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Esposito’s Unholy War Book Review Essay Sample

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Esposito’s Unholy War Book Review Essay Sample

Islamic expert John Esposito mainly focused on the topic of Islam and terrorism while trying to answer some questions, how to make a modern terrorist, what is the definition of Jihad, how does Islam used in the sense of terrorism, by giving historical experiences, and events as examples to enable better understanding.

John L. Esposito’s Unholy War Book includes 4 chapters; The Making of a Modern Terrorist, Jihad and the Struggle for Islam, The Armies of God, Where Do We Go from Here? The history of Islam, Western views of Islam, misunderstandings of Islam in the West, the increase of militant Islam, the alternative applications of Islam, and finally the future of Islam are the main topics that Esposito’s book covered.

In the chapter “The Making of a Modern Terrorist” Esposito mainly focused on Osama Bin Laden’s life, how he became a preeminent ideologue of Jihad International from an educated and shy person. Did his character and/or surroundings affected his terrorist attempts and September 11, 2001 tragedy, what are the reasons of this terrorist attacks? As Islamic expert, Esposito gave importance to history of the Islamic extremism because he knows that a leaders/terrorists don’t appear over night. It is a product of long history of both religious and political ideas because both past and present are joint in the Muslim world. Past is key for terrorist’s legitimization of those attacks by using the sense of Jihad, giving examples from Muhammad’s hegira, so on.

In the Chapter “ Jihad and the Struggle for Islam”, first of all, he tried to explain the definition of Jihad, tried to show how Islam and Jihad abused, gave some examples of it. In one part of this chapter, “ Historical Sources of Revolutionary Jihad” he referred to the origins of extremist groups. Esposito showed important people and organizations like Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kharijites, Ibn Taymiyyah, Sayyid Qutb and the others. By explaining those people, he also explained what those people opposed while also showing their main political aims. The other important idea that Esposito supported is that the concept of “Jihad” is not a violent or harsh idea/ application of the religious rules. What media shows about the jihad is mostly exaggerated, misguided many times. But the fact that the jihad has both offensive and defensive meanings in early Islamic writings and more importantly in the Qur’an, and those defensive parts used many times to legitimize their harsh, aggressive and harmful terrorist movements. Their main concern is the idea that Islam is under attack from West and just this attack is enough to justify harsh counterattack. Nevertheless, the most apparent use of the jihad idea is based on more peaceful understanding. With this chapter of the book, one can get the idea that different Muslims can have different understandings of Jihad.

In the Chapter of “ Armies of God” Esposito explained how to make an “armies of god”. According to Esposito, with mid- twentieth century, most of the Muslim world had achieved political independence and most rulers, no matter how Muslim he is, had chosen more Westernized and secular way of governing. But as Esposito said; “ looking across the Muslim world, you could see three models for new states; Islamic Secular, and Muslim.” Also in this chapter, Esposito bewares the idea that Islam and capitalism, Islam and human rights, Islam and capitalism and most importantly Islam and democracy are incoherent. And finally, in this chapter, of course, he touches to the issue of women’s rights in Muslim societies today.

In Chapter “ Where Do We Go from Here?” Esposito said that it is possible for Islam to have a democratic future, but it first has to experience some economic and political changes. Nevertheless, it is impossible to have a democratic future in those regions with any intervention from West and this is the idea what almost all extremists are opposed.

While reading Esposito’s Book; “Unholy War” one can see that Esposito gives many examples, many historical events, many reasons, many explanations to show every dimension of any idea about terrorism in this book. For this reason, not get lost within those concepts, definitions, explanations, and reasons; I will try to explain all of them within the analytic framework by using 3 levels of analysis, which include Individual Level, State Level, and Systematic Level.

“The Unholy War: Terror In The Name of Islam” Book Report Islamic expert Esposito starts to his book with September 11 tragedy, which got all attention of America on militant Islam. After that event not only Americans but also people all around the world started to think about the world’s second-largest religion and ask many questions to understand the reasons of this violence which carried out in the name of Islam and the name of God. Unfortunately, all of us are feeling insecure about that kind of violence because we don’t know the exact reasons of it. In his book, Esposito tried to make some explanations to those questions by giving specific examples of similar kind of events, he gave definitions to concepts like terrorism and jihad. According to Esposito, jihad has 2 major meanings; inner jihad, the greater one, and external jihad, the lesser. External jihad is the one, which against enemies, for example, holy war and the inner jihad is the one which is “the struggle of personal self-improvement against the self’s base desires” according to Wikipedia.

1 He also tries to explain the increasing Islamic identity, which seems more and more hostile to the West and to America. Esposito presents explanations of the teachings of Islam from the Quran, the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic law. He also gave examples and explanations on the jihad and legitimate warfare, the use of violence, and the terrorist tactics by al-Qaeda, other nominally Islamic militant groups. He distinguishes between Islam as an expression of faith and political Islam. Throughout his book, Esposito tries to explain conflict between Islam and the non-Muslim world, the reasons of it, why Muslims have fear on non-Muslims so on. He argues that the majority of Muslims are threaten by violence committed in the name of their faith, and as Osama bin Laden had used Islamic discourse to legitimate his own ideology. His book starts with Osama Bin Laden’s jihad declaration against America and continues with showing the evolution of Bin Laden’s character, manner, and attitude. In this book, Esposito portrays militant Islam as a political ideology, which seeks to create a new order based on Islamic perfectionism.

According to Islamic law, warfare against nonbelievers and renegades accepted as a jihad. On the other hand, Islamic law forbids killings of women, children, and religious people. At this point, there is a conflict between Islamic law and Osama Bin Laden’s jihad. According to Islamic law, the jihad, which started against America, is illegitimate. Osama Bin Laden, in his fatwa in 2000 said: “to kill Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim.”2 At that point there are questions about applications, processes and legitimacy of jihad. Didn’t Osama Bin Laden, or the followers of him know what he said and declared as jihad against Islamic law? I don’t think so, but what are the motivations of him to declare that kind of jihad, which have followers? There are some factors that affected this jihad process. Based on the article3 that I found in my research process, according to author(s), some of these factors are; the sociopolitical nature of Islam, The legacy of the Crusades and imperialism, The failures of modernity, The impact of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, The effect of Wahhabism, and the perception of Western Decedent 3. By explaining those factors, I will use that article as my main article whose name is “comparative book review of unholy war: terror in the name of Islam and the crisis of Islam: holy war and unholy terror.”

As stated article mentioned, The sociopolitical nature of Islam focuses on just order and welfare of people like other religions, but of course there are some differences while comparing with other religions. Islam is based on implementation of God’s will by making really effective limitations to people’s life. Unlike many religions and governments practice, secularism is not what they are trying to achieve. The other important feature of Islam is being supportive and loyal to leaders. According to Esposito, “Muslims were a community of believers, in a special covenant with God that transcended all other allegiances. They were to realize their obligation to strive (Jihad), to submit (Islam) to God, and to spread their faith both as individuals and as a community.”

The legacy of Crusades and imperialism; According to Wikipedia definition, “Crusades were religious conflicts in the High Middle Ages through to the end of the Late Middle Ages conducted by Catholic Europe against Muslims pagans, heretics, and peoples under the ban of excommunication” There is a common belief among Muslims that the Crusades were the believers of Christianity according to both to the article and Esposito’s book. As Esposito said, “The Crusades and European colonialism have had a universal and lasting impact on the Muslim imagination.”6 And again as Esposito mentioned both Christians and Muslims saw each other as enemy of God. Esposito also pointed, “Some Muslims…concluded that Western dominance and Muslim dependency were the result of unfaithfulness and departure from the path of Islam. This was a powerful argument that encouraged holy warriors to struggle (jihad) to bring the ummah back to the straight path.”7 Failures of modernity examined in Esposito’s book in 4 different perspectives, which are resistance and warfare, withdrawal and noncooperation, secularism and Westernization, and Islamic modernism. Resisters were the ones who follow the example of the Prophet; “emigration (hijra) out of a territory no longer under Muslim rule and jihad, fighting to defend the faith and lands of Islam.”8 Because it is so hard to immigrate with the large number of people, the best choice is the rejection to deal with new colonialists. Some saw the survival only under European’s leadership.

For example, Taha Husayn. “Taha Husayn aligned Islam with Christianity and maintained that Egypt’s modern renaissance was based on Europe”9: According to Taha Husayn: “ The essence and source of Islam are the essence and source of Christianity. So far has the European ideal become our ideal that we now measure the material progress of all individuals and groups by the amount of borrowing from Europe.”10 In order to achieve modernization people sent to Europe, and they studied language, science, politics, while reading and translating Western books. With all those activities, old-fashioned, traditional, Islamic belief started to decline and loss its popularity, which used to legitimize many actions for many years. This tendency to modernism forms a duality within Islam; “modern, westernized, elite minority and a more traditional, Islamically oriented majority.”11 This duality caused clashes within culture and “remained as a major cause of the crisis of identity and resurgence of religion in many Muslim societies.”12 And finally, as the final challenge to the West was the “Islamic modernism, tried to bridge the gap between Islamic traditionalists and secular reformers.”

In this view they are accepting the European strength in science, technology, and freedom ideas while rejecting imperialist attitudes of them. The impact of Afghan jihad against Soviets: This period is very crucial turning point for Osama Bin Laden because as Esposito stated: “ Safely entrenched in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden assumed a more visible and vocal leadership role in international terrorism, calling openly for a jihad against America and its allies.”14 With the date of 1979, radicalization of mujahid, many Muslims went to Afghanistan to join to jihad. Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan made super powers anxious because they didn’t want no other superpower against them especially America. Bin Laden’s actions were appreciated by not only Saudi Arabia but also by America. For America, this was the “right jihad.” No matter how they against terrorism or that kind of violence, they supported bin Laden, encouraged him and even gave him the CIA advisors and money just to stop the increase of Soviets. After withdrawal of Soviets from Afghanistan, everything started to change. Getting more active leadership role in international terrorism, Osama Bin Laden called for a jihad against America. The turning point of America and Osama Bin Laden’s relations was the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

He made really harsh speaks to supporters of that invasion. With this event his relations with Saudi Arabia and the West started to conflict. In all these time, starting from Afghan invasion, the success of jihad had created more globalized understanding of jihad, solidarity that brought many people from different parts of world to join to jihad. The other effective element was Wahhabism. Esposito starts by saying “ Osama bin Laden’s worldview was very much influenced by the religious heritage and political climate in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World in the 1960s and 1970s. Key influences included the environment of Saudi Arabia, a self-styled Islamic state with a rigid, puritanical, Wahhabi brand of Islam, the militant jihad ideology of Egypt’s Sayyid Qutb, whose disciples had found refuge and positions in the kingdom, and the devastating Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab- Israeli war”15 in his book Unholy War’s sub-chapter of “Jihad and the Creation of Saudi Arabia.” By this quota, we can understand that Wahhabism was very effective ideology, belief for Osama Bin Laden and his future in military jihad. Again from Esposito’s definition, “The Wahhabi religious vision or brand of Islam, named after Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, has been a staple of the Saudi government, a source of their religious and political legitimation. It is a strict, puritanical faith that emphasizes literal interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and the absolute oneness of God.

The Wahhabis denounced other tribes and Muslim communities as polytheists or idolaters. Anything the Wahhabis perceived as un-Islamic behavior constituted unbelief in their eyes, which must be countered by jihad. Thus, jihad or holy war was not simply permissible: to fight the unbelievers and reestablish a true Islamic state was required.”16 In the university education, Osama got lectures from both Dr. Abdullah Azzam and Dr. Muhammed Kutub who are very important supporters of Wahhabism. After that period and education, Wahabism and religious faith became so crucial and it gave him inspiration to go on. As Esposito said in his book, “The Saudifunded, Wahhabi-oriented madrasa system of Islamic schools and seminaries represents for many Muslims the best or only available education, thus giving the Wahhabi message a disproportionate worldwide prominence. This systematic indoctrination in bigotry and intolerance produced, not surprisingly, the Taliban-bin Laden alliance and jihadi madrasas.”17 Last one is the perception of “jahilliyah”. Rooted in Jahila, it can mean to be foolish, to act foolish, to be irrational. And as Esposito said, “This is very important term, rich in meaning, that has been appropriated and reinterpreted by fundamentalists today to describe and condemn Western society.”

For Islam countries, what they watch, listen, read, or even draw in West contains immoral, false behaviors, including racism, sexuality so on. In this sense maybe Islamic states and their people want to ignore and underestimate them by the same was doing by west to east. We can call it orientalism vs. Occidentalism, I think. And Occidentalism is very important for East’s especially Islamic states’ hate and ignorance. COMPARING MARTHA CRENSHAW’S ARTICLE WITH ESPOSITO’S BOOK After giving details about factors which played crucial role in jihad appearance by using Esposito’s book “Unholy War: In the Name of God”, I want to look at Martha Crenshaw’s article and analyze it. According to Crenshaw, “Terrorism was coined to describe the systematic inducement of fear and anxiety to control and direct a civilian population, and the phenomenon of terrorism as a challenge to the authority of the state grew from the difficulties revolutionaries experienced in trying to recreate the mass uprisings of the French Revolution.”19 According to her there are 4 settings that cause terrorism; collective violence, assassination, civil strife, crime with 2 factors, which are preconditions and precipitants.

“Modernization produces an interrelated set of factors that is a significant permissive cause of terrorism, as increased complexity on all levels of society and economy creates opportunities and vulnerabilities (…) Urbanization is part of the modern trend toward aggregation and complexity, which increases the number and accessibility of targets and methods. ” When the topic comes to the reasons of terrorism, she says, “Significant campaigns of terrorism depend on rational political choice. As purposeful activity, terrorism is the result of an organization’s decision that it is a politically useful means to oppose a government. The argument that terrorist behavior should be analyzed as “rational” is based on the assumption that terrorist organizations possess internally consistent sets of values, beliefs, and images of the environment. Terrorism is seen collectively as a logical means to advance desired ends.

The terrorist organization engages in decision-making calculations that an analyst can approximate. In short, the terrorist group’s reasons for resorting to terrorism constitute an important factor in the process of causation.”21 But in this point, there is a conflict with what Esposito wrote in his book “Unholy War” because according to him those terrorists are not rational ones. Esposito started to his book’s chapter of “Jihad and Martyrdom: The Ultimate Profession of Faith” with an example from Quran which says” If you are killed in the cause of God or you die, the forgiveness and mercy of God are better than all that you amass. And if you die or are killed, even so it is to God that you will return. (3:157-158)”22 And Esposito said, “To die for one’s faith is the highest form of witness to God according to the Quran. (…) When jihad is invoked to urge Muslims to take part in wars against nonbelievers, its main motivator is the belief that someone who is killed on battlefield, called a shahid, will go directly to Paradise.”

When we look Esposito’s thoughts, we see those terrorist are far from being rationale. Those kinds of terrorists don’t even try process of “decision-making” and make any cost and benefit calculations. Their main focus fighting against unbelievers, and kill them. While they are fighting against “unbelievers”, it is not problem for them to kill or get killed in battlefield. Because if they kill, or get killed in the way of God, or cause of God, they believe, they will go to Paradise. For this reason usual violence solutions and applications to stop that terror is not useful for those kinds of terrorists. They have nothing to loss, but if they kill or get killed in battlefield, God will crown them with martyrdom. So what Crenshaw stated and supported in her article is not useful, accessible, and acceptable nowadays. 3 LEVELS OF ANALYSIS FOR TERRORISM While reading Esposito’s book, I saw many concepts, many definitions, and many events that can be reasons of terrorism. Because Esposito didn’t collected those reasons within levels of analysis, I will briefly explain those levels and give examples to those levels from Esposito’s book.

First of all, individual level of analysis is the way of explaining the international event by only looking at personal specifications and urging to them. In individual level, psychology of terrorists play very important role. We can give Saddam’s personality and America’s slog to put out him from Kuwait as example. Or Osama Bin Laden’s character, psychology, family, and/or education effects over him to become a terrorist can be the topic of individual levels of analysis. In national/domestic or state level of analysis, one can analyze and give responses to terrorist event by looking from domestic perspective. I think, I can use Saddam example again. He was persistent not to get out from Kuwait because he was not want to loss his support base, and don’t let others see him as “submitter of America”. From Osama Bin Laden, the altering relations with government at the time of Kuwait invasion, and his attitudes towards Saudi Arabia’s government can be issue of national level of analysis.

In systematic level of analysis, international responses play crucial role. We look to the event from global perspective. We analyze major powers, and their statuses’ and decisions throughout the process of that event. I can give example to systematic level of analysis from Esposito’s book. For example, before Soviet’s collapse, west countries especially America used arming policy to mujahidin’s against Soviets. After Soviet’s exit from Afghanistan, west immediately stopped all the support and help to Afghanistan and power vacuum appeared in there. After power vacuum, Taliban entered to Afghanistan. All Afghans witnessed after that time is killings of innocent people, rebellions, and chaos. And this example can be the issue of systematic level of analysis. From my research, I learned many important points but the most important ones, according to my personal thought, are; * A terrorist doesn’t appear over night, there are many different conditions affecting that process. * Just defending one’s rights or one’s society doesn’t require using harsh power over others. * It doesn’t mean that all Muslims are terrorists, or all terrorists are Muslims. * Terrorists have not to be uneducated, or poor.

* Neither Christianity nor Islam is the enemy of God. People’s beliefs and ways of implementing those beliefs can be different from each other. And there is no legitimization of killing people by using faith. * Islamic terrorists are not the rational people. According to their belief, dying in the way of God or the name of Islam gives them martyrdom. And because they don’t have anything to loss, they are not making calculations. * 3 levels of analysis are not contradicting with each other; they are completing each other to enable us to get fully rational explanation.


1- http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Lesser_vs_Greater_Jihad
2- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 21. 3- Capt William R. Marhoffer, Uscg Course 5605 Doing National Military Strategy Seminar A Professor Col Russell E. Quirici Advisor, Capt Craig A. Rankin, Comparative Book Review Of Unholy War: Terror In The Name Of Islam And The Crisis Of Islam: Holy War And Unholy Terror (2003), 5-8. 4- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 39-40. 5- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

6- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 74. 7- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 49. 8- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 77. 9- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 77 10- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 77 11- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 78. 12- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 78. 13- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 78. 14- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 20. 15- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 5-6. 16- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2002), 6. 17- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 111. 18- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 30. 19- Martha Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Jul., 1981), pp. 380. 20- Martha Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Jul., 1981), pp. 381. 21- Martha Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Jul., 1981), pp. 385. 22- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 69. 23- John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 69.

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