While so much of the literature or journalism about 'Al-Qaeda', and the melange of issues that the name 'Al Qaeda' spews up, tend to leave the reader more confused, Jason Burke has written a book that grounds specific judgements in specific historical facts and brings the reader to some very balanced conclusions about the size, scale, threat, and disparate structure of 'Al-Qaeda' while implicitly pointing out the folly of our 'war on terror'.
For those however seeking snippit, Michael Moore-style, ammunition to aim at the Bush administration and their cronies, disappointment will prevail because this is not a book of soundbites. It contains the narratives of various terrorist attacks pre and including September 11th 2001 that have been dubbbed posthumously 'Al-Qaeda'. Burke explores, with remarkably lucid prose, the histories and associations of the characters involved in the various episodes and paints quite a terrifying picture. Throughout the incidents told, connections to Osama Bin Laden are sought and much of his motivation is explained. From disillusionment with the Saud dynasty and his dismissal of indulgence in the Bin Ladens' riches Burke traces Osama's international trail. Burke has not been too timid to address the relationship of Islam with the terrorist movement either, much of the book in fact revolves around the idea of Islam being a massively political religion and argues that although many terrorists are currently aiming their hostility at the west it is in order to remedy political hypocrisy in their native lands. It is a very well balanced book that has a lot of contemporary importance. It shows what the political Islamists are fighting for and goes some way to categorising the different strands of the movement without making it seem too straightforward. If bigots and various dogmatic stances about Al-Qaeda or George Bush and his cronies are beginning to grate and you wish to return to the beginning of the saga as we know it (ie brief overviews of the effects of Suez, Nasser, the assasination of Sadat, the Iranian Revolution, the storming of Mecca, the first Gulf War, the embassy bombs, and the subsequent blitzes in 1998) this book will revise the foundations and clear the cobwebs from these rather bigoted times.
The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because when starting out I was an ignoramus with regards the names of so many of the key players and it is easy to get very lost. Burke has obvioulsy met many key players and knows and writes of many more. It was a baptism of fire which can only really be a reflection of how good a journalist he is but was still quite overpowering when plodding through it. It is however a very, very important book that I really hope our representatives in the international sphere have the intellect to read!