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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, and a must read
I came across Jason Burke on the BBC program The Power of Nightmares, and a lot of what this program covered is expanded on in this book.
It does not say there is not an Al-Qaeda but shows the way this "organisation" is portrayed in the West is wrong, and shows how our "War on Terror" will not tackle the real events going on in our world today.
I did find some...
Published on 26 Jan 2005 by Amazon Customer

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing but stylistically lacking
This is an interesting exploration of some of the myths and realities surrounding Al Qaeda, and is a book which remains deeply relevant. Its main insight is that Al Qaeda is a diffuse grouping of like minded individuals lacking any real organisational shape or structure. Instead the main threat it poses constitutes the ideology it represents, which can be...
Published on 7 Mar 2008 by Amazon Customer


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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, and a must read, 26 Jan 2005
By 
I came across Jason Burke on the BBC program The Power of Nightmares, and a lot of what this program covered is expanded on in this book.
It does not say there is not an Al-Qaeda but shows the way this "organisation" is portrayed in the West is wrong, and shows how our "War on Terror" will not tackle the real events going on in our world today.
I did find some of the book heavy going, especially in places where there a lot of names mentioned. I must admit to my ignorant western eye, a lot of the Arabic names started to look the same. Even so I found the subject matter fascinating.
His obvious knowledge of Afghanistan shines through, and the fact that he has come as close as possible to some of the other sources of information is remarkable.
It makes you question the view we get on this subject by the mass media, and you realise most journalists covering this matter are either ignorant or towing a line to reinforce the myth of Al-Qaeda. It is interesting that i have seen recently some British ex-ministers talk along the same lines as this book, now they do not have to toe party lines.
I would give this book 5 stars, but I do think that maybe the books chronological order and story telling could have been a bit tighter, but otherwise a definite recommendation.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive, unbiased, and enthralling, 27 Nov 2003
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!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, thoughtful and well argued, 28 Nov 2004
Observer Chief Reporter Jason Burke was featured in the recent BBC2 documentary "The Power of Nightmares" which compared the rise of Islamic militancy with the corresponding (and equally unnerving) rise of the religious right in US politics. The rather silly cover of his book on the subject belies what is in fact a thorough, erudite, dispassionate and compelling account of the rise of Radical Islam, of which "Al Qaeda" - in its strict sense - is really only a small part.
Burke has spent a number of years in various Islamic hot spots (Saudi, Afghanistan, Kurdish Iraq) and has apparently the spent the most of the last four years doing his homework. The account he sets out (which really ought not to be a surprise to anyone but the Neo-Conservatives) is that Islamic militancy is not centrally controlled; there is no "head of the snake" except the one Western foreign policy has created in Osama Bin Laden. For nothing has assisted fundamentalism as a rallying point for (the in reality mostly social and political) discontent in the Islamic word than his vilification by Messrs Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their friends. Indeed, Burke's case is that before the Western Hawks began targeting it, Islamic militancy was, amongst its own constituents, all but dead in the water.
Burke is convincing in his arguments that Al-Qaeda *the actual organisation* was never more than a hard-core of twenty or thirty militants, was not more than indirectly associated with many of the terrorist acts attributed to them, and was dispersed, incapacitated and in large part eliminated after the war in Afghanistan. But Al Qaeda *the idea* - which is the creation of western conservative political classes - has spread virus-like amongst the Islamic world, and is a much more threatening spectacle. Ideas are a whole lot harder to kill off than individuals.
In laying the groundwork for his thesis Burke is obliged to engage with a lot of minutiae of the history of Islamic dissent (every bit-player in the last twenty years gets a mention), and this part of the book is somewhat heavy going, though it certainly leads gravitas: without it, Burke would be open to criticism for a lack of thoroughness. But otherwise, this is a stimulating and important book.
Olly Buxton
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear-sighted and level-headed, 19 Oct 2004
This does an excellent job of penetrating the fog of myth and misconception around the subject of radical Islam. Burke traces the development of militant movements and the interactions of extremist individuals and groups. He shows how extremism has developed in different regions and for what reasons. He is very good on disproving the idea that "Al-Qaeda" is a single organisation with a clear command structure, and that shows that bin Laden is not "the CEO of Terror, Inc.". Unfortunately, he identifies the reality as potentially far more dangerous.
This is readable and informative, and fascinating. If you want a clear, dispassionate, explanation of the subject you need look no further.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome antidote to oversimplification, 23 July 2006
By 
lmhh (UK) - See all my reviews
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Jason Burke provides a wide-ranging and coherent description of the rise of radical Islam, and a persuasive analysis of how the conditions which the world is now facing have come into being. In doing so, he explodes a number of the myths which we are used to seeing in the media - including that of Osama Bin Laden as the evil genius whose capture will make everything right - and illustrates how the failure of governments around the world to act on the conditions which foster radicalism has contributed more to its rise than the actions of any individual or group. Written after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and in Madrid, but before the London bombings this book has begun to explain to me why they happened. I am not an academic or expert on the Middle East, but found this book easy to follow and feel I have a much greater grasp of the issues having read it. And while this is not comfortable knowledge, it is better than the bewilderment I felt before.

Reading this over the weekend in which the madness of Hizbollah attacks on Israel, and the equal madness of the inevitable armed response in Lebanon is continuing to escalate makes his themes all the more relevant. As Burke says in his final paragraph "All terrorist violence, 'Islamic' or otherwise is unjustifiable, unforgivable, cowardly and contemptible. But just because we condemn does not mean we should not strive to comprehend. We need to keep asking, 'Why?' This book certainly helps in understanding the 'Why?'
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional understanding and explanation, 20 Dec 2004
After reading this exceptionally good investigation into radical Islam, it is clear that Burke knows his subject. After spending the past decade covering some of the most troubled areas in the world (now for London broadsheet paper The Observer - i.e. one of the serious ones), he applies his encyclopaedic knowledge to examining and explaining the rise of militant and radical Islam. To anyone who has read anything about the background to the formation of these radical groups, the main aspects are already known (US, Saudi, Pakistani and Iranian funds pouring into Soviet occupied Afghanistan to fund a multitude of conflicting proxy mujahideen groups and causes).
What Burke adds (and adds very well) is an examination of the ideology of al-Qaeda, outlining in great detail how it links to aspects of Islamic history and (some) religious verse. This is coupled with in-depth reporting and investigation into the formation and continuation of militant Islamic networks across the world, which are supported at best only partially by al-Qaeda, but actually run on the links "forged from the decade long conflict in Afghanistan." However, the schemes that Western and Middle Eastern regimes have (and still do operate) impact on the development of these groups (worryingly, mostly in an expansionist sense).
Burke also points out that secular Muslim groups (sic) are either crushed or passed over by regimes and funders, who are desperate to either appear to be leaders in supporting the Muslim world (e.g. Saudi Arabia or Iran) or are out to develop much more overtly domestic concerns (e.g. Pakistan v. India). The short-sightedness of these policies are now only too evident.
This book is written by a respected reporter who has spent many years of his life talking directly to people who live, work (and die) in these countries. There are not many people who have Burke's level of understanding and experience of the region.
For those who have read it, this book was comparable for me to reading Ahmed Rashid's, 'Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia'. For those who don't know what I mean, buy both and prepare for an intellectual tour de force. As another reviewer has said: "If only all journalism was this good."
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent exploration of Islamic militancy, 22 Nov 2004
I purchased this book having seen the author interviewed for the BBC's recent series 'The Power of Nightmares'. During the interview the author articulated the view that Al-Qaeda was not an orgnisation headed by a 'Madman' with the ability to send out a call to dormant sleeper cells worldwide, but rather an idea that various militant groups have attached themselves to. This is similarly a central thrust of his book.
The book gives an insight into the teachings of the Qu'ran and the Hadith and how it's words and teachings have harnessed the minds of men throughout the years. I found it fascinating and provides some insight into the minds of people who commit terrorist acts. The book is also an excellent chronological account of the lives of various key figures in 'Al-Qaeda'(including bin Laden and al-Zawihri) and Islamic militancy in general. The author's obvious wealth of knowledge is clear, having visited many of the places and met many of the key figures himself.
Many English readers may find the numerous lengthy names confusing at times (I confess to being lost on more than one occasion) but this minor criticism is answered by a useful glossary of the key figures at the back.
The book ends with a picture of the true and worrying state of militancy today and the threat facing the West, seen as spreaders of 'kufr' (unbelief). 'Al-Qaeda', whatever it was and is today, has captured the imaginations and minds of many angry individuals whose anger, in a worrying departure from being turned to matters in their own states, is now directed at the West and America in particular. I recommend it as required reading - it takes large steps towards helping understand what motivates terrorist actions against the West and just what people are prepared to sacrifice for their greater vision...Only by first understanding can we start to work towards a lasting global peace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dry Roasted, 5 May 2010
By 
Oliveman (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Burke roasts the old neocon and media chestnuts regarding al-Qaeda. Beginning with the history of Islamic radicalism and its cast members (with the odd digression into general Islamic history) Burke traces the development of these chaps and their relationships with one another (one radical, for instance, found bin Laden to be too much of a wishy washy liberal type). Atypically, his concern is not simply how extremism took root but why it took root; or put another way he provides context. After this he eloquently and eruditely dismantles the idea that al-Qaeda is an organisation with a clearly demarcated hierarchy with Don bin Laden as the head of the five families. What lend Burke's analysis a compelling force are his original research, investigations (he interviews the characters involved and visits the main places) and his genuine interest in the region. This is an insightful authoritative explanation of the subject with an exceptional and accessible style.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Al Qaeda fact or myth, 13 April 2005
By 
Issam Ikirmawi "Bluetigerstar99" (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I've just finished reading this excellent book by Jason Burke who unlike many journalists who claimed to be experts on the subject matter, actually did his homework and approached the topic with an amazing inquisitive way. He went out and met the people concerned and was able to dig up a lot of original material and trace back the origins of salafi thought and how it developed during the oil boom of the 70's and early 80's. Apart from getting few names and titles wrong, Jason was able to produce a masterpiece that should be compulsory reading to all politicians and journalists dealing with the rise of Islamic militancy. My only criticism is that Jason was not able to elaborate on the collaboration between the Islamic militants and the CIA during the war against the Soviets in the 80's. He seems to imply that the US played a very minor role in the events in Afghanistan which we know now was not the case. In fact the US was one of the major players alongside Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It offered logistic as well as military and intelligence support to the mujahidin and was pretty instrumental in driving the Soviets out.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth behind the headlines, 15 July 2005
Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam is a superb work of investigation and historical analysis into the shadowy world of Islamic terrorism. In this work Jason Burke has stripped away the James Bond Supervillain image of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, showing the roots of Bin Laden's twisted psychology in a radical reading of the Koran and Islamic history. This book and the world it uncovers is far more frightening than any thriller. A superb work, highly recommended.
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