Monday, March 15, 2004

Malise Ruthven - A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America

For those who haven't yet encountered it, I strongly recommend a book I just read by Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (Granta, 2002; updated edition 2004). This is an intense and opinionated book, which was clearly written quickly and shows some signs of it. But that also makes it consistently engaging and often penetrating and thought-provoking. As the historian Albert Hourani said in a jacket blurb for an earlier book by Ruthven (Islam in the World), this is also "an unusual book, full of original ideas and judgments based upon wide reading and personal observation." Overall, A Fury for God offers one of the most knowledgeable, acute, and illuminating analyses of Islamist radicalism I have seen so far.

A fairly accurate & informative promotional blurb by the publisher (Granta) is below.

--Jeff Weintraub
A Fury for God:
The Islamist Assault on America

By Malise Ruthven

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were carried out by men steeped in a certain version of Islamic ideology, which has come to be called Islamism. In A Fury for God, Malise Ruthven first reconstructs the events of September 11 and the war in Afghanistan. He then outlines the world view of Islamism with great authority. He traces the changing role of 'jihad', and examines the permissibility of suicide in Islam. He reconstructs the world view of Islamist intellectuals like Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker who has influenced an entire generation of radicals in the Arab world, notably Osama Bin Laden. Ruthven highlights their obsessive attention to sexual matters. He also shows that it would be a mistake to treat these people as medieval fanatics: their attitude to modernity is dangerous and ambivalent.

And in a challenging analysis, the author exposes the crucial importance of the Saudi connection, the massive sponsorship of 'fundamentalism' by an authoritarian tribal regime that has been tolerated by the international community for the sake of Western economic stability. Ruthven's identification of the ambiguities in Western policy are powerfully provocative.

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