Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dispassionate Take On Radical Islam

GULF NEWS: An analysis of fundamentalism in the Arab world, its origins and the way the West sees it

Reviewed by Omar Shariff

Jihad’s New Heartlands
Jihad’s New Heartlands: How the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic Fundamentalism By Gabriel G. Tabarani, AuthorHouse, 476 pages, £19.99

The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which toppled the Shah's dictatorship, was followed by another seminal event that same year — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up the country's communist government.

The Mujahideen's nine-year guerrilla war which followed — backed ardently by the United States, of course — led to the humiliating withdrawal and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. But it also bred the first generation of Islamist radicals, many of whom returned to their respective countries as hardened combatants. One such individual was Osama Bin Laden.
In his meticulously researched book Jihad's New Heartlands: How the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic Fundamentalism, Gabriel G. Tabarani provides a historical narrative of the global Islamist movement leading to the events of 1979 and culminating in the death of Bin Laden.

Tabarani, an old Middle East hand based in London, analyses the huge range of Islamic groups in countries ranging from Algeria to Pakistan and from Russia to Somalia. In doing so, he gives us the background information and places it in a cultural context, which is very critical to understanding the phenomenon that is Muslim extremism.
The modern origins of the plethora of Islamist movements that pepper the globe can be traced back to 1928, when the Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, Hassan Al Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood. This was primarily in response to British colonialism. Al Banna was assassinated in 1948 and the Egyptian state continued with its repression of the group through the 1950s and 1960s.

One of the most influential and strident ideologues of the movement was the US-educated Saeed Qutb. His experiences in the West and in Egypt convinced him that the answer to the ills of society lay in going back to the fundamentals of Islam. While in prison, he wrote Milestones, a book that continues to inspire extremists to this day. Qutb's execution in 1966 for his political views made him a martyr to many Islamists around the world.
As Tabarani observes, "Although the tangible entity of the Brotherhood was purged by [Jamal Abdul] Nasser, the ideology of the movement remained. Not to be annihilated by means of torture, imprisonments and executions, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood endured."

Today's Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is, of course, a far cry from the days of Qutb and has long since disavowed violence. As the author says, a new generation has come forward that is engaged in and focused on working within the system.
Now the Brotherhood finds itself in a position where it is expected to do very well in parliamentary elections in post-Mubarak Egypt, as is its Tunisian affiliate Al Nahda (see interview on page 9 in Gulf News 08/07/2011).

Especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, religious extremism has been the subject of hundreds of books, often by authors with dubious credentials and/or a set agenda.
Oversimplification of the issue has also been a constant theme. But in his book, Tabarani displays not only an expertise in the subject matter but also explains a complex issue in a dispassionate, impartial manner.

Apart from looking at extremism in Islamic societies, Tabarani also tackles the issue in the West. The author offers some pertinent advice: It is high time for the US, and the West in general, to change their attitude towards Muslims and correct past mistakes.
-This Book Review was published in The GULF NEWS on 08/07/2011
-Omar Sharif is The Deputy Editor of The Gulf News
-Jihad's New Heartlands: How the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic FundamentalismBy Gabriel G. Tabarani, AuthorHouse, 476 pages, £19.99

Reality Check On Extremism

GULF NEWS: Gabriel G. Tabarani feels a greater ideology will rise to counter fundamentalism

By Omar Shariff

Gabriel G. Tabarani
Gabriel G. Tabarani

In Jihad's New Heartlands: How The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism, London-based author Gabriel G. Tabarani draws on his extensive experience in the Middle East to provide an insight into the phenomenon of extremism and what can be done to combat it. Excerpts from an interview:

· What is the future of political Islam in the Muslim world?

- Most experts' studies confirm that Islamist movements meet a deeply perceived public need in the Muslim world, a need that continues to be felt after several decades of activism that have not yet reached their end. Otherwise how does one explain these movements' success and support? It is possible that the role of political Islam will be diminished at some point in this century, but one of two things must happen: Either the conditions that helped propel Islamism into the political sphere will have to disappear, or some other force or ideology will have to rise to meet the need more effectively.

· With the death of the Al Qaida supremo, and people’s weariness with the unending militant violence, do you think we are looking at a post-extremist era in the Muslim world?

- The death of Osama Bin Laden doesn't bring the death of his brand of politics. Al Qaida and affiliates have a thriving franchise in Yemen and Pakistan, and could gain other bases in the region. However, the killing of Bin Laden comes at a crucial time in the history of the Middle East. The Arab Spring is reshaping the region and its politics in ways not seen in generations.

The successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the unresolved uprisings in Syria, Libya and Yemen are thus far post-Islamist. These political shifts have not been driven by discourse on Israel, US foreign policy or ideological zeal. They have been caused by a desire to improve their nations' internal conditions.

· Following the toppling of the authoritarian regimes in Tunis and Cairo, both the Al Nahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are expected to do well in the general elections. How would you assess this probability, given that both Rashid Al Gannoushi of Al Nahda and Essam Al Erian of the Brotherhood are seen as moderate pragmatists?

- I suppose the best way to answer your question is to run through the gradients. First, I do not believe Al Nahda or the Muslim Brotherhood will gain sufficient support to form majority governments. The next gradient down from here is that they will form part of a coalition government with non-Islamist parties. This seems most likely, given the poll data (Muslim Brotherhood 20 per cent and Al Nahda 18 per cent). That accounts for the near term; the longer term will depend on how the Islamic parties perform in government or opposition.

· Is the AK Party in Turkey the model to be followed by all Islamist or Muslim conservative groups seeking power through the ballot?

- Reconciling Islamic heritage and popular demands for participatory government and individual rights has posed a dilemma for Islamic activists. This has focused on how to present Islam in a "secular" context. The debate among Muslim thinkers has yet to yield a clear explanation about the interaction between secularism and Islam. However, it is possible to glean from media and academic analysis a perception that these advocates seem to model their notion of "secular Islam" on the Justice and Development Party (AK) in Turkey, where a separation is emerging between one's faith and public life or a separation of church and state, as it is understood in the West. It seems that the AK Party in Turkey will be the model to follow by Islamist movements after its success in government under a secular constitution, which it is now trying to change.

· You contend that Ethiopia had to intervene militarily in Somalia when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was briefly in power — a period characterised by peace for the first time in many years. Is it fair to blame the ICU, when people at that time saw it as US-backed aggression by a dictatorial regime in Addis Ababa, which led to disastrous consequences for all concerned, especially Somali civilians?

- I never contend in my book that Ethiopia had no choice but to intervene militarily. However, given the situation at the time, "the hardliners ... began pushing the ICU [the then ruling Islamic Courts Union] into increasingly bellicose and radical positions that alarmed neighbouring Ethiopia and the United States. The ICU declared jihad on Ethiopia .... In short, the hardliners in the ICU did everything they could to provoke a war with Ethiopia, and in late December 2006 they got their wish."

So my aim in my book was never to contend or to blame. My objective is merely to put forth the truth in an unbiased manner, according to documented information. This is without taking sides or passing judgement.

Furthermore, to fully understand the Ethiopian government's actions at the time, more analysis would have been needed — however, I felt that this was beyond the remit of my latest book and thus was only touched upon briefly.

· Do you think Western political and economic interests can be aligned with the values and politics of moderate Islamist parties? If so, why has this not happened across the Muslim world?

- Of course, Western political and economic interests can overlap with values and politics of moderate Islamist parties. Otherwise, how could one explain the success of Turkey's AK Party and its relationship with the West?

Perhaps a more salient question would be: Why has cooperation between the West and the Islamist moderates not yet materialised? This is owed to the West's ignorance and misunderstanding of Islamist moderates' aims compared to those held by radical Islamic Salafis — this is understandable to a certain extent after the events of September 11. However, with the arrival of the Arab Spring, it would appear that the West (the US in particular) has tacitly accepted to work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria and perhaps in other places in the future.

· The subtitle of your book is ‘Why the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic Fundamentalism'. But for the most part of the book, you have concentrated on the different challenges of militancy in various Muslim countries.

- You are correct in drawing attention to the subtitle. However, as mentioned it is a subtitle — there to add colour and clarity to the main title, that being Jihad's New Heartlands. I thought it is best for the reader that I focus the most part of the book on providing detailed analysis of Jihad's traditional heartlands, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and its new heartlands such as Yemen, Somalia, the Levant, the Maghreb, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As this book is written in English, it is most likely to be read by Western audiences who are likely to benefit most from an understanding of the origin of radicalism in Islam, a topic sensationalised by the Western press. I wanted them to get an appreciation for Islam as a religion of peace — how it was originally intended — and not as a warlike faith as some conservative pundits in the West may pretend.

-This Interview was published in The Gulf News on 08/07/2011
-Omar Sharif is the Deputy Editor of the Gulf News

Gabriel G. Tabarani On “American Perspective Show”

The author and Journalist Gabriel G Tabarani was the guest of American anchor Judyth Piazza on her show the American Perspective on on 24/05/2011 to promote his new book "JIHAD'S NEW HEARTLANDS: Why The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism". Below is the transcript:

Judyth Piazza: Welcome Gabriel to the show.
Gabriel G Tabarani: Thank you Judyth, I am delighted to be on your show.

Judyth: You are British citizen originally from Lebanon why do you chose to live in London?
Gabriel: In the seventies when the war in Lebanon started, a lot of media institutions moved to Europe, and most of them to London or Paris. So the publishing company with which I was working decided to move from Beirut to London in 1979, so I moved with it. In reality it was always an ambition to work in London because for me it is a leading global city, so for a political journalist point of vu, it was the ideal place to be and for a man who loves arts, education, theatre and history it was the place to settle in and live.

Judyth: How and when did you know that you would be a journalist or an author?

Gabriel: I still remember that when I was little boy, about 10 years old, I used to see my dad reading a newspaper called al-Hayat (Life), it is an influential political and independent daily pan-Arab newspaper, and always he used to call me to sit near him so he could read to me some news. I think from that moment something toward writing and journalism was built in my head. As I progressed through my education it became clear what my strengths were and things progressed from there.

For example, when I finished my high school my late father asked me what I wanted to do as a career. My reply was a journalist. And after several years on my graduation in political and economic sciences and working as reporter, journalist, correspondent, assistant manager editor, I became the managing editor in Dar al-Hayat in London the most important newspaper for my father. At that moment he told me “my son you made me proud you have realized your dream and mine”.
Judyth:  Who are some of your mentors?

Gabriel: I have couple of mentors but the most important one who affected my journalistic life was a very well-known Lebanese journalist named Salim Lozi. He was the publisher of two magazines Al-Hawadess and The Events, where I started my journalistic life. Sadly he was killed by the Syrians because of his independence and liberalism. He taught me that to be a good journalist, be fair and balanced and don’t be afraid to be with the truth whatever the consequences; he paid with his life because of that credo.
Judyth: Key qualities that successful people share?

Gabriel: In my opinion, before you can achieve success or speak about its key qualities, you need to define what success means to you. Unless you have a clear vision of what success is to you, you cannot work towards it.
Success means different things to different people. For some, monetary reward is a measure of success. Yet others have multiple definition of success. But whatever the definition, we know that in order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail, because the greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. However, the most important key rests on happiness…success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful in any definition in my opinion. 

Judyth:  Is there any difference to being a journalist/author in The Middle East compared to in the USA or Europe?
Gabriel: Of course there is a big difference between how you write a political story in The Middle East and North Africa and how you write about a political situation in the West. In Europe and USA you analyse any story on the logic of political science, in the Middle East the political story is based on religion and traditions, it is politics of religions. So to become a specialist on Middle East and North Africa I studied Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Also I have visited every country in the Middle East and North Africa, to learn about all their traditions and the anthropology of the two regions.

Judyth: What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your career?

Gabriel: Never agree to anything over the phone. There's no record of what was said and things that get forgotten can lead to disputes later on. Also, if either or both of you are on cell-phones and have poor signals sometimes critical words can get cut out. If there is a need for communication via phone always tell the client that you will write up what you talked about, email it to him so he can confirm it for your records and to clarify anything that may be incorrect before moving on.
Judyth: According to your website you met very important people in your career:  Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers …my question is: who told you something that affected you that you still remember until now?

Gabriel: I have met a lot of world leaders from democratic ones to dictators. The one who gives an example about the effect of power on people was the ex-president of Tunisia: Zein El-Abedine Bin Ali. In my first interview with him after his overthrow President for Life El-Habib Bourguiba in 1986, he told me that he overthrew Bourguiba because he was not a king, and thus could not stay in power for ever – that democracy must prevail.
He continued, saying that he would change the constitution that nobody would be able to stay in power more than two 5-years terms, and that the only way to power would be fair elections. In late nineties, I interviewed him another time, and asked him: “I see Mr President that you are still in power”. He replied laughingly that it was “The will of the people”.

Until his overthrow in February 2011 he remained president, and was considering changing the constitution to be a president for life.
Judyth:  What advice would you give to young journalists if they were to ask?

Gabriel: I encourage young journalists to create a niche for themselves. Find a subject, area, or region that you are particularly interested in and become an expert on it, while of course honing your writing and reporting skills. That’s the best way to stand out in an already-crowded field and in an industry that is constantly evolving and changing. Also, write, write, write - practice and experience will help you improve with time. Another piece of advice would be to learn how to report in all media (broadcast, web, etc.) because versatility is key. Finally, finding mentors in the field whose work you admire is invaluable - they will provide you with advice, guidance and valuable criticism.
Judyth: What is the inspiration behind your latest book (Jihad’s New Heartlands: Why The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism)?

Gabriel: This book, is a continued evolution of my interest in the Greater Middle East – which is a highly complicated political ecosystem. For several years I have seen the press, politicians, voters and commentators misinterpret the current state of Islamic radicalism both in the Middle East as well as in The West.
Furthermore, there is a lack of accessible material on the subject, so it felt natural to try and help a broader audience understand what is really going on as opposed to leaving them at the mercy of sensationalist or biased media sources.

Judyth: Main message you want your readers to gain from reading your book?
Gabriel: To me, non-fiction books should be written to bring light to poorly understood topics. I just hope that I have been able to provide people with a complete, unbiased and accurate analysis of the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Not only its genesis and history, but also the specific challenges it poses to the Western Establishment as well as political forces across the Middle East – both at home and abroad.

You see, Islamic fundamentalism is not an organised entity-managed through one theocratic-politico leader. Instead it is an amalgamation of various views, missions, traditions and beliefs – with its own internal as well as external pressures. Given the recent death of Osama bin Laden and the Revolutions across the Middle East this is not a topic that can be afforded the luxury of being misunderstood or unappreciated any longer.
Judyth: How can people find out more about you and about your book?

Gabriel: They can visit my website or the websites of, barnesand or they can google or bing my name Gabriel G Tabarani and they can have all the needed information.
Judyth: Thank you to be on the Show Gabriel you must repeat it.

Gabriel: Thank you Judyth for having me on your lovely program, I was happy and honoured.