George W. Bush's neoconservative administration and Osama bin Laden's messianic terrorist organization may, in a perverse way, have deserved each other. But French scholar Gilles Kepel, in his new book, "Beyond Terror and Martyrdom," argues that the rest of us can do better than delusions of global democracy and the glories of suicide bombings.
Braving inevitable charges that he's drawing moral equivalency, Kepel suggests that both Bush and bin Laden staked their claims to power on the eradication of evil (which is to say, each other) and the creation of utopias, whether in the form of a God-fearing democracy or a pious caliphate. Both sides embraced violent means to pursue those ends. Neither won, but together they created "an endless shared nightmare": Nairobi, the Cole, 9/11, Bali, Madrid, London, Mumbai; Afghanistan, Iraq, renditions, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram.
As it stands, "the war between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden defeated both of its protagonists," Kepel writes, and Bush's successor "will have to bury the grand narrative of the war on terror." Easier said than done, perhaps, but Kepel makes a persuasive argument that pragmatic politics and economic development are more useful than shock and awe. He also notes that America's best ally in building a new future for the Middle East will be Europe, with its ability to nurture alliances in what is, for the continent, the very Near East.