A concise summary of the background and present state of Islamic militancy.
Guardian South Asian correspondent Burke (The 9/11 Wars, 2011, etc.) sets out to explain the history and theoretical underpinnings of insurgent Islam and to describe and evaluate the most prominent groups engaged in armed struggle. He succeeds admirably on both counts. The author’s more than 20 years' experience in reporting on Islamic militancy permits him to write with authority about the motivations, attitudes, and capabilities of the various militant groups. He rejects the belief that "Islamic militancy represents some kind of regressive historical riptide" and calls the "global war on terror" a "monumentally misconceived strategy which is in part to blame for the spread of radical Islamic militancy over the last decade." Burke traces today's Islamic militancy to a resurgence of Muslim faith identities in the 1970s and shows how Saudi oil money has been used to spread the intolerant Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam worldwide. He also ably sets out the evolution of militants' religious and political theories from the 1920s to the frightening current theory of "leaderless jihad." The author brings an unusual clarity to the discussion of this new movement and to his exposition of the theory and practice of Islamic militancy, including its creative uses of the Internet and social media to promote extremist ideologies. Burke clearly describes the differences between the aims and capabilities of al-Qaida and the Islamic State and of the growing number of independent actors disingenuously dismissed as "lone wolves" by security services. Western readers may take some scant comfort in the author's observation that while "the indirect impact of Islamic militancy on [Westerners'] lives is significant…the real impact of Islamic militancy will not be felt in the places where this book is likely to be read." Burke covers a lot of important ground in a compact narrative.
General readers looking for a comprehensive guide to this serious global challenge will find this a rewarding, if sobering, read.