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The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global [Hardcover]

Fawaz A. Gerges

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Book Description

Sept. 5 2005 0521791405 978-0521791403 1
Since September 11, Al Qaeda has been portrayed as an Islamist front united in armed struggle, or jihad, against the Christian West. However, as the historian and commentator Fawaz A. Gerges argues, the reality is rather different and more complex. In fact, Al Qaeda represents a minority within the jihadist movement, and its strategies have been vehemently criticized and opposed by religious nationalists among the jihadis, who prefer to concentrate on changing the Muslim world rather than taking the fight global. It is this rift that led to the events of September 11 and that has dominated subsequent developments. Through several years of primary field research, the author unravels the story of the jihadist movement and explores how it came into being, the philosophies of its founding fathers, its structure, the rifts and tensions that split its ranks, and why some members, like Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, favored international over local strategies in taking the war to the West. This is an articulate and original book that sheds light on the tactics used by the jihadis in the last three decades. As more alienated young Muslims are seduced into joining, the author asks where the jihadist movement is going and whether it can survive and shed its violent character. Fawaz A. Gerges holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College.He was educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics and has previously been a Research Fellow at Harvard and Princeton universities. He is also a senior analyst and regular commentator for ABC television news. His books include America and Political Islam: Clash of Interests or Clash of Cultures? (Cambridge,1999) and The Journey of the Jihadis: A Biography of a State of Mind (Harcourt Press, 2006). He has written extensively on Arab and Muslim politics, Islamist movements, American foreign policy, and relations between the world of Islam and the West. His articles have appeared in several of the most prestigious journals and newspapers in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

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"In this well-grounded and at times gripping account of militant Islamist activism, Gerges gives the most persuasive explanation yet for the direction taken by those jihadis who have set their sights on nothing less than a shift in the global balance of power. Taking these ruthless idealists of the new century seriously, through their writings and through interviews, he brings an immediacy to the story which shows up their limitations, but also underlines the ferocity of their desire to eliminate those who stand against them." Professor Charles Tripp, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

"Fawaz Gerges has written an authoritative, deeply-researched account of jihadist movements around the Middle East, and shows that these movements, far from monolithic, are rife with ideological and strategic debates. This stimulating and well-written book will be of great interest to the general reader and the specialist alike." Peter Bergen, CNN Terrorism Analyst and author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden

"No previous author has gone as far as Fawaz Gerges in explaining and illustrating the politics of Al Qaeda. On the basis of many interviews with jihadi militants, a close reading of the voluminous Arab literature thrown by its members, and, not least, the author's astute and historically informed judgment, he has produced a rich and most informative portrait of this movement. Identifying the political costs to the Arab world of this extreme, if very much minoritarian tendency, he also shows how repeated miscalculations by the West, from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Iraq after 2003, have given a new lease of life to the anger and fantasies of bin Laden and his followers." Professor Fred Halliday, London School of Economics, and author of Two Hours that Shook the World and 100 Myths About Islam

"His interviews are fascinating, disturbing and illuminating, and offer remarkably consistent arguments." Paula Newberg, Skidmore College

"...a few brave academics have stepped with books that evince a clearsighted vision and solid expertise. Among the best of these is Fawaz A. Gerges's The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global." --Chronicle of Higher Education, Juan R.I. Cole

"The title of Fawaz A. Gerges's incisive The Far Enemy refers to the al Qaeda term for the United States and its Western allies, but the book's focus is squarely on the internal divisions and ideological disputes that rent the jihadis during the mid-1990s." Bruce Hoffman, Washington Post Book World

“The author uses primary Arabic sources and interviews with militants to give a fascinating account of one of the most complex phenomena in the contemporary Middle East. Highly recommended.”

New York Times "Week in Review" section as suggested reading about Islam and its history.

"The book provides a remarkable picture of the complexity of the jihad movement in recent decades."
John Obert Voll, The International History Review

Book Description

Since 9/11, Al Qaeda has been portrayed as an Islamist front united in armed struggle, or jihad, against the West. Fawaz Gerges argues that Al Qaeda represents a minority whose strategies have been opposed by religionist nationalists, thus creating a rift that led to the events of 9/11.

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Throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s jihadis devoted most of their resources to dislodging the near enemy and establishing theocratic states governed by Shariah (Islamic law). Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Contribution to Middle Eastern Studies Sept. 25 2005
By 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
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious work worth reading again and again Sept. 30 2005
By 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
4.0 out of 5 stars More than Soundbites Jan. 31 2006
By 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
4.0 out of 5 stars HOW 9-11 DESTROYED ISLAMICISM Jan. 16 2006
By 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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little dated but still prescient May 21 2011
By Matthew Smith - Published on Amazon.com
In this book Gerges' basic thesis is that for the majority of jihadists and Islamists regime change in their local governments has been and still is the main objective. He says that al-Qaeda is a minority within the jihadist movement, and that most main stream organizations and leaders see al-Qaeda, and other like minded organizations, as misguided if not outright detrimental to the goal of changing the Middle East. The author gives a large sampling of main stream voices who have been publicly critical of bin Laden and Zawahiri. He suggests that the Arab world, as well as the jihadists and Islamist, movement is not monolithic but is instead in constant flux.

During the 80s and 90s jihadists fought a bloody war against their secular and authoritarian governments. The main problem was they had no plans other than violent confrontation. They had no political, economic or social platform, instead all they had was deep motivation to violently remove these regimes and implement a top down societal overhaul. While the regimes they lashed out against were deserving of little sympathy, the jihadists lack of a rational and realistic political platform meant the people refused to get behind their movement because they offered the people only two options; the regime which offered stability, or extreme violence. Due to their failings the jihadists lost their battle in the 90s which created a rift between the movement. Some of these guys became introspective and began to look critically at their movement to see why they failed so miserably, and to see what changes should be implemented to change the patterns of failure.

What Gerges posits is that many decided a violent confrontation with a top down approach that ignores the people is one that is destined to fail. They have looked critically at themselves and their movement and moved to implement much needed reform. With that said there were others, like Zawahiri, who decided to change tactics and confront the far enemy under the diluted notion that this would rally all Muslims to their nihilistic organization and rejuvinate their movement. What Gerges' sources illustrate very well is the lack of introspection with these leaders, and how they are forced to constantly rewrite their own history to make their strategic failures appear as if they were the goal from the beginning.

What Gerges does well is show the debate that is going on within the jihadist and Islamist movements. A civil war of ideas is being waged in the Muslim world, and the outcome of this battle will determine where the Jihadists and Islamic world will go from here. Al Qaeda and other like minded organizations have no real platform. All they offer is nihilistic violence, death and destruction. While they can be devastatingly destructive like on Sept. 11, they are destined to failure, and it is important that the West helps win the war of ideas just as much as the actual fight against terrorism.

As for criticism, the book is poorly written. The author will introduce characters the same way every time he writes about them. One of the main characters is an Egyptian lawyer Montasser al-Zayat who was a jihadist and now defends prominent jihadists in Egypt. Every time the author mentions him he gives a pragraph long description of who he is that is verbatim the same as the very first introduction. He does with many people, and it quickly becomes annoying.

The other thing is that, while the book has shown itself to be prescient, it is a little dated especially after the death of bin Laden. Its focus on bin Laden and al Qaeda means that, while when originally written it hit the nail on the head, now the world is moving on to other organizations and looking at potential new leaders.

This is a very good book that uses the jihadists and Islamists as first hand sources in developing its thesis. This is important for readers because it gives them and inside look at movement that is at a crossroads. This book will inform and enlighten readers which is why I absolutely recommend this book.

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