The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda

Oxford University Press (September, 2011)

In this concise and fascinating book, Fawaz A. Gerges argues that Al-Qaeda has degenerated into a fractured, marginal body kept alive largely by the self-serving anti-terrorist bureaucracy it helped to spawn.

In The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda, Fawaz Gerges, a public intellectual known widely in the academe and media for his expertise on radical ideologies, including jihadism, argues that the Western powers have become mired in a “terrorism narrative,” stemming from the mistaken belief that America is in danger of a devastating attack by a crippled Al-Qaeda. To explain why Al-Qaeda is no longer a threat, he provides a briskly written history of the organization, showing its emergence from the disintegrating local jihadist movements of the mid-1990s – not just the Afghan resistance of the 1980s, as many believe – in “a desperate effort to rescue a sinking ship by altering its course.” During this period, Gerges interviewed many jihadis, gaining a first-hand view of the movement that bin Laden tried to reshape by internationalizing it. He reveals that transnational jihad has attracted but a small minority within the Arab world and possesses no viable social and popular base. Furthermore, he shows that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were a major miscalculation – no “river” of fighters flooded from Arab countries to defend Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, as bin Laden expected. The democratic revolutions that swept the Middle East in early 2011 show that al-Qaeda today is a non-entity which exercises no influence over Arabs’ political life.

Gerges shows that there is a link between the new phenomenon of homegrown extremism in Western societies and the war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan-Pakistan, and that homegrown terror exposes the structural weakness, not strength, of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. Gerges concludes that the movement has splintered into feuding factions, neutralizing itself more effectively than a Predator drone.

Forceful, incisive, and written with extensive inside knowledge, this book will alter the debate on global terrorism.

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“Gerges, one of the most astute chroniclers of Islamist radicalism, begins this book with a masterly and trenchant account of the origins of al Qaeda and its decline after 9/11.” Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

“An equally important, but little-noted, angle to the [September 11 attacks] that Western readers would do well to ponder.” – Bookforum

“Worth reading” – The Economist

“Gerges provides an important alternative to that narrative that should be read by policy makers and the general public alike.” – John Voll, Georgetown University > read full review

“A cogent examination of al-Qaeda’s historical trajectory that integrates major recent developments into its comprehensive analysis.” – Library Journal