From The Los Angeles Times:
Reza Aslan's “How to Win a Cosmic War” recognizes the struggle between Global Jihadism and the war on terror as an insolubly infinite one. He proposes, instead, that we'd be better off if we replaced the rhetoric of the absolute obligation, which characterizes movements, with the campaign's rhetoric of the finite aim. “It is time,” Aslan writes in his introduction, “to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse.” Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are “religious nationalists”; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are “religious trans-nationalists.” They plait together stories of specific injustice — Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe — into a “master narrative” of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.
Aslan is not only a perspicuous, thoughtful interpreter of the Muslim world but also a subtle psychologist of the call to jihad. This book's achievement is less its big point (rather obvious and repetitively made) about the impossible nature of “cosmic war” than its smaller understanding of how, for example, a well-assimilated second-generation European Muslim might blow himself up on a bus; its finest chapter describes the sort of conversion process that allows a Leeds youth like Hasib Hussain to become one of England's 7/7 bombers. Aslan makes a convincing case for jihadism as a quasi-religious variant of militant romanticism: a young man like Hussain comes to look like a disenfranchised Werther with a rudimentary global consciousness.