Most analysts of global Jihad agree that this new development is drastically different from its predecessor, namely the national Islamist movement, although both may have been related in one way or another. Some attributed the rise of global Jihad to the failure of the previous movement to topple local regimes, defined as the near enemy, which prompted an internationalisation of Islamism as it started hitting the far enemy, mainly the US and other Western countries, blamed for the many economic, social, and political ills of the Muslim umma, community. It is worth noting here that despite many terrorism attacks in the West, the majority of incidents are carried out in the Muslim world, with countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia being on the receiving end of its violence. In global Jihad, the persistence of occupation (for example in Palestine and later Iraq), the survival of local corrupt dictatorships that continue to violently repress Islamism, the Westernisation of Muslim culture at the expense of the authentic Islamic tradition and the erosion of this tradition are all believed to be the design of a crusade against Islam, Muslims and their resources, including land, oil, and wealth.
Global Jihad has become synonymous with al-Qaida, although it is certain that many who endorse it may or may not be affiliated with al-Qaida or come across an al-Qaeda operatives in their whole life. Bin Laden’s al-Qaida, base, was established in Afghanistan in the 1980s, moved to Sudan in the early 1990s, then back in Afghanistan from 1996 and after 2001 dispersed in many countries. With the atrocities that started in Kenya (1998) and moved to New York (2001), the study of global Jihad has become an industry, contributors are no longer academics trained in solid methodologies, languages and theories inspired by political, religious, sociological analysis. Journalists, observers, think tank consultants and intelligence officers contribute to the debate on global Jihad and al-Qaida. In an effort to distance themselves from global Jihad, national Islamists have also engaged in the debate on global Jihad. They draw boundaries between them and this new menace. The scope of this article does not allow a full comprehensive review of the debates, interpretations, and findings of this vast literature nor an evaluation of its intellectual rigor, interpretive potential and accuracy.
Three books that appeared in 2007-8 are considered here. They are reviewed as they represent what is referred to as the terrorism industry. Books whose authors draw on their involvement as employees, officers and analysts in intelligence agencies contribute to the debate on al-Qaida and its terror. Others draw on their role as think tank consultants in defence and counter-terrorism centres, established and directly funded by governments. They draw their data from classified and unclassified material made available to them during association with various counter-terrorism agencies. Some use information readily circulating in the public sphere, for example Jihadi web sites, intelligence reports, and the international media. This kind of literature is often driven by strict agendas related to producing knowledge to fight terrorism. It is always linked to concrete policy recommendations that would help counter-terrorism efforts across the globe. Books by Yoram Schweizer and Shaul Shay*, Bruce Rriedel* and Brynjar Lia* are good representations of this genre of global Jihad literature.
The book by Schweitzer (Tel Aviv University) and Shaul Shay (International Policy Institute for Counter-terrorism, Herzliya-Israel) includes a forward by Brigadier-General Meir Dagan, head of Mossad since 2002. While the aim of the book is to further our understanding of the globalization of terror, it has one clear message and policy recommendation. The message of the book is that Islamic fundamentalism is dangerous and as a policy recommendation, the international community should be mobilised to eliminate it. The book was written one and a half year after 9/11 (it is published in English in 2008). The authors consider 9/11 as an ‘expected surprise’, given its timing, sophisticated simplicity, and the ease with which it was achieved. The book is therefore an attempt to describe the intellectual roots, preparations, and performance of what the authors call the ‘Afghan alumni’ an international cell that act in the name of global Jihad.
The book explains the phenomenon of Islamic terror by resorting to a rather unusual theoretical framework. In the first chapter, the authors argue that it is possible to explain Islamic terror as an expression of the confrontation between a state oriented Western culture represented by the US and other Muslim states on the one hand and a radical nomadic culture, represented by Bin laden and al-Qaida on the other hand. The vertical system of a territorial state eventually clashes with a deterritorialised horizontal system, stemming from the nomadic underpinnings of the Afghan alumni. The latter launch a chaotic campaign without any definition of clear boundaries, cemented by a perpetual flow and movement of ideas that undermine the hierarchical doctrines and ideology of the state. The Jihadis become the ‘nomadic war machine’ (pp. 47), defeating the Communists in Afghanistan, and founding the Taliban regime, at which point they undergo structural adjustment, keeping the flames of movement and struggle in other areas of the world, for example the Balkan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Tajikistan etc. In this perpetual nomadism, Osama Bin Laden represent the ‘nomadic concept of the roamer, who does not settle down and strikes roots within a state oriented framework, but rather is in perpetual motion’, (pp. 49). Most of the analysis draws on Samuel Huntington’s famous thesis about the ‘clash of civilisations’, supplemented by sparse reference to Nietsche, Deleuze, Guatterri, and Derrida. The outcome is a flawed unconvincing understanding of a phenomenon that has occupied more than two generations of serious and well-informed scholars across the globe. To interpret al-Qaida as a reflection of the persistence of a nomadic culture fails to capture the changes that swept the Muslim world in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Needless to say that neither Bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri has an experience of nomadism. They were both products of urban surroundings and the associated educational, economic and social institutions of modern sedentary life. Furthermore, their operatives and activists have no recollection of the alleged nomadic culture invoked in this book. Anthropologists of the Muslim world who have dedicated volumes to understanding nomadism and its disappearing history in the region will undoubtedly find the analysis superficial and the analogy totally irrelevant. Had the authors invoked globalisation and transnational networks, both a product of the increasing absorption of the Muslim world by urbanisation, advanced communication technology, and free travel and movement, rather than an archaic nomadic culture that continues to survive in a fossilized manner only in the heads of al-Qaida activists, they would have achieved at least some credibility.
The founders of global Jihad, activists, and ideologues may appear as free floating individuals who are able to forge local networks and clandestine cells in several regions of the Muslim world and beyond. Yet it seems that the main actors long for the establishment of a state they are often in the process of thwarting and destroying. Al-Qaida and its affiliates are obsessed with the Islamic state rather than being its antithesis. They strive to found the Islamic emirate over any territory they could hold even for a short period of time. From Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, al-Qaida agents declare states that may or may not have a reality but are often glorified and celebrated in the virtual world of the Internet. However, while their announced states remain virtual, their attacks and terror are real. It is specifically this failure to establish a local state that prompted the rise and intensification of global Jihad, of which al-Qaida is but one manifestation. The inability of the local national Islamist movement to establish a state created a group of Pariah activists, who sought martyrdom in distant locations, appealing to the utopia of the Muslim umma, with its alleged solidarity that cut across other solidarities related to nation, ethnicity, language, and culture. The end product is an international community of terrorists detached from local contexts, cultures, and belonging. Al-Qaida’s violence moved with the dispersal of the Afghan alumni to other locations as its failed to achieve another base from where to launch its attacks. 9/11 was a desperate attempt to revamp a Jihad that has failed miserably in each of the regions of the Muslim world. It was desperate in many ways. Attacking the US was thought to mask this failure and bring in new recruits who are amazed by the audacity of an act against an archenemy, defined as the agent responsible for the humiliation, occupation and impoverishment of the Muslim world. Most of the al-Qaida operatives left Afghanistan in the early 1990s and tried to return to their countries of origin. Osama Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, together with other supporters. He had to leave under pressure from the Saudi authorities and retreat to Sudan until 1996 when he returned to Afghanistan after the rise of the Taliban. Other Jihadis dispersed across the Muslim world while small minorities retreated to the West, where they were able to preach global Jihad and recruit new sympathizers. The association between nomadic culture and the dispersal of Jihadis has its limitations as an analytical or interpretive tool. Historically, nomads never roamed aimlessly deserts and mountains but followed ancient roots according to a seasonal migration. Global Jihadis exploit well-marked geographies in search of opportunities for shelter and Jihad. The difference between a nomad and a Jihadi cannot be overstated. The first way of life is primarily a response to ecology; the second is a product of political, historical, religious and personal circumstances.
The second chapter in The Globalization of Terror maps the internationalization of the ‘Afghan Alumni’ following the 1998 establishment of the Jihad international front, under Osama Bin Laden’s leadership. A catalogue of terror operations in several countries is listed. This includes attempts to assassinate leaders, take hostages, hijack planes and buses, suicide bombs, and attacks on government economic, cultural, and security sites by operatives described as acting in the name of al-Qaida. No attention is given to the difference in the contexts of terror in Algeria, the Xinjiang province in Western China, Somalia, Chechnya or South America. Islamic terror is presented in a diagram (pp. 123) that lumps together Egyptian Jihadis, Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hizbollah, Philippine’s Abu Sayyaf group, Pakistan’s Mohammad’s Army and many others. Another chapter (chapter 3) is dedicated to the operations of al-Qaida that culminated in the events of 9/11. The European context of the Hamburg cells gives way to terror cells in Morocco. A profile of terror cells in Europe emerges. These cells consist of men in their early twenties, educated, successful middle class, some with criminal records, familiar with Western life styles (obviously different from their alleged nomadic culture), and aware of their legal rights (pp. 180). Some members are converts to Islam but they are all recruited in mosques, charity centres and universities. They have nostalgia not to a nomadic culture but to their lands of origin and Islam. The final chapter discusses the US responses to this new terror that has its roots in the ‘Afghan Alumni’. This response developed in three stages: the destruction of al-Qaida Afghanistan infrastructure, a campaign against cells worldwide, and a campaign against countries that support terrorism. The last stage involved the US in careful negotiation with states that have been allies of the US, for example Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and new pressures put on other states to tighten their controls over their territories. George Bush’s ‘axis of evil’, which included Iraq, Iran and North Korea involved an expansion of counter terror war into combating the spread of non-conventional weapons, for example nuclear power. According to Schweitzer and Shay, the simple methods used by terrorists exploited the openness of America and even US naivety to threaten security, liberty, and economic welfare of citizens of all Western countries. While the three counter terror stages are evaluated, the authors draw attention to the Information Age and Cyber Space, as new ideal arena for terror organisations. The conclusion affirms that the war against world terror is one that must be waged today by every human being on this globe who believes in human liberty (pp. 221). The authors accuse the Arab press, for example Al-Jazeera television of contributing to the change of consciousness that the terrorists aim to achieve, which is in turn a prerequisite for the perpetuation of global Jihad and the terror that accompanies it. Such accusations are not new but have become clichés that are repeated in many forums and contexts. This book is in fact a clichés itself. The reader moves from one attack to another, and from one context to another without understanding the contexts in which these activities take place. There is no interpretation of the local milieus, their histories, their states, and their social and economic conditions. Moreover, while it privileges the US playing a leading role in the war on terror, it fails to account for the diversity of responses that the war on terror has generated with various governments oscillating between greater security measures, repression and negotiations, with several governments even entering into dialogue with terrorists. Moreover, the authors do not allude to the debates and controversies within global Jihadi cells that followed the events of 9/11. For these debates we must turn attention to Brynjar Lia’s book, discussed later in this review. As a representative book of the first genre of the terrorism industry, Schweitzer and Shay’s The Globalization of Terror is one of the weakest and superficial publications.
The Search for Al-Qaeda by Bruce Riedel, who served in the CIA for thirty years is also an attempt to understand the goals of the global terrorist organisation, al-Qaida. Al-Qaida’s objectives are to drive Americans out of the Muslim world, destroy Israel, and create a new Jihadi super state, the Caliphate. The first two objectives may be accurate description of the aims of al-Qaida. The author admits that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the termination of American influence over key states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are central in the al-Qaida pamphlets, speeches and propaganda literature. However, the Caliphate does not seem to be prominent in their rhetoric. Most al-Qaida literature highlights the importance of small emirates rather than the Caliphate. The latter features prominently in the literature of Hizb al-Tahrir, another global Islamist movement that operates in both the West and the Muslim world. Upon the establishment of the Taliban regime, neither Mulla Omar nor Bin Laden assumed the title of Caliph; the first opting out for a small emirate that hardly stretched its influence over the whole of Afghanistan let alone the Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden never assumed the title of Caliph. In al-Qaida literature, he is often known as amir al-Jihad. The development of Sunni-Shia conflict, especially in Iraq under the pressure of al-Zarqawi and the American occupation may have thwarted the idea of the Caliphate before it became a central pillar around which to rally Muslims all over the Muslim world.
Drawing on his long experience in the corridors of intelligence services and power- he was in the White House during the 9/11 attack, Riedel constructs biographies of four key personalities in the global Jihad: the thinker, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Knight, Saudi Osama bin Laden, the host, Afghan Mulla Omar, and the stranger, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. The book relies on translations of al-Qaida sources, provided by the Egyptian Broadcast Information Service, later known as the Open Source Centre. Most of the material is accessible to the wider public, especially observers and scholars of global Jihad. The author offers a blunt critique of the Bush-Cheney strategy, following 9/11, both failed to launch a war on al-Qaida. Instead, according to Riedel, they announced the beginning of the war on a vague concept, namely terrorism. He takes upon himself to explain to the American people their enemy, as most of them still do not know. He supports his claim by drawing evidence from one opinion poll, which concluded that seven out of ten Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attack on New York. Even in 2006, a Zogby poll found 46% of Americans still believed in the Saddam connection (pp. 2), perhaps an indication of the power of the Republican administration to market the occupation of Iraq as an act of retaliation against the alleged role of the Iraqi regime and his weapons of mass destruction, both accusations proved to be inaccurate and flawed.
According to Riedel, 9/11 was inspired by a terrorist attack in 1994, when four Algerians took control of an Air France flight at Algier’s airport with the intention of crashing it in Paris. The French plane left Algeria after the terrorists began executing hostages. The plane landed in Marseille where it was stormed by French commandoes. It is at this juncture that the intelligence community and Riedel were alerted to the future possibility of using planes as target missiles but it seems that they failed to act. Riedel, like many other intelligence researcher is amazed by the audacity of the attack and the ability of al-Qaida to carry out further terrorist operation after the dismantling of its camps in 2000-2001 in places as far as London and Madrid.
In order to understand this audacity, Riedel turns his attention to the biographies of the main personalities in the global Jihad. While Zawahiri, Bin Laden, and Zarqawi may well be global Jihadis, one person does not really fit the profile. Mulla Omar created the first Islamic Jihadi state, but he is not of the same calibre as Zawahiri and Bin Laden. Mulla Omar never addressed the Muslim umma and his project was limited to Afghanistan. In four chapters, the reader comes to know these figures as a result of a successful reconstruction of the details of their lives, political careers, and later on terrorism. Much of the information provided had already been available to observers and Riedel does not add new insights or interpretation but he does draw on his role in intelligence services. The intellectual roots of al-Zawahiri, the upbringing of Osama Bin Laden, the short lived career of Mulla Omar, and the savagery of al-Zarqawi’s campaign in Iraq are now all well known and documented. Yet, the author sketches important ideological orientations and major events that influenced the four activists and turned them into global Jihadis, with the exception of Mulla Omar. He writes in an accessible style different from the heavy monographs that appeared on the ideology of al-Qaida and its outspoken members. He inserts in the narrative his own travel details and discussions with members of the American administration and intelligence services, thus enhancing and animating the story. Specialist scholars will find the book too shallow as it covers the lives and ideas of the icons of Jihad in a cursory manner, while the general reader will benefit from an accessible text. Riedel overlooks sensational stories that have dominated other biographical books on the four characters of global Jihad and offers a sober assessment of their past and contemporary thoughts and organisational skills as global terrorists.
Riedel offers an insight into the al-Qaida plans, the first and most important being ‘bleeding wars’, that drag the superpower in a long conflict whose outcome remains uncertain. From Afghanistan to Iraq, al-Qaida has succeeded in perpetuating confrontation with the US and its allies. By 2008 the Americans have not secured a democratic government in Afghanistan nor Iraq. The Taliban have re-emerged triumphant with greater capabilities to inflict serious damage and casualties on both the Afghans and the supporting Nato forces. In Iraq, while the Shia-Sunni violence has subsided with the death of al-Zarqawi, it is uncertain whether the US can claim a clear victory over those who thwart the American sanctioned Iraqi government. More importantly, Pakistan has emerged as a hot spot for al-Qaida and its operatives. A second objective of al-Qaida is to build safe havens and franchises. Some of these franchises are dismantled, for example in Saudi Arabia, but their emergence in Yemen, North Africa, and South Asia is far from being ruled out or even destroyed. Riedel hints at the desire of al-Qaida to establish a franchise in Palestine, possibly in partnership with Hamas. This is however, farfetched, given the strong attack that al-Zawahiri launched against Hamas when it decided to run for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. According to many scholars, for example Fawaz Gerges, Hamas is not a global terrorist organisation but a national Islamist movement affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Most probably, Riedel does not draw the line between Islamist movements like Hamas and the global Jihadis of al-Qaida. He claims that there is evidence of links between the two groups. According to him, ‘Hamas operatives apparently helped an al-Qaida cell in the Sinai carry out attacks in Israel and Sharm al-Shaykh (pp. 128). However, he acknowledges that Hamas jealously guards its independence from outsiders, which may not encourage developing more solid links with al-Qaida. This is not the only reason. Hamas remains a territorial organisation striving to achieve supremacy in its own local surroundings and is unlikely to wage a global Jihad outside Israel, for example in Western capitals, South Asia or North Africa, although its rhetoric and charter demonstrates a commitment to armed struggle. It is inconceivable that that it will develop a global Jihadi strategy when it has shown that it is willing to invoke hudna, truce, with Israel in return for some gains on the ground. While Bin Laden himself offered a truce to Europe in one of his speeches, in an attempt to precipitate a rift between Europe and the US, his offer is not comparable to that offered by Hamas under siege.
Like all books of this genre, Riedel concludes his monograph in a chapter entitled ‘How to Defeat al-Qaeda’. This chapter challenges observers who have prematurely written the obituary of al-Qaida. Riedel acknowledges that some of its franchises are now defeated, for example in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but he warns against complacency. He also hints at the schisms within al-Qaida that may weaken the movement from within. But he stresses that the decentralised and dispersed al-Qaida is still capable of inflicting damage in many other locations. Promoting peace in the Middle East and resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a first step that should be on the agenda of future American presidents. This will deprive al-Qaida of one of its most powerful intellectual weapons. He argues that ‘a real peace will leave al-Qaida more and more isolated from the umma’ (pp. 140). Other festering wounds in Kashmir also require urgent peaceful settlement. The second step is to destroy sanctuaries, leadership and local branches. This requires strong coordinated military efforts, coupled with programmes to promote democracy in places where there is a deficit. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are good to think about at this juncture. Riedel dismisses the often-repeated understanding that democracy will bring radical Islamists to power. He confirms that Pakistanis are more attracted to moderate Islamist politics rather than radical Jihadi groups. Not following some of Riedel’s suggestions will make defeating al-Qaida a long and arduous project. The US itself may create difficult situations in which the defeat of al-Qaida can take decades. He argues that more blunders like Iraq and more prison camps like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay can only help al-Qaida. In this last statement, Riedel cannot be more honest with the various US administrations that he served.
For a detailed biography of one contemporary Jihadi ideologue and the schisms within al-Qaida, we must turn to Brynjar Lia’s book, Architect of Global Jihad in which he offers a biographical intellectual history of Abu Musab al-Suri (Omar al-Hakim) one of the global Jihadi strategists. A research Professor at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, Lia combines solid academic training in language and research methodology with policy oriented inclinations to construct a thorough and detailed biography of this figure, who rose to eminence as a result of his copious treatises on Jihad and involvement in the training of Jihadis in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Abu Musab is believed to have established Jihadi networks in Europe. He was a possible mastermind of the Madrid train bombings, according to Lia’s sources.
Originally from Syria, Abu Musab is a truly transnational character and a cosmopolitan one for that matter. Abu Musab does not long for a nomadic culture that he has never experienced but a transnational movement made possible as a result of globalisation, education, and transnational connections of late modernity. His early involvement in local Syrian Islamist rebellion, his exile and involvement in the Afghan Jihad, and his settlement in Spain, where he cultivated networks, contributed to his critical outlook and theoretical consideration of the Jihad as a strategy to be adopted by Muslims aspiring to defend faith and defeat the enemies of the umma. Lia delves into the intricate details of Abu Musab’s journey and settlement in multiple sites, where he faced both acceptance and competition from people who shared his Jihad project. He is described as ‘a dissident, a critic, and an intellectual’ (pp. 3). However, as an ‘architect’, Abu Musab has not achieved the notoriety of for example Khattab or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose eminence was linked to their actual participation in combat and terrorism. Although Abu Musab al-Suri’s treatises on future Jihad circulated on the Internet, he remained a distant figure sought only by those inclined towards theory rather than practice. This important point raises questions about the relevance of the grand Jihad narrative to actual recruitment, mobilisation and participation in Jihad. Al-Suri’s style, language and argumentation in support of Jihad is perhaps too sophisticated for the general public, and remain limited to a small circle of ‘ intellectual’ Jihadis, It is more likely that the majority of Jihadis are mobilised as a result of belonging to small networks of activists who may or may not be well versed in the theological and political arguments proposed by al-Suri. His theories assume a virtual significance without an assessment of how they are received by their audiences, who are also virtual. Lia gives us a glimpse of the local contexts in which al-Suri lived and circulated, in addition to the virtual debates around his ideology, but we remain ignorant of the impact his ideas have had on young Muslims drawn into Jihadi terrorism. For this, we need serious engagement with the consumers of Abu Musab’s ideas in multiple locations, for example, Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, Madrid and other sites. Al-Suri writes in Arabic and this poses limitations on the circulation of his ideas among Muslims worldwide. We cannot affirm that his theory of Jihad was an inspiration behind terrorist attacks in for example London, where he encountered Palestinian Abu Qattada, or in other parts of the world.
The three books reviewed here represent a genre of the terrorism industry that flourished in the aftermath of 9/11. While the first two books (Schweitzer and Riedel) are of limited value and contribution, Lia’s book is more nuanced and comprehensive. To truly understand global Jihad in the twenty first century we need to turn our attention to the limited but more convincing literature of social scientists and Islamic Studies specialists. Of great relevance is the scholarly work on social movements, which in many ways explains why Islamists, or a small minority amongst them, have turned their attention to a violent global deterritorialised project that has so far claimed many innocent lives in different parts of the world. Global Jihadis remain modern manifestation of an overwhelming political crisis in Muslim societies and among diaspora Muslims. Their ideological and religious treatise are contemporary formulations that seek to justify violence on a large scale but they and their ideology are product of a deep malaise experienced at the level of individual, society and state. Al-Qaida, its theoreticians, including al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Suri, and less known virtual writers cannot be the object of analysis without a serious commitment to understanding the local contexts of Muslims, their repressive states, and relations with the West. Jihadis in the twenty first century stand at the intersection of local and global developments that have swept the world.
* Y. Schweitzer & S. Shay The Globalization of Terror: the challenge of al-Qaida and the response of the international community (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers 2008)
** B. Riedel, The Search for Al-Qaeda: its leadership, ideology, and future (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2008)
*** B. Lia Architect of Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaida Strategist Abu Musab al-Suri (London: Hurst and Co, 2007)