Reader reviews for The Age of Sacred Terror

This is an excellent recounting of the birth of Al Qaeda and Al Quaeda's message and how it relates to Muslims. In this case, the history is much more strange than any fictional account could be. It is well researched and documented. It really helps to read this book to understand what is going on with Al Quaeda. I reccommend this book to everyone.
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A "treasure trove" (p. xii) exists of information about sacred terror. The authors note that much of their information is readily available in 50,000 pages of testimony against terrorists therefore their information is hidden right before us. What has not happened though is that the government institutions, sworn to our safety, have not responded well enough or quickly enough to protect us. In this contentious debate various scapegoats have been found but upon reading the work I think the blame can be spread equally amongst both administrations: Democrat and Republican, Clinton and Bush. There are plenty of mistakes to go around.The institutions of federal protection, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the DOD, the State Department, and both White House administrations failed to share critical data and collaborate. This is a major stumbling block and a "failure of imagination" on the part of government institutions to recognize, and respond appropriately, to a new post-Cold War threat. In the early 1980s, a Palestinian ideologue named Abdullah Azzam was coordinating the jihad from Peshawar, near the Afghanistan border. Azzam’s Peshawar center was known as the Afghan Bureau. His deputy and financier was a Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Was the idealistic 19- or 20-year-old Barack Obama inquiring about the Afghanistan jihad?The roots of contemporary jihadist terrorism are profound. In 1990, Meir Kahane, the Jewish leader of the JDL (Jewish Defense League) was murdered which gave birth to the brand of terrorism reflected in, and which influenced 9/11. By dating contemporary terrorism so deeply, the authors are making the point that terrorism has been with us for some time. Even the first WTC bombing in 1993 though failed to garnish an appropriate response against Middle Eastern terrorism. Not even an attack on CIA headquarters itself a month and a day later, by a Pakistani Mir Aimal Kansi, who killed two and wounded three, failed to elicit a response by policy-makers. They did not heed the message jihadists sent.The authors note that this violent, contemporary brand of terrorism was spawned some time ago, with Ibn Taymiyya, b. 1269, the Wahhabists, and more recently, by Sayyid Qutb. The "Warrior Prince," Bin Laden, was born and bred in this strain of Islam. The movement he began, by the raiders and in the fields, attempted to capture and hold land according to this theology, against the "near enemy."The question is: why were American policy-makers so slow to react given this history and the roots of violent Islam? In the 90s, the authors note the paradigm shift that took place amongst the field operatives and mid-level analysts such as Richard Clarke. This shift did not occur amongst the high-level decision-makers though. The higher-level policy makers remain mired in only recognizing the terrorism of the state-sponsored variety. Under the radar, then, terroristic efforts were taking a more ominous and deadly turn. Policy makers still considered terrorism a low-level threat and sought state sponsorship, something eschewed by jihadists.During the same period, overseas assets of the U.S. were attacked and Americans were killed, yet these incidents were not recognized by policy-makers, as the lower and middle-level analysts identified, as part of a larger whole, a jihad against the West begun by Middle-Eastern Muslims.Policy-makers did not connect the dots. Only in 1995 do we have the first mention of Bin Laden stated by a U.S. official (p. 235). During the same period, the CIA was in transition, if not disarray, and the Clinton administration was unresponsive to warnings about a more significant jihadist movement afoot. When Clinton did respond, as in the '98 al-Shifa bombing, Bill was denounced by the media as a 'wag the dog' President. The mainstream news services failed in their duty to investigate and reveal the newsworthy story of rising jihadist sentiment and the violent terrorists who emerged at the time. Bin Laden at least began to be viewed as a more significant threat during the Clinton administration, in fact, missiles were readied three times to take him out (p. 380). The period was marked unfortunately by legal ambiguities, and hand-wringing which tied the Administration's hands and effective options failed to develop in American security services to eliminate Bin Laden. The CIA did not develop options and assets in al Qaeda's region which may have initiated effective means against Bin Laden. George Tenet, personally popular though marginally effective as CIA chief, began to advocate the necessity of addressing the rising Bin Laden threat.Their counterparts at the FBI were in even worse shape to pursue Bin Laden or jihadists. Their crime-fighting expertise in fact worked against them in developing an appropriate response to Bin Laden. AQ (al Qaeda) was out of their bailiwick. FBI Director Louis Freeh performed dreadfully in countering terrorism, and although there were individuals of excellence who pointed out the AQ threat, such as the FBI's John O'Neill, these prescient analysts were drowned out by organizational lethargy and incompetence. Since Tenet came in late to the game during the Clinton-Bush transition, he began to sound the alarm about Bin Laden. The Bush administration was slow to recognize the Bin Laden threat, failed to act on AQ effectively, and did not promote the proper tools to handle AQ. Both administrations failed to protect Americans. The policy makers dedicated to security, the CIA and the FBI in particular, did not collaborate and develop an effective counter-strategy. Only in the field operatives and mid-level analysts did the more violent strain of Islam become identified as a more significant threat to American interests. The authors have traced the violent, and older strains of Islam that have become much more popular, and represent the mainstream view of contemporary Islam. The authors make a compelling case for examining both the evidence and the incidents which led us to our current clash between Islamism and the West. The quagmire that we are in is due to the West failing to understand the severity and the violent opposition of Middle Eastern Muslims.
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I actually had to read this book for one of my undergraduate classes on terrorism and I must say, I really liked this book. It is important to read since this is the age we are all living in. It did get a little dry from time to time but still a great read.
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