This is a good book. However, we do need to place it in its immediate historical and literary context in order to appreciate its contribution to the current debate on Islam and 'the West'. A number of sociologists have striven to explain the apparent rise and rise of fundamentalist Islam through recent history. Various reasons have been cited to try to account for this surge, including hatred of 'Western' values - epitomised by the US, the discrediting and marginalisation of Marxism, the decline in the nationalism of individual Arabic states, the break-up of the Soviet Union along with the ending of the Cold War, among a considerable number (and variety) of other supposed reasons.
In 2004, the author of this work, Quintan Wiktorowicz, edited a book called 'Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach' (Indiana University Press). To make a long story short, the mode of investigation proposed and utilised by this work should, in theory at least, help to guard against common mistakes perpetrated in research on Islamism, e.g. it claims that social and monetary deprivation and the resultant frustration cannot fully explain the rise of Islamism since poverty does not lead necessarily to pro-active terrorism. This work builds upon these premises.
Apparently, unless this reviewer is very much mistaken, much of the research in this work is conducted on and around a particular radical organization (al-Muhajiroun) based in Greater London and operated by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was actually barred from the UK in 2005! Wiktorowicz undertook no less than 30 formal and informal interviews with Omar Bakri Mohammed himself and various other group members and activists. A variety of "movement documents" were also studied. This generous quantity of what is, in effect, original source material furnishes this book with a high level of 'first hand' credibility.
The author presents his findings in in 4 chapters. The first chapter outlines the risk factors of being actively involved in any radical Islamist organization like al-Muhajiroun. The costs are high - members can regularly donate as much as a third of their income, for example. Pursuits such as television, gaming and phone chat are outlawed. The second chapter attempts to explain how and why certain individuals become attracted to this kind of radical organization. This is a truly fascinating chapter which investigates crucial matters like preconditioning and the individual's 'predisposition' towards taking the extremist's path. Chapter three goes on to stress (and to illustrate) just how vital both the perceived integrity and the religious authority of the group's leader is, in successfully evangelising 'normal' individuals to become radical activists. The final chapter addresses what has been described as 'the free rider problem'; i.e. the individual who seeks membership of a group or cause only to further his/her own aims and goals. Radical groups solve this potential dilemma by forging the wishes of the individual to the group's fundamentalist ideology; to further the group's interest is, therefore, to also further the individual member's own good. Corporate membership and selfish desires are therefore interlocked, even bonded.
This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed reading and pondering over this notable contribution to the current debate on the vital issue of the West's approach to radical Islam. Radicalisation is itself not a new process - far from it, in fact - and it can occur in just about any culture, period, or setting on Earth, given a sufficiency of 'conducive' factors. When, eventually, even the founders of the World's great religions can be viewed entirely dispassionately and equiponderately, free from the censure of sectarian and religious bigotry then, ironically enough, we may just appreciate how the right cocktail of oppression, occupation and the subsequent resentment can procure a 'radical' from just about any individual who has ever lived.
Michael Calum Jacques