Middle East Security Policy: Catching Up through Reading

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MR Bookshelf

Various U.S. Army and Navy groups often ask me which books they should read about Islamic militancy, Persian Gulf stability, and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The following reading list includes short descriptions of recently published books that address the issues.

Islamic Militancy

We must address and understand Islamic militancy within the context of the history of the Persian Gulf region. To merely be aware of key figures and events of Islamic militancy is not sufficient. We need to comprehend how Islamic militancy evolved and what caused key actors to develop as they did within the moderate regimes of the Middle East. Also of concern are Islamic militancy networks and their access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Peter Bergen's Holy War Inc. (New York: The Free Press, 2001) discusses Islamic militant networks and provides insight into Osama binLaden and the development of the Al-Qaeda organization. Readers will gain knowledge of how the globalization of Islamic militancy began in the trenches of Afghanistan during the fight against the Russians. After the war, Islamic soldiers returned to their respective Islamic organizations infused with a new sense of armed struggle. The Al-Qaeda formed a loose network with Egyptian, Yemeni, Sudanese, and other Islamic radical groups who wished to topple their respective regimes to usher in Islamic states. Bergen, formerly with ABC News, describes Al-Qaeda as a corporate structure with political, military, financial, training, and logistics departments. His book offers a baseline understanding of this notorious group.

Augmenting Bergen's book is Walter Laquer's The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Laquer holds The Henry Kissinger Chair for National Security Policy and is a prolific writer on national security affairs. In The New Terrorism, he breaks the evolution of terrorism into what he calls "waves." The 19th century was an era of nationalist-separatist terrorism. The 1960s and 1970s had a leftist, communist-inspired tendency. The latter 20th century saw the arrival of religion- and rightist-inspired terrorism.

Laquer compiles a profile of a suicide bomber who is studying the socalled martyrs of the HAMAS (the Islamic Resistance Movement) and Hezbollah (Islamic fundamentalists) organizations and describes the fanaticism and paranoia that grip these organizations. He dedicates a chapter to WMD and the likely organizations that would employ them. Not all terrorists groups see WMD use as a viable political alternative, and only a handful sees such mass-- murderous tactics as viable means to achieve their objectives.

For centuries Egypt has been the birthplace for positive and negative Islamic ideas. It is home to Sheikh Hassan al-Banna, founder of the earliest Islamic radical movement-the Al-Ikhwaan Al-Muslimeen. Sayed Qutb wrote the first pamphlet, Guideposts (no publisher information available), that advocated the removal of a Muslim leader allied with the West or with the communists.

Mary Anne Weaver's book, Portrait of Egypt: A Journey Through the World of Militant Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Girroux, 1999) reveals how current government and economic conditions are breeding grounds for Islamic militancy. Weaver provides insightful anecdotes that illustrate why these violent radicals hate the United States.

Mark Huband's book, Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), presents a powerful caution to policymakers not to fall into the trap of the clash of civilizations theory Samuel P. Huntington postulates in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone Books, 1998). That there are so many countries within the Islamic world that differ in culture, history, and political identity, coupled with the debate among Muslims over secularism, monarchists, theocracies, and democracies, precludes an "Islam Against the West Theory. …