The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam by Akbar Ahmed, ISBN-13: 978-0815723783, Brookings Institution Press, 2013, 424 pp. $31.75 (list).
Since George W. Bush announced a Global War on Terror over a decade ago in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York, the United States has been relentless in its pursuit of the al Qaida perpetrators of those attacks. It has mobilized a vast global coalition to fight Islamic jihadists. It has launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and employed increasingly sophisticated drone technologies against "terrorist" groups in other parts of the Muslim world, notably in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. There is every prospect that these same technologies will soon be used in sub-Saharan Africa against Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and perhaps in other parts of the world were terrorist violence may erupt.
Akbar Ahmed's new book takes a new and fascinating look at these wars from the perspective of a former diplomat (Pakistani High Commissioner in London), Cambridge educated anthropologist and administrator in the tribal territories of Pakistan. He has identified a disturbing pattern behind the use of drones against tribal societies (the thistles of his book's title) and has concluded that there is a sinister and dangerous pattern to this violence, which pits central governments against their tribal peripheries. The book is a devastating and relentless critique of U. S. Government policies. He makes abundantly clear that America has engaged in this global effort with almost no understanding of the dynamics of tribal societies or of the likely consequences of apparently indiscriminate attacks against them. He notes that for their own purposes governments such as China and India have joined in this battle against terrorism in part in order to justify repressive policies against their own tribal peripheries.
The book reflects an anthropologist's fascination with tribalism and the possibility that many tribal societies will be destroyed or undermined under the general pressures of globalization, a process exacerbated in Professor Ahmed's view by the American use of drones against many of those same societies. The book is a breathtakingly broad overview of the emergence of tribal societies over the past three hundred years. He paints a detailed and compelling portrait of tribal struggles in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The Kurds...