A slight confession, I'm a couple of dozen pages off finishing Architect of Global Jihad by Brynjar Lia, but I have a couple of other things on my reading list at the moment which I'm also keen to finish, so I'm going to jump the gun and write a review. This is probably bad luck or something, but I'm a brave enough man to risk it all.
Recommended by ZenPundit the book charts the life of Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, a profoundly intelligent and compelling character who was a key component in the creation of a true intellectual underpinning for global terror. He is the dark side of writers who have helped write the 21st centuries counter insurgency doctrines, indeed he is one of the reasons we need such comprehensive new strategies.
The book chronicles his life, taking us through the various phases of his development, which are both rich and varied. His meanderings through the Middle East and Europe serve as a powerful reminder of the ability jihadis (and all terrorists) have to move through society, often without leaving a trace.
In my opinion the insight this book gives the reader into the life of a jihadi (albeit a jihadi thinker, rather than perhaps a do-er) are just as valuable as charting the construction of the theories al-Suri is responsible for. Often the media and others describe these men as if they are quite literally sneaking down darkened alleyways at the dead of night, but this book shows that a man can hold extreme views and live a life which is at times shockingly normal.
This book also shatters the idea that jihadis are frothing madmen clawing at Western civilisation. Al-Suri is clearly well read and understands not only his own cause, but the cause of his enemy and is more than willing to learn about them in order to achieve his own goals. He reads widely throughout his life, and uses publicly available information on counter-insurgency to theorise on how to improve insurgency as a discipline.
His theories describe what modern al-Qaeda almost became, before its near complete collapse in recent years, a wholly decentralised entity subscribing to a set of principles and interacting as little as possible. This self sustaining entity is truly worrisome, if only because one day, it could be created and set loose on the world. Indeed it has been suggested that Mexican cartels are busy adapting the al-Qaeda model to further their own activities against the Mexican Government.
Probably one of the most important books on jihadism. Detailing as it does the sheer diversity of what that truly means. It paints a vivid picture of a movement struggling to find its own identity, and finally having one imposed upon it by America in the shape of Al-Qaeda. The characters are rich and fascinating, three dimensional in a way which is rarely seen even in the better pieces of scholarship.
Highly recommended to anyone.