To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Jihadism went global because of local repression. That is the bottom line of this long and complex story. The inability of Arab countries to include Islamists in national politics produced a class of activists who in the 1970s began looking to the international stage for operating space. In the 1980s some of these pan-Islamists gave the notion of Islamic solidarity a military interpretation, and started calling for Muslims to fight in each other’s wars. They were helped by a host of other factors – including oil money, technology, and geopolitics – but they would not have embarked on their mission in the first place if they had not been excluded from local politics. Thus the main roots of jihadi transnationalism lie in the domestic and regional politics of the postwar Middle East.
Abdallah Azzam’s involvement in the Afghan jihad would have been less intriguing if he had been from a quiet corner of the Arab world such as Morocco or Oman. But Azzam was from Palestine, the site of one of the most bitter national liberation struggles of the late twentieth century.
Abdallah Azzam would become so famous for his books on the Afghan jihad that it is easy to forget that he had an earlier publishing career. This chapter looks at the things Azzam wrote in his pre-Afghanistan years, and what they tell us about his worldview.
This book is about why jihadism went global. It is a biography of Abdallah Azzam, the Palestinian ideologue who led the recruitment of Arab fighters to Afghanistan in the 1980s. It is also a history of the Afghan Arabs, the world’s first truly global foreign-fighter mobilization.
“The young Arab keeps his head down and his mouth shut and stays for a week or two and returns disappointed about the jihad and the Mujahidin.” Thus Abdallah Azzam described the situation for foreign fighters in Peshawar in the early 1980s. He had noticed a steady increase in Arab volunteer arrivals in 1983–1984, and it frustrated him to see their enthusiasm going to waste. In the summer of 1984 he decided to set up the Services Bureau (Maktab al-Khidamat), an organization devoted to hosting Arab volunteers and putting them to good use in the Afghan jihad. The establishment of the Services Bureau would turn out to be a game-changer for the mobilization of Arabs to Afghanistan.
It was late November 1981 and a mild afternoon when Abdallah Azzam stepped off the plane at Islamabad International Airport. With him were his wife Samira, their seven children, and God knows how much luggage. A representative of the Islamic University of Islamabad greeted them in the arrivals hall and took them to a guest house close to campus. The next day Azzam called Sayyaf’s Islamabad office and arranged for a trip to Peshawar the upcoming weekend. Peshawar was where the action was; it was the base of the Afghan Mujahidin parties and the launching pad for most humanitarian and military support operations.
They came from California and Australia, from South Africa and Norway. They came from at least forty different countries, including every single Arab state down to the Comoros Islands. The foreign fighters in 1980s Afghanistan were the most international volunteer force the world had ever seen. This remarkable mobilization did not happen by itself. Abdallah Azzam and the Services Bureau worked hard to reach out to the international Muslim community, and actively recruited in many different countries. But what did their activities consist of? Where exactly did Azzam go in the 1980s and what did he do on his trips?
“He always refused to have bodyguards,” Azzam’s wife remarked in an interview years after his death.1 But why would he need bodyguards? Who posed a threat to him and why? In this chapter we will look at the contentious side of Azzam’s activities to discover that he was accumulating enemies in the late 1980s.
“His beard was black in the beginning of the jihad, but after only two years, his entire beard was grey and white,” one of Azzam’s nephews later wrote. Azzam was only forty years old, so what took such a toll on his beard? This chapter will look at what he did in his first few years in Pakistan.
Like every Friday morning, Sheikh Abdallah had been up since before sunrise to pray and read the Qur’an, and he had already clocked up several hours in his study. He took a last look at his notes and went to put on clean new clothes.
When the last piece of metal fell on the ground, there was half a second of quiet before people crowded around the wreck. It was clear that Muhammad and Ibrahim had died instantly, but Abdallah Azzam was still breathing.
“I asked some brothers in Pakistan how many Shari‘a professors from the Arab world have visited Peshawar even once to show interest in the situation of Muslims, and the answer was of the kind that makes the soul shrink.”
“O Sheikh,” a young Arab exclaimed upon arrival in Peshawar, “I have come here only after having read your book.”1 An Islamist writer later commented, “The Afghan Arabs’ … numbers increased tenfold, and all the brothers had come based on the fatwa of the sheikh.”2 Another added, “Two things mobilized Muslim public opinion to Afghanistan: The [book on] miracles and the fatwas on jihad in Afghanistan.”3 Statements such as these suggest that Azzam’s ideas had a major effect on the mobilization of foreign fighters to Afghanistan.