History of War - - REVIEWS -

Au­thor: Christo­pher Othen Pub­lisher: Am­ber­ley Pub­lish­ing Price: £18.99

The glut of books analysing and ex­pound­ing on the post-9/11 ji­hadist phe­nom­e­non verges on the lim­it­less. Here is some­thing dif­fer­ent. In this work Christo­pher Othen takes on the task of ex­plain­ing the other side of the coin, summed up in the pithy sub­ti­tle “How the counter-ji­hadist move­ment cre­ated may­hem, mur­der and the Trump pres­i­dency”, a sen­tence that cries out: now read on.

Jour­nal­ist and au­thor Othen brings a unique set of cre­den­tials to his sub­ject. In his own words, he has “in­ter­viewed re­tired mer­ce­nar­ies about African wars, dis­cussed lost causes with po­lit­i­cal ex­trem­ists and got drunk with an ex-mu­jahidin who knew Osama bin Laden”. In a chatty and bouncy nar­ra­tive, the au­thor be­gins his tale with “a clash of civil­i­sa­tions in New York”, the day of the Septem­ber 2001 at­tack on the Twin Tow­ers that kicked off the West’s chaotic war on ter­ror. From that hor­rific morn­ing to the present day, it is pos­si­ble to trace a 15-year time­line cul­mi­nat­ing in the 2016 pres­i­dency: “Don­ald Trump,” the au­thor writes, “would face off against Hil­lary Clin­ton with a cam­paign prom­ise to stop Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion that had the counter-ji­had cheer­ing”.

This was the crescendo of a se­ries of knee-jerk re­ac­tions that largely played into ji­hadist hands. Trump was elected on a plat­form of pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism. One of his first acts was a travel ban on cit­i­zens of six Mus­lim coun­tries. “The counter-ji­had world cel­e­brated,” Othen says. Since 9/11, how­ever, there have been more than 500 killed and in­jured in ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the US, none of them com­mit­ted by il­le­gal Mus­lim im­mi­grants. At the same time, the coun­try has spent some $1 tril­lion to de­fend it­self against ji­hadism. In this same pe­riod, the death toll in Europe num­bered in ex­cess of 660 peo­ple.

One has to ask whether our democ­ra­cies are so frag­ile that we com­pel our­selves to spend such astro­nom­i­cal sums on counter-ter­ror­ism, and does this not ren­der us vic­tims of bear-bait­ing? Like­wise, is this re­ally the most ef­fec­tive way to com­bat an en­emy that re­sem­bles the mytho­log­i­cal Greek Hy­dra, which grew two new heads each time one was chopped off?

The book sheds light on strange events, such as the 2007 Coun­ter­ji­had Con­fer­ence in Brus­sels that brought ac­tivists face to face with men­tors like Bat Ye’or, the mys­te­ri­ous Jewish-egyp­tian ide­o­logue who pro­vided am­mu­ni­tion for jour­nal­ists like Ori­ana Fal­laci and Me­lanie Phillips, who were warn­ing about the dan­gers of rad­i­cal Is­lam. The gath­er­ing was called to cre­ate a Euro­pean net­work of ac­tivists from 14 na­tions to re­sist the in­creas­ing Is­lami­sa­tion of their coun­tries. The out­come took on an un­com­fort­able air of the sur­real when Bri­tish con­fer­ence at­ten­dees linked up with foot­ball hooli­gans to form the English De­fence League.

Othen main­tains that the fu­ture of the counter-ji­had is un­cer­tain but that it will likely end up a patch on a na­tion­al­ist quilt, not a whole cloth. The fu­ture for the West in its re­la­tions with Is­lam is equally un­cer­tain. The most hope­ful sign is that the col­lapse of the so-called Is­lamic State has slowed ter­ror at­tacks and dis­il­lu­sioned many rad­i­calised Mus­lims around the world. It re­mains to be seen if what we are wit­ness­ing is a lull while th­ese mer­chants of death re­group and hone their strat­egy, or if their back is well and truly bro­ken.

BE­LOW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Ships from five Western na­tions join forces for the War on Ter­ror, mem­bers of the English De­fence League, and Trump surf­ing a wave of na­tion­al­ism

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