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Review: Patrick Sookhdeo’s ‘Global Jihad: The future in the face of militant Islam’

Since September 11 2001, there has been a huge growth in the number of books that seek, in different ways, to explain and analyse the phenomenon of high-profile violent attacks by extremist Islamist groups. This trend has been mirrored in the Christian publishing industry, with many books now available in the average Christian bookshop on Islam, terrorism, and Christian-Muslim relations.

Patrick Sookhdeo straddles both worlds, as both sought after expert in the mainstream media, as well as a popular author and speaker in British (and increasingly US) Christian circles. In more recent times, Sookhdeo has also worked for the British Military of Defence, NATO, and the US military as an advisor and lecturer.

Sookhdeo is the founder and director of the Barnabas Fund, a British-based Christian charity that seeks to support the persecuted church, particularly in Muslim-majority countries. He is also the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity (ISIC) and in recent years has frequently appeared in the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Spectator, either as an author in his own right or quoted in pieces – particularly on British Muslims.

Global Jihad, with the subtitle ‘The future in the face of militant Islam’, sets out to “examine the facets of Islamic faith which motivate so many men and women of violence” and “form the driving force for Islamic terrorism”. Sookhdeo also hopes to suggest “practical responses” for non-Muslims which can help to win “the long war against Islamic violence”. Sookhdeo’s first words are uncompromising: “Radical Islam has declared war on the West” (8).1

Before going any further, it is worth emphasizing that Sookhdeo is a man who deserves a fair hearing, and Global Jihad, with its extensive notes, research, and comprehensive sweep is a significant work that offers substance where many in this area only offer froth. Sookhdeo’s experience and position of influence means that familiarity with his work is a necessity.

All that said, Global Jihad is compromised – perhaps fatally – by significant problems that are all the more serious given Sookhdeo’s position and considerable knowledge. I intend to divide these concerns into three broad categories, and the first one of these is the repeated decontextualisation of political conflicts.

It is Sookhdeo’s contention that “the primary motivation of terrorists and suicide bombers is theological” (322), and in order for this to stand up to scrutiny, political and historical contexts – anything that might suggest something other than religiously-motivated behaviour – is ignored. So for example, in the first chapter, ‘Some Causes Offered for Islamic Radicalism and Terrorism’, Sookhdeo quotes Ayatollah Khamenei accusing the USA of historically “delivering blows” to Iran, and “plotting coups d’etat” (38).

At this point it would have been appropriate to make at least a brief reference to the fact that the US, along with Britain, did indeed engineer a coup against the Iranian government in 1953 in order to protect their economic interests, but there is no mention of this formative event in Iranian-US relations. These are well known facts, and crucial for understanding the nature of the 1979 Islamic revolution:

The crushing of Iran’s first democratic government ushered in more than two decades of dictatorship under the Shah, who relied heavily on US aid and arms. The anti-American backlash that toppled the Shah in 1979 shook the whole region and helped spread Islamic militancy, with Iran’s new hardline theocracy declaring undying hostility to the US. (The Guardian, 20 August 2003)

Perhaps a far more fundamental omission is the almost total absence in the book of discussion of the Afghan jihad campaign against Soviet occupation. The book’s title quite rightly highlights the ‘global’ nature of Islamist violence, yet how it became a worldwide phenomenon is not explained. The fact that the US, with the help of Saudi and Pakistan intelligence elements, funded and trained jihadists from around the world receives only the briefest of mentions in a book of almost 700 pages.

In fact, it was the Afghan jihad that was instrumental in “right-wing Islamism, an ideological tendency with small and scattered numbers” before the fateful US decision to fund the mujahedeen in the 1980s, then moving “to occupy the global centre stage after 9/11” (Mamdani, 129). Estimates vary, but the total US aid to the Russia-fighting jihadists is said to have been US$3 billion (Galster) and crucially, it has been veterans of the Afghan jihad who went on to coordinate and lead terror attacks the world over (Mamdani, 139).

A recurrent failure of contextualisation throughout Global Jihad is the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The “Palestinian cause” is listed under the subject of ‘Some modern calls for jihad’, and Sookhdeo tells the reader that “since the beginnings of the Jewish return to the Holy Land under the auspices of the Zionist movement, Muslims have called for a jihad to stop them and restore Islamic dominance in Palestine” (116). Later on, Sookhdeo describes the conflict in Israel/Palestine as “in essence a religious one between Jews and Muslims”, concluding that “there is no possibility of peace” (117).

This is a troublingly skewed version of history, particularly for Christian Palestinians, who like their Muslim compatriots, lost their homes and land in 1948 to the new Jewish state, with many living even today under Israeli military occupation. Sookhdeo’s sources for his treatment of ‘Palestinian jihad’ are also of questionable reliability, including the fiercely pro-Israeli group ‘Palestinian Media Watch’ and the notorious MEMRI.2

It is hard to escape the impression that Sookhdeo is interested in presenting ‘Palestinian jihad’ as yet another example of a violent Muslim campaign for dominance, and therefore removing Palestinian violence from the context of Israeli colonisation and breaches of international law. Sookhdeo notes that Israel “is seen as a ‘dagger in the heart of the Arab world’” (335), but without mentioning any specifics – the Palestinian refugees, the post-1967 occupation and settlements – that helped create this animosity.

Throughout Global Jihad, the reader is given the impression that suicide bombers and ‘Muslim terrorists’ are motivated by religion pure and simple. As part of his evidence, Sookhdeo cites a “Pentagon study” that concluded Muslim suicide bombers are motivated mainly by the Qur’an’s commands (322). This ‘study’ was done by the now defunct Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) agency, whose secretive operations were halted after it was revealed the group kept a database including “information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls” (New York Times, 2 April 2008).

In Global Jihad, the connection between politics and terrorism is not simply marginalised; the two are practically decoupled. According to Sookhdeo, even if one was to ‘eliminate’ every ‘Islamic terrorist’, “sooner or later terrorism would re-emerge, as individual Muslims examined the roots of Islam, gave them a particular interpretation, and made their own decisions to return to the violence of the early days of their faith” (401). In this scheme of things, a decision by an individual Muslim to commit him or herself to acts of violence has absolutely nothing to do with politics.

Sookhdeo stresses that the “immediate goal” of “Islamic terrorists” is “to rule the Muslim world according to the strictest forms of Islam” (406) and that “their ultimate global agenda” is “to change all the remaining Dar al-Harb to Dar al-Islam” (406).3 This is plainly false, if only because such a gross generalisation lumps together a whole variety of actors fighting for a range of localised reasons and priorities.

Sookhdeo’s analysis denies, masks, or dismisses the stated, political motivations of violent Islamist groups. In just a few pages as part of a chapter on the motivations of terrorists and suicide bombers, ‘specific grievances’ in so far as they exist at all are reduced to the realm of the psychological: “dependency, failure, powerlessness, humiliation and jealousy all lead to a search for scapegoats for the ills of Muslim society and thus to conspiracy theories” (335).

In fact, Sookhdeo goes so far as to say that when the American government leaves out the word ‘Islamic’ from a description of the terrorists, it means “that the enemy’s motives remain a complete mystery” (423). But this is clearly incorrect. Michael Scheur, an ex-CIA employee who in the mid-1990s was chief of the unit focussed specifically on Osama bin Laden, has written eloquently about the real problem with the ‘war on terror’:

Our leaders say he [bin Laden] and his followers hate us because of who we are, because we have early primaries in Iowa every four years and allow women in the workplace. That’s nonsense. I don’t think he would have those things in his country. But that’s not why he opposes us. I read bin Laden’s writings and I take him at his word. He and his followers hate us because of specific aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden lays them out for anyone to read. (Newsweek, 13 February 2008)

Indeed he has. In the ‘Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places’ which bin Laden co-wrote in 1996, the statement declares that “the people of Islam have suffered from aggression, iniquity, and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusader alliance and their collaborators – to the extent that the Muslims’ blood became the cheapest and their wealth became loot in the hands of the enemies”. In other words, Muslims have been killed and their natural resources exploited.

The ‘Declaration’ goes on, as the al-Qaeda leadership announce their intention to “study the means” by which they could “return to the people their own rights”, before reaching the conclusion that “terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms on our land, is a legitimate and morally demanded duty”. From this defining al-Qaeda document, the ‘Islamic terrorists’ seem far more interested in self-defence than global conquest.

Two years later, in a further declaration, bin Laden lays out the specific issues driving al-Qaeda’s campaign against the US and its allies, turning first to how “for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places…turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples”. Bin Laden goes on to cite the “continuing aggression against the Iraqi people” and Israel’s “occupation of Jerusalem”. It is “on that basis” (my emphasis) that the al-Qaeda leadership issued their ‘fatwa’ (What Does Al-Qaeda Want?).

Chicago-based political scientist Robert Pape published his own analysis of suicide bombing in the book Dying to Win. Pape, having analysed all the incidents of suicide terrorist attacks since 1980, concluded that “what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland” (Pape, 4). Furthermore, “religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting” (Pape, 4).

II

This problem of decontextualisation is buttressed by the second problem with Global Jihad, namely a tendency towards generalisation and broad, culturally-determinist statements that counterpoise the West/Westerners against Islam/Muslims. Precisely defining the categories ‘West’ and the ‘Islamic world’ is extremely difficult (and some would say impossible), but for Sookhdeo, they would seem to be mutually incompatible opposites:

Most Western societies have long accepted the secular paradigm that relegates religion to the margins of society…Muslims, by contrast, are in the process of regaining their lost confidence after several centuries of colonialism, and have embarked on a strategy aimed at reintegrating faith and politics in accord with the classical tenets of Islam. (14)

When one stops to consider the approximately 1 billion Muslims around the world, with all their national, social, ethnic, political, theological, economic, and individual diversity, such sweeping remarks seem far-fetched or even ludicrous. This is not the only example where Sookhdeo emphasises a ‘West’/‘Islam’ divide, at one point grouping together “Westerners and other non-Muslims” (367), as if a Muslim could never also be a ‘Westerner’. The complex reality of overlapping and intersecting categories, however, is too uncomfortable for fundamentalists of all shades in the self-fulfilling ‘clash of civilisations’.

There are other unjustified and unsustainable broad brushstrokes, such as the assertion early on in Global Jihad that “the war on Islamic terrorism is just one aspect of a ‘long war’ which has lasted 1400 years already” (12). Substantial disregard for centuries of local, regional and international historical, political and religious interplay is required in order to draw an unbroken line from seventh century Arabia to say Madrid in 2004, as all part of the same ‘long war’.

III

The core of Sookhdeo’s analysis in Global Jihad is that violence and domination is intrinsic to ‘classical Islam’, and that the terrorists are above all theologically, rather than politically, motivated. Yet in order to make this case, Sookhdeo ends up distorting or simplifying Islamic theology, in what is the third flaw of the book.

A good example of this is Sookhdeo’s treatment of taqiyya, a doctrine presented by the author as permitting Muslims to lie and deceive as a war tactic. According to Sookhdeo, this “permitted deception” (196) explains contradictory statements by Muslims (203). Moreover,

The taqiyya practice of deceiving enemies appears to be behind the activities of many contemporary Islamists who expend much energy to convince non-Muslims that Islam is and has always been peaceful and tolerant. (201)

Yet to present taqiyya in this way requires the omission and distortion of basic facts. Taqiyya is a historically Shi’a doctrine, which emerged in the context of Sunni-led persecution, and permits the concealment of religious beliefs for self-preservation. This is the well-established context for taqiyya, and Sookhdeo is therefore stretched to make the case not only that it is also a Sunni doctrine, but that in fact, it is an all-purpose strategy for the deception of non-Muslims.

Sookhdeo begins by asserting that “in classical Islam Muslims are permitted to lie in certain situations, one of which is war”. The only reference given here is to an inaccurate, ‘End Times’-style book authored by fundamentalist Christian Randall Price called ‘Unholy War: America, Israel and Radical Islam’. Price identifies Saddam Hussein as a “radical Muslim”, the Lebanese Shi’a group Hezbollah as a ‘Palestinian terrorist group’, and defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “war between a Western culture (Israel) and a terrorist organization (the PLO/Palestinian Authority)”.

Sookhdeo’s source then, for this foundational statement at the beginning of the chapter, is a man who can baldly state that “Muslims commit acts of terror in obedience to the word of Muhammad”, whose other titles include ‘Why I Still Believe These Are the Last Days’, ‘Jerusalem in Prophecy: God’s Stage for the Final Drama’, and whose TV appearances have included co-hosting with Hal Lindsey and personally hosting a special called “The End Times: How Close Are We?”

Sookhdeo then goes on to describe how taqiyya developed in a Shi’a context of persecution, but in order to then sustain the idea that this practice is “not limited to the Shi‘a”, Sookhdeo claims that many of the supporting texts “are from sources accepted by Sunnis, including the Qur’an”. The problem, however, is that to back up this assertion, Sookhdeo quotes from – a Shi‘a source. But obviously Shi‘ites would use the Qur’an to justify their doctrine, just as the Sunni would to critique the same practices.

Sookhdeo has by now cited an American Christian ‘End Times’ commentator, and a Shi‘a source, to build his case that taqiyya is a widely adopted strategy by all Muslims. He then cites what would appear to be a respectable and convincing source, a late Oxford University professor, in order to conclude that “taqiyya has ‘in practice become the norm of public behavior among all Muslims – both Sunni and Shi‘a – whenever there is a conflict between faith and expediency’” (196).

But this, it turns out, is a significant misquotation. Hamid Enayat, writing in the original text in the context of a section on Shi‘a theology and popular Shi‘a usage, describes how “in practice it [taqiyya] has become the norm of public behavior whenever there is a conflict between faith and expediency” (177, Enayat). In the original book, there is simply no mention of taqiyya being accepted “among all Muslims – both Sunni and Shi‘a”. It is unclear how this insertion ended up in the quotation written by Sookhdeo.

Given all that, it is both alarming and instructive just how much of his case Sookhdeo bases on his version of taqiyya. Not only is it given an entire chapter in Global Jihad, but Sookhdeo also uses the charge of religiously-permitted deception to criticize those who choose dialogue with Islamists (408) and even to charge those leaders who have responded positively to a high-profile Christian-Muslim dialogue as naïve and gullible (VirtueOnline.org). Throughout Global Jihad, Sookhdeo reinforces his point: taqiyya “must not be forgotten” (367) and it is “important” (196) – even “essential” (426) – for non-Muslims to “always” bear the practice in mind (426).

Sookhdeo’s manipulation of taqiyya is part of a discourse that attributes what would be considered normal, unremarkable behaviour amongst non-Muslims to a sinister, religious agenda when it comes to Muslims. That public and political figures contradict themselves may be regrettable, but is common place. In the case of Muslim leaders, however, it is apparently an indication of ‘taqiyya’. Sookhdeo asks “how many apparently moderate Muslim leaders are doing the same thing” [practicing taqiyya] (209), leaving it open as to how many, if any, ‘moderate Muslim leaders’ we can actually believe.

There are other simplifications of Islamic theology, one of which is the exegetical practice of abrogation (naskh), developed by Muslim scholars to deal with seeming contradictions in the holy texts. The rule, in so far as it can be summarised succinctly, states that whenever there is a direct contradiction between commandments in two verses, it is the chronologically later one that takes precedence.

Sookhdeo writes that according to naskh, “it is the harsher and more violent Medinan passages that apply today because they are later, while the earlier conciliatory passages dating from Muhammad’s days in Mecca are not applicable” (63). The reality is far more complex; Islamic scholars disagree on which verses abrogate which, exactly how many verses are abrogated or merely ‘restricted’, and the issue has generated volumes of legal debate. But you wouldn’t know that from reading this book.

It is worth noting who has praised Global Jihad. The British edition of the book features endorsements from three senior figures, either retired or still active, from the military establishment. On the website of Isaac Publishing, however, based in the US, there are three different endorsements.4

One is from David Frum, of the leading neo-conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whose co-fellows include John Bolton, Irving Kristol, and Lynne Cheney.5 Frum served as speechwriter for George W. Bush, and co-wrote An End to Evil with neo-con Richard Perle. Another endorsement comes from Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the right-wing Center for Security Policy (CSP) and a signatory to the 1997 declaration by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).6

There is a third recommendation from Lawrence Hass, of the Committee on the Present Danger, a group reactivated in 2004 whose membership is dominated by hard line conservatives and pro-Israel right-wingers.7 Sookhdeo himself singles out three individuals in the acknowledgements: Ivar Hellberg of Cranfield University, David Zeidan of the ISIC, and Reuven Paz, a terrorism expert who for over 20 years worked for the Israeli secret service (Shin Bet).

Conclusions

I have attempted to identify three areas of concern with Global Jihad, namely, political decontextualisation, unsustainable generalisations, and a simplification or misrepresentation of Islamic theology. The combined effect of these flaws is to present the reader of Global Jihad, Christian or otherwise, with an extremely skewed analysis of radical Islamism and the ‘war on terror’.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Global Jihad is the dangerous conclusions that the reader is either directly or indirectly led towards. Sookhdeo plainly states that “the ultimate goal of Islam” is “a worldwide Islamic government based on shari’a (17). Apart from putting him in the same theological school of interpretation as the exclusionary Islamist extremists he opposes, such a crass generalisation risks (albeit unintentionally) increasing the level of hostility felt towards Muslims at home and abroad by his readership.

Towards the end of the book, Sookhdeo warns that “physical warfare is not the only method now being used to turn Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam”. Other “methods” apparently include “the (often deliberately) higher birth rate of Muslim communities in the West compared with their host communities” (my emphasis). Sookhdeo seems to be saying that the fact that Muslim families in countries like Britain on average have more children than their non-Muslim neighbours is part of a “demographic jihad” being waged by these families, and yet one more ‘method’ for arriving at global Islamic dominance (430).

But that’s not all. This ‘demographic jihad’ “opens up the possibility” of “major English cities becoming Islamic”, and then, a “Kosovo-style conflict developing in the UK”. This is sensationalist, wild, speculation, arguing as it does that a higher birth rate among Britain’s Muslim minority (3.3% of the population) could be a slippery slope towards a brutal civil war and secessionist conflict – without a shred of evidence.8

Perhaps Sookhdeo is aware of what his analysis can read like, for he quickly adds that “the enemy is not Muslims but the classical interpretation of Islam” (431). A brief qualifier, however, does not take away from the cumulative effect of all the decontextualised generalisations and distortions.

Although the book promises “practical responses” to the problem of ‘global jihad’, Sookhdeo’s suggestions are unimpressive, even by his own standards of the definition of ‘the enemy’. The best long term hope, apparently, is Islamic reform, which “has the potential to permanently eliminate the threat of Islamic terrorism” (419). But since, as Sookhdeo himself acknowledges, to demand pacifism would be a standard most Christians themselves do not keep, how does one differentiate between ‘terrorism’ and legitimate violence or self-defence?

That is one of a number of vital questions that go unanswered, or worse, receive misleading and unhelpful replies. What is frustrating is that a balanced response to Islamist violence is perfectly possible. One does not need to dismiss or justify exclusionary, reactionary religious bigotry and terrorist tactics, to be able to avoid treating the phenomenon in isolation or resorting to generalisations and distortions.

Even more regrettably, given Sookhdeo’s established reputation and output over the last few years, reading Global Jihad can feel less like a missed opportunity and more like the unsurprising outcome of an approach to Muslims and the ‘war on terror’ guided by a narrow, politically-compromised outlook that favours speculation over facts, and conspiratorial simplification over nuance. Ultimately, Global Jihad fails its own test, failing to enlighten the reader on both the reasons behind Islamist violence, and what appropriate responses at home and abroad could look like.

Notes

1 For the rest of the article only a page number will be given for quotations from Global Jihad.

2 For problems with MEMRI see: Brian Whitaker, ‘Selective Memri’, The Guardian, 12 August 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/12/worlddispatch.brianwhitaker ; Brian Whitaker, ‘Arabic under fire’, The Guardian’s Comment is free, 15 May 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/may/15/arabicunderfire ; Mohammed El Oifi, ‘Gained in translation’, Le Monde diplomatique, October 2005, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27c/644.html

3 Dar al-Harb (‘Abode of War’) and Dar al-Islam (‘Abode of Islam’) are terms that were developed by Islamic jurists in the centuries after the advent of Islam to deal with their contemporary realities of international relations. While many, including Sookhdeo, almost always only refer to these two categories, there are in fact many more e.g. Dar al-Sulh (‘Abode of Treaty’). There is much debate today among Muslim scholars about the meaning of these categories, e.g. Dar al-Islam simply being a place where a Muslim has freedom of worship.

4 http://www.isaac-publishing.us

5 http://www.aei.org/scholars/filter.all/scholar_byname.asp

6 http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm

7 http://www.committeeonthepresentdanger.org/OurMembers/tabid/364/Default.aspx

8 ‘Officials think UK’s Muslim population has risen to 2m’, The Guardian, 8 April 2008,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/08/population.islam

 

 

Bibliography

 

Galster, Steve, ‘Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973-2000’, The National Security Archive, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB57/essay.html

Mamdani, Mahmood, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, New York: Random House, 2004

New York Times, 2 April 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/02/washington/02intel.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/R/Rumsfeld,%20Donald%20H

Newsweek, 13 February 2008, http://www.newsweek.com/id/110937

Pape, Robert, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, New York: Random House, 2005

Sookhdeo, Patrick, Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam, VA, USA: Isaac Publishing, 2007

The Guardian, 20 August 2003, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2003/aug/20/foreignpolicy.iran

VirtueOnline.org, ‘From Islamic Mission to Jihad’, an interview with Patrick Sookhdeo, 7 December 2007, http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=7211

What Does Al-Qaeda Want? Unedited Communiqués, Robert O. Marlin IV. (ed) California: North Atlantic Books, 2004

Published in Fulcrum.

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