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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Islam compoatible with modernity?, 13 May 2006
G. J. Weeks (London) - See all my reviews
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and Authoritative, 2 April 2008
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (Paperback)
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".

The most informative chapter in the book was Chapter 2 on the Western "equivalent" of Islamic Fundamentalists, the Neoconservatives. Again, Mr Kepels analyses the rise of neo-conservative doctrine and its impact on American foreign policy with forensic clarity. He clearly demonstrates that the Neo-con's "project to restore international order along ideological lines did not originate in September 11." The author traces the movement from its founders in the 1960's, Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss to its modern-day proponents, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Richard Perle. The main thrust of the Neo-con vision in the Middle East was:

- To assure the security of the state of Israel

- Eliminating Saddam Hussein and installing a pro-Western government in Iraq, thereby putting pressure on its Saudi allies for reform

- Oversee the emergence of a "New Middle East" much like the former Communist Eastern Europe under the US' benign influence

With the election of George Bush, the tragic events of September 11 gave the Neo-cons the opportunity to push their agenda. In hindsight this vision, better suited to the Cold War, was nave. The events of the 2003 Iraq war further demonstrated that the implementation of the vision was grossly inept. The war only seemed to add fuel to the fire of Muslim anger against the US. Again, Kepels refrains from making value judgments on the Iraq War. Instead he demonstrates that the US invasion of Iraq must be seen against this larger backdrop of the Neo-con agenda and not just as a grab for oil or the now discredited belief in the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

The book concludes on a cautiously optimistic note for the future of Islam. That future rests on Westerners of Muslim descent. The author paints a very complex picture of Islam in Europe today; from upwardly mobile British South East Asian Muslims who have no connection to the Middle Eastern "homeland" to socially-excluded French citizens of North African descent. Like in any vibrant Middle Eastern bazaar, European Muslims are constantly barraged with every form of Islam; from the pacifist Sufism to militant jihadism. Gilles Kepel concludes that how this group of Muslims who are, brought up in secular modern states, slowly taking positions of influence within Western Europe, "freed from the straitjacket of authoritarianism and corruption" and "from the rage of rebellion that endorses jihad" reacts to future changes will define the face of Islam. As a Nigerian, who knows all too well the extreme violence and anti-intellectualism that Fundamentalism Islam has engendered in my native land, it is a hope that I sincerely share.

What I did not like
In the chapter, the Battle for Europe, I got lost in all the acronyms used to describe the various Islamic movements in Europe-UOIF, CRCM etc. At some point I could not remember what each group stood for, especially as the groups began to shift alliances. I also found the book to me too short (327 pages) to cover such an important topic. However, Mr Kepel makes up for it by including an extensive biography.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to dig deeper than the numbing sound bites and media images of Islam. Gilles Kepel shows that there is logic, indeed a trajectory to Islamic Fundamentalism and that the West's response to it so far has been half-hearted, self-serving and unhelpful. The book is a fascinating, detailed and authoritative book. It deserves 5 stars.
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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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The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West
The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West by Gilles Kepel (Paperback - 2 May 2006)
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