it is a panoramic view of the Jihadist endeavor (different from Islamist, regional Islamists and transnationalist jihadsits), particularly in the early 70's through the emergence of several Islamist Organizations, in the lands of Islam, from Egypt, Algeria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and culminating with the Russian Invasion in Afghanistan. from the treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Tanzim (which was then lead by al-Zawahiri), and Tanzims eventually marriage with al-Qaeda
the title of the work it-self 'The Far Enemy' begs in it-self, the rupture in the jihadist movement, as they turned their frame and focus from 'The Near Enemy', i.e the focus on toppling proxy regimes supported by the West, in Egypt in particular, and Algeria to the 'Far Enemy', i.e the United States in particular. with brutal suppression and oppression of the Islamists in Egypt and Algeria (which was an all out civil war), the very infra-structure of the irredentist movement, i.e the local jihadi movements was severely undermined, before the Russian Invasion
the Book contends, that the Russian Invasion, gave the likes of al-Zawahiri, the pre-text to train and re-organize them-selves in the beautiful land-scape of Afghanistan, not with the intent of assisting the Afghanis, but with the intent of garnering up more energy, training and organization, following the brutal repression of the jihadits in Egypt. many Islamic Countries, where happy to send elements of this Islamist out-fits to Afghanistan, to simply get them "off" their backs for the time being, and let the furor of their dis-agreements channeled into the Afghan conflict.
sad is the reality, that when the altristic jihadis who went there to defend the defenseless Afghanis returned home, they had to face the wrath, not only of the authorities, but also that of the un-willigness of the societies to integrate them. importantly, the doctrinal brain-washing which represented, the perpetuation of "jihad" as a defensive posture, was turned around and suggested as a "continious struggle" against the other. (this is the Qutbian paradigm, which is the hall mark of many jihadis)! left with such a large pool of highly trained, social mis-fits (it makes me think, about the prophetic tradition, that 'who-ever moves forward of the jama'ah ...', it places the onus and responsibility of the jama'ah to create avenues where their energies and motivations are duly applied and appreciated, and not let to wander off to the rants and raves of mis-fits like al-Zawahiri and Usama b Laden), it really presented a "social problem of sorts"!
but the reader ought not to be confused, and lump sum all jihadis and Islamists within the same category. there are and continue to exist various variations of Islamic Activities that are non jihadi in nature, and only contend a defensive jihad, building up societies, working with the given institutions.
so what was the turning point of this radical departure from the 'Near Enemy' to the 'Far Enemy', as it relates to al-Zawahiri, and his collusion with Usama b. Laden? several factors, but most of it with the decay and the loss of leadership within the Islamic Lands of these regional Islamists, followed by the utter failure of the Islamists to "integrate them-selves" within the Community (i.e they had seceeded out-side the realm of the Community). the Gulf War I provided for a pretext for Usama b Laden to turn the tables around, after being snubbed by the Saudi Royal Family, and the Saudi 'Ulama (including bin Baz and Uthmayin, who feared their lives). such an insult to the persona of Usama b Laden really catapulted him, and his journey from various Islamic Lands, eventually to Afghanistan, under the protection and aegis of the Taliban, and the Commander of the Faithful, Mulla Omar!
it was the collusion between al-Zawahiri and Usama b Laden that lead to the formation of al-Qaeda, with a very large following.
but the work, also sets to de-bunk and de-mythologize these aspects
1. that the jihadist movement was organized: there was and continues to be great opposition to the al-Qaeda Organization, evident even from the ranks and files of those who had served within al-Zawahiri. targetting the United States, lead in and of it-self the opening of two frontiers, which the Islamists were not able to contend with, and voiced their large opposition to it, but to no avail
2. that the jihadist movement represents the collectivity of the muslim participation: again, the current organization is lead mostly by "arabs", and there was extreme dis-pleasure expressed by non Arab jihadis on the preference given to the arab Jihadis, vis a vis money and positions of power within these organizations
3. the presence of shura: practically absent, since Usama b Laden, was not only able to gather followers by the dint of the personality cult, but was also able to suppress any dissenting opinions under the pre-text of the baya that was given to him/organization the work truly breaks down our frame of thought in lumping all jihadis, whether they by regional, irredentist (re-deeming the land of Afghanistan from the Russians) and trans-national as simply self-serving and false. given the retractions of several Islamists in the Islamic World and their out-spokenness against the jihadi posture that calls for a "clash of civilizations", it also helps to under-stand the short-comings of the 9-11 Commission in treating the subject at hand. while the 9-11 commission report does a brilliant work in breaking down the tragic events of 9-11 "tactically", there is a very little from the pespective of the nuanced analysis that comes from this work.