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Book Review of: The Far Enemy

For insight into why Osama bin Laden went crazy and Jihad went global, read this book.

The Far Enemy

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Review of The Far Enemy, by Fawaz A. Gerges

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 5,000 articles.

When any book has 60-some pages of citations and notes, you know it's a serious work.

These days, it seems everyone is an armchair expert with a "factual" opinion on the global Jihad situation. Because I receive phone calls from US soldiers and civilians serving or working in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia, I have a bit of insight into this situation. What most people spew as fact is merely rewarmed televised propaganda with little or no basis in reality.

Thus, it was refreshing to read Gerges' well-researched book. Gerges is authoritative, not opinionated. This is evident in his extensive use of letters written by various key players in the global jihad psychodrama.

One of the points he discussed was how the Muslim mainstream has rejected Osama bin Laden--and why. Through my volunteer work in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), I have been interacting with Muslims for many years--long before September 11. My opinion of these people has nothing to do with their religion. I have found them to be intelligent, hard-working, considerate, and giving. Not at all the characterization we find being put forth by our more "insulated" fellow citizens. Being of Sicilian decent myself, I know a thing or two about being "suspected"--as many innocent Muslims are today.

The situation in the Middle East is not one of a monolithic Muslim culture waging war against the so-called "Christian" nations. In France, Muslims outnumber Catholics and Protestants combined. Any time I read a book or article about Jihad, I know the author has stepped into "stupidland" as soon as there's mention of "the Middle East Muslims still fighting the Crusades against Europe."

Yes, in the minds of a few zealot Muslims, the Crusade thing is true. But let's not forget we have zealot "Christians" in the USA running around in bed sheets and lighting crosses on people's front lawns. In both cases, religious leaders have declared the zealots as acting in violation of their respective scriptures. Broad generalizations based on special cases may be normal for American mainstream media, but that doesn't make them correct or useful.

Gerges doesn't make any generalizations. In fact, I had to stop reading at a few points to wonder what point he was trying to make. When I did that, I realized it wasn't about selling his point to the reader. At those few points where I had to stop to digest the material before moving on, Gerges was going in-depth and making me out together a structure of points. The global Jihad isn't a linear thing, or something you can boil down to a few trite statements. It was great to see someone treat this complex subject with the in-depth examination and evidence it deserves.

So, what can you expect to find in this book that I like so much? Gerges starts out with a lengthy introduction that gives perspective on September 11. Then he addresses the Afghan War (U.S.-backed Taliban against the U.S.S.R.) and how that sowed the seeds of transnational Jihad. It's worthwhile to read that twice.

Then, he takes the reader through various writing and testimony showing the tension between various groups and alliances, and how Osama bin Laden forced the issue of international Jihad. Osama bin Laden wanted to "attack the head of the snake," meaning the USA. Gerges doesn't mention this, but I find it interesting that it was US troops who saved thousands of Muslim men, women, and children in the Balkans in the 1990s while Osama bin Laden did nothing for them.

But Gerges does take many sharp jabs at bin Laden, and he is not alone. With his hatred and his "glorious" attacks of September 11, bin Laden did immense damage to his own movement. This caused a split in the Jihadis, which Gerges discusses in depth.

This book offers much more, which I won't go into here. If you want to understand what's been driving these fanatics, this book will help you enormously. Positive change is occurring, and our leaders will have to be careful not to tip things back the other direction.

Understanding what is going on can help us cope with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that are compounded by the biased reporting and sensationalist news coverage that poison public opinion. But I think it's also important that we in the West don't succumb to the same narrow-minded hatred that fueled this whole global Jihad to begin with.

Form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.


About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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