ABSTRACT

This essay addresses the history of Usama bin Laden’s al-Qaʿida and the U.S.’s global war on terror through the prism of two new books by leading experts in the field. Nelly Lahoud’s book makes important use of new documents seized at bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. Peter Bergen explores the relationship between Pakistan, al-Qaʿida, and the American war on terror. Both of these books add to the scholarly literature and shed light on existing debates in the field of jihadism studies. And examined in combination these books help scholars in the field conceptualize broader analytical issues that are important not only for how one understands al-Qaʿida, but also, more generally, for how one interprets and evaluates the history of jihadi organizations. For example, how does one judge success and failure for these groups? And what is the proper framework for analyzing the relationship between the central leaderships of these organizations and their regional branches, or even those who are inspired to act in their name? How do we explain the resilience and longevity of al-Qaʿida and its ideology? These two books help point the way forward for future scholars in the field.

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