WE ENTERED a new phase of history on 11 September. Terrorism acquired a new dimension. Previously it had been a local phenomenon, but the technology and communications of the 21st century made it possible for Osama bin Laden to organise a worldwide campaign. Like it or not, we now inhabit one world: what happens in Afghanistan or the West Bank today is likely to have repercussions in New York or London tomorrow. So if, like the Bush administration, we try to isolate ourselves, the world will come to us - in terrifying ways. Our old ways of thinking no longer suffice.
In Unholy War, John Esposito, an American scholar of Islam, has entered fully into the experience of Muslims themselves. This is a masterly and indispensable guide to the bewildering array of militant groups that have erupted throughout the Muslim world. It should be required reading, because we can no longer afford to be ignorant of the causes of Muslim rage. A lucid and balanced account, it covers a huge canvas with elegance and economy.
There is no attempt to excuse terror; instead, Esposito argues that both Westerners and Muslims have been profoundly challenged by the events of the past year. He gives an an admirably concise account of the role of jihad, showing that Bin Laden has completely ignored the constraints imposed by Islamic law on the waging of a just war. Civilians must not be targeted, retribution must be proportionate, and only a head of state may declare that war. Al- Qa'ida recognises no limits but its own.
Esposito traces the rise of different Islamist groups, showing that some have attempted to counter the difficulties of modernisation with peaceable welfare programmes, and only a minority have resorted to terror. …