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Al Qaeda: The True Story Of Radical Islam

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Award-winning reporter Jason Burke shows how the threat from Islamic terrorism comes not from a single criminal mastermind, or even from one group. In this revealing account, he characterizes it is a broad movement with profound roots in the politics, societies and history of the Islamic world. Using hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Burke shows how "Al-Qa Award-winning reporter Jason Burke shows how the threat from Islamic terrorism comes not from a single criminal mastermind, or even from one group. In this revealing account, he characterizes it is a broad movement with profound roots in the politics, societies and history of the Islamic world. Using hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Burke shows how "Al-Qaeda" is a convenient label applied misleadingly to a diverse, disorganized global movement dedicated to fighting a "cosmic battle" with the West. This is the definitive account of the mysterious organization, retelling its story from scratch and challenging many myths that threaten the very foundations of the "War on Terror."


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Award-winning reporter Jason Burke shows how the threat from Islamic terrorism comes not from a single criminal mastermind, or even from one group. In this revealing account, he characterizes it is a broad movement with profound roots in the politics, societies and history of the Islamic world. Using hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Burke shows how "Al-Qa Award-winning reporter Jason Burke shows how the threat from Islamic terrorism comes not from a single criminal mastermind, or even from one group. In this revealing account, he characterizes it is a broad movement with profound roots in the politics, societies and history of the Islamic world. Using hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Burke shows how "Al-Qaeda" is a convenient label applied misleadingly to a diverse, disorganized global movement dedicated to fighting a "cosmic battle" with the West. This is the definitive account of the mysterious organization, retelling its story from scratch and challenging many myths that threaten the very foundations of the "War on Terror."

30 review for Al Qaeda: The True Story Of Radical Islam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rory

    A good book, but very dense with names and details. I'm all for providing all that stuff, but I think some editing work could have been done to at least help draw out who are the important names from the less important ones. Sometimes the thread of what he's saying can get lost a bit as he hops from event to event. I imagine this book would have been twice as long that way, but I think each page would also have taken half as much time to read, once this stuff was broken out and structured a bit A good book, but very dense with names and details. I'm all for providing all that stuff, but I think some editing work could have been done to at least help draw out who are the important names from the less important ones. Sometimes the thread of what he's saying can get lost a bit as he hops from event to event. I imagine this book would have been twice as long that way, but I think each page would also have taken half as much time to read, once this stuff was broken out and structured a bit more. Criticisms aside, this was a fascinating book. Really good primer on the complex political situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to a lesser extent), and the conditions that allowed Bin Laden to operate. Makes really clear sense of who he was and what he was and was not able to do, what he was and was not actually responsible for. Gives a really good sense of modern islamic terrorism, and the different stages it has gone through, and where we are now. I say, "where we are now", but this was written a decade ago, but the seeds of what he's talking about emerging back then (a brutal, non-political, culltural form of militant Islamism in Europe, indiscriminately targeting civilians rather than political or religious targets) is what we're seeing rip through Europe and the Middle East today. Would absolutely recommend. Just... do what my mum does when reading regency novels. Maybe just write down names, or refer to the glossary, to remind yourself who everyone is. Or maybe have wikipedia open nearby so you can remind yourself what al-Islami-whatsit is or why the name Farooq Blahdeblah sounds familiar.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Humphrey

    "If the world is understood as dominated by a cosmic struggle between good and evil, all problems are explained. An individual can explain personal and communal suffering and humiliation. Even better, they can blame someone for both. A battle involves a clear and present danger from an obvious enemy." I really appreciated having read this book. That sounds a little odd, sure, but holy crap do I understand a lot more about the entire concepts oh jihad and the idea of radical or extremist Islamic t "If the world is understood as dominated by a cosmic struggle between good and evil, all problems are explained. An individual can explain personal and communal suffering and humiliation. Even better, they can blame someone for both. A battle involves a clear and present danger from an obvious enemy." I really appreciated having read this book. That sounds a little odd, sure, but holy crap do I understand a lot more about the entire concepts oh jihad and the idea of radical or extremist Islamic thought. Basically the media and the government had simplified just about everything to the point I'd be tempted to call it lying and you'd do well to look into the issues more closely. Be careful, because you'll find yourself schooled in history, geography, socioeconomics and politics as much as Islam itself. This book is a good place to start. (Burke wrote this long before Daesh/ Islamic State became a thing, but my understanding tells me that group sprang out of the same issues so I'd still recommend reading this one.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    James

    After seven years of reading books and articles about al-Qaeda and violent political Islamists, I might just now have read the best book of the bunch. At least, it comes closest to the sense of al-Qaeda that I've arrived at after a lot of library research. Burke is knowledgeable, fair, broad, deep, and occasionally eloquent. I didn't learn a lot that I didn't already know (partly because Burke's book has been important to every publication on al-Qaeda since Burke appeared), but this book and its After seven years of reading books and articles about al-Qaeda and violent political Islamists, I might just now have read the best book of the bunch. At least, it comes closest to the sense of al-Qaeda that I've arrived at after a lot of library research. Burke is knowledgeable, fair, broad, deep, and occasionally eloquent. I didn't learn a lot that I didn't already know (partly because Burke's book has been important to every publication on al-Qaeda since Burke appeared), but this book and its argument about our mistaken understanding of the nature of al-Qaeda seems spot on. If I knew of a military officer being re-assigned to Afghanistan or anyplace where al-Qaeda is known to be active, I'd make sure he or she added this book to their mandatory reading list. There are as well a lot of people in government who would be well served by spending some time with Burke.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gabe Glaser

    Really amazing feat of comprehensive journalism over Radical Islam centered around Osama Bin Laden. I think my favorite part was about the influences of modern radical Islamism during the 70’s and 80’s with thinkers like Maudidi and Al-Bana. But the book becomes too confusing for me personally. I get too caught up in the details and ended up glossing over a fair portion of the boom unfortunately. This is not to say that the book is bad, but more so that I would need a lot more dedication, time, Really amazing feat of comprehensive journalism over Radical Islam centered around Osama Bin Laden. I think my favorite part was about the influences of modern radical Islamism during the 70’s and 80’s with thinkers like Maudidi and Al-Bana. But the book becomes too confusing for me personally. I get too caught up in the details and ended up glossing over a fair portion of the boom unfortunately. This is not to say that the book is bad, but more so that I would need a lot more dedication, time, and probably other supplementary reading to really get the most out of it. If you want to know more about the individual stories of radical Islamists, then this book will give you in great detail their journey in to the seemingly growing global movement.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rizwan

    An essential book if one wants to know what all this notorious organization is all about. How it came into being and how it launched its attacks which eventually lead the United States to attack Afghanistan where it was based. The edition which I read was published in 2004 when Al-Qaeda and Taliban were nearly completely vindicated in Afghanistan. However, it should be known that this terrorist group re-launched its terrorist activities in Afghanistan in 2006 effectively against the NATO troops An essential book if one wants to know what all this notorious organization is all about. How it came into being and how it launched its attacks which eventually lead the United States to attack Afghanistan where it was based. The edition which I read was published in 2004 when Al-Qaeda and Taliban were nearly completely vindicated in Afghanistan. However, it should be known that this terrorist group re-launched its terrorist activities in Afghanistan in 2006 effectively against the NATO troops stationed there. I would recommend the readers of this book to read Syed Saleem Shehzad's Inside Al-Qaeda and Taliban to know how, why and where this cancer spread and re-launched against the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Capu

    De fundamental lectura para entender los orígenes y evolución de al Qaeda. Pero sobre todo para aclarar ideas en cuanto a que es y a que no es al Qaeda. Tiene a su favor el ser un libro de alguna manera profético, ya que fue escrito en 2004 y predijo con precisión quirúrgica varios escenarios y formas que adoptaría en los años siguientes el islamismo radical.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    Read this yonks ago, but never got around to reviewing it, actually had to reread bits of it recently to remind myself. My edition is the 2007 volume, so it covers the 7/7 bombings but obviously came out before Osama Bin Laden's assassination, the Arab Spring, it's arguable failure, continued conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and more recent violence in Boston and Woolwich. Nonetheless the book is still highly relevant. Burke's central premise is that perceiving al-Qaeda as a "gang of evil doers" - Read this yonks ago, but never got around to reviewing it, actually had to reread bits of it recently to remind myself. My edition is the 2007 volume, so it covers the 7/7 bombings but obviously came out before Osama Bin Laden's assassination, the Arab Spring, it's arguable failure, continued conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and more recent violence in Boston and Woolwich. Nonetheless the book is still highly relevant. Burke's central premise is that perceiving al-Qaeda as a "gang of evil doers" - a group with a single leader, a hierarchical structure, a disciplined cadre of international networks and sleeper cells is to fail to understand the nature and causes of what is less an organisation as an ideology. In failing to understand this the West will continue to fail to effectively address radicalised Islam. The closest al-Qaeda came to that, what might loosely me the called the Bin-Laden network, only existed and effectively operated between 1996 and 2001; and even in this sense is better compared to a wealthy university handing out grants - a sort of venture capital firm of Jihad. That is something worth remembering when you read this morning's headlines about al-Qaeda capturing Fallujah (actually ISIS). The false al-Qaeda label is easier to grasp, makes better news, and continues to be used by repressive regimes (and democracies) to take off the gloves to suppress local Muslim communities and breach privacy and personal freedoms. Burke looks broadly at the the nature of Islamic radicalism, tracing its path from colonialism, Arab nationalism and the post cold war environment. He argues that al-Qaeda's extreme form of Wahhabis Islam - millenarian, violent, nihilistic and mythic, can be seen as a reaction to the failure of Political Islamism to address key issues of social justice within Islamic society. It is the doctrine of Islam under threat. Inevitably much of the book does focus on Bin Laden's rise to notoriety, from duteous anti-soviet Mujahideen financier to icon of evil or hero to martyrdom . Particularly interesting are some of the Wests failed attempts at suppression that simply drove his rise to success. The Clinton administration's cynical (on the back of the Lewinsky scandal), poorly conceived response to the US embassy bombings of 1998 (Kenya and Tanzania) is notable. The subsequent cruise missile attacks (Operation Infinite Reach) were key in raising Bin Laden's status from a dubious,rich-boy, minor player in radicalised Islam to a credible figure. Burke analyses the difficult initial relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and highlights their remarkable ideological differences. "The Shiek" with a vision of global jihad and an end-of-days struggle with the Kufr, the Mullahs parochial, neo-traditionalist and seeking a rural idyll. The Taliban had in fact struck a deal with Saudi Intelligence to hand Bin Laden to them, and remarkably, banned opium production in an effort to seek recognition by the west in the Afghan civil war period. By the UN imposing sanctions on Afghanistan in 1999(against the advice of it's own drug agency) they effectively pushed the disparate parties together. It's a incredibly detailed and well researched book. Burke's conclusion is that the mainstream appeal of al-Qaeda as doctorine is that it relates to personal experience and offers an action to theory. Effectively that the autonomous nature of the doctrine is that you are in al-Qaeda if you say so. Sadly the book will be relevant for a very long time for the same reason.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jon Harman

    Burke writes a very detailed explanation about the rise and over simplification of radical islam and how it is not as straight forward as we are lead to believe.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Merritt O'Boyle

    I wanted to learn more about the religious terrorism our world faces today, and literally googled "best book on islamic terrorism" to find this. Overall it was a good read. Easy enough for a layman yet definitely not watered down at all. I came away from it feeling I knew a lot more about "al qaeda" than I did before I opened it, which was the goal! Some readers would probably want to start this book after having *some* familiarity with the subject. As it stands, I read the news, and I did read t I wanted to learn more about the religious terrorism our world faces today, and literally googled "best book on islamic terrorism" to find this. Overall it was a good read. Easy enough for a layman yet definitely not watered down at all. I came away from it feeling I knew a lot more about "al qaeda" than I did before I opened it, which was the goal! Some readers would probably want to start this book after having *some* familiarity with the subject. As it stands, I read the news, and I did read the 9/11 commission report, but beyond that didn't have too much knowledge concerning Islam, terrorism, the previous wars in Afghanistan, etc... Which definitely made this read more challenging for me. As a white American, keeping track of characters that have names wholly unfamiliar to me was difficult. Also, there were times where he would be describing a war and I would need some additional information (I was born in 1988!). So I'm not sure I would suggest it as the FIRST book to come to on the subject. That being said, this book prompted me to purchase two others on related subjects, so I'm hoping it armed me with enough of a foundation to approach the next two and garner a fuller understanding of the subject. I would recommend anyone interested pick up Burkes book

  10. 4 out of 5

    Thiago S.

    Livro interessante sobre a Al Qaeda e bin Laden. Autor goza de credibilidade e foi recomendado por Noam Chomsky. Um ponto positivo sao as diversas fotos ao longo da obra, algo cada vez mais raro (nao sei a razão) nos livros atuais. Outro fator que agrega valor à obra é o apanhado historico que o autor faz sobre o Islã para situar o leitor que nao tenha conhecimento prévio, com definicoes sobre Wahabbismo e o termo "islamist" e as diferentes vertentes do Islã. Unica coisa que depõe contra o livro Livro interessante sobre a Al Qaeda e bin Laden. Autor goza de credibilidade e foi recomendado por Noam Chomsky. Um ponto positivo sao as diversas fotos ao longo da obra, algo cada vez mais raro (nao sei a razão) nos livros atuais. Outro fator que agrega valor à obra é o apanhado historico que o autor faz sobre o Islã para situar o leitor que nao tenha conhecimento prévio, com definicoes sobre Wahabbismo e o termo "islamist" e as diferentes vertentes do Islã. Unica coisa que depõe contra o livro é ser um pouco datado (lançado há quase 12 anos) quando nao havia tantas informacoes disponiveis (ou se existiam, eram deturpadas) sobre a Al Qaeda. Este talvez tenha sido o primeiro trabalho mais completo e serio, e que tem como mérito servir para obras posteriores. Uma atualização seria muito bem vinda.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rob Squires

    Probably the best book out there on radical Islam. The author has done his homework, has spent a lot of time in the region, and is fair-minded. Not only does Jason Burke present a sound history of Islamic activism and radicalism, but he places plenty of emphasis on showing how it is multifaceted and how it has morphed over the years. I found a few typos and some of his use of Islamic terminology was confused, if not outright incorrect, which makes me wonder about his language skills. However, in Probably the best book out there on radical Islam. The author has done his homework, has spent a lot of time in the region, and is fair-minded. Not only does Jason Burke present a sound history of Islamic activism and radicalism, but he places plenty of emphasis on showing how it is multifaceted and how it has morphed over the years. I found a few typos and some of his use of Islamic terminology was confused, if not outright incorrect, which makes me wonder about his language skills. However, in spite of this quibbles, I still think it deserves five stars for its overall value. For anyone wanting to quickly learn what makes "al-Qaeda" and other Islamic militants tick, then this is a good place to start.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Witt

    The author's thesis is that Al-Qaeda isn't that big of a threat per se, and that the true problem is the radicalization of a generation of Muslims who subscribe to AQ's mission statement but have only informal ties to the organization. But then he goes on to describe Al-Qaeda's direct role in the Nairobi embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks and you're like "Hey man, Al-Qaeda is a pretty big deal just by itself." But he's probably right in the long term, and a couple decades in the future, when I The author's thesis is that Al-Qaeda isn't that big of a threat per se, and that the true problem is the radicalization of a generation of Muslims who subscribe to AQ's mission statement but have only informal ties to the organization. But then he goes on to describe Al-Qaeda's direct role in the Nairobi embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks and you're like "Hey man, Al-Qaeda is a pretty big deal just by itself." But he's probably right in the long term, and a couple decades in the future, when I'm surveying the smoking, radioactive crater that was New York City, I'll probably think to myself "dude made some good points."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Marginally interesting account of Islamic terrorism, that is too densely populated with indistinguishable people and place names to really explain the history of Al-Qaeda. It is clear, as Burke says repeatedly, that Al-Qaeda is, if still existing, a very loosely-confederated group of Islamic radical leaders, surrounded by a second-tier "network of networks". The good news is that the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has basically shut down the terrorist training camps there, the bad news is the wa Marginally interesting account of Islamic terrorism, that is too densely populated with indistinguishable people and place names to really explain the history of Al-Qaeda. It is clear, as Burke says repeatedly, that Al-Qaeda is, if still existing, a very loosely-confederated group of Islamic radical leaders, surrounded by a second-tier "network of networks". The good news is that the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has basically shut down the terrorist training camps there, the bad news is the war has radicalized the Islamic militants into new free-standing terrorists who still have many outlets for violence in the Mid-east and around the world.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Drralph

    The best book I've read on Al Qaeda and recent Islamist terrorism. I read this book because I saw Jason Burke on the Adam Curtis's BBC TV series The Power of Nightmares; but what Burke understands (and Curtis seemed not to quite grasp) is that the fact what persists of Al Qaeda is not the Bond-villain-style organisation pulling the strings of global terrorism around the world that our Governments have been scaring us with but the ideas they put forward is not less scary but more. Essential.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Simon Koefman

    A well written, scrupulously researched and balanced book, drawing on the author's wide experience reporting all across the Middle East for the last twenty-odd years. Burke outlines the sheer diversity in Islamic militancy across the muslim world in a rough chronology, up to 9/11 and the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns. Radicalism is a manifestation of the continued failure of Muslim states to deal with social and economic problems, a profound sense of humiliation, alienation and resentment at the we A well written, scrupulously researched and balanced book, drawing on the author's wide experience reporting all across the Middle East for the last twenty-odd years. Burke outlines the sheer diversity in Islamic militancy across the muslim world in a rough chronology, up to 9/11 and the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns. Radicalism is a manifestation of the continued failure of Muslim states to deal with social and economic problems, a profound sense of humiliation, alienation and resentment at the wealth and influence of the west. An excellent book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Brady

    This book is incredibly well researched, and there are few journalists out there that are so well informed on the subject. However, as with "the 9/11 wars", I think Jason needs a better editor. I found chapters posing questions that they then didn't answer. I was frustrated that there was amazing content that needed a bit more re-organization to make a truly great book. The demise of good editing aside, it's still a must read on the subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    An illuminating and readable summary of the evolution of radical islam, and explanation of how the reality of 'al-qaeda' is different and more threatening than the general understanding of al-qaeda as a cohesive entity under bin laden. The book seems well reasoned and reasonably well sourced, but having not read anything else on the topic, I'm relying on numerous reviews and recommendations when accepting the content.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pranjal

    A really informative, and really important book that still manages to be readable. I wasn't too keen on the last chapter and some of its recommendations, but that reflects more on Burke's personal outlook than anything else. Overall his examination and explanation of modern Islamic militancy based on his own experiences and research is thoughtful and considered. Definitely the best work in English to explore that phenomenon.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Brown

    The standard work on the subject. Incredibly well sourced and researched. No aspect of Al Qaeda is left unexamined. You kind of get the sense that Burke must spent at least 50 per cent of his life in flip flops on a mountain side in the Hindu Kush. However, I'd say there are other books on similar themes which are a better read, e.g. Steve Colls, "Ghost Wars".

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Eves

    This book covers a tremendous amount of detail and facts. The book would be better if there was a little more condemnation of terrorism and scrutiny although such points are well covered. It is ideal to read Jason's book entitled The New Threat from Islamic Militancy of which I read first. It's a good place to start before commencing reading this in depth story.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emre Poyraz

    if you really want to learn as much as you can about Al Qaeda, this is the book to start. Lots of information and sound analysis. However, if you are interested in this subject rather casually, or have some knowledge about the AQ, then this book may seem too long, with too much disgressions. This book can be the definitive guide to AQ, if it is shortened and written more systemmaticly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    An extremely detailed book describing how Al-Queda came into being how it is often mistakenly identified in the press, the attacks that are or have been erroneously attributed to it and the life of Osama Bin Laden. Also describes the various types and forms of radical Islam Good read

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bahooli osman

    nice to found this web ste

  24. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin Nessa

    Well researched and non biased account of the root to Islamic fundamentalism.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ben O'mara

    Score may change in the coming months.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Ciaravino

    Very interesting analysis of Islamic Militancy which reveals the true nature of 'Al-Qaeda' and how our current means of defeating it need to be altered.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul Danahar

    The definitive book on the origins of Al Qaeda

  28. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Wow, this is the book of all books about Alqaeda. Amazing read with first hand knowledge. Very readable and very persuasive. Highly recommend.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel

    start here!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robin Hunter

    Well researched, well written and brilliantly informative.

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