** Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East. By Gilles Kepel; published by Belknap Press, www.hup.harvard.edu (Web); 328 pages; $27.95.
When writing about contemporary history—especially that of the Middle East—one of the greatest dangers is to be overtaken by current events. That is unfortunately the fate of Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East by the French academic Gilles Kepel.
Like many other scholars, Kepel viewed the years after 9-11 as a clash of two narratives: The Bush administration’s “War on Terror” and what he calls “the grand narrative of martyrdom [that] was supposed to lead the Muslim masses to identify with” al Qaeda. Their confrontation reached its apogee, he argues, in a bloody stalemate in Iraq.
For the U.S.-led coalition, he states, the war, far from unleashing a democratic tsunami, created an army of new jihadists. On the flip side, al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killings in Iraq alienated those it most wanted to attract.
Kepel’s Achilles’ Heel, however, is the surge in Iraq. Writing before its impact was felt, he predicted its failure. His conclusion: “The opposing dreams of Bush and Bin Laden had devolved into an endless shared nightmare.”
The surge, however, dramatically improved conditions. Unlike the academically oriented Kepel, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the surge’s architect, and Lt. Col. David Kilcullen (Retired), his principal adviser, are warrior-scholars whose evidence-based analysis laid the foundation for the surge’s apparent success. Where Kepel sees two major narratives, the U.S. commanders saw a more nuanced environment of global, regional, and local forces.
This is not to say that Kepel’s book shouldn’t find a spot on the bookshelves of serious students of the Middle East and terrorism. It should. As an historical summary, it demonstrates why Kepel has been called “arguably the foremost expert on political Islam.” Unfortunately, this good book might have been a great one if it hadn’t espoused a world-view that subsequent events in Iraq appear to have overtaken.
Reviewer: Mario A. Possamai, CPP, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), CAMS (Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist), is managing director of Forensic Financial Research and Consulting, Inc., in Toronto. He is a member of the ASIS International Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.