Wars on Error

A book on Al-Qaeda makes good points but is not free from controversy

Written by Seema Chishti | Published: February 8, 2009 11:49 am

The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics
Faisal Devji
Foundation books price not stated

A book on Al-Qaeda makes good points but is not free from controversy
Faisal Devji’s book on militant Islam and terror networks is a commendable effort. Almost as if he is looking for the unified field theory for such groups,Devji,in a comprehensive exercise,looks at philosophies,tactics and,most importantly,the politics of this kind of terror.

An understanding of groups like Al-Qaeda has virtually been absent from the discourse as it has been explained away as pure “evil”. Devji does the opposite. He begins by locating their (ostensible) appeal in their language — for rights of the oppressed of the world,typically,and from there launches into an understanding of how Quranic verses,Islamic teachings and what they claim to be inspired by have been changed into a modern political message that has succeeded in destabilising the world as the West has known it,since 9/11.

Devji’s contribution is also to look at the militant Islamist project as having its roots outside the Arab world and not just as something that came out of the US/West’s policy towards West Asia. He invokes South Asia as an important turning point of universal Islam meeting with local nationalisms,when he discusses the creation of Pakistan. He talks of how the Khilafat movement in the early 20th century was used to create a sense of nationalism that transcended religion — paradoxically this nationalism rested on a strong sense of religious identity and zeal.

Devji’s constant references to Mahatma Gandhi and juxtaposing what he had to say as he appealed to self-sacrifice,freedom from Imperial rule,with what Osama bin Laden says are not likely to be met with universal acceptance — far from it. But what makes the book readable is his meticulous research,his analysis of not only what Ayman al Zawahiri has to say but also what the suspects of the 9/11 attacks argue for.

The new president of the United States,Barack Obama,his politics and policies,have added a completely new dimension to the so-far unimaginative so-called War on Terror. Clearly,at this juncture,any study on the philosophical and political underpinnings and essence/historical overview of such networks would be of immense value.

This is not to say that all of what Devji says will be acceptable. He does not talk much about the aggressive US policy against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and how militant Islam was used at the time,facts that must be taken on board in a study on the politics of contemporary militant Islam. In fact,plenty of what Devji concludes may be controversial,but it is bound to stir the pot in a most interesting way.

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