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The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam

Author: Akbar Ahmed
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press, 2013
April 3 2013
Private Event

About the Author - Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Kahldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He is also the first Distinguished Chair of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom. In an addition to being a published poet and playwright, Ahmed is the author of Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization and Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, both published by Brookings. 

About the Book - The United States declared war on terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. More than ten years later, the results are decidedly mixed. In The Thistle and the Drone, world-renowned author, diplomat, and scholar Akbar Ahmed reveals a tremendously important yet largely unrecognized adverse effect of these campaigns: they actually have exacerbated the already-broken relationship between central governments and the tribal societies on their periphery.

Ideas of a clash of civilizations, "security," and "terrorism" have dominated the last decade, upsetting the balance between central governments and their periphery in much of the world. Ahmed draws on sixty current case studies for this unprecedented analysis, beginning with Waziristan in Pakistan and expanding to similar societies in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere to offer an alternative paradigm. The United States is directly or indirectly involved with many of these societies. Al Qaeda has been decimated, but the world is drifting into a global war where the focus has shifted to these peripheral societies. Old ethnic and tribal tensions have been revived. No one is immune to the violence —neither school children nor congregations in their houses of worship. People on the periphery say, "Every day is 9/11 for us."

The thistle of the title evokes Hadji Murad, Tolstoy's classic novel about the struggle between the Imperial Russian army and the independent Muslim states in the Caucasus. The local tribesman with his courage, pride, and sense of egalitarianism is the prickly thistle; the drone reference, as the most advanced kill technology of globalization, is painfully clear. Together these two powerful metaphors paint a bleak landscape of confusion, uncertainty, violence, and loss. The book provides concrete ways to minimize conflict and win this global war.