MILITANT ISLAMIST IDEOLOGY: UNDERSTANDING THE GLOBAL THREAT
By Cmdr. Youssef H. Aboul-Enein
Naval Institute Press, $37.95, 288 pages
HOMELAND SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE
Edited by Keith Gregory Logan
Praeger, $49.95, 245 pages
FLAWED DIPLOMACY: THE UNITED NATIONS & THE WAR ON TERRORISM
By Victor D. Comras
Potomac Books, $29.95, 256 pages
A nation's counterterrorism measures range from employing its intelligence agencies to monitor, understand and, if possible, take pre-emptive actions against terrorists to mobilizing the international community against them. These themes are discussed in several recently published books.
In the highly informative and important "Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat," Youssef Aboul-Enein defines the threats posed by militant Islamists who, he writes, cloak themselves in Islam but are not representative of its mainstream religion and practices.
Cmdr. Aboul-Enein is an officer in the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps, with overseas deployments in the Middle East and other conflict regions where insurgencies by militant Islamists threaten their governments. These deployments, combined with his fluency in Arabic and Islamic history, have made him a sought-after adviser on such issues to the Defense Department and the intelligence community. Now that Cmdr. Aboul-Enein's ideas are presented in this book, a wider public can benefit from his insights.
In an innovative typology, he distinguishes between "Islam," "Islamist" and "Militant Islamist," with the latter presenting the "true threat." A "Militant Islamist" is "a group or individual advocating Islamist ideological goals, principally by violent means." The militant Islamist's "narrow interpretation opposes the beliefs of Muslims and non-Muslims alike; Militant Islamists stand against Western Democracies; Middle Eastern institutions of government, and Islamist political parties that participate nonviolently in elections." Examples of such groups include al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Islamists" seek to impose a strict Islamic political and religious system on their societies, but, unlike their militant counterparts, they operate, although not always freely, within the political and electoral frameworks of their countries. The oppositionist Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish Justice and Development Party, currently in government, are examples of Islamists. These organizations need to be countered by moderate elements in those societies, but nonviolent political means can be used to constrain their political objectives.
Using this framework, Cmdr. Aboul-Enein then proceeds to discuss how militant Islamists abuse Koranic verses. He shows how they embrace violence (jihad) against those who disagree with their extremist views rather than seeking ways to improve their situation. He explains the ideas of the ideological founders of Islamism and militant Islamism, such as the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. Also valuable is his prescription for using al Qaeda's rhetoric and actions to marginalize and counter it, including exposing Osama bin Laden as a malignant force. He concludes with a penetrating analysis of what he terms "mindsets that hamper America's capabilities."
Cmdr. Aboul-Enein's book also would benefit the intelligence community, the subject of Keith Gregory Logan's edited volume "Homeland Security and Intelligence." Written by academic experts, some of whom worked in intelligence, the book seeks to explain how America's new intelligence agencies function in the homeland security realm, and the degree of their effectiveness.
As someone who has worked in a counterterrorism operations center, I found some of the chapters to be outstanding and unique, while others provide standard overviews one can find elsewhere. My favorite chapter is Michael Collier's "Intelligence Analysis: A 9/11 Case Study," which applies a predictive intelligence methodology, including deception detection, to show how if it had been used appropriately, better actionable intelligence could have been collected on some of the Sept. 11 hijackers to potentially pre-empt their catastrophic attacks. Even if Mr. Collier's thesis could be challenged, at least he provides a coherent methodology that can be applied to uncovering today's terrorist threats. Mr. Collier is an assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University.
Because the other chapters lack a comparable methodology in discussing their agencies' approach to counterterrorism, they are less interesting than Mr. Collier's. The chapter by Nadav Morag, of the Naval Postgraduate School, on Israel's approach to intelligence in counterterrorism is detailed and informative but does not fit in a volume on American homeland security - in fact, none of the other chapters even mentions it as a relevant model.
Despite its flaws, this book is still recommended because there are so few volumes devoted to this subject.
As Victor D. Comras points out in "Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations & the War on Terrorism," "The United Nations is considered by many to be the essential organization in international affairs. Yet when it comes to terrorism, perhaps today's greatest threat to international peace and security, it has been hesitant, slow to act, and less than effective." The book's chapters on the impediments in the efforts by the United States and its allies to get the United Nations to act more forcefully against terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and its affiliates are informed by the author's unique experiences as a veteran U.S. diplomat who worked on the U.N. Security Council's al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee.
Joshua Sinai is an associate professor for research specializing in counterterrorism studies at Virginia Tech (National Capital Region) in Alexandria, Va.
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