Sunday, June 25, 2006

Top books on terrorism

David Pryce-Jones, author of the forthcoming Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews, suggested five books about uncoventional warfare to Opinion Journal.

His list includes:

Inside Al Qaeda by Rohan Gunaratna (2002)

This is an authoritative study of Osama bin Laden and the organization he built. Al Qaeda is being steadily ground down, with the result that successive editions of this book have a hard time keeping up, but nonetheless "Inside Al Qaeda" is a useful map of the group and its ramifications. (It is also an Islamist who's who, where information about the latest terrorist in the news can be found.) In terms of raising finance and recruiting throughout the Muslim world, the al Qaeda feat is impressive. Communism and its system of subversion by means of local parties and cells seems to be the only precedent for conspiracy on this international scale. And as Gunaratna says, those living in an al Qaeda Bloc would be just as miserable as were the victims of Soviet domination.

Terror in the Name of God by Jessica Stern (2003)

Jessica Stern's study illuminates the state of mind of those who kill in the belief that they are obeying a religious imperative. She found Christian cultists in the U.S., Jewish zealots in Israel, and Islamists in the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. Part of the interest here is in the way Stern, a Harvard lecturer, undertakes intrepid journeys to seek out her subjects. These terrorists are by no means simple, she finds; they are often in the grip of complex designs, usually at odds with reality. The secret is to be persuaded that one is doing good by doing evil. Humiliation after some perceived injustice seems a prerequisite. Frustrated nationalism is another frequent motivation. A moral, though: It remains easier to kill people than conscience.

Click here to see Pryce-Jones' other picks.

A year and half ago Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. as well one of the few Western journalists ever to interview Osama bin Laden, shared his top recommendations on this subject with the Washington Post. Click here to see his picks.

--Marshal Zeringue