Laurent Murawiec’s The Mind of Jihad is, at last, a book on radical Islam that does it all. Unlike many engaged in the heated debate over the nature of our enemies, Murawiec does not believe that ancient texts tell us all we need to know. He insists that all ideas change over time, even those believed to have been dictated by God’s angel. He has therefore immersed himself not only in the sacred texts of Islam but also in the richly variegated speeches, writings, and actions of its most extremist practitioners: the jihadis waging war against us.
He candidly admits that it was not easy, that many of his initial ideas turned out to be wrong, and that his current understanding of “the mind of jihad” surprises him. This understanding holds that the current doctrine is far more than the resuscitation of medieval commandments, and in fact has a lot to do with modern European and Soviet totalitarianism.
As Murawiec tells us in fascinating detail, the jihadis have been willing to collaborate will all European totalitarian movement and regimes. And although we have heard quite a lot about their collaboration with the Fuhrer (in the person of Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem), there was a constant, intimate and extremely important alliance with the Soviet Union, which gave some of the key jihadis training in organization (and, most likely, intelligence as well).
He does go a bit far at times, though. “Most of the ugly repertoire of Modern Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism,” he writes, “came from the Soviet Union (with only the racial-biological component added by the Nazis.” That gives insufficient credit to the long tradition of Muslim anti-Semitism; they didn’t need Lenin and Stalin to teach them to hate Jews. But they did need Hitler and, more importantly, Himmler, to explain the most modern ways to hate, and then annihilate, the Jews. No surprise that the mufti quietly visited Auschwitz with his buddy Adolf Eichmann.
But perhaps the most valuable part of this invaluable book is the fascinating exposition of how Islamists, theoretically tied to a social and political doctrine that made it very difficult, if not impossible, to rebel against Islamic rulers, came to embrace a very leftist call for revolution. The key figure, according to Murawiec, is the Pakistani Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, a friend of Khomeini and of Sayyid Qutb (Osama bin Laden’s hero). Maududi, as Murawiec notes, is a throwback to the medieval European chiliasts, like Thomas Muntzer and the radical Anabaptists. And like the European millenarians, Maududi’s claims are universal: “Islam addresses its call for effecting (its) program of destruction and reconstruction, revolution and reform not to just one nation, but to all humanity.” This effectively transforms Islam from a religion into a political cause, a call to arms, “as if Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution’ had become their bedtime reading.”
As a result of these European and Soviet influences, the jihadis are inspired by a real lust for blood, and are members of a cult of death. Murawiec has a wonderful eye and a fine nose for telling anecdotes, such as that of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tell’s assassination at the Sheraton hotel in Cairo in November 1971. One of the major figures in the repression of the PLO in Jordan, al-Tell had been the object of death threats following “Black September,” and Arafat’s vengeance was swift and brutal:
Five . . . shots, fired at point-blank range. . . . He staggered back against the shattered swing doors . . . and he fell dying among the shards of glass on the marble floor. As he lay there, one of his killers bent over and lapped the blood that poured from his wounds.
Murawiec calmly draws the proper conclusion: “Something out of the ordinary was occurring, not war in the accepted sense, not political conflict or even guerrilla warfare.”
The Mind of Jihad is a work of considerable elegance and culture; it probably could only have been written by a European who has become an American, as it combines the best of French appreciation for the details of jihadist ideology — and jihadism’s connection to European precursors — with a keen pragmatic eye for the terrible consequences of these ideas and passions. It’s a hell of a book, and it deserves a lot of attention.
– Michael Ledeen is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.