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The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West [Paperback]

Gilles Kepel
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 May 2006
The events of September 11, 2001, forever changed the world as we knew it. In their wake, the quest for international order has prompted a reshuffling of global aims and priorities. In a fresh approach, Gilles Kepel focuses on the Middle East as a nexus of international disorder and decodes the complex language of war, propaganda, and terrorism that holds the region in its thrall.

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (2 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067401992X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674019928
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,006,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Displays a remarkable mastery of detail... and illuminates debates within Islam and the American right.' -- Guardian, 17 June 2006

About the Author

Gilles Kepel is Professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris and author of Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam (Harvard).

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Islam compoatible with modernity? 13 May 2006
Kepel is a French academic who has written a first class analysis of the recent development of Islam and the response of the West. he is less than complimentary to those he describes as the American neo-conservatives behind the two Presidents Bush. Starting with the failure of the Oslo Peace the response to 9/11 is analysed and found wanting but not as wanting as the calamity in Iraq. But all of us are blessed with 20;20 hindsight though one might have thought Western leaders would have been able to better anticipate civil strife after Iraq was invaded.

When Kepel looks at the battle for Europe his work suffers from concentrating on France with some mention of England and Spain but little of other major centres of European Islam. There is no analysis of the differing groups from South Asia in Britain like the descriptions of differing parties in France. This is the books one shortcoming for the British reader. Nevertheless I think it is a first rate analysis of the tensions in the world of Islam. I do not though share his optimism that future generations of Muslims in Europe will be reconciled to a Western democratic modernity. This can only happen if Muslims secularise. What good Muslim can do that and maintain integrity?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and Authoritative 2 April 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Islamic Fundamentalism and its link to terrorism have become the defining issues of our time. Many in the West see Islamist-inspired terrorism as thoughtless, irrational or defying explanation. How else can one explain ghastly acts of suicide bombings, beheadings and mass murder all performed in the name of Islam? Gilles Kepels' excellent book, The War for Muslim minds provides some answers in understanding the root cause of Islamist terrorism and how Islam, being one of the great world religions, defies the glib simplifications that the Western media append to it.

What I like about the book
Gilles Kepel is a keen observer of the Muslim and Arab world. He provides just enough detail to the reader to allow him/her perceive the big picture. He begins this book with the terrible events of September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks on the twin towers seemed to to be a watershed moment in world history. For a brief moment the "civilized" world was united in condemnation of the attacks. Like a good detective, Kepel dispassionately traces the reasons for attacks, eschews making any value judgments and follows the evidence wherever it leads. At the end of the first chapter the putative cause for the attacks, declared by the culprits in that attack, Al-Qaeda, is that bugbear of US foreign policy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the breakdown of the Oslo Peace process. The failure of the Peace Process and the subsequent outbreak of the second intifada was the excuse given by Mr Bin Laden to attack the World Trade Centre. For Bin Laden, according to Kepel, September 11 did not change the world; it was but one milestone in his strike against the "Far Enemy".
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced and brilliant 29 Nov 2005
In "Islam and the West: The war for Muslim minds," Kepel manages to continue the breathtaking and fascinating method of analysis one came to love in "Jihad: The trail of political Islamism." All is explained in a straight forward well-documented and unprecedented pace, which will leave readers dazed, breathless and of course... with greater knowledge of a vastly intricate problem.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispenable 28 Sep 2004
By Gavur - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insights on Islam 15 Sep 2005
By James Voorhees - Published on Amazon.com
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 13 Mar 2009
By T. Graczewski - Published on Amazon.com
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. My question to those who subscribe to that belief has always been: if the administration was willing to go to such mendacious lengths, why not conduct an equally complex conspiracy to plant evidence to justify the original lie?)

But these are just quibbles. The main reason "The War for Muslim Minds" disappoints is that the author fundamentally fails to address the compelling central thesis of the book - "the most important battle in the war for Muslim minds during the next decade will be fought not in Palestine or Iraq but in communities of believers on the outskirts of London, Paris, and other European cities, where Islam is already a growing part of the West." The final chapter ("The Battle for Europe") supposedly addresses this challenge of winning second generation European-Muslims away from both the quietist salafist and violent jihadist influences; however, Giles focuses almost exclusively on a situation report from France circa 2004 with heavy emphasis on the controversial Islamic activist Tariq Ramadan. He suggests that the ability of the West to win-over their second-generation Muslim citizens to a universalist notion of citizenship and civil, open society will determine the outcome of the current ideological confrontation that is, in his mind, every bit as threatening to twenty-first century peace as communism was to the twentieth. Yet Kepel does not offer any pragmatic solutions or even novel insights as to how the West can successfully compete with the powerful elements in the European-Muslim communities who stridently resist cultural and political integration.

Finally, there is a sobering, defeatist message in this book. Giles contends that "though the ultimate goals of jihadists and neoconservatives diverged, their proximate goals were remarkable aligned: ousting the region's regimes, whose authoritarianism and corruption they both abhorred." He suggests that a shake-out in the Middle East is indeed coming and that the neocons vision of "a virtuous cycle of missiles and tanks, liberation and democratization" is losing out to Al Qaeda's dream of a new greater Islamic Caliphate.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Illustration of the Complexities of the "War on Terror" 13 Jan 2005
By David W. Southworth - Published on Amazon.com
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. But the ends in each of the states of Western Europe are the same: to imbue in the Muslims in their society a respect for pluralism and democracy. Kepel sees the potential for the inculcation of democratic values in European Muslims having far reaching implications, for example by creating a respect for democratic institutions and the possibility of those Muslim supporters of democracy exporting their ideas back to their home countries. Either way, democracy can't be imported by foreigners, especially by force.

Kepel has written an important book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in confronting one of the most important challenges of our time.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, despite what some say.................. 7 Aug 2005
By William H. Putnam - Published on Amazon.com
This book is an easy to read, somewhat easy to understand wrapup of what is currently happening with the Global War on Terror and the fight for Muslim hearts and minds. The author does a great job in explaining some of the differences in the Salafist community and also in pointing out that Wahhabists are Salafists, but not necessarily of the Bin Laden strain, something that many people in the West just don't get.

However, if there were any down sides for me, it was the part about the fight in Europe for Muslim hearts and minds. It focuses, somewhat understandbly, on France. There are fights going on all around Europe and I think the author could have done a better job bringing that to light. I also feel that although he demonstrates the conflicts within the Muslim community in Europe, one needs to realize that these issues trasncend national borders, although each government is trying to deal with its specific Muslim community, rather than getting that Europe needs to deal with this issue in a better fashion from Spain to Germany.

As for one of the poor reviews implying that the author is not facing the truth regarding the 2000 intifidah, she is incorrect. It did start when Sharon visited the Dome of the Rock (not sure if that was it) for the Arabs. Yes, other Knesset officials may have visited it, but none like Sharon. For the Palestinians, that was the event that triggered the uprising, regardless of whether this is superficial analysis or not. In the Arab world, as in all other places, perception is reality. This is something that too many Westerners fail to comprhend when dealing with Muslims...............there is not necessarily one truth.
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