Review of Al-Qaedaism book: Understanding the Al-Qaeda Threat by Dr. Rory Miller

his article first appeared in the 9 October edition of The Sunday Business Post and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Al-Qaedaism: The Threat to Islam, The Threat to the World, By Richard Whelan, Ashfield Press, €15.35

The great 19th-century British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay once commented that the English Civil War had been “more discussed and less understood’‘ than any event in history.

One wonders what he would have made of the debate on the al-Qaeda threat that has preoccupied the world since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

Richard Whelan, the author of this ambitious and highly informative book, has arrived at his own conclusions on the matter. He is convinced that al-Qaedaism – defined here as “a totalitarian ideological challenge embracing hyper-terrorism with a perverted interpretation of religion’‘ – constitutes a strategic threat to the world.

As such, he has produced a comprehensive account of the evolution and objectives of this ideology of terror. Indeed, the book is so wide-ranging that an alternative title could have been ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Islamist Terror But Were Too Confused To Ask’.

For the most part, this is a successful approach that makes complex issues, like the theological concepts that have been appropriated by al-Qaedaists to justify their actions, easily accessible to the non-expert reader. Moreover, the author quotes extensively from the published writings of numerous specialists in the field.

The downside to this is that it reduces the opportunity for the author to present, and sustain, his own arguments, and in many places the book reads like a collection of other people’s ideas. However, this provides the non-specialist with the opportunity to read a broad range of views that they may not otherwise come across.

The willingness to draw on other writers highlights the fact that Whelan, who has successfully combined a full-time career in the Irish financial services sector with a passion for international affairs, is not a professional academic (who don’t like to give too much credit to their peers, no matter how justified).

Whelan is correct in his account of the goals of al-Qaedaists, which include the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate (territories, including those places previously occupied but no longer ruled by Muslims, that are claimed in the name of Islam); and the end of democracy, the separation of Church and state, women’s rights and the “false doctrines” of Christianity and Judaism.

He is also correct to devote significant attention to the very real likelihood that biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons will eventually be used in the pursuit of these goals.

Not everyone will agree with the author’s analysis that this evil doctrine is primarily a response to the rise of globalisation and a result of the deep rage within the Islamic world over its economic, social and political failure compared with its “glorious past’‘. But he should be commended for challenging the standard arguments that “poverty’‘, the US marines or the dreaded Zionists are to blame for the rise of al-Qaedaism.

Whelan’s specific recommendations on how to defeat al-Qaedaism are far more conventional and, on occasion, even mutually contradictory. For example, he urges the West to root out hardcore “militant jihadists’‘.

However, this necessitates the cooperation of sympathetic Muslim regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

At the same time, he urges the West to reduce its support for unpopular, unelected Muslim regimes as a way of gaining the goodwill of the Muslim masses, which necessitates turning on sympathetic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

Yet even here the author deserves credit for at least attempting to put forward practical options for defeating the challenge of al-Qaedaism. As this heartfelt book makes clear from the start, it is a challenge that we cannot afford to shirk.

Dr Rory Miller is a senior lecturer at King’s College, University of London, where he teaches on the Middle East.

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