The Thistle and the Drone

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

Akbar Ahmed
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 424
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    The Thistle and the Drone
    Book Description:

    In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States declared war on terrorism. More than ten years later, the results are decidedly mixed. Here world-renowned author, diplomat, and scholar Akbar Ahmed reveals an important yet largely ignored result of this war: in many nations it has exacerbated the already broken relationship between central governments and the largely rural Muslim tribal societies on the peripheries of both Muslim and non-Muslim nations. The center and the periphery are engaged in a mutually destructive civil war across the globe, a conflict that has been intensified by the war on terror.

    Conflicts between governments and tribal societies predate the war on terror in many regions, from South Asia to the Middle East to North Africa, pitting those in the centers of power against those who live in the outlying provinces. Akbar Ahmed's unique study demonstrates that this conflict between the center and the periphery has entered a new and dangerous stage with U.S. involvement after 9/11 and the deployment of drones, in the hunt for al Qaeda, threatening the very existence of many tribal societies.

    American firepower and its vast anti-terror network have turned the war on terror into a global war on tribal Islam. And too often the victims are innocent children at school, women in their homes, workers simply trying to earn a living, and worshipers in their mosques. Battered by military attacks or drone strikes one day and suicide bombers the next, the tribes bemoan, "Every day is like 9/11 for us."

    InThe Thistle and the Drone, the third volume in Ahmed's groundbreaking trilogy examining relations between America and the Muslim world, the author draws on forty case studies representing the global span of Islam to demonstrate how the U.S. has become involved directly or indirectly in each of these societies. The study provides the social and historical context necessary to understand how both central governments and tribal societies have become embroiled in America's war. Beginning with Waziristan and expanding to societies in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere, Ahmed offers a fresh approach to the conflicts studied and presents an unprecedented paradigm for understanding and winning the war on terror.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2379-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. 1 The Thistle and the Drone
    (pp. 1-42)

    “The Jonas Brothers are here. They’re out there somewhere,” a smiling and confident President Barack Obama told the expectant and glittering audience attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington on May 1, 2010. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: ‘predator drones.’ You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking?”

    Obama’s banter may have seemed tasteless, given that he had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but this was not a Freudian slip. The president was indicating he possessed Zeus-like power to hurl thunderbolts from...

  4. 2 Waziristan: “The Most Dangerous Place in the World”
    (pp. 43-95)

    Three decades before President George W. Bush began his manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the most wanted individual on his terrorist list and hiding among the tribes along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, I had faced a similar challenge, but in a different context and on a different scale. As political agent in charge of South Waziristan Agency, I was tasked with bringing in Safar Khan, the most wanted man in my area, an outlaw who was also hiding among the same tribes on the same border as bin Laden.

    Just as the job Bush held made him the...

  5. 3 Bin Laden’s Dilemma: Balancing Tribal and Islamic Identity
    (pp. 96-133)

    In his only television interview after 9/11, Osama bin Laden looked decidedly uneasy. The interviewer was persistent, bin Laden rambling, evasive, and increasingly incoherent. The topic causing agitation to both men was the use of violence against innocent civilians. For bin Laden, the challenge was how to maintain a balance between the compulsions of his Yemeni tribal background and his Islamic faith—which was not unlike the dilemma facing the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) among the Pukhtun, Al Shabab of the Somali, and even Boko Haram with its base in the Kanuri tribal people in Nigeria. Tribal codes called for revenge,...

  6. 4 Musharraf’s Dilemma: Balancing Center and Periphery
    (pp. 134-254)

    A century after perhaps the most erudite viceroy of the British Raj, Lord Curzon, had expressed reservations about sending the “steamroller” across Waziristan to crush and pacify its fierce tribes, Pervez Musharraf ordered the Pakistan army into Waziristan. He then launched military operations in the rest of the Tribal Areas as well as in Baluchistan. These were the actions not of a foreign imperialist but the president of Pakistan. Musharraf, in a dramatic display of hubris, was reversing the policy toward the Tribal Areas and Baluchistan established by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the state of Pakistan, who had...

  7. 5 Obama’s Dilemma: Balancing Security and Human Rights
    (pp. 255-299)

    From the time of George Washington to that of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the American president has faced a dilemma not very different from the kind that confronted President Musharraf in Pakistan or the leaders of other countries. At its heart, the problem has been how to maintain the writ of the center while ensuring that marginal and peripheral groups are fully included as citizens of the state and their rights and privileges firmly safeguarded. But the United States has tackled it quite differently from the rest of the world. America’s approach has been anchored in the clarity...

  8. 6 How to Win the War on Terror: Stopping a Thousand Genocides Now
    (pp. 300-360)

    Tall, young, blonde white females elegantly dressed received us with a clinical charm. This could have been the hospitality room of Fox News. But it was President George W. Bush’s White House. We were briskly ushered into a medium-sized room with no natural light. The high-level officials sat on one side of the table, we, the “experts” on Islam, on the other side. I noted that I was the only Muslim present in a gathering of less than a dozen. There was a structure here, with a senior member of the administration presiding, one who reported directly to the president....

  9. Appendix: Of Tears and Nightmares
    (pp. 361-370)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 371-402)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 403-406)
    Akbar Ahmed
  12. Index
    (pp. 407-424)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 425-425)