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.
“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