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The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam Hardcover – March 7, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In the end, I was close to tears. Lagrimas caudales or "flowing tears," to use the apposite phrase of Blas de Otero, seems to be what the book's conclusions lead to.... Thus lagrimas for the tribes, for the soldiers, and for the United States.... Akbar Ahmed gives us the only way out of this dangerous dilemma, a way to coexist with the thistle without the drone."―Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary



"I am moved, horrified, and encouraged all at once. Above all, Professor Ahmed makes me proud to be an anthropologist!"―Professor Marilyn Strathern D.B.E., former William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge



"Ahmed's years of field experience and study, as a government official in tribal Pakistan, as an anthropologist, and as a leading authority on traditional Islam, make him uniquely qualified to offer this timely, balanced, and well-argued analysis of the interaction between modern drone warfare and the tribal peoples it targets. This book should be required reading for any policymaker, student, or military officer seeking to understand the risks and dilemmas of today's conflict."―Colonel David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerilla, reviewing a previous edition or volume



"From Akbar Ahmed, one of the wisest Muslim heads I know, a brilliant deconstruction of America's drone attacks on targets in Pakistan and other Muslim societies across the world. His cogent account of how each attack detonates tribal threads, alienating and radicalizing whole communities still further, is a must-read."―Jon Snow, presenter Channel 4/ITN News



" The Thistle and the Drone... makes a clear argument that the president and his advisers are putting the al-Qaeda cart before the tribal horse."―Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books



The Thistle and the Drone reminds the intelligence professional of the importance of understanding local culture and history as the start point for any successful counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operation....by far the greater value of this book lies in the detailed examples Ahmed provides of various tribal communities around the world. Avoiding the esoteric, he provides data useful to the diplomat, intelligence officer, or warrior engaged in political actions or operations in nearly every part of the Islamic world.J.R. Seeger, retired CIA National Clandestine Service officer, CIA. gov Library, Center for the Study of Intelligence



"This is an important book that deserves the attention of scholars as well as policy makers."―Thomas H. Johnson, Research Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, The Middle East Journal

About the Author

Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He was the former Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom, the first Distinguished Chair of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Among his previous books are Journey into Islam and Journey into America, both published by Brookings. He is also a published poet and playwright.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press (March 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815723784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815723783
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I wish I could give this book a better review, I really do. There is much information that simply is not talked about in Western government circles. This book looks at how tribal traditions, when confronted with modernity and globalization, have given birth to what we understand as Islamic terrorism. This understanding truly adds, in fact, completely challenges, what many decision makers in the West see as the root of Islamic terrorism.

Rather than a strong sense of orthodox Islam, terror networks draw their legitimacy from their tribal backgrounds. This is an important factor is we in the West want to achieve success in this ongoing conflict. Ahmed puts forward the idea that tribes in the Af-Pak boarder area have seen their governing structure destroyed by three factors. 1.Modernization. 2. The State, which views them as backwards and uses violence against them, and 3. Globalization. These three threats have destroyed the three pillars of what Ahmed call "The Waziristan Model" which consists of 1. Tribal Leaders. 2. Religious Leaders. 3. Representatives of the State, the Political Agent (PA) in the case of Pakistans frontier.

All of these ideas make a lot of sense. And will enhance your understanding of the problems in Pakistan. However, the book as a giant weakness. The scope of the project is simply too large. Ahmed wants to show that this model rings true in most of the conflicts against terrorism around the world. He looks at dozens of tribes currently involved in conflict. So much so, that all of the location, names, tribes, histories, and reasons for war are simply overwhelming and yet, too brief to truly enhance your understanding of each conflict (save the Pakistani example, as he spends more time on it.
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Format: Hardcover
Ahmed starts out reframing the way the West views the Muslim world. Instead of looking at interactions in the world as a “clash of civilizations,” he posits that we should be looking at the Muslim diaspora as a set of tribal communities in conflict with their central governments. While some may think this is accepted thought already, it certainly was not when we went into Iraq in 1990, nor in 2003. Ahmed makes a compelling case with examples extending from Albania and Turkey to China and Indonesia, highlighting different models of organization and center-periphery relationships that apply throughout this huge area.

Once the framing is stated, it almost seems obvious, which is perhaps the strongest argument for reading this book. Ahmed goes further to explain how the West has exacerbated regional tensions by inserting themselves into this conflict under the aegis of “the war on terror,” and turned the fight into a global affair against westernization and globalization as defined by Tom Friedman. The unintentional “bug splat” of drone strikes, or the civilian deaths coincident with targeted killings of terrorists, means tribal leaders have a moral responsibility to fight back, aligning with whomever has the strength and willingness to see that fight through. As long as the drone strikes and collateral damage continues, the fight will continue.

The author uses the metaphor of the drone to represent Western technology and power and points out that the thistle captures the essence of tribal societies. The thistle is prickly, hardy, and very hard to uproot. It has an unusual beauty, and it roots in poor soil. Long after all is destroyed, the thistle will abound.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good book that should be a must read for all US policy makers. Most of the arguments and issues my friends have had with this book is because they refuse to see the problem from anything but a Western point of view. Whether we in the West agree, the author is only explaining how these drone strikes are perceived in the Areas of Tribal influence. Keep an open mind when reading this and try to understand the Tribes way of looking at this.
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Format: Hardcover
I got this as a gift and thought it would spent much time on the use of drones. It does not, but does in great detail discuss the great many tribes in about 20 countries and how their interaction is responsible for many of the problems found there. The countries include most of the Middle East, but also Algeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Chechnya, and Burma. From all of this you can apply the concept to the settling of America and competition with native Americans, to slavery in the West, and to the Irish in England. It is an eye-opening book. The author has served on highest level discussions in the U.S. and can point out the failures at those levels to begin to grasp the problems this tribal concept presents. I was most impressed and thank the author for his past work and efforts at producing this instructive book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gets to the heart of the nature of conflict in the world today, between "centralizing elites" and tribal traditionalism. Its extensive surveys of conflicts throughout the developing world, in particular, are original and insightful. Should be read by everyone interested in this crucial topic.
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