The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which toppled the Shah`s dictatorship, was followed by another seminal event that same year " the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up the country`s communist government.
The Mujahideen`s nine-year guerrilla war which followed " backed ardently by the United States, of course " led to the humiliating withdrawal and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. But it also bred the first generation of Islamist radicals, many of whom returned to their respective countries as hardened combatants. One such individual was Osama Bin Laden.
In his meticulously researched book Jihad`s New Heartlands: How the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic Fundamentalism, Gabriel G. Tabarani provides a historical narrative of the global Islamist movement leading to the events of 1979 and culminating in the death of Bin Laden.
Tabarani, an old Middle East hand based in London, analyses the huge range of Islamic groups in countries ranging from Algeria to Pakistan and from Russia to Somalia. In doing so, he gives us the background information and places it in a cultural context, which is very critical to understanding the phenomenon that is Muslim extremism.
Article continues below
The modern origins of the plethora of Islamist movements that pepper the globe can be traced back to 1928, when the Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, Hassan Al Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood. This was primarily in response to British colonialism. Al Banna was assassinated in 1948 and the Egyptian state continued with its repression of the group through the 1950s and 1960s.
One of the most influential and strident ideologues of the movement was the US-educated Saeed Qutb. His experiences in the West and in Egypt convinced him that the answer to the ills of society lay in going back to the fundamentals of Islam. While in prison, he wrote Milestones, a book that continues to inspire extremists to this day. Qutb`s execution in 1966 for his political views made him a martyr to many Islamists around the world.
As Tabarani observes, "Although the tangible entity of the Brotherhood was purged by [Jamal Abdul] Nasser, the ideology of the movement remained. Not to be annihilated by means of torture, imprisonments and executions, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood endured."
Today`s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is, of course, a far cry from the days of Qutb and has long since disavowed violence. As the author says, a new generation has come forward that is engaged in and focused on working within the system.
Now the Brotherhood finds itself in a position where it is expected to do very well in parliamentary elections in post-Mubarak Egypt, as is its Tunisian affiliate Al Nahda (see interview on page 9).
Especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, religious extremism has been the subject of hundreds of books, often by authors with dubious credentials and/or a set agenda.
Oversimplification of the issue has also been a constant theme. But in his book, Tabarani displays not only an expertise in the subject matter but also explains a complex issue in a dispassionate, impartial manner.
Apart from looking at extremism in Islamic societies, Tabarani also tackles the issue in the West. The author offers some pertinent advice: It is high time for the US, and the West in general, to change their attitude towards Muslims and correct past mistakes.
Jihad`s New Heartlands: How the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic FundamentalismBy Gabriel G. Tabarani, AuthorHouse, 476 pages, Â£19.99
Reviewed by Omar Shariff, Deputy Editor, Weekend Review
Any opinions expressed on this website are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of The Student Operated Press