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44 review for To the Mountains: My Life in Jihad, from Algeria to Afghanistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This is a memoir of the Algerian Abdullah Anas, one of the famous generation of "Afghan Arabs," as well as a brief history of Afghanistan's sad recent past from the perspective of its Arab friends. Before jihad became a frightening word sullied by the actions of extremists, it represented a noble tradition akin to Just War and calling back to ideals of knighthood. The concept of jihad is intended to preserve the concept of chivalry and moral limits within war. It is meant to represent the martia This is a memoir of the Algerian Abdullah Anas, one of the famous generation of "Afghan Arabs," as well as a brief history of Afghanistan's sad recent past from the perspective of its Arab friends. Before jihad became a frightening word sullied by the actions of extremists, it represented a noble tradition akin to Just War and calling back to ideals of knighthood. The concept of jihad is intended to preserve the concept of chivalry and moral limits within war. It is meant to represent the martial tradition of Islamic civilization. Anas was a "jihadist" of the old sort, who went to Afghanistan out of a sense of duty to protect a people being crushed by the Soviet Empire. He was not inspired by hate and has a positive attitude towards the West and all those (including Russians) who have sought to deal with Afghans and Arabs on just terms. Despite the criminals and lowlifes who have monopolized our idea of jihad in recent years, there are still people who follow the high tradition of Abdelkader Djazairi and Omar Mukhtar. The book is an informal history of Anas's experiences before, during and after the war. The jihad and running the Arab Services Bureau brought Anas into contact with historic figures. As it turns out, many Arabs went to Peshawar but far fewer actually crossed the border and engaged in serious combat with the Soviets. It was interesting to me to see Anas's appraisals of men I have met through my work like Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad Maqdisi, both of whom he considers inveterate extremists. I would have liked to meet Ahmed Shah Massoud and the other figures of the Afghan jihad that he considered more noble. It seems there were clear warnings about extremism infiltrating the Arab ranks. The extremist tendency came mostly from members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which one could describe as an ideological progenitor to ISIS. I have read this appraisal in other jihadi memoirs as well, including The Arabs at War in Afghanistan by Mustafa Hamid. The Afghan jihad was a great historical endeavor. It only appears bitter to us in retrospect because of what came afterwards. The civil war, punctuated by the al Qaeda-directed atrocities of 9/11 changed our understanding of history. It is disheartening to think that Afghanistan has not been at peace since the first Soviet tanks rolled into the country. Anas seems like a responsible voice and someone genuinely interested in excising the bad aspects of modern Islam, while keeping the good. Maybe it is because of his age and maturity, but he seems like a more promising "reformer" than many of the charlatans who like to throw around this term. I would recommend this book to those interested in Islam and modern Islamic militancy. It is an unpretentious memoir.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    This is a necessary read for anyone interested in what went on in Afghanistan from the invasion by the Soviet Union to just after 9/11, a period of about 25 years during which the United States vigorously supported Muslim Afghan guerillas to when it invaded the country, killing thousands, in pursuit of one man, Osama bin Laden, who was known personally to the author of this book. Adbullah Azzam (not the author, who is Abdullah Anas) was a Palestinian Arab who preached jihad against any invader of This is a necessary read for anyone interested in what went on in Afghanistan from the invasion by the Soviet Union to just after 9/11, a period of about 25 years during which the United States vigorously supported Muslim Afghan guerillas to when it invaded the country, killing thousands, in pursuit of one man, Osama bin Laden, who was known personally to the author of this book. Adbullah Azzam (not the author, who is Abdullah Anas) was a Palestinian Arab who preached jihad against any invader of any Muslim land, not only Afghanistan but in his homeland, Palestine, against Israel. During the 1980's Azzam traveled freely in the US looking for recruits for the fight in Afghanistan where he directed the Arab Services Office (with several branch offices in the US) dedicated to introducing Muslim recruits, including the author of this book, into the guerilla movement. The author, an Algerian Arab, was very impressed with Azzam, becoming close to him in the joint effort, along with bin Laden in the beginning, to provide whatever assistance could be given to the Afghan resistance. The primary directive for Arabs was to avoid taking charge; to never tell the Aghanis what to do. Distributing supplies, weapons and food by way of caravans into the mountains was of primary importance as was mediating disputes between the fractious groups of fighters that kept the guerilla effort from being more effective. Author Anas entered the fray as so many did, an idealist. Though devout in his religious practice, he is a reasonable and clear thinker describing for the reader in fascinating detail the nature of the work he did and the people he came into contact with while doing it. Abdullah Azzam had a powerful effect on Anas, the two becoming fast friends joined in their determination to help all they could while at the same time being frustrated by the discord among the Afghani warlords. Anas goes the distance in trying to present a fair account of each of the Afghan leaders, never resorting to extreme language yet presenting the good and the bad about each person, doubly legitimized because he was in regular contact with all whom he writes about often trying to bring them together and resolve arguments. If the reader followed the news in the 1980's then Anas will fill out the characters that we in the US heard about, superficially through US media, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hamid Karzai among many others. Most interesting to Americans will be Anas relationship to Osama bin Laden, a coworker he interacted with frequently, a man he initially admired for giving up wealth to live far from comfort in the service of what all considered a worthy cause. Bin Laden falls away from the Arab Services Office, essentially going rogue to start his own band of followers who become increasingly extreme with the influence of the Egyptian, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Anas laments the influence of such takfiris, Muslims who denounce other Muslims as apostate resulting in internecine conflict. Towering above everyone else in this book stands Ahmed Shah Masood, the "Lion of Panshir" as he was referred to in the West. Again, author Anas worked with him regularly as Masood became the bane of Russian forces, striking them successfully and repeatedly from his hideouts above the Panshir Valley. This book backs up the impression of Masood that I have received from other sources, that he was a very admirable, personable, reasonable man as well as being a skilled commander admired by his troops and the people living in the area where he operated. It is sad to read of the grinding down of Masood under an impossible task once the Russians were defeated and he is given the job of defense minister in the new Afghan government that soon disintegrates with civil war. The two men Anas most admired, Azzam and Masood, are assassinated, two powerful punches to Anas' idealism. As for bin Laden, Anas is outraged that he would expedite the 9/11 attack knowing full well that the result would be an assault on innocent people in Afghanistan. There's much to learn from this book for anyone who is not Muslim. Not just the cultural practices of the faith, but the thinking of the faithful are dealt with here presented not as a tutorial, but by being allowed into daily life. The definition of jihad is gone into, as is the history and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Written in 2018, the author relates history to what has happened recently in Syria. Abdullah Anas does exactly what he set out to do, allowing the reader to walk for more than a mile in his shoes, not leaving the Western press to testify alone to what happened, though only 3 or 4 Western journalists ever appeared on the killing fields. It was helpful that I had read the definitive account from a Western author of the very theater and period covered in this book, Steve Coll's outstanding, Ghost Wars. Any reader of Coll's book will immediately recognize the people described on a more personal level here. The two books are perfect companions.

  3. 5 out of 5

    C

    “Must read” for anyone wanting a better understanding of the conflict in Afghanistan and between Islamic peoples and the West in general. Every statesman and military professional, especially, should read this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Faheem Hussain

    Compelling.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peixian

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    Mari

  7. 5 out of 5

    Yusuf Shah Masud

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    Jelmer

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    Ruben

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    Campbell MacDiarmid

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael

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    Brian

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    Sam Morris

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    Michael

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    Enkidu_

  17. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Hegghammer

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    Hidayatullah Qanit

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    Munaim Sayd

  20. 4 out of 5

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    Murad Moamer

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    Jeremy

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    JT Carden

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    Naveed Qazi

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    Jeremy Grunert

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kembi Gypsy

  31. 5 out of 5

    Haritha K.P

  32. 5 out of 5

    thecryptile

  33. 4 out of 5

    Crazyarms777

  34. 4 out of 5

    Cguthrie00

  35. 4 out of 5

    Liz Robinson

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  37. 4 out of 5

    Ömer Faruk Koç

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    Eric

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    Sayed Zubair

  40. 4 out of 5

    Nahid Mubin

  41. 4 out of 5

    digitalis

  42. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  43. 5 out of 5

    Fereshta

  44. 4 out of 5

    Nathan French

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