Book Review: A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad
A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto by Jim Lacey (Ed.)
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.
December 29th, 2011 at 6:29 pm
“By removing these citations, an important piece of the puzzle is missing.”
But then you have to go with what you got, and if all you got is structure, not content, then what’s a guy to do? Americans are so divided, so under what context can we judge the content of something else so divided? What can we do, wait until it becomes less divided?
December 30th, 2011 at 4:44 pm
My own review of Lacey’s book is on the Air Force Research Institute site, and my main concern expressed there:
is very much in line with your comment:
J-P Filiu’s book, Apocalypse in Islam, goes some way to correcting this omission, as I commented in my review of his book on Jihadology:
I’m drawn back to the closing paragraphs of Filiu’s book, in which he quotes Michael Barkun on Timothy McVeigh and the dangers of “radical millenarianism” and says:
Let’s hope it never is.
December 31st, 2011 at 7:15 am
Islam, which has a fictive “unity” already assumed, has no mechanism to bring about actual unity and most new ideas are assumed to be “haram” as “innovations”
Agreed. I think there is a big psychological step involved in moving from the robotic fundamentalism practiced by radical Salafis to full-blown Mahdism. It is a “leap of faith” replacing the Sharia as an anchor with the Mahdi who can, in some beliefs, abrogate Quranic injunctions or levy new ones
December 31st, 2011 at 8:06 pm
While I would certainly agree that antinomianism is one possible correlate of the rise of an apocalyptic movement, I doubt it’s a very useful metric for measuring the “leap of faith”. I’d say that “the powers” may be negatively concerned at their implied loss of authority (in contemporary Shi’ism, for instance, the Najaf hawza in the case of the Mahdist uprisings there; Khamenei and Qom, under which rubric I’d include Mezbah-Yazdi, in the case of Ahmadinejad’s Mahdist populism) – but for participants, it’s more of an upsurge of excitement framing strong but previously back-pedaled currents of hope and fear in a theologically available and extremely vivid, simple adjusted narrative, with ecstatic implications that may easily become antinomian, not because the Mahdi has arrived and authorizes that shift, but because he’s expected and the expectation overwhelms previous restraints / constraints.
So we have what is effectively a “tidal wave phenomenon” in popular emotion (characterized by boom and bust?) as one proposed “agent” of the shift from passive sympathy to active jihad. Which to my mind is worth monitoring as social groundswell before it (potentially) erupts as a Mahdist jihad.
And I’ve already identified another, at the level of individual minds: the acceptance of “fard ‘ayn” or “individual religious obligation” to defend “the Ummah” against “the West” – precisely the Neglected Duty that Faraj preached in his book of that title. Which to my mind would be worth modeling at the level of an ecology of ideas.
FWIW, I just ran across an interesting, non-essentialist anthropological reading of jihad that has been made available for free download: Gabriele Marranci, Jihad Beyond Islam [.pdf]. Looks good.
June 20th, 2013 at 9:30 am
It is my opinion that Abu Musab Al Suri may possibly become the real Mahdi, or the Beast, the Antichrist, the Little Horn. If he is able (as the apparent leading exponent of Islamic jihad) to make that unity between jihadism and millenarianism a reality, and make unity a reality among the Arab nations, and in particular, if he is able to hijack the Syrian revolution and find his way to the top of it (having the innate ability to do just that), we really could be looking at Daniel 11-12 and Revelation coming true, given the facts cited by the article and the other comments to it.
It is also interesting to me that he has little patience with the religious dogmatists of Islamic jihad and appears to be a military pragmatist, even though a dedicated terrorist. Without further reading into his actual beliefs it’s hard to say, but this may indicate on his part a love of the “God of forces” or “God of fortresses” spoken of in the book of Daniel, at odds with the “gods of his ancestors.” I think we need to find out what the exact balance is between his devotion to traditional Islam and his willingness to alter it for strategic military purposes. And whether he is also a redistributionist, as that is also prophesied in Daniel.
June 20th, 2013 at 10:36 pm
The most recent info I have on him from informed folks like Aaron Zelin et al suggest he may well be under house arrest in Iran, if released at all … see this more recent post for details. I haven’t seen anything more recent.
June 20th, 2013 at 11:50 pm
“Islam, which has a fictive “unity” already assumed, has no mechanism to bring about actual unity and most new ideas are assumed to be “haram” as “innovations””
Well, I guess you’re right. The “unity” assumed is between Muslims, but I am not sure what “new” ideas are you talking about. I mean, the camera was vetted back in the 15th century or so, and it doesn’t look to me like the iphone is that big a deal for Islam.
The one thing that all of Islam agrees on is that there can be no unity, but, as for a mechanism for unity, isn’t that what Charles has been yammering on about?