Although I promised not long ago (see my post entitled "Pro-Family" under August archives) that I wouldn't make movie reviews a part of this blog, I never made any such promise when it comes to books. I'm a voracious reader and since I'm free to post pretty much whatever I want, you're stuck with book reviews when they're worth mentioning.
I just finished Fawaz Gerges' book, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy and I can unequivocally draw the following conclusion: as with biographies, if you're looking for the truth about a topic, one must seek out source materials to avoid individual biases.
Jihadist was an effort by Gerges to interview key figures of Muslim militancy, and he used his Lebanese background to gain access to people that an otherwise Christian Western journalist might not achieve. It is a pity that his conclusions are colored by his early experiences in Lebanon.
Gerges recounts growing up in Lebanon and how idyllic his youth was, until things began to change in the 1970s. Gerges takes great pains to illustrate for us that Islam is not an inherently violent religion, using first-person accounts with Muslims as his evidence of that theory. The problem with using personal experience to make a generalization is one of sample size; I am certain that there were many good Germans who helped Jews escape or hide in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and yet, this doesn't negate the evil of the Nazi regime nor the complicity of most Germans. Likewise, there are accounts of white Southerners who assisted in freeing black slaves in the United States during the Civil War; this doesn't invalidate the proper generalization that the South was engaged in the vile and despicable institution of slavery.
There are a couple of points worthy of sharing... and commentary. First, as I mentioned to Samuel one day, Gerges completely missed the date on The Battle of Mogadishu (which he places in August 1993; in fact it was October of that year).
Let's go to the text, shall we? Regarding the Beruit bombing in 1983 that killed our Marines (page 87): "Telephone calls by an unknown group called Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility: 'We are the soldiers of God,' said a voice in classical Arabic on behalf of the mysterious group. 'We are neither Iranians, Syrians, nor Palestinians, but Muslims who follow the precepts of the Qur'an.'" (emphasis mine)
Is Jihad a personal duty of every Muslim? According to a militant named Abu-Jandal who fought in Bosnia (page 115-116): "By the time he departed from Bosnia a few months later, he viewed jihad as a permanent and personal duty, a pillar of Islam: 'There is a dilemma and a misunderstanding that most Muslims face. It can be summed up in that jihad has become merely a matter of thought for them, and they forgot that jihad is something that God has prescribed to us as a religious duty, like prayers, fasting, alms-giving, and pilgrimages.'" (emphasis mine) Got that? Jihad is as necessary as praying, according to God.
Later (page 126) Abu-Jandal recounts how they would offer condolences to friends who got married, because they couldn't run off and fight any more. Says Gerges: "The context of this notion is the Qur'anic verse in which Allah says that one cannot be a true Muslim unless one holds Allah and his messenger Mohammed in higher esteem than one's loved ones and one's material possessions." Which sounds a little bit like "Thou shall love the Lord your God above all" except Christians and Jews generally don't use this verse as justification for killing others.
In all, Gerges paints an almost schizophrenic analysis of militant Islam. He closes the book on a low note - after the invasion of Iraq, we've reached a low point of relations between Islam and the West, and he recounts this for us in his conversation with a militant named Kamal, who was very active in the early years of militancy in Egypt. According to Kamal (page 236): "Muslims feel they are facing an existential threat, a 'new Christian crusade allied with Jewish fundamentalism' whose goal is to neutralize Islam by discrediting 'positive Islamic values like jihad, fighting, martyrdom, and the idea that all Muslims belong to one ummah. The new crusade is targeting traditional Islam,' he said." (emphasis mine again)
Jihadist is an interesting, if just a fairly well-thought out book, whose inability to decisively summarize the nature of the conflict betrays a certain moral confusion of the author. Sadly, rather than focus on the problems inherent in Islam, most of the book portrays militancy as merely an effect of Western foreign policy.
But there's a good lesson to take away. We must look at the world as it is, and not as we remember it, or as we wish it to be.