From Publishers Weekly
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)
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In America before 9/11, understanding violent Islamic radicalism was a prime concern mostly of Middle Eastern-studies academics. For that we can be grateful, at least when those academics write as unstuffily and accessibly as Gerges. A Greek Orthodox Lebanese Arab, Gerges has won the trust of some very prominent, formerly violent jihadists, whose personalities and words he uses to limn radical Islam with an intimacy other good explanatory works on violent Islam lack. His principal informants are Kamal al-Said Habib, cofounder of the largest jihadist organization, and, through interviews he didn't conduct, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard, Abu-Jandal. Both have forsaken terrorism, though not violence. They exemplify a split in jihadism over whether to unite Muslim-majority nations under Islamic law or to radically expand Islam by destroying its enemies throughout the world (bin Laden's strategy). The split rather recalls that between Stalinists (advocating socialism in one country first) and Trotskyites (fomenting world revolution) in 1930s Communism, and Gerges insists that politics, not religion, is the root motivation of all organized jihad. The good news is that nonterrorist jihadists vastly outnumber terrorist jihadists; the bad, that Gerges' informants repudiate terrorism, not violence per se. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved