Book Review: Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat


by Youssef H. Aboul-Enein

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010. Pp. 288. Illus., biblio., index. $37.95. ISBN: 1591140013


US Navy Commander Yousef H. Aboul-Enein is an officer with a stellar professional resume' and a compelling personal background. He has also written a very important book: Militant Islamist Ideology. The book is immediately valuable to everyone engaged in the fight against Militant Islamist terrorism -- and CDR Aboul-Enein would insist on militant with a capital M. When viewed as a treatise on information warfare --which is what the book is-- the volume's utility extends well beyond combating Militant Islamists. CDR Aboul-Enein provides an intellectual framework for analyzing and countering the ideology of every transnational terror organization, whether its creed is secular political, tribal, anarchist, or religious. 

As for the fascinating personal and professional background: CDR Aboul-Enein is a US Navy Medical Service Corps officer who advises the Department of Defense and the US intelligence community "at the highest levels." He was born in Mississippi, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has a masters degree in strategic intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College.

CDR Aboul-Enein establishes a goal for his analysis: he intends to distinguish Islam as a religion from two other groups, Islamists and Militant Islamists. Ultimately he seeks to "disaggregate" Militant Islamists from both Islamists and Islam. This, the Commander argues, is key to defeating Militant Islamists, the violent actors who scar Islam, harm Islamists, and murder Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He makes an insistently strong, and often profound, intellectual argument.

"Militant Islamist" CDR Aboul-Enein defines as "a group or individual advocating Islamist ideological goals, principally by violent means." Islamists are a group or individuals who advocate "Islam as a political as well as religious system. Chief Islamist objectives include implementing sharia (Islamic) law as the basis of all statutory issues." Islam is "the religious faith of Muslims, involving...belief in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet."

Militant Islamist Ideology he condemns as a vicious fraud, for it "is composed of fragmented pieces of Islam...they are recombined out of context to make up the bulwark of Militant Islamist Ideology, which is not the religion of Islam." Militant Islamist Ideology "seeks to establish a totalitarian state steeped in the language, symbols, and narrowly selective aspects of Islam."

CDR Aboul-Enein says faithful Muslims play a central role in defeating Militant Islamism. "Unlike communism, against which free enterprise and democracy were used as ideological counterweights, Militant Islamist Ideology can be opposed among the Muslim masses only by Islamic counter-argumentation. We cannot contain Militant Islamist Ideology but only work to marginalize, de-popularize, and erode its influence and mass appeal by identifying it as different form Islam or even from Islamist political groups."

CDR Aboul-Enein does not dismiss the information warfare effects of defeating Al Qaeda militarily on its home-grown, such as Iraq. His chapter entitled "Marginalizing al-Qaida" has definite operational implications for exploiting tensions and divisions in a terrorist organization when it is engaged militarily in a decisive theater. His chapter on Osama Bin Laden offers a succinct description of Bin Laden's attempt to operationalize Sayyid Qutb's strategy of violent, direct action against "the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Europe." CDR Aboul-Enein charges Qutb (whose philosophy is at the root of Al Qaeda's ideology) with a fatal intellectual and doctrinal error: Qutb "reduces the prophet to a warlord."

The chapter entitled "Mindsets That Hamper America's Capabilities" begins with a quote from Saint Augustine: "When [men] go to war, what they want is to impose on their enemies the victor's will and call it peace." The chapter is a strong riposte to the imposing "Clash of Civilizations" argument Samuel Huntington made in the 1990s. While CDR Aboul-Enein specifically addresses Militant Islamism, with a tweak of terms and a slight adjustment of the historical dial, his analysis of American information warfare weaknesses applies to World War 2, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the great ideological and economic struggle we call the Cold War.

An essential book.

Reviewer: Austin Bay    

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