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A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America [Paperback]

Malise Ruthven
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America 3.3 out of 5 stars (3)
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Book Description

14 Jun 2002
In this thoughtful and authoritative book, Malise Ruthven provides an analysis of the terrible events of September 11 in New York and Washington. He discusses the role of the global market, the mystique of the twin towers and of New York and examines the tangled web of grievances, especially in the Middle East, that form the substance of the bombers' complaints against Western modernity. Ruthven traces the motivations of the men who flew the planes and killed so many thousands of innocent people, to their roots in certain currents of Islamic thought. He looks in detail at the work of the influential "fundamentalist" visionaries who have embraced a purist version of the Muslim faith, that is, in fact, very modern in its embrace of technology and rejection of tolerance. In particular, Ruthven gives a chilling insight into the mind of the man said to be the lead hijacker, Mohammed Atta. Malise Ruthven does not shrink from criticizing Western, particularly US policy for contributing to the instability that offers fertile ground to such spectacular terrorism. He examines the conduct of war in Afghanistan up to the end of 2001. His book, while it offers little to comfort the reader, does offer same guidelines for the future.


Product details

  • Paperback: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (14 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862075409
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862075405
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.3 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,121,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Informative, learned and incisive. If you want an informed analysis of where Bin Laden and his supporters come from, this is the book to read.’ -- Evening Standard

'Part journalism and part scholarship, it seeks to understand militant Islam without indulging in special pleading or political correctness’ -- Economist

About the Author

Malise Ruthven is the author of Islam: A Short Introduction; Islam in the World; The Divine Supermarket (a study of Christian fundamentalism); and of A Satanic Affair (a book about the Rushdie affair). He is a visiting professor at the University of California at San Diego.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome dose of reality inamongst the rhetoric 28 Aug 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In a field that post 9-11 is bursting at the seams with hyperbole, bigotry dressed up as analysis, and rank hypocrisy not really dressed up at all, Ruthven's excellent historical analysis-cum-critique stands out for several reasons.
Firstly, the clarity and precision of the writing. Never one to get bogged down in minutiae, Ruthven's points are clearly made, and his description of the archly complex world of Islamic religious politics is understandable for the reader new to the field. Secondly, whilst being critical of the actions of those behind the attacks, he is unwavering in his exposure of the cant and hypocrisy of those Western nations who profess to champion democracy whilst counting as allies states which have appaling human rights and democratic records, and whose sponsorship of terrorism is as overt as those nations who all of a sudden are part of an "axis of evil". His observations on the Israeli-Palestinian subcontext is also noteworthy.
For anyone wanting to understand the context behind the events of the last year in and around the Middle-East and Afghanistan, this is an invaluable book, and, just as importantly, an excellent read. Highly commended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A serious analysis of 9/11 15 Mar 2003
Format:Paperback
Amidst all the paranoid, hysterical and bigoted writings that have flooded the market in the wake of 9/11 Malise Ruthven's "A Fury for God" is a beacon of restraint. Except for the somewhat overly dramatic first chapter this book is a serious attempt to trace the roots of the seeming incomprehensible fury unleashed against anything American in the late Summer of 2001.
Although, in his preface, he makes no claims to great originality, Ruthven's approach of the subject matter is refreshingly different from most other books, the vast majority of which run aground in superficial treatment and overly easy conclusions regarding the motivations of Muslim extremists. It is a bit of a pity that Ruthven did not resist the temptation to graft his narrative on the dramatic imagery of eyewitness accounts. But he quickly makes good on this by shifting to a philosophical approach. For this the author brings with him a solid grounding in religious studies. Although his specialism is indeed Islam, it becomes obvious that he is also conversant with the broader field of comparative religion, enabling him to draw parallels with Christian and even Hindu traditions.
One of the most important points he makes in the first chapter is the key realization of the incommensurability of fundamentalist and more liberal thought patterns. Where the latter tend to see religions as 'cummulative traditions', a syncretism of various cultural influences, the former search for pristine faith: with clear-cut and neat oppositions. Fundamentalists are hardcore dualists, says Ruthven, reducing the world to the Manichaean dimensions of good and evil. In fact, for fundamentalists, faith IS Manichaean. A very interesting observation in this context is that, in that sense, the religious views of many Americans are equally dualist.
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1 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrorism has no respect 24 Jan 2003
Format:Paperback
The book may seem helpful for somebody who reads for fun, but it does'nt satisfy a reader who wants to understand the facts behind the events of 9-11. Mr Ruthven appears to be solving the Idiological/Religious backgrounds of those behind 9-11, however, it is clear that he lacks the diversified reading about the Middle East and Islam itself. He describes British Asian muslims as "Wild, ...Farmers from the Ganges delta, ... Mountain men, ... Aliens,". Such physical features will not make one understand as to why thousands of INNOCENT people were attacked in NY.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What makes extremists tick? 12 Dec 2002
By Carool Kersten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Amidst all the paranoid, hysterical and bigoted writings that have flooded the market in the wake of 9/11 Malise Ruthven's "A Fury for God" is a beacon of restraint. Except for the somewhat overly dramatic first chapter this book is a serious attempt to trace the roots of the seeming incomprehensible fury unleashed against anything American in the late Summer of 2001.
Although, in his preface, he makes no claims to great originality, Ruthven's approach of the subject matter is refreshingly different from most other books, the vast majority of which run aground in superficial treatment and overly easy conclusions regarding the motivations of Muslim extremists. It is a bit of a pity that Ruthven did not resist the temptation to graft his narrative on the dramatic imagery of eyewitness accounts. But he quickly makes good on this by shifting to a philosophical approach. For this the author brings with him a solid grounding in religious studies. Although his specialism is indeed Islam, it becomes obvious that he is also conversant with the broader field of comparative religion, enabling him to draw parallels with Christian and even Hindu traditions.
One of the most important points he makes in the first chapter is the key realization of the incommensurability of fundamentalist and more liberal thought patterns. Where the latter tend to see religions as 'cummulative traditions', a syncretism of various cultural influences, the former search for pristine faith: with clear-cut and neat oppositions. Fundamentalists are hardcore dualists, says Ruthven, reducing the world to the Manichaean dimensions of good and evil. In fact, for fundamentalists, faith IS Manichaean. A very interesting observation in this context is that, in that sense, the religious views of many Americans are equally dualist. As Ruthven points out American diplomacy has a distinctly 'Manichaean' streak because American politics has deep biblical and puritan roots.
A major difference between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Protestants is however how far they are willing to carry their literalism. In the remainder of the book Malise Ruthven sets out to uncover the genealogy of Islamic fundamentalism.
The writer commences with an extensive historical examination of the Jihad doctrine, beginning with its Quranic origins in the so-called "Sword Verse", he moves on to the importance of the rapid territorial expansion of the Islamic empire during its first generation, and introduces later-day conceptualizations such as the differentiation between individual and collective obligations to defend the faith, and religious warfare as a sociological agent. Ruthven also signals the centrality of the rewards of martyrdom in Jihad doctrine.
Probably the most revealing chapter of the book is "The Aesthetics of Martyrdom". Here Ruthven tries to make sense of the intellectual heritage left by one of the chief ideologists of fundamentalist Islam: Sayyid Qutb. Most source books on Muslim radicalism recognize the seminal importance of this writer, but Ruthven assigns key importance to Qutb's stay in the USA during 1949-1950. This experience changed his worldview so profoundly that he gave up his earlier literary career and became a Muslim activist. Qutb's statement that he was born in 1951 sounds eerily familiar: 'Reborn' Christians refer to their religious experience in similar terms.
Another important point made in this chapter is the new way in which Qutb encourages his followers to read the Quran. Ruthven calls this 'proof-texting', meaning that certain passages are taken out of context and treated like talismans for spiritual guidance and "fetishes" of scientific truth. This is further elaborated in the next chapter, where the phenomenon of dedication to a cause until death is investigated. Alongside references to accepted authorities in the fields of Islamic and general religious studies, Ruthven also maps the emergence of a plethora of radical Muslim organizations since the late 1960s. This chapter is also used to set up another key notion: the question of identity. Finally, Ruthven makes some rather surprising connections with `70s urban guerrilla groups (like Germany's Baader-Meinhoff Gruppe) and the philosopher Nietzsche.
In "Cultural Schizophrenia" the writer tries to get into the perpetrators' heads. Not in an effort to come up with some sort of apologetic explanation, but to make sense of how basically rational, relatively well-educated young men can be brought to such horrific acts. This chapter is a search for a common ground in the life experience of the young Saudis of 9/11 and Sayyid Qutb's American sojourn. It also unveils some interesting facts on the pervasiveness of tribal affilitation in Saudi society and the latent dissent among the Wahhabi religious scholars.
The two following chapters cover territory that is also dealt with in other books: Saudi Arabia's 'Islamic imperialism', the creation of - in the end uncontrolable - Jihadist organizations fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the importance of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and its aftermath in breeding resentment against the governments in Riyadh and Washington, a feeling ruthlessly exploited by Bin Laden c.s.
In the concluding chapter "A Clash of Civilizations?", Ruthven critically examines the doctrines propounded by two "spin doctors" of the Clash-of-Civilizations thesis: Samuel Huntington and Benjamin Barber. Malise Ruthven acknowledges the plausibility of Huntington's civilization concept, but finds his ideas on religion wanting. According to Ruthven, Huntington is shortselling religion because he limits it to formal doctrines and ritual practices, better were it to take them as communication systems or symbolic languages expressing a vast array of human impulses. This might be especially relevant for Islam, which can be characterized as institutionally poor but rich in discursive tradition. Although Barber provides a powerful antidote to the Huntington doctrine, his explanation has another flaw: the denial of modern Islamism's claim of universality, lumping it together with mysticism and nationalism.
Some of Ruthven's references provide already a hint of the direction in which the author is looking for a way out of the cul-de-sac into which Muslim fundamentalism is leading the Islamic world. In the closing paragraphs the author points at the need of unwavering commitment to restructuring Muslim society on democratic principles, which are not inherently incompatible with Islam.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Islamic Radicalism 17 Aug 2004
By D. Edger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For the reader who wants to understand the background of Islamic radicalism, this book is an excellent starting point. Ruthven gives an entertaining and insightful introduction to the early Islamic radicals whose thoughts influence Usama Bin Ladin and other radicals of today. His descriptions of the early leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is excellent and makes us understand, at least in part, the motivations that lead to some early terrorist events.

Recommended highly.
3.0 out of 5 stars A window into the mind of radical Islam 30 May 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The "Fury for God" provides unique insight into the threat America faces from radical Islam. The author possesses extensive knowledge of the historical and philosophical underpinnings of today's Islamic terrorist. It is obvious the author have spent extensive time in the Middle East and is intimately familiar with the original sources that provide the theoretical base of modern radical Islam. The author's ability to describe the profile of many terrorists was one of the best parts of the books. He describes why many are from middle class backgrounds, possess advanced degrees in technical fields, and live in the West.

The book describes in detail the involvement of rich influential Saudi's in the spread of radical Islam and the unstable nature of the Saudi regime. It definitely game me a whole new insight into Islam and the Middle East.

The only criticism is the book often losses focus as the author wanders deep into Islamic theory or off on an unconnected tangent. A strong editor would have tightened the book up and made it flow better. Despite its scattered design, the unique insight into the mindset of radical Islam makes this book worth your time.

I wish I could say I became more optimistic about the future of the Islamic world after reading this book, but i did not.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new analysis of U.S. policies in the Middle East 6 Nov 2004
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Malise Ruthven's revised, updated survey has been expanded with a new analysis of U.S. policies in the Middle East and the `war on terror' since 9/11: add this expansion to a fine scholarly survey of Islamic history and the religious and intellectual growth of the region and you have an in-depth college-level analysis of the history and causes of the rise of militant Islam.
5.0 out of 5 stars The book to read on Militant Islam 14 Sep 2010
By Jose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ruthven's book on Islamism is by far the best book I have read on the issue to date. Ruthven takes a look at the long history of the development of the traditionalist strands of Islam that would evolve in our present time with clarity, focus, and smart research that shows not only the internal, but incredibly important external factors involved. There is one problem in that the book was right soon after 9/11 and before the Iraq invasion, so evidence of the attack itself is dated on what we now know as false information since then. Even then, the material in this book cannot be overlooked.
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