Book Review of : Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2001), 303 pages.
Peter L. Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. : Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, is a British journalist educated at Oxford. He is known as a CNN terrorism analyst, and was early to recognize the threat when contacted in 1997 to interview Osama bin Laden. His journalistic investigation on the most "wanted" figure and the Al Qaeda network was written before and shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. P. bergen is one of the World's leading "authorities" on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban(1).
Holy War, Inc. offers a mature, balanced description of Bin Ladan's background, a concise characterization of Al Qaeda terrorist network, compared to a corporation as it has developed in the Middle-East, Europe and America, and a brief narrative of terrorist events through September 11, 2001.
Peter. L. Bergen details stories related to Osama bin Laden's background ; in fact, the bin Laden family's adventure begins in Yemen, and Osama was born in Saudi Arabia. For the development of his Al Qaeda network, one can apprehend bin Laden's assets from his childhood. The sociological meaning of the name Osama, a " young lion"(2) seems to determine his philosophy in the future. In addition, his devotion inherited from his family explains his desire to spread what he calls "real Islam". Above all, the financial assets of the bin Laden group of companies is colossal and was estimated at $billions(3). These spiritual and financial assets are considered as the determinant ingredients for the development of Al Qaeda, and the promotion of its activities around the World, and Osama personal intellectual and managerial abilities enabled him to supervise his organization.
The title of the book itself seems to be a little bit ironic : that terrorism is a "business" with so-called "earnings", and can be run illegally like the " mafia". P. Bergen presents bin Laden and his "jihad" group as an organization which he calls "Holy War, Inc", a sort of "privatization of terrorrism" (4). The author believes that Al Qaeda functions like a multinational holding company with all necessary management services where Osama bin Laden plays multiple roles.
As a leader, he is the ideologue of the network and the symbol of the resistance against the West (5). Peter Bergen agrees that his philosophy seems to be coherent, because it encompasses the opposition to Israel, calling for Palestinian State and the creation of a "Muslim nuclear weapon". Osama also criticizes the goverments of countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia for not instituting what he sees as the true islamic law(6). Bin Laden's religious obligation to attack US military and civilian targets worldwide is the retaliation against the permanent occupation and presence of US troops in the Gulf(7). So Peter Bergen could make the diference between slogans of earlier Arab militants and bin Laden's message.
Like an ultimate "NGO", Al Qaeda operates without a sponsor because its substantial financial resources. The role of the media is determinant in Al Qaeda's overall political and military strategy. The media are helpful for the globalization of bin Laden's ideologies, and this has been successful. Al Qaeda has created branches in other countries, and the author did not hesitate to refer to "Bin Laden's Alliance" (8). But why is the most wanted so attractive ?
First, the author gives the reader bin Laden's political ideas, as well as the terrorist operations he has mounted before.
Second, his financial and logistic support to the " Mujahideen" during the war in Afghanistan in 1979 made him a hero to Muslims over the World. This financial and logistic support has been determinant in the defeat of Russian troops and their subsequent withdrawal from the country. With the support of many nationalities and the recruitment of believers or " Taliban" around the World, Bin Laden could finally declared war against the West and particularly to Americans. The fisrt outcomes of this war were the successful terrorist attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania after which bin Laden exulted inexciting terms :
"Thanks GOD's grace to Muslims, the blow was successful and great.
They deserve it. It made them taste what we have tasted during the
massacres committed in Lebanon and Israël" (9).
In addition, the bombing of the USS warship " COLE" in Yemen in 2000 was another blow to the West.
Holy War, Inc. was a warning against a potential terrorist threat ignored by the US government. Unfortunately, the 9/11 attacks on the american soil cost many lives and undermined the myth of invulnerability of the United States of America. So the purpose of the book was not accomplished.
Holy War, Inc. is an excellent book ; the author uses a wide range of sources including his own experience to describe the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. There is even a map of the Middle-East that the reader can refer to as he reads the book. The strength of Holy, war Inc. is in readability and in the sense that the author gives the readers what it is like to be an international journalist today. Peter Bergen describes his journey and trek to and into Afghanistan, including the wearing of blindfolds during the last step to bin Laden's hideout. This personal experience view continues throughout the book. What he notices and reports to the readers tells as much about himself as about the world of the terrorist.
The author pulls together a significant amount of solid information, which he presents with perception and without excessive passion. Let us emphasize the fact that Peter Bergen is the CNN expert and he does seem to have a very good handle on the subject. He then personalizes his story with an account of his 1997 interview with bin Laden and contacts he made with the militant associates to him. The reader can appreciate to what extent Peter Bergen knows almost all the hot spots across the Middle-East. His book tells the story of how Al Qaeda has come from a group of Afghanistan Freedom Fighters to the global version of terrorism.
Although Holy War is an excellent book, its paradigm does not work very well. Peter Bergen uses multinational corproations as a model of how a group like Al Qaeda functions. Aside from surface similiraties, the parallels between these organizations are few and far between. The head or the CEO of a terrorist group has no absolute control over the cells. There is no profit imperative. The fragmentation of these groups has no equivalent in the corporative world. In reference to Rahmel, the multinational corporation is not an effective map for understanding the terrorist network terrain (10).
The author also attempts a little political philosophy by critiquing Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis in the afterward, but not successfully (11). The book lacks of a kind of chart that could help the readers to understand the Arabic words. Finally further confidence in the author is shaken when he asserts that "the Russians invaded over Christmas of 1979 to install Hafizullah Amin, effectively a Soviet puppet as President"(12). In fact, Amin was deposed during the course of this intervention and was replaced by Babrak Karmal. This simple fact has not been gotten by experts who went through the book.
In his book, Peter Bergen wants to emphasize that much of the asymetric threat from bin laden comes from his dedication to a purely religious ideology, and that he is not a typical terrorist. Islam as he sees it, provides a profound experience of religious and moral collectivism (13). He also indicates that bin Laden's extreme religious ideology goes all the way to adolescence, and his actions do seem to be motivated by his devotion. Peter bergen's views of Osama bin Laden are confirmed in two anonymous books (14). Marshall and his team have also the same perception of radical Islam as the author underlined it(15).
Definitely, I strongly recommend Holy War, Inc. to those who would like to know more about the Al-Qaeda network, the difference between this terrorist group and the taliban before 9/11, and to learn more about Osama bin Laden. The book is an important glimpse of him, of Al Qaeda and the associated of Afghan taliban.
1- Doaskdotell Book Reviews of books related to Osama bin Laden, retrieved from : http://www.doaskdotell.com/books/bosama.htm
2- Bergen, (P.), Holy War, Inc. : Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, (New-York : Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 47.
3- Bergen, (P), p. 49.
4- Ibid., p. 41.
5- Ibid., p. 31.
6- Ibid., p. 39.
8- Ibid., p. 119.
9- Ibid., p. 108.
10- Rahmel, (D.), " Excellent Guide to Comprehension of Bin Laden", January 30, 2006.
11- Bergen, (P.), p. 227.
12- Ibid., p. 71.
13- Bergen, (P.), The Osama bin Laden I Know" An Oral History of Al Qaeda's Leader (New York : the Free Press, 2006).
14- Imperial Hubris : Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, (Washington : Brassey, 2004). Through our Ennemies'Eyes' : Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, (washington : Brassey, 2002).
15- Marshall, (P.), Green, (R.), Gilbert, (L.), Islam at the Crossroads : Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Conflicts, (Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Books, 2002).
1- Bergen, (P.), Holy War, Inc. : Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2002), 303 pages.
2- Bergen, (P.), The Osama bin Laden I Know : An Oral History of Al Qaeda's Leader, (New York : the Free Press, 2006), 444 pages.
3- Doaskdotell Book Reviews of Books Related to Osama bin Laden, Retrieved from http://doaskdotell.com/books/bosama.htm
4- Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, (Washington, Brassey, 2004).
5- Marshall, (P.), Green, (R.), Gilbert, (L.), Islam at the Crossroads : Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Conflicts, (Grand Rapid, MI : Baker Books, 2002), 121 pages.
6- Rahmel, (D.), "Excellent Guide to Comprehension of bin Laden", January 30, 2006.
7- Through our Enemies's Eyes : Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, (Washington : brassey, 2002).