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Putting Today's Headlines into Historical Context
on 14 June 2007
This is a fascinating read. In a world dominated by sound-bites of a few seconds, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every new event must have its root causes in the recent past. Nowhere is this assumption more prevalent than when that epitome of 21st century phenomena - Islamic terrorism - is discussed. There seems a consensus among commentators that the actions of al Qaeda and their ilk today are the consequences of recent foreign policy decisions in London and Washington, and by extension that decisions made today can have an immediate impact on such organisations' future plans.
What Charles Allen reminds us is that exponents of Wahhabism, indistinguishable from their modern counterparts in al Qaeda, have been taking up arms against "the West" since the early nineteenth century and that their reasons remain unchanged and, according to their philosophy, both moral and logical.
The author puts today's activities into context, though it is difficult to reach anything but a dark conclusion about what our immediate future holds as a result.
I don't share other reviewers' disappointment at the lack of intricate detail about Wahabbism's local origins, or the concentration on historic rather than current events. Both these aspects are beyond the scope of a book which does exactly what I hoped it would - it explains how we arrived at this point and highlights the naivity of approaching the fight against al Qaeda as a sort of PR-driven election campaign in which the enemy would surrender if only we could get the correct leaflet in front of bin Laden.