A civil war is being waged among jihadists for the soul of Islam. While all Islamist radicals may share a vision of a purified and unified ummah, or Muslim community, few agree over how to bring it about. Ultra-militant wings, such as Al Qaeda, dominate our thoughts and headlines, for they exported their brand of terrorism to America’s shores and now have carried it into the heart of Iraq. Yet they are in the minority. Most jihadists are struggling, often against great odds and under enormous pressures, to accommodate themselves to gradual social and political change in the Arab world.
As Middle Eastern scholar and media commentator Fawaz A. Gerges reveals in this unstinting, deeply personal, and brilliantly illuminating book, we need to know now more than ever who the jihadists are and to listen to what they are saying to each other and the world. Gerges went to Cairo, birthplace of modern Islamist radical thought, and began a dialogue with one of the movement’s founders. Using these conversations as a starting point, Gerges spoke with hundreds of other jihadists throughout the Arab world, tracing the evolution of extremist thought from the 1970s to the presentfrom the civil war in Lebanon, which Gerges and his family endured, to the war in Iraq that is giving Al Qaeda a new lease on life.
The jihadist journey has led through bloodshed and turmoil. It did not begin on September 11th and it will not end in Baghdad. This crucially important and timely book maps the direction jihadism will take in the months and years ahead by showing whereand with whomit all started.
In September 2005, Gerges, an academic turned news commentator, published a rare and thoughtful piece of scholarship, The Far Enemy, that sought to map the different views within militant Islam's explosive underworld. Gerges argued nimbly, drawing upon numerous primary sources and firsthand interviews. After traveling across the Middle East and meeting with former jihadists, he learned that Islamic militants often disagreed on critical issues (including whether to attack the United States) and that their movement was far more variegated than Washington's official portrayal suggests. Published less than a year later, this new volume reads like a quicky follow-up. It covers similar ground, draws upon similar sources and is considerably more limited in its scholarly aspirations-although not, perhaps, in its commercial ones. Yet the follow-up may be the better book. Gerges has distilled his ideas to their core and done away with some of The Far Enemy's repetitions. The book's structure is also improved. It's now built around a series of profiles that give focus to each chapter and shed light on how key personalities within the jihadist vanguard see the world. Gerges even devotes time to his own upbringing in war-torn Lebanon, and although the veers into his personal story are not always relevant, they are fascinating in their own right, adding both intimacy and depth to this valuable book. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.