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07-09-2011, 08:49 AM
Join Date: Jul 2008
Three New Books
Three Book Reviews by Joshua Sinai
THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF TERRORISM RESEARCH
Edited by Alex Schmid
Routledge, 2011, $195, 718 pages
The threat of terrorism by insurgent groups such as al Qaeda is at the top of many of the world's governments' national security concerns because of the frequency and lethality of their attacks. Even in a country such as Israel, after a long period of relative calm, a major bombing recently took place at a crowded Jerusalem bus stop, reminding nations of the ongoing severity of the threat. In response, the study of terrorism and counterterrorism continues apace and has become a major scholarly discipline at many universities.
Almost every university features at least one course on terrorism, with many providing certificates in terrorism studies. Although an extensive literature has existed since the early 1970s, when terrorism was primarily a region-based threat, it grew to avalanche proportions of literally hundreds of books and thousands of articles published on these topics after Sept. 11, when al Qaeda transformed it into a threat of transnational proportion.
The government agencies that conduct counterterrorism depend on the academic community to provide them fresh insights and analysis to better understand the worldwide terrorist threat and its triggers.
How does one begin to make sense of this vast and ever growing subject? Readers are fortunate to have Alex Schmid's "The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research." It captures many of the findings produced by the myriad studies on terrorism and counterterrorism and outlines them in an easy to follow chapter framework. It is a big book with a price tag to match, but its depth of detail merits its cost.
Considered one of the world's pre-eminent academic scholars on terrorism, Mr. Schmid is director of the Terrorism Research Initiative, which publishes the online journal Perspectives on Terrorism. In his long and varied career, he has served as director of the University of St. Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence as well as officer-in-charge at a United Nations branch on these issues in Vienna, Austria. The volume's most substantive chapters are written by Mr. Schmid, with a team of 10 European researchers writing the other chapters and appendices.
A spectrum of topics is covered in the book, ranging from an introductory overview of terrorism, types of terrorist groups (such as secular or religious, politically left or right) terrorism's root causes, databases on terrorist incidents, leading theories to study terrorism and a lengthy bibliography on terrorism and a glossary. One noteworthy feature is a directory of terrorist groups currently active compiled by Albert J. Jongman, a Dutch terrorism expert.
Among the volume's interesting innovations is the findings of a detailed questionnaire that Mr. Schmid sent to more than 100 terrorism experts around the world (including this reviewer) beginning in 2006. In the book, he highlights responses in order to illustrate the latest developments in the field of terrorism studies.
It is interesting to note that some of the respondents disagree with one another. How to respond to terrorists remains a contentious enterprise. For example, there are at least 26 different theories that seek to explain terrorism, many relying on historical or psychological analyses. For Mr. Schmid the key to understanding terrorist activity is finding terrorism's root causes, those features that shed light on the forces that drive terrorism and that need to be resolved. Understanding the fundamental problems behind terrorism helps to forecast where an insurgency may surface next and where it is headed.
According to Mr. Schmid's respondents and an insightful follow-up chapter by Brynjar Lia, a Norwegian terrorism expert, root causes include poverty, feelings of hopelessness, social inequality and injustice to a rejection of the West in all its political and cultural dimensions. The presence of a charismatic leader in an insurgency who addresses insurgent concerns, however misguidedly, is the glue that binds followers to extreme loyalty, including the sacrifice of their lives.
What is terrorism? This, Mr. Schmid cautions, is "treacherous territory," because of the lack of consensus in the way academics, governments and international organizations such as the United Nations go about defining it. The U.N.'s definition, he points out, is too vague, failing, for example, to distinguish between terrorism as a political act and ordinary criminal offenses such as murder or sabotage of private property. His proposed solution is worth noting because it identifies as terrorists the groups that actually conduct such operations and itemizes the types of intentions, motivations and targeting characterizing their attacks.
How do terrorist campaigns weaken? Once terrorist groups fail to increase the number of civilian and security personnel fatalities in their attacks, or realize a decline in their ability to raise funds, inability to secure a safe haven for their headquarters or a corresponding increase in terrorist fatalities (including defections among leaders and members and the arrest, death or loss of a group's charismatic leader) weakening is detectable.
In this comprehensive overview, Mr. Schmid's critique of terrorism analyses stands out. He champions greater use of evidence-based empirical research, such as compiling biographies of terrorist operatives in order to generate insight into what types of individuals become terrorists. This is essential because of the nature of terrorism itself, which Mr. Schmid describes as an underground "war in the shadows," that makes it difficult to ferret out all the information needed to thwart terrorist endeavors.
Readers will benefit from the volume's authoritative approach to analyzing the unremitting terrorist threat. While terrorism does not seem to be abating, this comprehensive volume proves it is not beyond understanding or, ultimately, disabling.
VIRTUAL CALIPHATE: EXPOSING THE ISLAMIST STATE ON THE INTERNET
By Yaakov Lappin
Potomac Books, 2011, $26.95, 208 pages
The widespread use of the Internet by extremist Islamist organizations and their sympathizers is well-known. For example, the appearance on such websites of announcements and speeches by terrorist leaders and ideologues and the avid rapture with which individuals around the world are radicalized in their forums and chat rooms into becoming religious extremists and terrorists are widely reported.
As Yaakov Lappin's insightfully comprehensive "Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet" points out, "These, however, are snippets of a much larger phenomenon." When viewed from a higher, birds-eye level, a structure can be discerned that points to a "new and revolutionary way" in which "an online state has been formed for the purposes of eventually creating a geographical state" in the form of an Islamic caliphate with worldwide reach.
The last Islamic caliphate was dismantled after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, but Mr. Lappin, a journalist for the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post, argues, "Today, countless websites are dedicated to its reestablishment," at least in cyberspace, by terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and its associates.
"Virtual clerics preach jihad in order to make that state real. Online training camps have been formed to teach soldiers how to make bombs or fire a rocket. Online planners are mapping out the state's tax laws and constitution." The outlines of the virtual caliphate's emerging "government," Mr. Lappin notes, consist of "ministries" of war, foreign affairs, finance, and morality.
How did the virtual caliphate emerge? Mr. Lappin traces its beginnings to the rapid growth of electronic communications that enabled al Qaeda and its affiliates to make up for the loss of their territorial safe haven in Afghanistan after the defeat and expulsion of their Taliban patrons from Kabul in late 2001 in retribution against them for the horrific attacks of Sept. 11.
What are the virtual cali-phate's component parts? They are held together by "thousands of interconnected computers, chat rooms, and servers on the Internet, which are held together by a common purpose. The multitude of online jihadis use cutting edge technology to plot terrorist attacks and share blueprints for the caliphate."
It is in such a "virtual" state where they can safely spread their extremist ideology to a mostly young audience who are urged to dislodge themselves from their societies, since the current world order is morally unjust and corrupt because it is "not being ruled as it should be, according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law."
One might take issue with Mr. Lappin's assertion that the rulers of such a virtual caliphate face a serious predicament because "they have no place to call home" since they have "failed to establish full control of any territory at this time." They have, in fact, succeeded in establishing at least partial control of territories in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, which has enabled them so far to carry out their political and military warfare, whether on the ground or in cyberspace, despite intensive military and intelligence countermeasures by the United States and its local government allies.
Especially pertinent to the current political crisis in Egypt is Mr. Lappin's discussion of the ideological debates and feuds in cyberspace between al Qaeda and its affiliates and the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood. Both incorporate in their ideology Sayyid Qutb's notion that the Muslim world will remain in a state of jahiliya ("age of darkness") until it embraces a regime of strict religious observance.
They diverge, however, about whether to launch military jihad against their apostate adversaries now, which is al Qaeda's approach, or later, which the Muslim Brotherhood believes should occur only when a properly religiously observant popular base is already secured in a given country - as has already occurred in the Gaza Strip. There, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian offshoot, has been implementing a harsh theocratic regime since taking over in 2006.
Although not covered in Mr. Lappin's book, with the imminent collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime it now appears that the Muslim Brotherhood may finally succeed in implementing its theocratic program in Egypt. How can the virtual caliphate be countered and defeated, given that all technological countermeasures may not be in place today to track and shut down all the numerous websites (the exact number is unknown) constituting the virtual caliphate?
Mr. Lappin proposes a new strategy that recognizes that the battle against online jihadi presence is part of the physical war against them. Second, as advocated by Maria Alvanou, a Greek counterterrorism expert, a new international legal regime is required to counter such entities that exist in a virtual sphere. Third, new multilingual search technologies are required to monitor the Internet for online terrorist activity that would identify the connections among extremist websites, uncover their camouflaged communications, especially those that are related to potential plots, and detect the identities and locations of their participants.
Finally, according to Gabriel Weimann, a noted Israeli expert on terrorism and the Internet, an "alternative online stage" needs to be created that would rival the Islamist message by providing "a voice of peace, an alternative to death and suicide."
Mr. Lappin's "Virtual Caliphate" is essential reading for all those interested in understanding and countering the threats posed by extremist Islamists on the Internet.
THE NEW MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST
By Lorenzo Vidino
Columbia University Press, 2010, $29.50, 336 pages
The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Al-Ikhwan al Muslimeen, the Muslim Brotherhood) is one of world's largest and most influential Islamic political organizations. Its affiliates operate as the main opposition parties in several Arab states, as a ruler in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and as the leading Muslim institutions in Western Europe and the United States.
In today's Egypt, where it was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a 22-year-old schoolteacher and strict Islamic fundamentalist, and following an 83-year period of operating as a mostly underground organization, it is on the verge of emerging as a potential governing party when parliamentary elections are held, as expected, in September.
Lorenzo Vidino's "The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West" is an important contribution to our understanding of how the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has evolved over the years to become the pre-eminent Islamic organization in Western Europe and the United States. While it does not focus on the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in the Middle East, especially how its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, operates, or on its affiliates in Jordan and other Arab states, it still presents a valuable framework for understanding the organization's far-flung operations worldwide.
The book is not without some flaws, however. In his discussion of the Muslim Brotherhood's early period, Mr. Vidino only focuses on al-Banna's solution to what allegedly ailed Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s as "resistance to foreign domination through the exaltation of Islam," but the country's problems at the time were far more deep-seated and required different developmental solutions.
Moreover, when Mr. Vidino writes that al-Banna's "reference to Islam's mythical past as the cure for the umma's [Islamic nation's] ills does not contradict his embrace of modernity," he appears not to understand that modernization entails a transformation of traditional society, including the separation of state and religion but not religion's permeation of all aspects of life, which was al-Banna's solution.
Finally, Mr. Vidino underplays the Muslim Brotherhood's terrorist operations in the 1940s and 1950s, which contributed to its repression by the Egyptian government.
Once Mr. Vidino begins to discuss the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood's influence in the 1950s to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Western Europe and America, he is on more solid ground. With the organization's violent activities leading in 1948 to its official banning and al-Banna's assassination by government operatives, many of its ideologues and activists found refuge in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states in the 1950s and 1960s. There they became "teachers, lawyers, administrators, and bankers, taking intellectual jobs that the cash-rich but educationally underdeveloped Gulf countries had to fill in great numbers."
This is how 84-year-old Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a teenager and graduated from Cairo's prestigious al Azhar Faculty of Theology, landed in Qatar in the early 1960s, where, as described by Mr. Vidino, he proceeded over the years to establish an elaborate network of radical Islamic institutions that comprised religious schools, think tanks, publications and websites that disseminated his extremist theological views to millions of Muslims around the world.
After a 50-year exile, last week Sheik al-Qaradawi, whom Mr. Vidino describes as the Muslim Brotherhood's "Pope," returned to a hero's welcome in Cairo, where he is likely to play an important religious role in the new regime.
It was also during this period that Muslim Brotherhood members began establishing the infrastructural seeds for what would become their dominant role in the life of Muslim communities in Western Europe and the United States.
It is among these communities, where, Mr. Vidino writes "there is no other Muslim movement that has the means to organize events even remotely on such a large scale. If a young Muslim or a potential convert wants to know more about Islam, he or she is more likely to have easy access to Brotherhood publications than to those of any other Islamic group."
He adds, "Although their membership has remained fairly small, the Brothers have shown an enormous ability to monopolize the Islamic discourse, making their interpretations of Islam perhaps not yet mainstream but at least the most readily available, and putting their ideological stamp on any Islam-related issue, be it strictly religious or more properly political."
The Muslim Brotherhood also succeeded in gaining access to Western government officials, Mr. Vidino observes, using them as a supposed "firewall" in some of their counterradicalization programs to counter the spread of pro-al Qaeda sympathies among Muslim communities in those countries. Such cooperation is problematic, Mr. Vidino explains, because it hasn't reconciled its public condemnation of terrorism in general with its support for the Palestinian Hamas' use of such tactics against Israel.
How should Western governments deal with the Muslim Brotherhood? Mr. Vidino recommends that "for the time being, given this uncertainty, a policy of cautious and informed engagement appears to be the most appropriate."
With the Muslim Brotherhood set to play a significant role in Egypt's political life, Mr. Vidino's book is essential reading for those concerned about understanding its past and future activities and directions.
The three book reviews initially appeared in The Washington Times and are reprinted with permission.
About the Author
Joshua Sinai is an associate professor for research, specializing in counterterrorism studies, at Virginia Tech (National Capital Region), in Alexandria, Va.
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