Osama bin Laden’s recent death at the hands of US Navy Seals in Pakistan raises many pertinent questions regarding the future of Islamic radicalism, not only in the Afghanistan and Iraq operational theatres but across the broader Islamic world also.
Gabriel G. Tabarani’s latest book; “Jihad’s New Heartlands: Why The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism”, is likely to be the first of a new wave of books offering insight into Islamic radicalism in the post-bin Laden era. It must be said that this book does not disappoint, tackling this most pertinent and important of issues by not only analysing recent developments but also by undertaking a bottom-up analysis of Islamic fundamentalism itself, a topic often overlooked.
The author brings not only a life-long, and highly successful, career in Middle East political journalism but also two years’ of dedicated primary and secondary research to this work. This allows Tabarani to provide readers with the historical context required to understand the current environment.
Tabarani’s comprehensive analysis begins with an explanation of the true meaning of Islam and addresses fundamentalism’s roots - set during Islam’s rapid rise and spread in the 7th Century through to its great modern revival in 1928 with the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a response to British colonial rule. This is particularly pertinent given the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in current post-revolutionary Egypt as well as the broader Middle East; for example its role in creating the Jihadist movement in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
His overview of the modern fundamentalist landscape is further embellished by a detailed analysis of the various other Islamist bodies currently active across a host of regions such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb and the Levant. Each geography is given a thorough historical and political introduction to highlight the patch-work and decentralised nature of the modern Islamist movement. Moreover, the author looks profoundly on al-Qa’ida, discussing its objectives and strategies before and in the post bin Laden environment.
Further to his strong grasp of the political landscape and Islamism’s role within it, Tabarani also possesses in-depth understanding of Islam and its teachings, for example explaining how the religious term “Jihad” has been transformed from its original and intended meaning to a synonym for holy-war. This two-pillared approach provides an unparalleled insight into the political machinations of the broader Islamic faith as well as its more militant variants.
The author expands his already substantial analysis by investigating the rise of home-grown Islamism in Europe, Russia and the USA, analysing the challenges posed by Islamic radicalism in the West and whether their Muslim populations constitute an enemy within. Furthermore, Tabarani lucidly discusses the compatibility between Islam and Western democracy, in particular the USA.
Tabarani suggests that Islamism is a multi-headed beast that was not fully understood by Western agencies and regional governments, resulting in a failed containment strategy. This allowed Islamism to gain a foothold over recent decades resulting in several militant-fundamentalist groups having formed autonomous operating structures. Thus bringing us to the sad conclusion that whilst the death of Osama bin Laden has decapitated the beast its limbs are still active, autonomous and highly dangerous and unless the correct course of action is taken by Western authorities, both at home and overseas, the situation will continue to deteriorate with potentially disastrous consequences.
Fortunately, Tabarani concludes this engrossing and complete piece closes with an insightful and pragmatic overview of how Western governments can successfully contain the Islamist threat both at home and abroad before the situation becomes unsalvageable.