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A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto

Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto edited by Jim Lacey. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 205 pp.

Jim Lacey’s Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad is an abridged translation (from 1,600 to 200 pages) of the premier contemporary manual of jihad, Abu Musab al-Suri’s Call to Global Islamic Resistance (Da‘wat al-muqawamah al-islamiyyah al-‘alamiyyah). US Joint Forces Command sponsored this book and two others as part of the Terrorist Perspective Project, which aims to allow “joint warfighters to get inside the terrorists’ decision cycle” by understanding the “mind of the jihadi movement.” The other members of the trilogy, all edited by Lacey and all published by the Naval Institute Press in 2008, include The Terrorist Perspectives Project: Strategic and Operational Views of Al Qa’ida and Associated Movements, which provides an overall synthesis of jihadist thought, and The Canons of Jihad: Terrorists’ Strategy for Defeating America, which supports this synthesis by offering selections from a variety of important jihadist texts. Thus, taken together, the three books offer a background in jihadist thought, some significant historical and near-contemporary readings from that tradition, and a detailed study of its most significant single document. In many ways, Jim Lacey is an appropriate choice as editor of Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad given his position as an analyst with the Institute for Defense Analyses and his experience as an infantry officer and a journalist for Time magazine, embedded with the 101st Airborne during the invasion of Iraq.

Al-Suri is also the subject of Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qa’ida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, a biography by Norwegian scholar Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. That book complements Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad by offering us a portrait of the man and an unabridged translation of two key chapters from al-Suri’s work. In the context of other jihadist literature, al-Suri’s Call to Global Islamic Resistance is a major event. In their article “Stealing Al Qaeda’s Playbook” (Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, June 2006), Jarret Brachman and William McCants write that “as the author of a massive handbook on global insurgency—or, as he calls it, ‘the remedy for the U.S. disease’—Mustafa Setmarian Nasar [i.e., al-Suri] has written his way into the intellectual heart of today’s jihadi-Salafi movement.” An individual named “Bearer of the Sword,” posting a comment about the Fort Hood shootings on the English language Ansarnet forum, called al-Suri “the greatest military theoretician our Ummah have had in this age.” Clearly, Lacey and Lia are introducing us to a major treatise on contemporary jihadism.

Biographically speaking, Lacey’s portrait of al-Suri is brief, but he quotes a memorable remark from CNN journalist Peter Bergen, who contacted al-Suri for a celebrated interview with bin Laden: “He seemed to be a very intelligent guy, a very well informed guy, and a very serious guy. . . . He was certainly more impressive than bin Laden.” Prior to his capture in Quetta, Pakistan, in October 2005, Suri received military training from the Iraqi and Egyptian militaries, served as an instructor in the Afghan-Arab camps in Afghanistan during the late 1980s, lived in Spain and the United Kingdom in the 1990s, and served as a media liaison for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Lacey suggests that al-Suri’s work is comparable to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Lia terms it “the most significant written source in the strategic studies literature on al-Qa'ida.” Obviously, it is crucial to understand what Lacey offers us of al-Suri’s work and what he omits. The preface lays out the book’s program: “Recognizing that 1,600-page documents of densely written ‘jihadi thought’ would deter all but the most dedicated analyst, Lacey has produced this condensed version and translation of al-Suri’s work capturing the essence of his thoughts.” What follows is an analysis of the jihadist current, beginning with al-Suri’s own experiences in Syria (1980), passing via Madrid (1991) and London (1996) to Afghanistan (1997–2001), and following through to include the US invasion of Iraq (2003–4)—presented as background for the “third generation” of mujahideen “created by the events of September (9/11/2001), the occupation of Iraq and the apex of the Palestinian intifada.” Chapters explore the status of Muslims today, sharia rulings appropriate to the situation, and a history of jihad from 1990 onwards (in three chapters), omitting a major discussion of al-Qaeda, which Lacey deems inappropriate since (1) it would require book-length treatment and (2) the war on that front is ongoing. He closes with chapters on the doctrinal foundations of jihad, sharia-based decision making, and the role of the media.

The book does suffer from one serious omission. As mentioned in the preface, “Where appropriate, we have also removed most of the repetitive theological justifications undergirding these beliefs.” The final pages of Call to Global Islamic Resistance are what Jean-Pierre Filiu terms “a hundred-page apocalyptic tract” concerning “signs of the end times.” Sadly, both Lacey and Lia pay little attention to this specifically Mahdist element. In al-Suri’s reading of jihadist history, “one event brings another event and then another, leading inevitably to the arrival of the Mahdi.” Given the importance of apocalyptic expectation as a potential (and potent) force multiplier, we await the English translation of Filiu’s L’Apocalypse dans l’Islam for further insight into a serious and hitherto neglected part of al-Suri’s message.

Lacey’s Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad opens a significant window on the jihadist mind-set. However, downplaying the religious doctrine that al-Suri includes alongside his strategic guidance blocks our view of the importance of religion in persuading people to follow that guidance.

Charles Cameron

Forestville, California

 


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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