Landscapes of the Jihad
Militancy, Morality, Modernity
What are the motives behind Osama bin Laden's and Al-Qaeda's jihad against America and the West? Innumerable attempts have been made in recent years to explain that mysterious worldview. In Landscapes of the Jihad, Faisal Devji focuses on the ethical content of this jihad as opposed to its purported political intent. Al-Qaeda differs radically from such groups as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah, which aim to establish fundamentalist Islamic states. In fact, Devji contends, Al-Qaeda, with its decentralized structure and emphasis on moral rather than political action, actually has more in common with multinational corporations, antiglobalization activists, and environmentalist and social justice organizations. Bin Laden and his lieutenants view their cause as a response to the oppressive conditions faced by the Muslim world rather than an Islamist attempt to build states.
Al-Qaeda culls diverse symbols and fragments from Islam's past in order to legitimize its global war against the "metaphysical evil" emanating from the West. The most salient example of this assemblage, Devji argues, is the concept of jihad itself, which Al-Qaeda defines as an "individual duty" incumbent on all Muslims, like prayer. Although medieval Islamic thought provides precedent for this interpretation, Al-Qaeda has deftly separated the stipulation from its institutional moorings and turned jihad into a weapon of spiritual conflict. Al-Qaeda and its jihad, Devji suggests, are only the most visible manifestations of wider changes in the Muslim world. Such changes include the fragmentation of traditional as well as fundamentalist forms of authority. In the author's view, Al-Qaeda represents a new way of organizing Muslim belief and practice within a global landscape and does not require ideological or institutional unity.
Offering a compelling explanation for the central purpose of Al-Qaeda's jihad against the West, the meaning of its strategies and tactics, and its moral and aesthetic dimensions, Landscapes of the Jihad is at once a sophisticated work of historical and cultural analysis and an invaluable guide to the world's most prominent terrorist movement.