Middle East Quarterly
Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror. By Jonathan Schanzer. New York: Specialist Press, 2004. 222 pp. $17.95, paper.
Al-Qaeda's Armies, in which this reviewer is thanked in the acknowledgments, surveys the most notorious affiliates of Al-Qaeda in the Middle East by which Schanzer means "homegrown, organic Islamist terror groups with nationalist objectives" that have been trained by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Additionally, affiliates "communicate with Al-Qaeda's command structure â€¦ share Al-Qaeda's ascetic and militant approach to the implementation of Islamic law, and their shared goal of world Islamic dominance."
Following September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda metastasized from a hierarchal and centralized organization into a decentralized movement; Schanzer explains how it adjusted to this new reality by relying to a large degree on the infrastructure of surviving affiliate groups. These affiliates, Schanzer argues, represent the next generation of the global terrorist threat or stated differently, Al-Qaeda 2.0. Schanzer predicts that "affiliates will increasingly constitute Al-Qaeda's outer perimeter and the pools from which new terrorists can be drawn."
He provides exceptional perspective on affiliates in Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Algeria, and northern Iraq. Additionally, the book includes information on their evolution, their activities, and offers a convincing strategy for the United States and its allies to deal with this menace. Often overlooked because of their small size and because they operate in areas outside the reach of state authority, the affiliates' activities should sound alarm bells in Western capitals. To defeat Al-Qaeda requires a two-pronged approach: hunting the central leadership and the affiliates.
Undertaking a strategy of combating affiliates would certainly yield much needed victories against Al-Qaeda. With troops in two theatres of warâ€”Afghanistan and Iraqâ€”the United States ought to consider small-scale operations against affiliates, which "may prove a less complicated, less time consuming, and less expensive mode of fighting terrorism," Schanzer argues. By their nature, these operations would require the support of Muslim governments. Convincing theseâ€”an unlikely prospect under the best of circumstancesâ€”would demonstrate to Al-Qaeda and other jihadis that the West and the Muslim world alike consider them pariahs. Schanzer also posits that this would begin the real battle: the battle between moderate Islam and radicals.
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of the Islamic World. By Katharine Scarfe Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 276 pp. $65.
Beckett studies the nearly five centuries from the rise of an Islamic policy (A.D. 622) to the first Crusade (A.D. 1096), looking in detail at the wisps and traces of English knowledge of, contact with, and attitudes toward Muslims. The results are highly interesting.
Who knew that Bishop Georgius of Ostia, a papal legate to England, reported in 786 to the pope on two synods he had attended and included this decree: "That no ecclesiastic shall dare to consume foodstuffs in secret, unless on account of very great illness, since it is hypocrisy and a Saracen practice"? Or that Offa, the king of Mercia (a region of the Midlands, north of London) during the years 757-96 had a gold piece struck in his name, now available for view at the British Museum, which bore, as Beckett puts it, "a somewhat bungled Arabic inscription on obverse and reverse in imitation of an Islamic dinar"?
In fleshing out Dark Ages' reactions to the new faith, Beckett very usefully establishes the primitive base from which the English-speaking peoples even today ultimately draw their views. She tells about the unique English traveler's account to the Middle East dating from this era (that of Arculf); tallies the dinars found in such places as Eastborne, St. Leonards-on-Sea, London, Oxford, Croydon, and Bridgnorth; and totes up the Middle Eastern imports, such as pepper, incense, and bronze bowls. She finds that a "continuing network of trade and diplomatic links" connected western Christendom to the Muslim countries.
As for attitudes, they were not just uninformed but static. Beckett notes that initial responses to Islam were shaped by pre-Islamic writings, especially those of St. Jerome (c. A.D. 340-420), on Arabs, Saracens, Ismaelites, and other easterners. This prolonged influence resulted from a pronounced lack of curiosity on the part of Anglo-Saxons and most other Europeans.
To end on a jarringly contemporary note: dismayingly, the influence of Edward Said has reached the point that his theories about Western views of Muslims now reach even to the early medieval period; Beckett devotes page after page to dealing with his theories. Happily, she has the confidence and integrity (in her words) "to some extent" to dispute those theories.
Building a Successful Palestinian State. By The Rand Palestinian State Study Team. 407 pp. $35, paper. The Arc: A Formal Structure for a Palestinian State. By Doug Suisman, Steven N. Simon, and Glenn E. Robinson. 93 pp. plus DVD. $32.50, paper. Helping a Palestinian State Succeed: Key Findings. By RAND. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 2005. 33 pp. in English, 34 pp. in Arabic. $12.00, paper.
Planners and development experts suffer from a deserved reputation for technocratic top-downism that ignores the wishes of people and sociocultural context; they are also known for utopian visions disconnected from practical reality. Seldom has that stereotype been more fully fulfilled than in the three complementary RAND studies about a Palestinian state.
Most striking is how the study treats Palestinians as subjects to be studied rather than as actors to participate in the creation of their own state. Blissfully divorced from any discussion about Palestinian social history or the kinds of communities its people have created, the authors happily catalogue advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to developing Palestinian cities. The education chapter, to be fair, does provide a decent account of the existing system, how it evolved, and what Palestinians want, but it is the exception that proves the rule.
The analysis also has a head-in-the-clouds character. Chapter after chapter run through the authors' thoughts to create their model society for Palestinians without betraying the slightest hint of awareness that fifty years' experience with international aid has shown the disastrous effect of such an approach. The report makes only a slight passing references to the extraordinary amounts of aid pumped into the Palestinian territories after the 1993 Oslo accordsâ€”aid that led to corruption and social distortions which undermined the Palestinian Authority's ability to function effectively. The RAND authors would exacerbate the central problem of Palestinian societyâ€”a refusal to take responsibility for itself but instead blaming outsiders for all problems and expecting foreigners to rescue them. Also, a-Cadillac-rather-than-Chevy-approach pervades the study. The authors' point of reference seems to be the infrastructure and facilities characteristic of Europe and North America, not those of low-income, developing countries.
Finally, the three volumes share the central organizing image of an "arc" formed by a high-speed railroad linking the major population areas of Gaza and the West Bank. There is the minor problem, as the authors note in passing, that roads rather than rail would be used for most freight shipments, for emergency services, and for those who can afford cars (including tourists, dignitaries, and the growing middle class the study envisages). A good road would connect the Palestinian urban areas at a much more modest cost than the billions the authors propose to pour into a railroad, which could quickly turn into a money-losing inefficient public enterprise of the kind which plagues many developing countries.
Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Conflict. By Samir Khalaf. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. 368 pp. $18.50, paper.