Gilles Kepel is a French writer who has produced a most disturbing book, not because of what he says, but of all that he does not make clear. The title, while provocative, is never explained-what is the revenge of God, and if there is a revenge why and against whom? Nor does he ever quite define his term, "resurgence"-which generally means "rising" or a new birth. Kepel does not begin with the basics: there are a billion Christians in the world and their numbers are not growing. There are some 15 million Jews in the world and their numbers are not growing. There are a billion Muslims in the world and their numbers are growing, Islam being the fastest-growing religion in the world. It is not clear why Kepel wanted to write a book dealing with the similarities among the militants of the three faiths. Kepel does say he spent 12 years doing research for a previous book, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh (California, 1986). In that earlier book, he documents the rise of Arab Islamist movements, starting with the 1928 founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
Perhaps to make further use of his extensive original research, Kepel decided to write a new book dealing not only with Islam but also with Judaism and Christianity-and to focus on radical or militant movements within each. This seemed reasonable, since he became convinced that the movements "showed striking similarities." He thus set out to delineate "some of the leading traits" of the three movements. This goal, Kepel admits, appeared "at first sight to defy analysis." Still, he writes, he felt determined "to make a systematic comparison" of militants within the three faiths. He does not, however, accomplish this goal, as he gives little data or statistics, seemingly relying on his own observations. He arrives rather simplistically at one obvious conclusion: they all seemed "to fit into the context of a worldwide discrediting of modernism." The movements, he adds, "all oppose or dissent from the dominant attitude of 'official religion' which they readily criticize." What they demand, he goes on, is "a link with religion as the foundation of the social system." After stating there are such similarities, Kepel adds that "there are some differences among these contemporary religious movements." His flat declarative sentences add little to a deeper understanding of any of the religions or why all three have groups who worship a god of peace and at the same time have other groups that worship a god of war. He draws no conclusions on how the militants within each faith or in all three now and will in the future affect our everyday lives.
The author's years of research into Muslim extremism pays off with his opening section, entitled "The Sword and the Koran." His material is helpful to any reader who knows little about the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood and how in the early years they were among the most fervent supporters of Nasser, who later turned against the movement and sought to annihilate all the followers. Kepel gives a short history of Sayyid Qutb, an early Islamist ideologist who, while imprisoned, wrote a widely-read manifesto, "Signposts." Qutb and other Islamist leaders were executed by the Nasser regime.
In his section on a resurgent Judaism, Kepel writes of a Jewish rabbi from Eastern Europe who says of Palestine and Jordan, "It is ours. Every single inch, every square foot... belongs to the Land of Israel." Because the militant rabbi can be said to be a "religious" Jew and Qutb a "religious" Muslim, Kepel indicates they are cut from the same piece of cloth and that they "had the same wish-to build, on the ruins of the secular state, a social system based on their holy scripture." In the case of the Jewish rabbi, one might question whether he was rebelling against a "secular state" since he was residing in a Jewish state. Kepel does not delve into the difference between well-armed and politically powerful militant Jews who with impunity confiscate Arab land, and impoverished militant Islamists who are denied the right to vote and whose threat to the establishment lies in a fervent ideology.
For a section dealing with a resurgent U.S. Christianity, Kepel chooses to focus on Jerry Falwell, which seems a strange choice for two reasons: first, there is no "resurgence" in the popularity of Falwell, his Moral Majority having fallen by the wayside. And second, though Kepel chooses the TV evangelist as representative of the new "rising" wave of militant Christianity, Falwell's religious orientation is not to the Gospels of Christ but rather to Zionism. Kepel writes that he went to Falwell's home base of Lynchburg, Virginia, to listen to the TV evangelist. He could not have failed to note that Falwell speaks tirelessly of his devotion to Zionism-and the state of Israel. For Falwell, the Jews are "God's Chosen People" and the modem Jewish state has become "God's Chosen Land."
Since Falwell identifies himself first of all as one of the leaders in the cult worship of the land of Israel, Kepel as a researcher missed the main aspect of his subject or he chose to ignore his subject's primary orientation. Also, since Kepel has spent time in Israel, he could scarcely have failed to know that the Israelis have long recognized Falwell as one of their own. To highlight this, former Prime Minister Begin awarded Falwell Israel's highest award, a Jabotinsky medal for his total support of the Jewish state. Falwell travels about the United States in a jet airplane-a gift from the Jewish state. What Kepel does not mention about Falwell are simply all his salient characteristics, all that makes the "Jabotinsky" of Lynchburg tick.
A more serious book might be written on the differences between the militant movements. No Jew, regardless of how militant he may be, is denied the right to vote in Israel. But Israel denies the right of militant Islamists to vote in any Palestinian election. In Egypt, the Cairo regime denies militant Islamists the right to vote.
Kepel's reasons for the rise of militants are sorely lacking in substance. He offers only such obvious clues as "the undeniable evidence of a deep malaise in society." He fails to help the reader understand that a Christian Zionist such as Falwell works for the success of militant Jews such as those in the Gush Enumim - and, this being the case, he fails to point out that they do not represent separate movements but rather both serve the same paymasters.