- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why do some Muslims join groups such as al Qaeda? Is there any justification for radical Islamists to target Denmark? These questions are answered, although unevenly, by the three books under review.

In The Martyr’s Oath: The Apprenticeship of a Homegrown Terrorist (John Wiley & Sons Canada, $24.95, 254 pages), Stewart Bell, a Canadian journalist, chronicles the story of Mohammed Jabarah, a young Canadian Muslim who became radicalized and recruited by al Qaeda for a bombing mission in Singapore in 2001.

By investigating why an intelligent young person who grew up in a comfortable middle class family in Canada (although originally from Kuwait) would end up as an operative in a terrorist organization in East Asia, Mr. Bell searches for answers to how best to counter the proliferation of similar types of recruits in North America and Europe into radical Islamic terrorism.

This is a disturbing new trend, Mr. Bell writes, because the type of people joining Islamic terror networks is changing. It is not just Saudis or Pakistanis who are joining radical Islamic groups but a new generation of jihadists — the sons of middle-class immigrants in North America and Europe who are educated and computer literate.

Mr. Bell’s book is important for several reasons. For American readers, it highlights the prominence of Montreal and Toronto as the hubs of Canada’s Sunni terrorist network, from which Ahmed Ressam, one of its operatives, had planned to carry out an attack against LA Airport, had he not been arrested as he tried to cross the border in December 1999.

By tracing Mr. Jabarah’s recruitment into al Qaeda it explains how terrorists in Western countries are recruited through the cycle of immigration and alienation into the parallel universe of friendship, kinship, worship and discipleship offered by a jihadist movement.

This is a fascinating account of how Mr. Jabarah, following his training at one of al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan, ended up in Malaysia where his handlers had decided that he would be part of a plot to carry out simultaneous bombings in Singapore against symbolic and Western targets.

Fortunately, the Singapore plot was foiled following the capture of a Singaporean jihadist in Afghanistan which led to the rounding up of al Qaeda’s operatives, including Mr. Jabarah, in Singapore. The book concludes with a terrific analysis of the “Jihad Factory” and the measures needed to counteract it.

In Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (Yale, $25, 256 pages), Mary Habeck, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, focuses on the religious components in al Qaeda terrorism.

She argues that “To understand why September 11 happened, and what the jihadis are likely to do in the future [one must] become submerged in the mindset of the extremists. In this world, historical facts do not matter, nor do the realities of power balances (military, economic, political, and diplomatic). What is important to the jihadis is getting the fundamentals of life ‘right.’”

Once their version of Islam is implemented, “including the imperative to carry out warfare against the unbelievers … all the troubles of the Islamic world will disappear.”

While her thesis is sound at the philosophical level, it is not original and provides only a partial explanation of the religious factors driving groups such as al Qaeda. Aside from over generalizing about jihadi philosophy, Ms. Habeck’s analysis overlooks important factors and conditions that radicalize Muslims into terrorism, such as the failure of Islamic governments to solve their own internal problems and provide opportunities for political participation, the role of radical imams in turning their followers against “apostates,” the role of social and kinship bonds in creating radical cells that mobilize, at times spontaneously into terrorism, and the role of the Internet in creating a virtual pan-Islamic caliphate and a potent recruiting tool.

Such factors, which are not discussed by Ms. Habeck, are responsible for the emergence of independent cells in Western Europe and elsewhere, which represent major threats against Western governments, including the United States. Thus, it is not just jihadist ideology that needs to be understood, but factors on the ground, without which counterterrorism strategies cannot be effective. In this respect, Ms. Habeck’s thesis has been superseded by other experts’ approaches.

In the Name of God: the Afghan Connection and the U.S. War against Terrorism: The Story of the Afghan Veterans as the Masterminds Behind 9/11 (University Press of Southern Denmark, $29.90, 253 pages) by Lars Erslev Andersen and Jan Aagaard, is an especially noteworthy book because it reveals how completely unjustified is the violence currently sweeping the Islamic world against Denmark over a series of cartoons that do not reflect what are generally positive Danish views on Islam and the need to resolve Middle East problems.

Mr. Andersen, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Southern Denmark, and Mr. Aagaard, a counterterrorism case officer and analyst in the Danish Security Intelligence Service, argue that while many terror attacks have been prevented in the United States and Europe due to heightened preparedness and police cooperation, the motivation to join al Qaeda type networks is strong because “the ‘war on terror’ has consisted of military action and not of a will to solve the political problems on which terrorism subsists.”

Such sound policy recommendations are accompanied by a pragmatic definition of terrorism as “planned violence targeting civilians or forces that are not in battle,” a discussion, although too brief, of the presence in Denmark of some Islamic radicals with ties to terrorist groups, its explanation of Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction to modernity and secularization and the worldwide networked nature of groups such as al Qaeda.

The book’s importance lies in the insights it reveals about Danish attitudes towards terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and its constructive approach to resolving the problems underlying terrorism.

Joshua Sinai is program manager for terrorism studies at Logos Technologies, Arlington, Va.


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