The Mind of Jihad
by Laurent Murawiec
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 342 pp. $83.99 ($25.99, paper)
Reviewed by Stephen Schwartz
Center for Islamic Pluralism
Middle East Quarterly
Murawiec (1951-2009), who at his death was a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, was praised by his colleagues as a "big thinker." The Mind of Jihad, commissioned by the Office of Net Assessment of the U.S. Defense Department, represents an effort at a general, historical theory of present-day jihadism. Murawiec was not alone in seeing the influence of the Western radical left on contemporary jihadism. In addition, he found parallels between the current radical Islamist challenge and the millenarian extremism that erupted in Christian Europe during the late medieval and early Reformation periods.
"Sectarian eschatological movements tend to breed behaviors of a similar nature," he argued, and habits of war in Islam have "morphed in modern times into a compound of Gnostic cult, tribal outlook, Islamic jihad, and Bolshevik terror." But although Murawiec read widely, his catalogue of parallels between today's jihadists and past perpetrators of ideological violence seems tenuous in its linkages and emphases. For example, Raymond Ibrahim correctly asked in his review in The Weekly Standard, "why does Murawiec insist on examining jihad[ists] through Christian paradigms and precedents when Islam itself affords plenty of both?" Ibrahim specifically mentioned the Kharijites, an early extremist branch of Islam, which terrorized fellow Muslims; Muslim moderates, in fact, often equate al-Qaeda and similar groups with the Kharijites. But the Kharijites merit only passing notice in The Mind of Jihad.
Murawiec argued for a link between the various Gnostic groups of antiquity, with their beliefs in esoteric doctrines revealed solely to an enlightened elite, with the modern Marxist movement. This line, between nearly all the revolutionary movements in the histories of Christendom, Islam, and modern Europe, smacks more of popular conspiratorial volumes, such as The DaVinci Code, than a serious treatment of jihad.
The Mind of Jihad brings together many complex strands of history but in an excessively synthetic manner that provokes more questions than answers. It is a tribute to its author's dedication and depth of research, but his focus on social radicalism as a universal problem, rather than on Islamist ideology as a particular element of Muslim life today, makes this book more a curiosity than a reliable contribution. In his fascination with the Gnostics, Murawiec appears to have been carried away with a "secret" interpretation of recent history, much of which, even when it appears obscured, lies in plain sight.
 Jan. 26, 2009.
Related Topics: History, Radical Islam | Stephen Schwartz | Fall 2010 MEQ
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