61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty
- Published on Amazon.com
There is no doubt that Islam as a religion and Islamic-Western relations as a political problem have captured the attention of everyone in the United States who is tuned into current affairs. September 11th, the worst terrorist attack in American history, and the current international war on terrorism have changed the lives of people around the globe. The search for the accused masterminds behind 9/11 and other recent attacks against Western and Western-allied targets, and the pursuit of those who are the direct perpetrators of terrorist activities, is an ongoing and very expensive enterprise.
Of particular interest are the whereabouts and capture of Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, leaders of the terrorist group called Al Qaeda. For the most part, Al Qaeda has been characterized as an Islamist front united in armed struggle, or "jihad," against Western civilization and Western interests. But Fawaz A. Gerges, a noted historian and Middle East expert, has a different take on the matter and has offered his own analysis in "The Far Enemy," a book that is extremely detailed and meticulously researched.
Gerges certainly possesses the credentials needed to write a book such as this. Educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics, he has previously been a Research Fellow at Harvard and Princeton universities, and he now holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College. Gerges has written widely on Arab and Muslim politics, Islamist movements, American foreign policy, and relations between the world of Islam and the West. His has authored several books and his articles have appeared in several of the most respected journals and newspapers in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. He is also a senior analyst and regular commentator for ABC television news on Middle Eastern affairs.
The first question that naturally comes to one's mind is: What is meant by the "Far Enemy"? Furthermore, if there is a "far enemy," there should be a "near enemy" and who is that? I have read a great deal about Islam and the Islamic "jihad" during the past few years and never came across these terms before. Now that I am familiar with them, thanks to the author, past and current events regarding Islamic-Western tensions, and some of the events in certain Muslim-dominated nations, are better understood. To put it simply, the "far enemy" refers to the United States and its Western allies; the "near enemy" are the Muslim regimes which have been deemed "unacceptable" either for their secularization of politics and society or because, in the view of some jihadists, the religious authorities and scholars have been "subverted by corrupting Western influences."
Up until the late 1990s, according to the author, jihadists had concentrated their attention on fighting the "near enemy," that is, bringing about political and social change within Muslim nations, returning these nations to their essential Islamic religious foundation. Then, as the twenty-first century approached, some jihadists internationalized the battle and the "far enemy" became the focus of the struggle. This is the situation regarding Al Qaeda. Gerges argues that Al Qaeda is actually a minority within the jihadist movement. Moreover, it has been criticized and opposed by other jihadists, namely the religious nationalists who want to focus on changing the Muslim world rather than internationalizing the battle. These latter want to confront and change the "near enemy" and not fight the "far enemy."
One example of the above will be related here. Referring to Nageh Abdullah Ibrahim, a major theoretician of the jihadist organization called the Islamic Group who is currently serving a life sentence in Egypt, Gerges states: "...Ibrahim and other imprisoned Islamic Group leaders fault Al Qaeda for ignoring reality and living in its own bubble. They go after bin Laden with a vengeance, accusing him of shutting his eyes and ears and blindly plunging forward, bringing the temple down on his own head the ummah's as well."
Gerges continues: "Ibrahim says that had bin Laden paid adequate attention to his humble capabilities, he would have refrained from declaring war on the world, but the issue is bigger than that because bin Laden has lost touch with reality, rationality, and religious precepts. As a result, Ibrahim adds, Al Qaeda caused the downfall of two Muslim regimes -- in Kabul and Baghdad -- and Arab states have faced the brunt of the American armada. In short, Al Qaeda is no longer an intact, cohesive organization because it confuses myth with fact and entertains strange ideas. Ibrahim compares Al Qaeda with the Saddam Hussein regime and implies that bin Laden could bring about the destruction of his network like Hussein did to the Iraqi state."
Those who think that the jihadists constitute a unified movement in complete agreement about who is the real adversary and the strategies to be employed in defeating it are in error, according to Gerges. This whole issue is far more complex than most Western observers think. There has been a rift, largely ignored by the West, between those Islamic jihadists who are interested in promoting global terrorism, going after the "far enemy," and those who want to concentrate on the "near enemy." This rift, says Gerges, led to the events of September 11 and has dominated developments ever since.
According to Gerges, the West must understand this: "...the war against transnationalist jihadis cannot be won on the battlefield in either Afghanistan or Iraq; this is not a conventional war in which two armies confront each other and emerge victorious or vanquished. One of the arguments advanced in the book is that the most effective means to put Al Qaeda out of business is to complete its encirclement and siege internally; there is overwhelming evidence pointing in that direction: bin Laden and his associates have lost the war for Muslim minds."
This is a very complex, detailed work based on firsthand field research, interviews, primary documents, and letters. Not, however, your leisure-time reading.
46 of 57 people found the following review helpful
M. L Lamendola
- Published on Amazon.com
When any book has 60-some pages of citations and notes, you know it's a serious work.
These days, it seems everyone is an armchair expert with a "factual" opinion on the global Jihad situation. Because I receive phone calls from US soldiers and civilians serving or working in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia, I have a bit of insight into this situation. What most people spew as fact is merely rewarmed televised propaganda with little or no basis in reality.
Thus, it was refreshing to read Gerges' well-researched book. Gerges is authoritative, not opinionated. This is evident in his extensive use of letters written by various key players in the global jihad psychodrama.
One of the points he discussed was how the Muslim mainstream has rejected Osama bin Laden--and why. Through my volunteer work in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), I have been interacting with Muslims for many years--long before September 11. My opinion of these people has nothing to do with their religion. I have found them to be intelligent, hard-working, considerate, and giving. Not at all the characterization we find being put forth by our more "insulated" fellow citizens. Being of Sicilian decent myself, I know a thing or two about being "suspected"--as many innocent Muslims are today.
The situation in the Middle East is not one of a monolithic Muslim culture waging war against the so-called "Christian" nations. In France, Muslims outnumber Catholics and Protestants combined. Any time I read a book or article about Jihad, I know the author has stepped into "stupidland" as soon as there's mention of "the Middle East Muslims still fighting the Crusades against Europe."
Yes, in the minds of a few zealot Muslims, the Crusade thing is true. But let's not forget we have zealot "Christians" in the USA running around in bed sheets and lighting crosses on people's front lawns. In both cases, religious leaders have declared the zealots as acting in violation of their respective scriptures. Broad generalizations based on special cases may be normal for American mainstream media, but that doesn't make them correct or useful.
Gerges doesn't make any generalizations. In fact, I had to stop reading at a few points to wonder what point he was trying to make. When I did that, I realized it wasn't about selling his point to the reader. At those few points where I had to stop to digest the material before moving on, Gerges was going in-depth and making me out together a structure of points. The global Jihad isn't a linear thing, or something you can boil down to a few trite statements. It was great to see someone treat this complex subject with the in-depth examination and evidence it deserves.
So, what can you expect to find in this book that I like so much? Gerges starts out with a lengthy introduction that gives perspective on September 11. Then he addresses the Afghan War (U.S.-backed Taliban against the U.S.S.R.) and how that sowed the seeds of transnational Jihad. It's worthwhile to read that twice.
Then, he takes the reader through various writing and testimony showing the tension between various groups and alliances, and how Osama bin Laden forced the issue of international Jihad. Osama bin Laden wanted to "attack the head of the snake," meaning the USA. Gerges doesn't mention this, but I find it interesting that it was US troops who saved thousands of Muslim men, women, and children in the Balkans in the 1990s while Osama bin Laden did nothing for them.
But Gerges does take many sharp jabs at bin Laden, and he is not alone. With his hatred and his "glorious" attacks of September 11, bin Laden did immense damage to his own movement. This caused a split in the Jihadis, which Gerges discusses in depth.
This book offers much more, which I won't go into here. If you want to understand what's been driving these fanatics, this book will help you enormously. Positive change is occurring, and our leaders will have to be careful not to tip things back the other direction.
Understanding what is going on can help us cope with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that are compounded by the biased reporting and sensationalist news coverage that poison public opinion. But I think it's also important that we in the West don't succumb to the same narrow-minded hatred that fueled this whole global Jihad to begin with.
Form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Stratiotes Doxha Theon
- Published on Amazon.com
Though the author seems to belabor the point at times, the end result is a study in the jihadist trends of the past 30+ years. In this book you will be introduced to the key players in this drama along with the historical background of how their thought and teaching developed. It will take some time to digest it all but do not rush the reading and you will be rewarded with a level of analysis lacking in most books and reporting on the subject. It is well written for such a complex and daunting study.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Orrin C. Judd
- Published on Amazon.com
Fawaz Gerges here gives us an enormously useful history of the jihadi movement, one that benefits greatly from his facility with Arabic sources and his access to many jihadis for interviews. Of greatest importance though is the analysis he provides of the terrorist threat. While some hawks have argued that Mr. Gerges has historically had a tendency to minimize that threat, events seem to bear out his argument that:
The September 11 attacks were not just a product of the civil war within the House of Islam but a direct result of the civil war within the jihadist movement itself. In this sense, the United States was a secondary, not a primary, target of jihadis' military escalation, and the bulk of jihadis (religious nationalists) remained on the sidelines and did not join the onslaught by their transnationalist counterparts. If my thesis holds, then Al Qaeda represents more of a national security problem to the United States than a strategic threat, as the conventional wisdom in the American foreign policy establishment has it.
Therefore, it is critical to highlight the internal turmoil among jihadis because it brought about dramatic shifts in their thinking and action and caused further splits in their ranks.
It is certainly the case that the 9-11 attacks have been disastrous for the most anti-Western extremists, provoking the U.S. into actions that have decimated al Qaeda, brought democracy to Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, liberalization to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., and hastened settlements between the Israelis and Palestinians and Pakistan and India. The irony for al Qaeda is that in striking a secondary target they inflicted on themselves strategic defeat.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.