Migaux gives a brief historical run-down of the development of jihadist thought, from the birth of Salafism under Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) to the emergence of Wahhabism as articulated by Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb (d. 1792) and, finally, the appearance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, whose development of the concept of a global system based on religion would have quietly helped shape the dangerous ideology of the Islamic State. “God is our objective, the Messenger of God is our guide, the Qur’an is our constitution, and jihad is our way [...],” declared Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood. Hassan al-Banna’s political ideas, which still did not envisage armed struggle, were later radicalized by Sayyid Qutb, who revived the notion of the jāhiliyya, or ignorance of pre-Islamic societies, and extended its scope of application to include non-Islamic societies or societies under impious rule against which it was deemed permissible to fight and even shed blood, so that though the practice of jihad, Islam might become the guiding force for all humanity. The brief historical survey is followed by a useful overview of the evolution of the jihadist strategy.
After considering the historical perspective, the book examines the sociological, anthropological and psychological forces at work in jihadism, with the contribution of Farhad Khosrokhavar, a Franco-Iranian expert on Shi‘ite and European Islam. His analysis focuses on the attractiveness of jihad for young Muslims in Europe, which has led to the emergence of two different types of activist: the socially excluded young people of the French banlieues and the poor districts of English cities, and the ever-increasing number of adolescent converts from the middle class. For Khosrokhavar, young European jihadists are attracted not so much by Islam itself as by what it represents. It has become the “religion of the oppressed, and so attracts young immigrants of the second, third or fourth generation [...] as well as young middle-class converts, who find in radical Islam the anti-imperialist impulse that in the 1970s used to be embodied in leftist movements” (p. 269).
The book closes with a brief contribution from David Bénichou, a lawyer and vice-president of the anti-terrorist department of the court of Paris, who deals with the legal ramifications of jihadism and looks at the 23 measures adopted in France in 2014 to fight the Syrian groups – which were to prove inadequate in the light of the attacks of 2015 – and at several other issues, including cyber-terrorism and hostage-taking. While much of the discourse in the book is highly technical and well-documented, some controversial and provocative claims are allowed to slip through. They add nothing to the content and only reinforce negative attitudes. One such claim is that the French laïcité, a hard-won achievement that came after a long struggle to free citizens from the Church, is in danger of being squandered to placate “the most extremist and minority current of the latest monotheistic religion” (p. 330).
Generally speaking, however, the book is useful and valuable for non-specialist readers interested in finding out more about a phenomenon that concerns them ever more directly.
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