cover image AL-QAEDA: Casting a Shadow of Terror

AL-QAEDA: Casting a Shadow of Terror

Jason Burke, . . I.B. Tauris, $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-85043-396-5

Not many reporters have firsthand experience of terrorist camps, but Burke, chief reporter for London's Observer, achieved it during the 2001 war in Afghanistan. His nuanced investigation into Islamic extremist groups benefits as a result; his depth of knowledge is clear as he paints a complex portrait of al-Qaida and related groups. The outfit often called al-Qaida is, he says, actually a loose amalgam of groups that share a similar worldview: a belief in Islamic fundamentalism and antagonism toward the West. This is not new, but Burke writes clearly, and his descriptions of terror camps and religious schools—even a brief description of a bombing campaign in Afghanistan—make his work more lively and powerful than most of the recent books on the subject. Similarly, he shows that Osama bin Laden is less central to the enterprise than Western leaders think; the Islamist movement is longstanding and widespread: "This movement is growing. Osama bin Laden did not create it nor will his death or incarceration end it." As a result, he argues, the U.S. focus on bin Laden and al-Qaida is misguided and ultimately a waste of time—in fact, he says, it will only create more bin Ladens. Only a battle to "win the hearts and minds" of the Islamic world will effectively counteract the terrorist phenomenon. Unfortunately, Burke fails to address how this might be done, but he's made a strong argument that it is the road to take. Maps not seen by PW. Agent, Toby Early. (Sept. 6)

Forecast:Blurbs from Gilles Kepel and Peter Bergen support the quality of Burke's work, but has the market for al-Qaida studies peaked?