Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East

  • Published

Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East by Gilles Kepel, translated by Pascale Ghazaleh. Harvard University Press, 2008, 336 pp.

Gilles Kepel, a professor of political science at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, is a noted author of numerous books and commentaries on Islam and Middle East politics and has taught at New York University and Columbia University as a visiting professor. He holds degrees in Arabic, English, and philosophy and doctorates in sociology and political science.

Beyond Terror and Martyrdom is not a light read; however, it is worthwhile because it discusses salient issues concerning the use of terrorism and martyrdom as political tools to shape public policy and illustrates the complexity and causes of terrorist activities that have plagued the Middle East and Europe during the last 20 years and precipitated the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It begins with the premise that two separate processes have influenced the landscape of the Middle East. One was the political agenda led by President Bush, who demonstrated a sense of urgency to bring democracy to this region through the invasion of Iraq. The second process, still ongoing, provides the majority of the content of this book and is led by avowed terrorists bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and other members of al-Qaeda who use terror and martyrdom as the change agent to obtain their objectives. Kepel notes that both of these processes unsuccessfully tried to achieve their objectives through violence. The end state in the Middle East sought by either side—namely democratic rule heralded by President Bush or a ruling Islamist state sought by bin Laden et al.—has yet to occur.

Kepel offers numerous and detailed insights into the possible motivations for and use of suicidal terror bombings, political murders, and attempted terror strikes from various terrorist organizations linked to the Middle East. Through this lens, he suggests a host of reasons why these activities have occurred, based on his extensive study of this arena of political activity. It serves as a useful means to inform the reader on these issues and provide evidence for the basic theme of the work.

From his findings, Kepel suggests a different approach to stability in the region: to unite the economic power of Europe (note that Kepel is from France), based on its industrial and technological strength, and marry these attributes with the petroleum wealth and human resources of the Middle East to move past the perceived need for terrorism and martyrdom as the means to achieve political goals for the region. It is left to the reader to determine whether his approach is feasible for achieving peace and stability in the Middle East.

The reader, whether well informed on Middle East politics or possessing just a casual newspaper-supplied understanding, shall become better informed having read this book. Kepel is a knowledgeable and articulate writer, which makes this book worth your time and effort to read. I recommend Beyond Terror and Martyrdom for all the reasons stated above, but especially because it offers a new approach to Middle East stability that possesses global security implications.

Col Joseph J. McCue, USAF, Retired

Leesburg, Virginia

"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."