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Vol. 10, No. 5, 2011
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walid phares's

reviewed by


Farzana Hassan is the author of Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest. Please visit her website at:

Walid Phares contends there is a future jihad unfolding in the form of a confrontation that will engulf the entire world. In his book entitled The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, (Palgrave McMillan, 2008), he elucidates the antecedents, circumstances and implications of militant jihad in the twenty-first century. This jihad according to the author is an authoritarian, hegemonic enemy that must be challenged at the political, military, diplomatic and theological level.

But Phares begins on a positive note: “The free world can still win” is the hopeful message the book embarks on.

He later makes several telling observations about jihad such as the following: “The different groups of jihadists, despite their inner crisis, tensions, and sub-conflicts, focus on one set of arguments against one particular target, be it Israel, France, Southern Sudan or Kurdistan.” Phares therefore asserts the West is the prime target of twenty-first jihad.

In order to further their agenda, the jihadists continually engage in invidious propaganda and hatemongering against the West and its allies. Coupled with this strategy, the jihadists project themselves as victims, citing, according to the author, a “socioeconomic explanation of terrorism.” This pernicious propaganda results in not recognizing terrorism and jihadism as ideologies. Terrorism according to the jihadist is the weak man’s war, for he has no other means to fight for his rights.

Phares concludes that it is Salafist doctrine and philosophy rooted in political Islam that has gripped the souls of contemporary jihadists and their willing followers in Muslim youth.

These groups have the very real and targeted agenda of preventing the spread of Western democracy and Western values based on pluralism, egalitarianism and freedom of conscience in Muslim lands. Phares claims the West has been duped into believing the jihadists are “Robin Hoods” resisting socioeconomic oppression.

The author also concludes that jihadists continue to blame the West for the Crusades, the Iberian Reconquista and generally for all the ills plaguing the Muslim world. But more importantly, the jihadists blame the West for “a war against Islam” in its support of democracies like Israel.

What then is the solution to Islamist resentment and bellicosity?

The author appropriately asks: “Why have Western and international policies failed to contain terrorism and the jihadi movement?” He offers a number of solutions to tackle the problem. The West must at the outset acknowledge the threat. Phares believes there are many in the West who fail to understand the implications of jihadism and its lethal corollary -- terror.

Phares also notes that the international community lacks unity in its fight to eradicate the menace of jihadism. He again asks: “Why did each country -- especially those targeted by either the Salafists or the Khumenists and their allies -- have its own policies on containment, and why did some governments actually grant recognition to a terror group even though it was at war with another democracy?” Walid Phares is probably referring to Hamas and its agenda to destroy Israel. It is obvious then that the West needs to establish a unified front against jihadism. He calls this proposed front the International Alliance against Jihadism. He further notes with dismay that India and Pakistan face the same challenges with respect to terrorism and yet their bilateral politics has prevented them from adopting a unified policy against jihadism. The affected nations of the world therefore need to take up this challenge and defeat jihadism through a joint policy against the threat.

Phares also asserts that the way to defeat jihadism is to democratize the Middle East. The term "Middle Earth" employed for the regions from Western Sahara to Jammu and Kashmir is a war zone where jihadi cells and jihadi “emirates” are likely to form according to the author. It is here that religious and ethnic minorities suffer most. Women also lack essential human rights in these countries. Jihadist alliances and activities have created what the author deems the elitist “Arab Islamic Order” which has replaced the Ottoman Empire in some ways. He notes: “The Ottoman empire collapsed as an institution, but the imperialist design of the doctrines of jihadism survived.” Also according to Phares, the oppressed minorities include not only women, but also men who happen to be in disagreement with those in power. In order to solve the problem of international jihadism, these minorities must be empowered so that a genuine pluralistic tradition can emerge in the Middle East. The author realizes this would entail an entire paradigm shift in the cultural ethos of the region.

The West and the free world must, according to Phares, fund freedom by adopting a more accommodating policy toward political dissidents in the Middle East.

The author notes that jihad must be recognized for what it is. In this regard the policy of calling a jihadist irhabi, which translates as ‘terrorist’ is a fallacy. According to Phares, this was “clearly a Jihadist victory in the War of Ideas” as their agenda encompasses much more than international terrorism.

He further notes that “Word, for word, the consultants in the Trojan Horses were pushing for the elimination of all terminology indicating the existence of a cohesive ideology, Jihadism.” The author concludes that using the terminology of the jihadists is in fact an admission of defeat for those opposing them.

More importantly for the author, it is Muslims who must reject the doctrines of Salafism, Khumeinism and Jihadism. That discourse is yet to emerge in the Islamic world. Phares points out that it is part of the Islamic tradition to challenge radicalism, but in modern times a unified voice against jihadists simply does not exist. Muslims must hence produce a discourse based on democratic values and modern standards of international cooperation. Once again the West and the free word must support this discourse.

From a Western perspective, the war against jihadist ideology poses unique problems consequent to the exceptional zeal the latter generates and its apocalyptic promises. Armed with theology, the proponents of jihad feel that “their victories, when they win, are the divine will, and their deaths, if they die, are the will of Allah.” Its foot soldiers are the economically marginalized. They must be empowered economically to fight jihadism according to Phares. The educational system in these countries must be revamped as well, so as to instill tolerance in future generations of Muslims.

The book is an incisive and comprehensive analysis of jihad and its implications for the modern world. The author provides practical solutions to combating jihadism in the form of policy recommendations at the national and international level. It is a must read for those who wish to understand the influence of Islamism and jihadism in the West.



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COMMENTS to editor
This is an excellent review by Farzana Hassan of Professor Walid Phares' book The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Jihad. I read the book this year and found that Hassan's is among the best of all reviews. She clearly captured the essence of Phares paradigm, that is that Muslims will eventually rise against the jihadists in the same way secular revolutions occurred against medieval regimes in Europe. Hassan's analysis of the book is spot on, particularly regarding Phares's recommendations at the end of his book. I would in turn recommend it for classroom usage.

reviews by Farzana Hassan:
Islam & Democracy
Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution
The Islamist
The Grand Design
The Jew Is Not My Enemy
To Ban the Hijab?


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