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Book Review
An incisive study

With years of specialisation in Muslim world, Dilip Hiro provides an engrossing account of violently repressed Muslim aspirations and their reassertion in a far more explosive form

Name of the Book: War Without End
by Dilip Hiro 
Roli Books Rs 495/513 pp

In his topical, timely book, Dilip Hiro enlightens the reader on such basics as the cardinal principles of Islam as well as the histories of several Islamist ideologies and groups, and provides a multi-faceted narrative of America's overwhelming campaign against the Talilban in Afghanistan.

After providing a brief history of Islam as a religion and socio-political ideology, Dilip Hiro outlines the Islamic movements that have thrived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, and their changing relationship with America.

Contrary to popular perception about the slew of Islamic movements as the harbinger of terrorism and fundamentalism, Hiro explains that these movements initially espoused the legitimate aspirations and causes of the masses. He analyses how naked power, greed and cruel politics pushed this non-violent mass movement into a corner, and how it was victimised by the ruling elite. 

Within this fraework he traces the rise of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida network and the attack on American embassies in East Africa in 1998 as a prelude to the far more lethal attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.

Dilip Hiro's book is an account of how various strands of Islamic militancy all over the world derived religious legitimacy to gain political control and grow into a gigantic pan-Islamic movement. What is interesting is not so much how these movements organised themselves, caught the imagination of the people and grew, but what the responses of the ruling regimes were. Hiro's book reaches the chastening conclusion that historically neither state repression nor co-option has succeeded in de-legitimising Islam or jihad as a political ideology. 

This is all the more alarming because the events are the same, only the actors and the degree of Islamic vehemence is different, whether it is Kashmir or Afghanistan, Egypt or Turkey, Algeria or Pakistan. The book is arranged to provide readers with a brief history of Islam, the socio-economic conditions in which it grew and the rise of various schools of Islamic thought. Hiro's account of early Islam is particularly interesting because he points out that as Islamic movements grew, almost coterminous was the growth of revivalist schools, indicating a vigorous action-reaction cycle that few other religions in the world have seen. 

Tracing the roots of Islamic fundamentalism, Hiro opines that religion was the moving ideology behind state formation. So the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt thrived in popular consciousness when it pointed out the injustice in the extreme poverty that was the lot of ordinary working-class Muslims. The Western-educated elite had deprived ordinary Muslims, and the ruling classes represented the greatest betrayal of religion.

Egypt, reports Hiro, tried everything from repression and military action to outright extermination of Islamists. Nothing worked. When things got too hot in Egypt the Brotherhood fled to other parts of the world, including the West, where ironically, the purist Islamists’ disgust with the West deepened.

It should be no surprise that most of the protagonists of the al Qaida confederation (such as it is) are themselves either second- generation Muslim immigrants, who have received a reasonable Western education, or have spent a longish period living abroad in Western democracies, but have rejected them to return to their roots.

Hiro provides a riveting account of Osama bin Laden's place in the current jihad and the rise and orientation of the two main sources of his inspiration, Mullah Omar and Ayman Zawahiry (also the leader of al Jihad). 

At the other end of the spectrum, Hiro discusses an uneasy co-existence between Islam and Communism and its efforts to resolve the problematic in Afghanistan. Leaders like Babrak Karmal tried to fuse tenets of Islam with Communism (as they were indeed fused for a long time in Central Asia), but eventually only served to usher in the Taliban.

Hiro describes Washington's amazingly swift victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. Finally, he discusses and critises the Bush Doctrine, encapsulated in his declaration, "So long as anybody is terrorizing established government, there needs to be a war." That surely is a recipe for war without end. 

Hiro disputes President George W Bush's description of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon as "the first war of the twenty-first century" by pointing out that this conflict started during the presidency of Bill Clinton in August 1998 when the US responded militarily to the Islamist terrorists' bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. 

Hiro shows how President Clinton launched the "unseen" war against terrorism, which included repeated attempts by US Special Forces and the CIA as well as Uzbek operatives to kidnap or kill Osama bin Laden.

In addition, he reveals that President Bush's administration had prepared plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and overthrow the Taliban regime in June 2001, three months before September 11.

The text of War Without End is illuminated throughout by the author's lucid, incisive analysis enriched by his many years of specialisation in the Middle East, Islamic affairs, Central Asia and South Asia. Dilip Hiro is the author of more than twenty books, including Neighbors, Not Friends: Iraq and Iran after the Gulf Wars. A frequent commentator on the above subjects on CNN, BBC Television, Sky Television, and various American and British radio channels, he has published articles in most of the major newspapers in the US and the UK.

Hiro's meticulously sourced and researched book is essential reading for those who want to understand the world around us. The author seems to carry no ideological baggage or brief in favour of or against any of the major players--the Western nations, Muslim rulers of the Gulf region, and individuals like bin Laden.

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