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The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West First Edition Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674015753
ISBN-10: 0674015754
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Editorial Reviews


Mr. Kepel's book is less about ideology and culture and more about war and geopolitics; with a full account of the Madrid bombings last spring, and the upsurge of fighting in Iraq at around the same time, it is remarkably up to date. The book includes a succinct anatomy of America's neoconservative camp, along with that camp's bitterest enemies in the world of ultra-militant Islam. It shows how both these parties were intensely frustrated by the Oslo peace process, and relieved by its collapse...Mr. Kepel is unsparing in the way he contrasts Iraq's present situation with the post-Saddam vision once promised by the neoconservatives...He also insists that ultra-militant Islam has not won either...It is possible, [he] suggests, that European Islam might evolve in new ways that could co-exist with modernity, asserting its distinctiveness without pretending, dishonestly, to live in another century...In the development of such an understanding, [The War for Muslim Minds] can make a large and highly intelligent contribution. (The Economist 2004-10-14)

The War for Muslim Minds is less sanguine [than Kepel's previous book]. In a wide-ranging survey of events over the past few years, Mr. Kepel makes the case that the West is losing exactly such a war. Islamism may be in decline but its replacement is hardly better: a less focused but equally bitter rejection of the West. This rejection has come about, he argues partly because of Islam's own misguided sense of modernity but partly, too, because of U.S. policies that were designed to do the opposite--to provide an alternative to antimarket, antidemocratic ideologies.
--Ian Johnson (Wall Street Journal 2004-09-16)

A masterpiece of political explication. Kepel is especially good on the symmetries between the Islamic fundamentalists and their Western equivalents, the neoconservatives.
--Daniel Lazare (The Nation 2004-11-15)

Reading Gilles Kepel's new book, The War for Muslim Minds, challenges one's sense of scale. Crucial, irreversible steps such as George W. Bush's early decision not to pursue the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the neoconservatives' justification for the Iraq war, take on new meaning when seen in context of the enormous geopolitical scope of Islam today...Easy to read (no footnotes but a good bibliography for each chapter), this persuasive book challenges the American perspective on the war on terror and, more important, reveals the rich complexity of contemporary Islam.
--Thomas D'Evelyn (Christian Science Monitor 2005-01-04)

Gilles Kepel [has] proved to be among the most insightful Western observers of Muslim societies in the modern world.
--Pankaj Mishra (Times Literary Supplement 2004-12-03)

Kepel masterfully traces the different threads of the mujahideen, focusing on Ayman al-Zwahiri, who emerged as the mastermind of Al-Qa'ida...Kepel's strength lies in providing an intricate analysis of the major players, ideologies and movements in such disparate cultures as the U.S. and Middle East.
--Sheema Khan (Montreal Gazette 2004-12-11)

Kepel's central thesis can be summed up simply: the United States is losing the war, and badly. Instead of encouraging resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush administration has played directly into Al Qaeda's hands by invading Iraq. It failed to recognize that the war would further inflame the Muslim world, convincing more Muslims than ever before that the United States was their enemy. Now, Kepel says, Europe will inherit the whirlwind, in the form of growing Islamic extremism and terrorist acts like the Madrid bombings.
--Noah Feldman (New York Times Book Review 2005-02-06)

The War for Muslim Minds is...clearly the product of deep learning; Kepel knows Islamism well enough to see distinctions where most commentators see only uniformity. His discussions of the competing strains in Saudi Islamist thought and the influence of Internet imams on Muslims in France are worth the book's price alone...The problem, he suggests, is that...the Bush administration's war on terror--expressed in disastrous policies toward both the Palestinians and Iraq--is gaining for al-Qaeda an appeal it could never win on its own. In contrast to President Bush, who has responded to 9/11 with an audacious effort to redirect the course of Muslim history, Kepel implicitly calls for something far more modest: prudent management of a threat that--if we let it--can be beaten from within. The war for Muslim minds, Kepel suggests, will be won in Riyadh, Cairo, and the suburbs of Paris. In Washington it can't be won--only lost...He sees a vital role for the young Muslims of Europe, who, if granted economic opportunity by their host societies, could create a model of tolerant, prosperous Islam that reverberates across the globe...If realism is returning to fashion, Gilles Kepel may finally have the intellectual wind at his back.
--Peter Beinart (The Atlantic 2005-03-01)

Reading Gilles Kepel's important book, it is easy to see why al-Qaida should be so enthusiastic about Bush...[He] has fulfilled Bin Laden's every hope. Through the invasion of secular Ba'athist Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, the mass-murders in Faluja, America, with Britain's obedient assistance, has turned Iraq into a jihadist playground while alienating all moderate Muslim opinion. We may have failed to capture Bin Laden, but we have succeeded in liberating the extremists, radicalising the unaffiliated and making life more difficult than ever for our natural allies: ordinary, decent, moderate Muslims. Kepel is the best possible guide through the frightening labyrinth of militant Islam. A fluent Arabic speaker who has spent many years in the Middle East, he has been writing about the subject for two decades, and has personally interviewed most of the principal players. Kepel writes with forensic clarity and an unrivalled grasp of detail; yet his deep knowledge of the subject over a long period allows him to present the wider picture. This concise, engaging and authoritative book should be required reading for anyone wishing to understand what is happening in the Islamic world and the terrifyingly counter-productive nature of our response to it...The battle is now on for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims--a battle the U.S. is catastrophically losing.
--William Dalrymple (The Guardian 2004-12-11)

Al-Qa'ida has been so thoroughly anatomised that one wonders if there's much more to say. As Kepel's book proves, there certainly is...Kepel's account of neo-conservativism is as interesting as his analysis of al-Qa'ida...His analysis of how Egyptian and Saudi strains of radical Islam fused to create a virulent new cocktail is detailed and persuasive, as is his X-ray view of the Saudi state.
--Michael Church (The Independent 2005-01-06)

The book deals in concise and convincing ways with Saudi Arabia's Muslim Brotherhood and the deadly influence of Wahhabi Islam. This is one of the best short analyses of that country's past and future available. And the chapter on the war in Iraq allows Kepel to look, unsparingly and in depth, at the global political fallout of the issues he has described in the preceding pages. Indeed, as of now, The War for Muslim Minds can be regarded as a standard, perhaps even definitive, layman's guide to the current state of Islamism, and a work that deserves to be read widely.
--Turi Munthe (Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-03-25)

[An] excellent book...by a brilliant academic turned popularizer...As well as his valuable discussion of al-Qaeda, Kepel has some useful things to say about the pedigree of Neoconservatism in the United States and about developments in Saudi Arabia, in particular the effects of the influx of Islamists flying from persecution in secular Middle Eastern states during the 1950s and '60s.
--M. E. Yapp (Times Literary Supplement 2005-01-28)

[The War for Muslim Minds] displays a remarkable mastery of detail as it ranges across the Middle East and illuminates debates within Islam and the American right.
--John Dugdale (The Guardian 2006-06-17)

The author's...thorough scholarship in the field of Islamic studies is impressive. He understands the subtle distinctions between sects of the religion and how those distinctions have fueled the rise of radical, terrorism-focused Islam responsible for the September 11th attacks. What is striking is Kepel's uncovering of how the two cornerstones of US policy in the region over the last half century--the security of Israel and the sustained friendship with Sunni petro-monarchies--inarguably led to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, and how those two mainstays also fueled Bush #2's determination to invade Iraq.
--Avi Kramer (Kliatt 2007-07-01)

The best primer available for the general reader on the history and implications of the 11 September attacks and the War on Terror.
--Leila Hudson (Historian)

About the Author

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (September 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674015754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674015753
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gavur on September 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Kepel's new book is indispensable for anyone who wants to get a comprehensive, thorough, and balanced understanding of the threat posed by Islamic radicals today and of the logic/illogic behind the US response to that threat. Kepel's book focuses on three basic subjects. First, he provides a precis of the fuller description of Islamic radicalism that he gave in his earlier (excellent) book, Jihad. Second, he traces the neoconservative lineage of President Bush's approach to meeting the Islamic threat-- unsucessfully, so far. Notably, Kepel says almost nothing about Europe's response/attitude, perhaps because Europe seems to be waiting on the sidelines of history to see who will win, the US or the radicals. Finally, Kepel expresses hope that the Muslims who live in infidel Europe will prove to be a source of reconciliation and progress in the Muslim world at large, exporters of western liberalism as it were. With regard to this last point I can only say, "from his mouth to God's ear," although I personally see no reason for even guarded optimism. This is the best book on the subject by far.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book for one simple reason: it was one of just six books on the "short list" of the Army Command and General Staff College Commander's Counterinsurgency Reading List. Moreover, it was touted as "an excellent overview of the broader radical Islamic insurgency." After reading "The War for Muslim Minds" by the French political scientist Gilles Kepel I find such strong endorsement from the United States Armed Forces rather puzzling.

To begin with, there is nothing new to be found here. Giles delivers a basic narrative on the confluence of events that have led to the current conflict in the Middle East: the second Intifada, the ascendancy of the neoconservative movement in the United States, the emergence of Al Qaeda, the Wahhabite religious awakening (sahwa) in Saudi Arabia, and the post-invasion civil war in Iraq. Each of these issues has been better and more fully addressed elsewhere. For instance, Giles' chapter on "The Neoconservative Revolution" is essentially a redaction of James Mann's "The Rise of Vulcans," only more condemnatory and less accurate (I tend to agree with Tom Ricks' assessment that the neocons have "been given too much blame and too much credit"). His chapter on the foundation and rise of Al Qaeda ("Striking at the Faraway Enemy") is a weak synopsis of Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer Prize Winning "The Looming Tower." To the extent that Giles has added anything new to previous works, it would be his thinly veiled anti-American tilt to the overall storyline. (Giles accepts as indisputable fact the argument that the pre-invasion claim of WMDs in Iraq was a bald-faced lie used as pretext to overthrow Saddam for the sake of Israel's security.
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Format: Hardcover
Gilles Kepel provides an insightful, European perspective on relations between the West and Islam. As the title suggests, he does not see the two locked in intractable conflict. Muslims, like the West, are divided. The interests of the Saudi government are separate from those of the Wahhabite preachers; salafists can be distinguished from other Sunnis, and salafists themselves can be divided into pietists and jihadists. His description of the problems of the Muslims in Europe is particularly valuable and suggests issues that the American news media barely touches. His chapter on the dilemmas that face Saudi Arabia is also enlightening. The significance he places on the collapse of the Oslo agreement puts developments in the Middle East in an unusual perspective.

Unfortunately, his view of neoconservatives and the Bush administration is akin to Michael Moore's. It is somewhat more subtle, but hardly as profound as his understanding of the politics of Islam.

Nonetheless, that understanding makes the book invaluable, perhaps essential.
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Format: Hardcover
Gilles Kepel has produced a significant book that wonderfully addresses the complexities the world currently faces in trying to figure which way Muslims will turn; whether towards violent Jihad or an Islamic Democracy.

Kepel deals with many subjects pertaining to this issue. However, he spends a great deal of time comparing the goals of the neoconservative movement in the U.S. with al Qaeda and its intellectual prognosticators. On the one hand are the neocons. The neocons have clear goals in mind: securing the world's oil supply for the west; protecting and securing Israel; ensuring the continued dominance of the U.S., especially in military terms. However, they have deluded themselves into following fantastical policies that end up exacerbating problems (i.e. the invasion of Iraq and the blind support for Ariel Sharon) rather than improving the situation.

On the other hand are al Qaeda and its fellow travelers. Kepel explores this complex phenomenon by traveling through the history of Islamist thinking. He follows the development of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and beyond. He also spends a great deal of time explaining the development of religious authority in Saudi Arabia, including the state sponsored Salafi movement that was more inward looking, and the violent jihadist movement, more political and overt in its aims.

These two ideologies running into each other has been a contributing factor of much of the terror and insecurity in the world. Kepel sees as the best hope for a future Islamic democracy lying in Europe, where different states have taken divergent measures to respond to the challenge of new cultures.
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