Playing the race card

July 9, 2009

"In my opinion, the book is racist - or at least as close to racism as you can get in writing without breaking the law," Thomas Hegghammer writes in his review of my book The Mind of Jihad (11 June). "Race", for those who use the term, traditionally has received an ethnic or biological definition. Studying the ideology, doctrines and practices of a movement that comprises Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, Malays, Tatars and other "Soviet" Muslims could not be more remote from "race" - unless, as in Hegghammer's "innovative" view, Islam is considered to be a "race". This strikes me as odd: either it is a "race", a thesis I have yet to see presented by any serious scholar, or The Mind of Jihad is not racist - he can't have it both ways.

If the book is "racist" to the point of nearly "breaking the law" (what law? Passed by which parliament?), the claim ought to be supported. Or is the term "racist" merely a term of abuse hurled to sully a thesis, a badge of infamy the mere mention of which suffices to carry the day in today's politically correct academic "debates"?

Along with repeated innuendoes and snide remarks that have no room in serious discussion, Hegghammer makes some peremptory assertions about my book. He states: "We are never told what the 'mind of jihad' is or who exactly the radical Islamists are," yet the entire book is devoted to just that, unless one seeks a soundbite that is better suited to sophomoric standards.

Hegghammer complains that the "links" and "channels of communication" I chart, notably between 20th-century totalitarian movements and radical Islam, "are left sufficiently vague; you can connect pretty much any two intellectual currents in human history". He probably missed the excruciatingly detailed exposition of precisely such links and channels throughout the book.

Likewise, he fails to notice the "structural homology" between Gnosticism and radical Islam, which chapter three emphatically addresses.

I regret that the reviewer has refused to engage the book's serious arguments about the nature of jihad and its relationship with totalitarianism, but the book, despite his innuendoes and smears, fully explains what he claims are lacunae in the text.

Laurent Murawiec, Washington DC.

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