Global Jihad: A Brief History
By Glenn E. Robinson
Stanford University Press, 2020, 264 pp.
How has jihad, a Muslim religious imperative to struggle in the path of God, come to preoccupy governments around the world? Robinson provides a synthetic and remarkably comprehensive account of the evolution of political jihad since it came to global prominence in the 1980s. He sketches four waves of jihadi activity: the international call to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan during the 1980s, the anti-American focus of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, the rejection by the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) of the international system, and the proliferation of “lone wolf” actions fueled by radicalization on the Internet. Robinson provides both an accessible history and a provocative analysis of one of the most important political movements in the world over the last half century. Wading into controversial debates, he makes the case that jihadi activity is best understood as a “movement of rage,” an apocalyptic rejection of the secular, scientific knowledge of the Enlightenment, echoing the actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and many other violent, book-burning mobs. What jihadi leaders have added to this mix, he argues, is the ability to project their rage and unleash their movement on a global scale.