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Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy Hardcover – May 8, 2006
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
For example, Kamal el-Said Habib was a former member of al-Jihad or "Armed Struggle;" the organization involved in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. As he grew older, Kamal's predilection for violence diminished. Before 2001, he would have supported anyone, even the U.S., who turned against secular, Muslim rulers. His opinions changed after 2001 and he now views U.S. forces in Iraq as symbolizing American aggression against all Muslims. This jihadist made a complete circle back to advocating violence.
The second chapter provides a history of the Lebanese Civil War and how Christian militias tried to use ethnic cleansing. The author outlines a Christian plot to poison the water in the Muslim sector. It was an effort at genocide to keep Muslim fertility rates down. To some extent, Christian fanatics inadvertently taught their Muslims adversaries to act like extremists.
In chapter three, Mr. Gerges describes the strife inside al Qaeda. Several jihadists complained that bin Laden was dominated by too many Egyptians and that there was insufficient representation from Saudi Arabia or the other Arab countries. Instead of viewing themselves as the Ummah, (i.e.: worldwide Islamic community), they adopted the western notion of national identities.
The remaining chapters provide additional insight on the Muslim perspective. A fair amount of time is spent discussing the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an influential Muslim philosopher. The author also describes his visit to a Palestinian refugee camp at Ain-al-Hilweh where he interviewed Abu -Mohammed. Mohammed was subsequently killed in March 2003 by a car bomb.
The real merit of the book is that it provides a clear picture of how the jihadists view the world and America. Bottom line: this book provides a truly fascinating look into the minds of several jihadists. The reader will not be disappointed.
These interviews and impressions provide an revealing glimpse into the minds of these potentially violent actors. I found the progression of thought over the years as well as the internal differences of opinion inside the Salifi sects to be fascinating.
As Gerges admits he initially did not understand the extent to which these violent actors were driven by a detailed reading of the Qu'ran. I hope there are few Western people in 2007 who still think these Jihadists are some crazy folks perverting a great religion. Rather they are trying to discard 13 centuries of revisionist scholarship and return this political religion to it's roots.
Gerges generally stays away from moralizing and his few attempts at evaluating policy prescriptions fall very flat. Never the less, this book is quite valuable if you have never probed the mind of a terrorist.
A further aspect is the extent of the support for terrorism within the Muslim world. It has always been larger than most Westerners have been willing to admit and is growing as they feel threatened by the West, Israel, and America in general. At the same time each accommodation by a Western culture is evaluated as weakness and an opportunity for more aggression.
This is definitely not a stand alone book on Egyptian or any form of Middle Eastern culture. For a more comprehensive history of recent Egyptian culture see Nonie Darwish's "Now they Call Me Infidel." For a very insightful glimpse of recent Lebanese culture and the civil war try Brigitte Gabriel's "Because They Hate."
"Journey of the Jihadist" complements these books in both countries by focusing on the potential terrorists, their similarities, and their differences.
When Gerges discusses Iraq he identifies it's utility to the Jihadists in obtaining recruits, but does not show the fall of Saddam as putting a significant funding source for terrorists out of business. He credits Iraq with pulling al Qaeda back to center stage and attracting significant funding for the terrorists. He fails to identify the role Iraq has in attracting and exterminating the more violent elements in the Middle East. His evaluation could be summed up by Ann Coulter's phrase "Damn that Bush! He's made people who hate our guts not like us."
Gerges historic references are disappointing as he normally gives the Jihadist version of the Crusades, the Lebanese civil war, and Jewish history without providing context or correction of their extremely myopic views. A reader unfamiliar with Middle Eastern history would come away misinformed.