Previously, I read and reviewed Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad, about Islamist terrorist and strategist Abu Musab al-Suri. A sometime collaborator with Osama bin Laden and the AQ inner circle, a trainer of terrorists in military tactics in Afghanistan and an advocate of jihadi IO, al-Suri was one of the few minds produced by the radical Islamist movement who thought and wrote about conflict with the West on a strategic level. Before falling into the hands of Pakistani security and eventually, Syria, where al-Suri was wanted by the Assad regime, al-Suri produced a massive 1600 page tome on conducting a terror insurgency, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, which al-Suri released on to the jihadi darknet.
Jim Lacey has produced an English digest version of al-Suri’s influential magnum opus comprising approximately 10 % of the original Arabic version, by focusing on the tactical and strategic subjects and excising the rhetorical/ritualistic redundancies common to Islamist discourse and the interminable theological disputation. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.
First, Lacey has produced a concise and readable book from a large mass of sometimes convoluted and repetitive theorizing that al-Suri strung together piecemeal, sometimes on the run or in hiding. For those interested in getting to the heart of al-Suri’s nizam la tanzim strategic philosophy, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad is an invaluable resource for strategists, counter-terrorism specialists, tactical operators, law enforcement and laymen. Secondly, it is also a useful reference for policy people to see through al-Suri’s eyes the internal political and philosophical divisions within the radical jihadi community. al-Suri himself writes very ambivalently about 9/11 as a great blow against America and yet a complete calamity in it’s effects for the “jihadi current” that destroyed everything the Islamist revolutionaries had so painstakingly built, including the Taliban Emirate. Thus a climate was created by the American counter-attack where old methods of struggle were no longer useful and jihadis must adopt radically decentralized operations ( what John Robb terms Open-Source Warfare; indeed it is clear to an informed reader that al-Suri, a wide-ranging intellectual rather than a narrow religious ideologue, was influenced by Western literature on asymmetric warfare, 4GW, Three Block War and COIN).
The drawback to this approach is more for scholars looking at the deeper psychological and ideological drivers of jihadi policies, strategy and movement politics. The religious questions and obscure Quranic justifications cited by Islamist extremists that are so tedious and repetitive to the Western mind are to the jihadis themselves, of paramount importance in establishing both the credentials of the person making an argument but also the moral certainty of the course of action proposed. al-Suri himself had some exasperation with the degree to which primarily armchair ideologues, by virtue of clever religious rhetoric, could have more influence over the operational decisions of fighting jihadis than men with field experience like himself. By removing these citations, an important piece of the puzzle is missing.
The Musab al-Suri whose voice appears in A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad is consistent with the one seen in Lia’s book, dry, sardonic, coldly hateful toward the West and highly critical of the jihadis own mistakes, laden with overtones of pessimism and gloom. al-Suri did not envision a quick victory over the West and wrote his manifesto as a legacy for future generations of Islamist radicals because the current one was nearly spent after the American onslaught and poorly educated in comparison with predecessors like the generation of Sayid Qutb.