Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The War for Muslim Minds

Last Tuesday, I went to the London launch of French Arabist Giles Keppel's new book, The War for Muslim Minds. He gives the best analyses of al-Qaeda ideology I've seen so far, highlighting the blueprint for 9/11 laid out by OBL's number two, Egyptian jihadist Dr Ayman al Zawahir in his manifesto Knights under the Prophet's Banner. Kepel contends that bin Laden wanted to tap into the imagery and the approval given to Palestinian suicide bombers, but he seems to have largely failed. Although hostile to what he sees as the neo-conservative project (which, he analyses using exactly the same method of interviews and textual interpretation as he does for the Islamists) and the invasion of Iraq, he doesn't revise the thesis of his previous book Jihad that the jihadists have failed to craft a political strategy to gain any mass support to take power, leaving them with a nihilistic philosophy of "propaganda of the deed" similar to that of the far-left European terrorists of the seventies and eighties.

His diagnosis of Islamist philosophy seems to be original also. Rather than highlighting the Muslim Brothers or Wahhabism, he characterises the jihadist philosophy as being an original blend of the two whose followers are hostile to both.