This scholarly study looks at how some Islamist intellectuals – Syed Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Shariati and others – have attempted to politicize the religion in response to assaults on the Muslim world by an imperial West. The author follows the emergence of suicide bombing as a tactic on a large scale in Iran during the struggle against the Shah and the (Western-fuelled) Iran-Iraq war that followed. It was then picked up by Hezbollah in Lebanon and later still by the Palestinian struggle.
Finally Khosrokhavar looks at the emergence of al-Qaeda sympathizers in the Muslim diaspora. Perhaps it’s because he’s a sociologist and an anthropologist that he emphasizes his view that modern martyrdom is part of the individual’s struggle for self-realization; and that Western al-Qaeda sympathizers are struggling socially to come to terms with living in a liberal society whose ethical compass is constantly shifting.
Nevertheless he cannot escape the conclusion that: ‘So long as the major problems remain unresolved, there will always be candidates for holy death.’ These obstacles to peace include ‘conflicts in the Middle East, Kashmir and Chechnya [and] the presence of nepotistic or even corrupt ruling classes in their midst’. Faced with impossible odds, what remains is the extreme option of stamping the voice of the oppressed loudly onto history through self-annihilation.
Since ‘energy security’ underlines our imperial interference, the sooner we wean ourselves off dependence on fossil fuels the easier it will be to build positive relations with the Middle East and avoid catastrophic levels of climate change.