cold-blooded madness head-on.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mary Habeck's professional bona fides lend credence to her hypothesis of radical ideology as the driving force and justification used by the jihadist terrorist leadership. And, importantly, she derives her hypothesis from the written and verbalized expressions of the jihadist leaders themselves. Secular western intellectuals stew over socio-economic drivers as the prime source of Islamist offensive jihadism, which can be just another form of western self-flagellation. Dr. Habeck notes the corruption and deprivation of much of the Middle East, and Euroepean and American governmental actions, not to mention the intractable Palestinian/Israeli conflict, but argues that these just feed cadre to the jihadist leadership. According to Dr. Habeck, a desire to return to the roots of Islam--to create a pure Islamic state under shari'a law--and a radical interpretation of the Quran and of Mohammad's life and actions, as espoused by certain seminal fundamentalist Islamic interpreters drive jihadism. Modernity, secularism, democracy, the United Nations, and all the other religions of the world must yield to this ideological view. All of what we think of as civilized society needs eradication by offensive jihad so that the Islamist utopia can get a foothold and flourish in what the Islamists view as divinely ordained necessity. An extensively referenced, somewhat academic dissertation on her theme, Knowing the Enemy gives chilling insights into the cold and calculating mindset of Islamist leaders and their motivation and justification for horrific acts of terrorism. This is a wake up call that the secular western world, and moderate Islam needs to carefully consider.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Mary Habek avoids polemics and sticks to pedagogy in this precise account of the nature and history of radical Islam's ideology. The title is somewhat sensational, but the text is not inflammatory. This is expository writing at its best. Habek knows just how much detail to include to explain her subject without fatiguing her readers.

In an early chapter Ms. Habek describes the thought and writing of the first major fundamentalist thinker, Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab. He eventually emerged as one of the most influential radical Islamic writers. However his ideas were marginalized for nearly two hundred years until the oil shocks of the seventies gave Wahhabi preachers millions of petrodollars to spread their version of Islam throughout the world.

Accounts of other important radicals such as Ibn Taymiyya, Al-Banna, Mawdudi, and Qutb are included, within their historical context. Habek is able to do this clearly and without overuse of mind-numbing Arabic nomenclature.

A characteristic that all the radical groups share is that their beliefs have little to do with external pressures from Europeans or others but from the internal strife and dynamics of Islam itself. She makes this point repeatedly. These people are first and foremost religious fanatics. It was not any encounter with the West that made them this way.

The jihadist Muslims don't see themselves as destroyers or murderers but as saviors of mankind from its many problems. They believe the Qur'an has appointed them as guardians over humanity and the right to dominion over the world. With this absolutist utopian ideology they reject "man made laws" such as takes place in a democracy. Only religious, or "shari'a law as derived from the Qu'ran can rule mankind, and it cannot be separated into "church and state." There is no secular order in Islam, all is religious.

Habek repeatedly states throughout the book that the jihadists are only a small fraction of the Islamic faith. According to her they don't represent the thinking of the vast majority of Islam. But one is left wondering, why aren't there numerous books explaining the point of view of this majority? Why are there no visible spokesmen from moderate Islam debating and excoriating the jihadists? Could it be that either (1) the vast majority of Islam agrees with the jihadists or (2) the vast majority have themselves been terrorized and are afraid to speak out?

Habek lists a few recommendations for solving the clash between the jihadists and the rest of the world. She states "the United States and other countries must...find reasonable strategies that will exploit the failures of the jihadis, stop the extremists from carrying out violent attacks, minimize the appeal of their beliefs and eventually end their war with the world." "The center of the jihadist movement is its ideology, which must be directly confronted, challenged and defeated."

In the end May Habek offers the neoconservative (although she doesn't call it that) approach as the best possible hope. "Only democratization...will directly attack the jihadist ideology while creating governments that are more responsive to their citizens." "If democracies can flourish in Islamic lands without disturbing the practices and beliefs of Islam, the entire jihadist argument will collapse."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book should be required reading for the people of the United States; a comfortable nation in complete denial; a nation without the will to win; a people with the attention span of a 'pet rock'!! Most of the Jihadist 'founding fathers' mentioned by Habech are completely unknown to the focus groups that seem to form our national security policy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In the 1930's an unemployed artist and former Army corporal wrote Mein Kamf which pretty much told everybody what he was going to do. Few people listened.

Today lot of analysis of the Jihadi's is based on mirror imaging. That is to say thinking that they process information the same way we do. The Jihadi's worldview is well explained in this book.

One group of people who should have taken note of this are the International Humanitarian Agencies. The bombings of the Red Cross and the United Nations in Baghdad should have come as no surprise. The problem is while the International Humanitarian agencies think they are seen by everyone as handing out food and bandages the Jihadi's see them as tools of Zionist's and Christian Crusaders who are out to humiliate Islam.

One little known fact that is detailed in "The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorism"

by Simon Reeve is that UN Headquarters in New York was intended as the original target of the 1997 bombing in New York but they switched to the World Trade Center because of there was too much security.

Time to start listening.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Knowing the Enemy should be on the reading list of anyone serious about the war on terror. It analyzes the preaching of the jihadi movement making it clear that there can be no compromise with it.

It exposes the movement for what it is, a fascist cult bent on world domination and extermination of all who disagree with its extremist tenets, including fellow Muslims who are insufficiently radical.

In that revelation, it exposes he movement's Achilles' heel--that mainstream practitioners of Islam have as much and indeed more to fear from jihadis as do those of other faiths or no faith at all. The savage internecine warfare in Iraq bears witness to this indisputable fact, which can be a lever, if properly used, to turn Islam against the jihadis.

The book concludes by asserting that democracy is the ultimate weapon that will defeat the jihad--this from a Yale professor. While certain elements of American polity may reject this notion due to its advocacy by the Bush Administration, it should reassure those who remain objective that we are after all on precisely the right track in the long war on jihadis.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Knowing the Enemy... and recommend it highly. Mary Habeck's explanation of the mind set of the increasingly violent jihadists is scholarly while also very readable. She brings to light something that is not often discussed or even noticed and that is how deep is the hatred of the jihadists toward the moderate, non violent muslim. It is well publicized that the jihadists wish to destroy the Jews, Christians, America, democracy, atheism, communism, liberalism, polytheism and a host of other things that are seen as "unbelief". Habeck points out that moderate muslims also have had war declard on them. In this book Habeck spells out the jihadist's strategy of attacking either the greater unbelief before the lesser unbelief (as was the case on 9-11) or the nearer unbelief before the farther unbelief. It's fascinating information, and will surely shed light on many stories that are currently in the news.
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