April 19, 2008

Jihad 101

Steven Brooke has written an excellent review of three promising books on global jihad in the American Interest. Many thanks, Mike, for sending it along.

A significant problem in dealing with Islamist terrorism is that it is inherently difficult to learn about. Given the clandestine character of the entire enterprise, reliable data is hard to obtain. It is propagated in low density languages, is occasionally contradictory, and resides in crucial social contexts not obvious to untrained eyes. In the years since 9/11, some progress has been made in overcoming these obstacles, but frankly, not very much—a problem exacerbated by an American Administration seemingly content to let policy be guided by ideology or wishful thinking rather than knowledge. That is why these three books are so important: Each one shows the promise of a different methodology to overcome these handicaps.

But why, Abu Muqawama wants to know, are the Norwegians so over-represented in the field of jihadi studies? Abu Muqawama has several Norwegian friends who study al-Qaeda and political Islam, and that's not including Thomas Hegghammer and Brynjar Lia, whose book on Abu Musab al-Suri is profiled in this review. Is it something in the water? Does all that oil revenue free the Norwegians up to do fun leisurely things like ... translate pages and pages of jihadi strategy?