The War against al-Qaeda: Religion, Policy, and Counter-narratives
by Nahed Artoul Zehr
contributions by Nahed Artoul Zehr, Nahed Artoul Zehr, Nahed Artoul Zehr, Nahed Artoul Zehr, Nahed Artoul Zehr, Nahed Artoul Zehr and Nahed Artoul Zehr
Georgetown University Press, 2019
Cloth: 978-1-62616-427-7 | Paper: 978-1-62616-428-4
Library of Congress Classification HV6432.5.Q2Z44 2017
Dewey Decimal Classification 363.325


In this original and provocative book, Nahed Artoul Zehr explores the theological underpinnings of al-Qaeda and related Islamic movements such as ISIS. She demonstrates how this marginal narrative transformed al-Qaeda from a relatively hierarchical and regional organization to a globalized, decentralized, and diffuse system of networks. She draws connections between religious ideas and strategy in her translation and analysis of leading theoretical and tactical jihad text, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, by Mustafa abu Mus’ ab al-Suri.

Just as importantly, she questions al-Qaeda’s understanding of the Islamic tradition on the use of force, arguing that it reflects a weak understanding of this tradition. More specifically, it is al-Qaeda’s (and related groups’) break with this tradition that is key to an al-Qaeda defeat.

Simultaneously, Zehr critiques the US military and policy establishment as it attempts to offer counter-narratives to the al-Qaeda phenomenon that emphasizes “good Muslims” versus “bad Muslims” in order to embrace a “moderate” form of Islam. According to Zehr, this approach is misguided: it is beyond the US government’s purview and expertise to make such theological claims about Islam. Better, she argues, to note the counter-narratives that are coming from within the Muslim community and other nongovernment institutions interested in moving this work forward.

By refocusing our attention on al-Qaeda’s narrative and the various ways thatit is being contested, the book provides an alternate lens from which to viewal-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda phenomenon for Islamic and US foreign policy scholars and students.

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