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Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon

Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon by Bernard Rougier. Harvard University Press, 2007, 360 pp.,

Everyday Jihad: The Rise of militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon provides an interpretive narrative of the rise of Sunni jihadist militarism in the Palestinian refugee camps of South Lebanon. The author, French political scientist, Bernard Rougier, is a former professor at the Universite St Joseph in Beirut from 1996-2002. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in Political Science, University of Clermont and Sciences Po, Paris. Rougier was granted unfettered access to the jihadist networks in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Helweh, while researching his book. Consequently, Everyday Jihad resonates with his pioneering fieldwork and is likely destined to become a seminal work on Islamic Jihad.

Approximately 370,000 Palestinians reside in Lebanese refugee camps. This is equivalent to 12 percent of the Lebanese population and 10 percent of the Middle East Palestinian Diaspora. Everyday Jihad chronicles the radicalization of the Palestinian refugee camps and the resultant instability. Southern Lebanon has served as a battleground for decades as regional neighbors Syria, Iran, Israel, and myriad factions including, the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO), Maronite Christians, and disparate Islamic groups have sought to leverage a despondent, poverty-stricken and displaced Palestinian populace to marginalize political and religious rivals. Rougier argues that the social and political constructs of the refugee camps have been torn asunder by the machinations of these external actors and sectarian interests.

Since its defeat by Israel during the 1967 War, Syria has frequently intervened in the social, political, and military construct of the Palestinian refugee camps in pursuit of an off-shore balancing strategy against Israel. Syria’s decades-long attempts to marginalize Yasir Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) irredentist goals has increased Syria’s regional standing and has also ensured that Israel continues to be perceived as a common enemy to the Islamic countries of the region. Iran’s similar off-shore balancing strategy against Israel through its support of Hezbollah has been an equally divisive influence in curtailing the nationalist aspirations of Lebanese Palestinians.

Rougier is most compelling in his contention that the Palestinian Diaspora in Lebanon has become increasingly radical in the aftermath of the destruction of most of the Palestinian refugee camps during the 1982 Israeli incursion into Lebanon. Using the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp as a model, Rougier traces the rise of salafist Islamism and its ideological battle with Palestinian nationalism. Created by Abdullah Azzam in the Peshawer region of Pakistan, salafists believe that an original and strict interpretation of the Qur’an bestows a Muslim identity upon its adherents that obviates the need for a separate social, cultural, or political identity. Hence there is no need for a separate Palestine. This fundamentalist belief in a Muslim identity has led to an antagonistic relationship with Palestinian nationalists and the Shia-dominated Hezbollah. The two most prominent Lebanese salafist organizations, al-Nur Mosque network and Usbat al-Answar, actively seek to replace the existing social, political, and military networks of the refugee camps with salafist ideology.

Salafist doctrine also requires that Muslims wage a perpetual global jihad against all Kuffar (unbelievers). According to salafist ideology, the ranks of unbelievers include the so-called apostate Muslim governments of the world. Adherence to this principle is clearly discernable in the large number of Ain al-Helweh salafists that traveled to Iraq and joined the ranks of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s organization several years ago. Rougier maintains that the salafist-jihadist phenomenon exists independently of terrorist groups; however, salafism frequently uses terrorists groups with a global reach. The salafist movement is a grass-roots movement that uses existing terrorist groups to pursue global jihad.

Rougier’s discourse on the rising influence of salafist ideology within Palestinian refugee camps can be best characterized as a ‘clash of modernity’. Salafist ideology seeks to marginalize the trappings of modern civilization and replace it with traditional worship of the Qur’an. Everyday Jihad reveals how easily the despondent and frustrated youth bulge of the Palestinian refugee camps can be mobilized towards destructive purposes. Rougier reinforces David Kilcullen’s polemic assertions from his book, Accidental Guerrilla, that Islamic extremists are currently engaged in a vitriolic clash of modernity and in a global insurgency against the perceived apostate Muslim states of the world.

Everyday Jihad adds greatly to the existing literature on global jihad. Rougier poignantly describes how ideas are transmitted to disposed, oppressed, and frustrated youth in order to mobilize them to conduct violence on behalf of a cause. The single criticism of this book is that Rougier fails to adequately address the response of moderate Palestinian refugees to the spread of salafist radicalism within their refugee camps. However, this should not detract from the overall high quality of Rougier’s analysis. I highly recommend this book to all who are interested in obtaining a better understanding of the dynamic, sectarian relationships endemic to Lebanon and the complexities inherent in Islamic extremism.

Patrick R. Hampton, Colonel, USAF

Air War College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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