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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

on 4 June 2013
I came away having finished this book feeling much better informed about radical islam. Jason Burke's description of the structure and role that Al-Qaeda play as being similar to that of a University or Venture Capital firm was absolutely brilliant. I think the other really telling point that Jason Burke made in this book is that the 95% of the worlds muslims who are not islamists are the West's greatest allies in the fight against radical islam. It's a very valid point which we should always keep in mind. Clearly well researched and written with great insight and understanding this is an excellent book.
2 people found this helpful
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on 4 May 2016
Fascinating read. An immense amount of detail and background that helps cut through the rhetoric.
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on 23 November 2015
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on 28 February 2014
good quality
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on 26 January 2016
A little old now but no less valuable a read
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on 10 November 2014
Really good content but felt a bit cheated as from 65% complete onwards it's just a bibliography etc A good read though.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2006
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?'
11 people found this helpful
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on 28 November 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
9 people found this helpful
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on 5 May 2010
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.
2 people found this helpful
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on 26 January 2005
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.
34 people found this helpful
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