Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Prudent management

The folks at 3 quarks daily have been on a roll lately, picking out all sorts of interesting things. I do want to comment about the essay by Robert Laughlin. But for the moment I am lazy, and will just grab a quote from a book review they link to on a completely different topic. The review is by Peter Beinart, and the book is Gilles Kepel's The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West. Kepel argues that Islamism is not an ascendant ideology, but rather one that has turned to violence only because it is losing support overall. At least, for the most part; here's an excerpt from the review:
The book's argument is faint, and submerges during chapter-length digressions. But at its core The War for Muslim Minds tries to explain why al-Qaeda, contrary to the predictions in Jihad, is not fading. Although Kepel concedes that the organization has inherent strengths, he still assumes that if left to its own devices, it would fail to draw a mass following. The problem, he suggests, is that it is not being left to its own devices. Rather, the Bush administration's war on terror -- expressed in disastrous policies toward both the Palestinians and Iraq -- is gaining for al-Qaeda an appeal it could never win on its own. In contrast to President Bush, who has responded to 9/11 with an audacious effort to redirect the course of Muslim history, Kepel implicitly calls for something far more modest: prudent management of a threat that -- if we let it -- can be beaten from within. The war for Muslim minds, Kepel suggests, will be won in Riyadh, Cairo, and the suburbs of Paris. In Washington it can't be won -- only lost.
I tend to agree with Beinart's review, both in his agreement with the basic thesis about al-Qaeda, and also in where he disagrees with Kepel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kepel seems to want to blame American neo-cons for even more terrible things than they are actually responsible for; hard to manage, but not metaphysically impossible.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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