Review:Burke, Jason. The New Threat: The past, present, and future of Islamic militancy.

Burke, Jason. The New Threat: The past, present, and future of Islamic militancy. The New Press, NY: 2015.

The world’s Muslim population is approximately one-and-a-half billion people, the majority in the Middle East and South Asia, but many millions in Africa and Asian nations as well. This is about a quarter of the world’s population, distributed in dozens of nations, large and small.

Militant Islam is militarily active in the Middle East and Africa; the rest of the Islamic world is not involved and is largely disinterested, though somewhat sympathetic to some of the issues most at issue in the ME. However, social media permit militant terrorist groups to contact and subvert the discontent among almost any Muslim population, and groups like al Queda and ISIL do that. In almost matter-of-fact, though impressively researched chapters the “threat” is explained, its origins described, and how it works provided.

Most people do not realize the complexity of international terrorism, or the world-wide distribution of the world’s Muslim population. Burke describes how Islamic people are largely peaceful and are unlikely, in most pl,aces, to foster terrorism. But the sheer numbers of Muslims, and the many Muslim communities world-wide make the potential treat a reality. What, actually, IS the threat?
Although he does not spell this out fully, he apparently recognizes that the nature of Islam, the difficulties of assimilation because of the cultural aspects of beliefs, which differ markedly from most places where they are minorities, isolation is not unusual, and conflicts resulting from lack of acceptance more likely. This has been true in Europe and the US, but also in other nations as well. In a few nations, the Muslim communities are considered hotbeds of discontent, and have been for generations.

The Russian experience with the Chechen population since even before WWII is a warning that direct action to control a religious and ethnic population that resists is a recipe for continuing conflict, as President Putin of Russia has found. But even where there is no immediate response to repression, individual free-lancers “called lone wolves, stray dogs, self-starters, leaderless, networks, cells, and even ‘groupuscules’ have committed acts of terror.” (p.15)
What does this mean for America, today? First of all, the 9/11 event cannot be forgotten, despite the killing of bin Laden and the killing of many in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere that more than has vastly more than evened the numbers of dead. But not taking seriously the threat, and treating lightly the possibility of future attacks, like one of the current GOP candidates for president of the US has done, and continues to do, is a serious mistake.

Most Islamic communities do not support, and will not tolerate, active and vocal jihad by their members. But ANY group who “differs” from the indigenous population in a community or nation that is made to feel “unwelcome” or the source of crime will become uncooperative and difficult to deal with. The experience of Russia with the Chechens may well have evolved from situations such as those in France, Belgium, and other nations, including the US (though these have not escalated).

Acts of terror, in themselves, are committed by persons who have little or no military, economic or social power. The act itself does little to harm the larger society, but its purpose is not to do that. Rather the event is planned to strike fear in thousands or millions of people who hear of it or see it in the media or social media (which is the “secondary effect” of an otherwise weak weapon whose effects are temporary).

All of this is explained and the implications of the threat made clear in the concluding chapters. Burke says, “Far from being ‘medieval’ throwback, it is modern, dynamic, and resilient.” He also described how Islamic militants are expanding and evolving. “From Syria to Somalia, from Libya to Indonesia, from Yemen to the capitals of Europe, Islamic militancy appears stronger, more widespread, and more threatening than ever…..Factions and subsidiaries proliferate world-wide, and a new generation of Western jihadists are emerging….(dustcover).
Anyone who wants to better understand the sources of current Islamic discontent and of the jihad that groups and individual Muslims call on to justify terrorist attacks should read this book. The first chapters are extremely informative, and the conclusions are, if not reassuring, at least provide a sense that unless there is a world-wide effort (crusade) to ‘crush’ Islam” there is reason to believe things can improve.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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