Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity

Faisal Devji, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2005. 164 pages.

In recent years, more has been written about jihad than any other single topic related to Islam. Faisal Devji tries to shed light on the people behind the slogans, documents concerning terrorism, and their inner logic by analyzing the writings, interviews, and communiqués of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as the will of Muhammad Atta (pp. 113-15). These and other illustrations clearly reflect the ideological viewpoint of the “jihadists.”

This book, an interesting historical and cultural analysis of the so-called “jihadi” movement and its representatives today, focuses on the globalization of jihad’s moral and aesthetic dimensions. The author deals with its conceptual landscapes, namely, al-Qaeda’s models of belief and action. In his preface, Devji suggests that both the 1998 terror attacks against the American embassies in Dar al-Salaam and Nairobi and 9/11, all undertaken by al-Qaeda, turned jihad into a global weapon of spiritual conflict. Thus, its focus has extended far beyond its original struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Devji explains: “Two factors make the Jihad into a global movement: the failure of local struggle and the inability to control a global landscape of operations by the politics of intentionality” (p. 31).

This globalization goes beyond territory, strategy, culture, or politics. It is now described in sweeping ethical terms, as shown in the broadcasts, writings, and interviews with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jihad has become global, and so has its language: “The very language of the Jihad, after all, is English” (p. 158). In this globalized jihad, the impact of deeds is more important than words: “The globalization of the Jihad lies precisely in the unintended consequences of its acts” (p. 14). To him, this global and metaphysical jihad reverses the West’s metaphysical dominance.

The fourth chapter describes the mass media’s role as the intermediary and promoter of globalized jihad in the West. The mass media validates Islam’s global and universal character through its broadcasts about jihad:

“Existing as they do primarily and even originally by way of reports from broadcasters like the BBC, CNN and now al-Jazeera, these sites of global Islam have achieved the kind of universality denied even to the most spectacular of traditional practices, such as the annual pilgrimage to Mecca” (p. 93). Martyrdom, as one expression of jihad, flourishes in the media because “only in mass media does the collective witnessing that defines martyrdom achieve its full effect” (p. 95).

Devji points out a popular conspiracy theory among Muslims that blames Washington for 9/11. The alleged evidence is the film “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” in which a dialogue between an FBI agent and his colleague suggest that bombing the World Trade Center was planned and conducted by Washington. Devji perceives this as proof that “simple political intentions no longer suffice to explain events in a global landscape” (p. 89). This contemplation might be inaccurate, since conspiracy theories exist with or without the media. Devji also describes a kind of cooperation between the Jihadists and the media: “It is almost as if the Jihad is here fulfilling the desire of mass media for real horror, but on the same model as reality television shows” (p. 105).

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