Each year, more than two million pilgrims from over 100 countries converge on the holy city of Mecca to reenact the ritual dramas that Muslims have been performing for centuries. Making the hajj is one of the most important duties in the life of a Muslim. The pilgrimage-and its impact on international politics-is enormous and growing every year, yet Westerners know virtually nothing about it. What is the hajj and what does it mean? Who are the hajjis? What do they do and say in Mecca and how do they interpret their experiences? Who runs the hajj and what are their political objectives? How does the hajj encourage international cooperation among Muslims and can it also promote harmony between Islam and the West? In Guests of God, Robert R. Bianchi seeks to answer these and many other questions. While it is first and foremost a religious festival, he shows, the hajj is also very much a political event. The Muslim world's leading multinational organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has established the first international regime explicitly devoted to pilgrimage. Every large Muslim nation has developed a comprehensive hajj policy and a powerful bureaucracy to enforce it. Yet, Bianchi argues, no authority- secular or religious, national or international-can really control the hajj. Pilgrims believe that they are entitled to travel freely to Mecca as "Guests of God"-not as guests of any nation or organization that might wish to restrict or profit from their efforts to fulfill a fundamental religious obligation. Drawing on his personal experience as a pilgrim and a wealth of data gathered over the course of ten years of research, Bianchi has produced a fascinating look at the hajj filled with personal, candid stories from political and religious leaders and hajjis from all walks of life. A wide-ranging study of Islam, politics, and power, Guests of God is the most complete picture of the hajj available anywhere.
A career CIA analyst and the author of Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, "Anonymous" was granted permission to publish both books provided he was not named (though he has since been identified). In a somewhat repetitive style-with too many words wasted lining up other specialists for praise or condemnation rather than setting out his own case-he makes the following arguments. Bin Laden is not a madman but a rational strategist who says what he believes and acts on it. He is well regarded throughout the Muslim world. Al Qaeda hates us not for who we are but for where we are. So, too, does most of the Muslim world. The United States' propping up of unpopular Middle Eastern regimes and unflagging support for Israel weakens its hand in the region. Washington should have struck against al Qaeda in Afghanistan immediately after September 11 and should have finished the job there rather than turning to Iraq. These arguments might seem to lead to a prescription for a fine-tuned U.S. strategy of isolating al Qaeda and weakening its appeal to the Muslim masses by changing U.S. policies and building coalitions with Middle Eastern and other states. But not for Anonymous: this is war, he writes, and "we must kill many thousands of these fighters." Exactly how to engage in such a war (as opposed to a persistent police action) against tiny, mobile pockets of fighters spread all over the world and connected via the Internet is not clear.